5 Key Elements of a Successful Gym Referral Program

Three people spending time together at the gym

You have engaging programming, outstanding coaches, and a great community. Now it’s time to find new members and grow your gym.  

Let your members do the marketing for you by introducing a gym referral program. 

Why Start a Gym Referral Program?

Gym referral programs are a proven low-cost way to bring in valuable new members.  

Consumers are four times more likely to purchase or engage with a business when referred by a friend. Those referrals tend to be happier and more loyal because they’ve self-selected your services using reliable information – the recommendation of a friend.  

Referrals typically buy more products and services, giving them a 16% higher lifetime value compared to non-referred customers. They also decrease the duration of the buying cycle, helping you close sales quicker than those coming from another source. 

Gym referral programs are a great way of expanding your reach and engaging new members. But how do you create a program that’ll actually work? 

A Successful Gym Referral Program:

1. Includes a Compelling Offer

To start, you need a compelling offer that provides an incentive for both parties. Some referral programs reward the referrer and skip rewarding the new prospect, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Combined rewards result in a higher rate of referrals because they create an opportunity for a shared experience. 

Here are a few rewards we’d suggest giving both parties:  

  • Discount on their memberships 
  • Free membership period 
  • Logo gear 
  • Recovery drinks 
  • Other in-gym merchandise  

2. Aligns With Your Gym Personas

There are many types of rewards you can offer, but not all of them will be effective for your target market.  

Your program rewards should reflect your target market’s motivation. Use your gym personas to get a better understanding of what motivates your members. What rewards would encourage them to bring their friends?  

Consider their goals, the programs they typically engage with, and how they interact with your gym’s community to craft a reward that’ll fire them up. 

3. Is Easy to Remember

You need to do a good job promoting your referral program if you want it to flourish. 

Your message should be easy to find and remember. When you begin crafting your message, keep it simple so your members can recall the details. Eliminate any inconvenient or redundant steps. Confusing programs with multiple steps are sure to discourage your members from participating.  

Your members are bombarded with advertisements every day, so your “refer a friend” message may get lost in the noise. To combat that, you’ll want to advertise your program several different ways. 

Advertise your gym referral program by:  

  • Sending your members automated emails 
  • Setting up counter-sized signs in your gym 
  • Creating compelling calls-to-action on your website 
  • Posting program details and referral success stories on social media 

4. Offers Supportive Programming

Your members want to work out with the friends they bring in. Offer programming that makes it easy for them to bring their friends for the first time. Community WODs, park classes, and boot camps are all great opportunities for members to invite friends. 

On-ramp classes give your new members the opportunity to seamlessly transition into your community. Plus, beginner instruction will ensure they don’t get hurt or too intimidated to stick around. 

5. Is Simple to Execute

A perfect referral plan won’t matter if the program isn’t simple to put in place. Complicated programs that take multiple steps to fulfill won’t work. Something simple is all you really need.  

For example, you can print a card granting the bearer a free week at your gym. Have your members sign their name on the cards and hand them out to friends. The prospects can bring the cards into your gym to redeem the offer.  

Since it’ll have your gym’s information on it, it’ll double as advertising as well! 

Ready to Build Your Gym Referral Program?

Referral programs are a must for any gym, school, or studio. Download a free copy of the 7-Step Guide to Creating a Successful Referral Program to build your program. 

In this guide, you’ll learn how to:  

  • Create a reward structure 
  • Promote your program 
  • Measure success 


Referral Program Guide

Original blog published January 19, 2018. Updated March 30, 2023.