When It’s Time to Break-Up With a Client: A Guide for Fitness Instructors
One of the most difficult experiences for any instructor is breaking up with a client. When a client no longer wishes to have you as their trainer, it’s pretty easy to figure out that you’re no longer wanted. Your nighttime text messages to them confirming your AM training appointment will go unanswered or their package of sessions will gradually dwindle down to zero. As a trainer, it feels pretty awful, and you may find self-doubt creeping into your brain: ‘Why didn’t they want me? Did they find someone better? Was it something I said?’ Over my many years of teaching, this has happened to me a few times. I’ve learned to assess those experiences and learn from them, while also remaining confident in my teaching and expertise.
But what about when you’re the one who wants to end the relationship with your client? While breaking up with clients may be necessary, there are ways instructors can be proactive to avoid breakup situations altogether. I spoke with Kelly Kane, founder of The Kane School in NYC, a Pilates teacher training program, and she advised “set boundaries early! You will create a strong, healthy practice if you know where you stand from the beginning.” Strategies for establishing healthy client relationships include: creating firm policies and sticking to them; establishing mutual expectations; and keeping the relationship professional.
Despite your best efforts, some relationships are just not meant to be. When that happens, you may need to initiate a breakup. First, let’s identify traits of a difficult client: one with no sense of boundaries, such as texting at odd hours of the night. Another difficult trait can be unreasonable requests. I’ve been asked by a client to both simultaneously train her and dog-sit the new puppy she brought to her appointment. Another wanted me to kick three other private sessions out so she could have the entire studio floor to herself. Other indications you have a potentially toxic client are if they’re consistently rude or unpleasant or have unrealistic expectations of how your training will transform their bodies instantaneously.
If you’ve already tried to mend the relationship and it hasn’t worked, it’s probably time to break up. Kane said a good indication that it’s time to end the relationship with a client is “if you’re exhausted [by them] or you dread your session with them.” She said a difficult client would also include “anyone who is a threat to their own or your safety for any reason.” For example, “someone who uses the equipment in an unsafe way even after having been talked to about it.”
As for how to initiate the breakup, an in-person conversation is the most professional method. This is certainly the way to go for a reasonable client with whom it’s just not working out. In the conversation, explain your concerns and why you don’t think the relationship is working anymore. If it’s a matter of your training style not working with their personality, suggest other instructors who might be a better fit. If it’s a more serious issue, let them know that your time training together has ended and you wish them well with their future fitness goals.
However, this type of conversation may not be best for all clients. Kane says “for some [instructors], it’s not even worth the energy of a conversation before the ‘breakup’ because they know it will fall on deaf ears or they just don’t want to expend the energy it will take to have the [dialogue].” In that case, simply inform the client through a safe communication medium that you can no longer work together. Once you’ve decided to go down this path, be firm in your stance and remain professional no matter the client’s reaction. Of course, if you’re being threatened or harassed alert the appropriate authorities immediately. Ending a client relationship will always be difficult, but being able to do so when necessary is key to having a happy and successful practice.