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How do I get fitness customers to pay in advance? 8 Strategies to Ensure You Get Paid

In this post we’ll talk about the most common pricing structures for fitness businesses and which ones are best for getting fitness customers to pay in advance and provide more reliable cash flow. The good news is, many of these payment set-ups also boost customer satisfaction by eliminating the chance of unpaid visits that lead to chasing down delinquent accounts, one of the least palatable parts if running a fitness business.

April 22, 2022

The big question for many fitness business owners is: “How do I get fitness customers to pay in advance?”

In this post we’ll talk about the most common pricing structures for fitness businesses and which ones are best for getting fitness customers to pay in advance and provide more reliable cash flow. The good news is, many of these payment set-ups also boost customer satisfaction by eliminating the chance of unpaid visits that lead to chasing down delinquent accounts, one of the least palatable parts if running a fitness business. 

At a fundamental level, the difference between a successful fitness business and one that’s floundering is cash flow.

If your fitness studio brings in more money each month than it pays out in expenses, then you’ve got positive cash flow and you’re ahead of the majority of small businesses out there. 

Improve Cash Flow by Getting Fitness Customers to Pay in Advance

According to US Bank, a whopping 82% of small businesses fail as a result of cash flow issues. A cash flow crunch can hit even the most promising businesses. Sometimes, a brand that’s on-target with its messaging, has found a popular niche in its local market, and builds a big customer base, suddenly finds itself out of cash.

One of the biggest keys to improving managing cash flow for fitness businesses is to collect fitness class payments up front.

By selling more long-term packages and monthly recurring memberships, fitness studios can more accurately forecast revenue and adjust expenses accordingly over time to head off any cash shortages. 

Where do cash flow challenges come from?

Finding the Right Fit

First, it’s important to recognize that the type of payment structure that’s most appropriate for your fitness business is going to depend on your market niche.

A full service gym or boutique fitness studio that offers both group fitness classes and DIY workout areas and facilities like swimming pools and locker rooms with amenities is going to be much better suited to selling year-long membership contracts. 

If you’re operating a yoga studio or are a personal trainer it’s essential to have a per-class payment option and offer your customers multi-class passes alongside a more committed option like a monthly membership or three month pass, for example.

And, it’s key to price each option correctly so that:

  1. Your customers are not overwhelmed by too many options.
  2. The pricing option that requires the most (longest term) commitment is clearly the best value and is easy to sign up for.

Longer memberships allow for more stable cash flow and forecasting than selling punch cards that can can be used up at an undetermined amount of time. When evaluating, your monthly numbers, it’s important to consider how your membership options (or lack thereof) are impacting your cash flow.

New Customers May Be Skeptical to a Longer Commitment

We don’t need to remind you that the fitness industry is hyper-competitive. Potential customers can workout at home using an app or with their own equipment, join a large franchise gym, take fitness classes from multiple disciplines at their neighborhood studio, join outdoor exercise groups… the list of options is MASSIVE.

With options can come a reluctance to commit.

Customers may wonder:

  • What if this doesn’t work for me?
  • Will I actually use this membership?
  • What if I like it now but get bored in a couple of weeks like other fitness programs I’ve tried?

These factors can lead to clients making the smallest possible commitment.

Unfortunately, your cash flow favors the long commitments with predictable, reoccurring payments.

Some customers might need you to lead them into a longer commitment over time and it’s important to factor this in when forecasting cashflow.

Allowing Too Many Unpaid Classes and Delinquent Memberships

If you’re not on top of your fitness businesses sign in and attendance process, it can lead to countless headaches.

You can end up in a couple of different scenarios where either a customer:

  • Registers unpaid for a class, bails at the last minute, and prevents a paying customer from taking that spot,
  • Attends a class but have run out of passes or have an expired membership (and no one catches it during sign in),
  • T\Or, they don’t have a pass or their membership is not in good standing when they come in, but you or your staff feel too awkward to ask them to pay up and you let it go “just this time.”

Over time, if enough staff members let it slide, you will end up with customers who owe you hundreds of dollars and that can be a customer service nightmare that many fitness business owners end up simply taking the  financial hit for. 

You Don’t Like Selling or Being “Salesy”

When paying for fitness services, customers will default to the path of least resistance.

This means that if you and your staff are not pro-active and working a concrete program of selling your customers long-term packages, you’re liking going to end up with a lot of casual drop ins and short term pass sales.

If you haven’t guessed by now, selling memberships and multi-month programs can put you at less of a risk for membership volatility and cash flow problems. 

We know.

Sales can feel sleezy.

You, likely didn’t get into this industry because you wanted to sell and make millions.

One way to avoid this feeling is to remind yourself and your staff that you are in the business of helping others get fit and healthy.

If you’re going to truly change someone’s life for the better with your classes or workout regimen, then you’ve got to set them up for success with a payment program that will keep them coming back consistently over time until they see real results. That means a monthly membership, a 3 or 6 month unlimited pass or an annual contract. 

How to Get Fitness Clients to Pay Ahead of Time without Sacrificing the Relationship

You don’t have to be slick or manipulative to encourage your customers to pay up front for your services and commit to longer term packages.

Here are some ways to eliminate costly missed payments, lost revenue and retention issues while improving your customers’ experience. 

Create clear, written contracts for new members

Head off one of the biggest mistakes new fitness business owners make and avoid costly confusion and confrontation in the long-run by writing clear terms that include pausing, cancelation and late payments into your membership agreements.

Make it a practice to go over these rules with your customers at the time they sign up and ask them if they have questions.

This is an excellent way to manage expectations.

Customers want to know what to expect when they’re beginning a new membership.

Sometimes business owners or staff skip this part because they don’t want to scare the customer away from joining or, again, have to talk about fees and penalties, but it’s essential if you want to avoid bad blood later on when that customer inevitably wants to make changes to their account.

This step helps easy customers into this new relationship and helps build trust because you’re being up front about your policies.

Having a written contract also ensures that all customers are abiding by the same rules.

AND, you don’t have to manage a hundred different accounts where each customer is operating under different terms of service.

Give discounts for increasing levels of commitment

A great way to leave your customers feeling good after a purchase is by giving them clear value and a great deal on their purchase.

As you develop your pricing structure make sure the math is simple to understand – that your price per class for a 10 class pass is less than that of a 5 class pass and that your unlimited monthly membership has the lowest price per class. (Tip: Use your fitness business software to find out what the average number of classes or studio visits per week is among your customer base to accurately calculate this and communicate the value).

Actively encourage pre-registration

When you let your customers know that your studio culture emphasizes signing up and paying for fitness classes in advance, you get a twofold benefit:

  • Improved cash flow,
  • and a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out).

This can boost class attendance over the long run and bring more energy – and more customers – into your business.

You can also use pre-registration to up your customer service game, adding a waitlist management function that gives your customers a great way to make sure they get those cherished spots in class without the hassle of being turned away at the last minute.

Make it easy for customers to pay in advance

We’ve just mentioned encouraging your customers to pre-register for group fitness classes or workout time as a way to get them to pay ahead.

You can also set up your website and social media channels to help you sell passes too.

Using fitness business software like Punchpass, you can post your schedule with links to individual classes online and when a customer clicks to sing up for a class they will be automatically prompted to pay using one of your pre-set payment programs.

Additionally, you’ll want to have a page on your website dedicated to listing and clearly describing your payment options, with links to buy. No sales person required!

Lastly, most fitness business software platforms include automatic prompts that notify customers when their pass count is getting low or their membership payment was declined, freeing up fitness business owners to do other things – like teach classes and talk with customers. 

Here are some of the most common pricing structures for small fitness businesses:

1) Monthly Recurring Membership

Memberships are one of the best ways to build a loyal customer base and ensure reliable cash flow. Larger fitness businesses can add multi-month or year-long contracts to their membership programs, but for most boutique studios and sole proprietorships a month-to-month agreement is standard industry practice.

The upside of monthly memberships are that you get your customer’s credit card once and every month after that the payments are automatically processes by your software, like Punchpass. Your clients are notified if they every have a declined payment as are you or your manager so that you can stay on top of cash flow. 

The downside is that some customers are simply commitment-phobes and won’t ever want to feel locked in to this arrangement. Also, customers can get bent out of shape if they have to pay fees to pause their membership or abide by a 30-day-notice to cancel type policy. And credit cards do get lost, stolen and generate insufficient funds notices from time to time, which can be costly. Weigh the cost and benefits of having such policies when you create your membership program.

2) Long-term Unlimited Packages

Another popular pass option is the 3, 6, or 12 month class or access pass. These can be great for customers who are visiting your area for a limited time, those who want to try out your business before committing to a membership or for seasonal promotions like Summer discount deals. 

The upside is that these packages tend to be priced higher than punch passes (because they typically allow for unlimited access) and you get paid up front no matter how much the customer ends up using – or not using – their pass. 

The downside to these passes is that they do require an increased level of commitment on your customer’s part and do sunset (so you’ve got to keep selling them over time because they don’t automatically renew). 

Some creative fitness business owners set up the option for these packages to auto-renew unless the customer cancels, but this can be a bit of a customer service hassle if you’re not absolutely clear up front that this is the rule.

3) Multi-Class or Multi-Day Passes

Class passes are a super popular option for many small, independent fitness business owners because they’re easily understood, give customers a way to save money in exchange for their loyalty and require little commitment. 

The passes are popular with customers because typically they can take as long as they want to use the passes (some businesses will put a time limit on the passes by which they expire) and they’re a great way to try out a new workout without having to make a big financial investment up front. 

The downside for business owners is that it’s incredibly difficult to predict long-term revenue from pass sales and you may have higher turn-over in your customer base than if you emphasized monthly recurring memberships. 

Customers with punch passes tend to patronize other fitness businesses more than those who invest in a monthly membership, making them more likely to hop from studio to studio. 

4) Drop In Passes

Single day or class passes are used most by personal trainers and smaller fitness businesses like yoga, spin or martial arts studios. These can be a great way to attract traveling clients or new customers who want to try out your offering before they commit to a class pass or membership. 

Because they are typically the highest price per class, drop-in classes can be a great revenue booster. 

The downside is that there’s no guarantee you’re going to get repeat business from a customer who buys a drop-in pass and you’re not creating a culture of paying upfront for fitness classes if you’re relying heavily on single-class sales. 

The best way to get your customers to pay in advance for fitness classes is to find out what their fitness goals are, how often they plan to work out to achieve those goals and then recommend the best value for their time and money.

For example, we know that to get the minimum benefit from our workout practitioners need to come in at least three times a week. Our membership is $100 a month, which is $8.33/per class, far less than our $20 Drop In, or the $12/class you’ll spend for a $120 10-Class Pass. 

Remember, to get fitness customers to pay ahead of time, it’s got to be all about making it easier and more convenient for them to get fit and healthy.