Make the most of (and give back to) satisfied members, by running a gym member referral programme to attract new members and grow your business.

Gym and health club owners, operators, and managers must continuously attract new members. Competition is fierce: there are 6466 gyms and fitness centres in Australia and 907 in New Zealand. Your fitness business needs to stand out.

There are many ways to market your business to reach new members – from social media campaigns, to advertising in local publications, and everything in between. But there’s one powerful option that you should consider early on. That option is word of mouth.

Research company, Nielsen found that 88% of people trust recommendations from people they know above any other type of advertising. And 77% are more likely to buy after receiving word-of-mouth advice.

Turn your members into brand advocates who will promote your club for you. Take advantage of word-of-mouth marketing through a gym referral programme.

Your refer-a-friend offer should benefit everyone involved. So, you get new members and your members – the referrers and referees – are rewarded too.

How do you set up a successful programme that drives referrals?

Your newest members can be your biggest advocates – include your referral offer in your onboarding communications. Get the Successful Gym Member Onboarding Playbook to find out how.

What is a gym member referral programme?

A gym member referral programme, or refer-a-friend programme, is a way to reward your existing members for attracting new ones. It’s a systematic way of growing your business by taking advantage of conversations your members are likely already having with their friends and family.

Why do you need a referral programme?

A strong referral programme will benefit all those involved. The referrer and new member are incentivised to take part. And your business gets a new member.

Taking advantage of the power of word-of-mouth marketing, refer-a-friend offers can help your business grow with minimal workload for your team. Set your offer up and share it with your members, then let them do the rest for you.

What is word-of-mouth marketing? Word-of-mouth is a type of earned advertising that can net you more new members than paid advertising. A word-of-mouth mention can drive as much as 5x more sales than 1 paid advert view.

Plus it can attract higher value members – spending 2x more and going on to make 2x as many referrals themselves as members acquired through traditional marketing.

You’ll also take advantage of the benefits of members working out togetherGym member motivation can be positively affected by having a workout buddy to act as an accountability partner to motivate, encourage and keep them working towards their goals.

How do you create an attractive referral offer?

First, it’s important to understand why people choose to share products and services with others around them. Marketing professor and author, Jonah Berger, identified 6 key principles that drive people to share in his book Contagious:

  1. Social currency – people share what makes them look good to others. So, stand out and make your members feel like insiders
  2. Triggers – people share what’s top-of-mind. So, regularly trigger people to think about your business (e.g., through regular email & SMS messages)
  3. Emotion – people share what they care about. So, appeal to their feelings and emotions rather than purely focusing on function
  4. Public – people imitate what they see others around them doing. So, think about ways you can make your brand more visible (e.g., by offering branded clothing)
  5. Practical value – people share things that are useful. So, continuously help members understand the value you deliver
  6. Stories – people share stories not information. So, look for ways you can create sharable stories (e.g., success stories, before & after photos)

6 steps to a high performing gym member referral programme

With these principles in mind, you can create your gym referral programme.

1. Choose what you want to incentivise

The first step when creating your referral programme is to decide what to incentivise. Choose what you’re asking your members (the referrers) and new members (the referees) to do to qualify for an incentive/reward.

You may want to limit your programme to reward referrers and referees when the new member signs up to a full annual membership. Or keep it open to sign ups of all-membership lengths and types. Perhaps you want to keep it simple and offer members an incentive for supplying a referral lead.

Knowing what you want to reward will help you understand what incentive is financially workable to offer.

2. Pick your incentive

Make your refer-a-friend incentive appealing to encourage members to recommend your gym or health club to their friends and family.

Your biggest fans will recommend your business without the need for any incentive. Yet most members will want a reward. Think about what will appeal to your members. New members should also benefit too – so they’re more likely to sign up.

Remember to make sure the incentive you offer will work for your business financially. So, consider the value of what you’re incentivising, against the reward you’re providing.

These are the type of incentives to consider:

  • Discounted or ‘free’ memberships – for example, both members get 1 months’ extra membership or $10-off for 3 months compliments of your club
  • Fitness class or personal training session – offering access to an activity or service not part of a typical membership and showcasing its value (e.g., ‘when you refer a friend who signs up for a full membership, we’ll pay for you both to have a personal training session worth $50’)
  • Merchandise – this can be a cost-effective reward to provide that also helps you get your brand out there. Offer a branded item like a hoodie, sweatshirt, or t-shirt for successful referrals. You could even make it an exclusive design only available as part of your referral promotion
  • Gift cards – some members would prefer a reward they can use elsewhere. This can be beneficial for your business. Once you’ve supplied the voucher or gift card, the referral process has finished. You don’t need to wait for take up of sessions or merchandise to be claimed

“Free PT? Aaargh! Nothing should ever be free; it devalues the product. And makes it hard, or impossible, to upsell in the future. ‘We’ll pay for you to have a $50 PT session’ is much better. You’ll get higher take-up, fewer no-shows, and more subsequent sales.” –

Guy Griffiths, GGFit

3. Set your offer up in your software

To make running your referral programme easier and less time consuming, you need to be able to run it within your gym management software.

Your software should let you track the success of your programme and make sure members get their rewards. And, you should be able to easily access the data you need to make improvements to refer-a-friend offers.

Xplor Gym lets you provide members with a referral code they can access within the member area online. So, you can see when a code is used during the online joining process and reward your referrer and referee.

4. Clearly explain your referral offer

For a successful gym member referral programme, you need to make sure your members understand it.

Create a landing page and/or an email explaining your offer. Focus on making sure your copy is well-written, using easy to understand language that grabs the reader’s attention. Aim to explain the benefit of making a referral in one sentence.

Make sure your potential brand advocates are clear about the referral process. So, think about the sorts of questions members may have. Include a frequently asked questions (FAQs) section to answer these. This will make it easier for members to scan the page or email without having to read large chunks of text.

Include a simple set of terms and conditions to highlight any criteria that need to be met to qualify for the offer.

5. Market your gym referral programme

You’ve set your referral programme up and you can describe it clearly. Next up you need to spread the word and let your members know about it.

Your members are key to the success of your referral programme. They need to know about it, understand it and want to take advantage of it.

Start by thinking where you can reach your members – online and offline. Remember, your exact approach will depend on your unique membership base.

These are some of the ways you can spread the word:

Onboarding communications

Your newest members are usually your biggest advocates. So, make details of your referral programme a part of your new gym member onboarding process communications and get new members working out with a friend.

“Tell your new members that they’ll stay longer, get faster results and have more fun if they work out with friends. When you ask for referrals, don’t make it about the next sale, make it about the current member. They’ll get to burn more calories, workout harder and longer, and get more accountability if they bring a gym buddy. Sure, you’ll get the sale, but think about what the member gets from bringing a friend to the club.”

Guy Griffiths, GGFit


The free Successful New Gym Member Onboarding Playbook includes templates you can use to promote your referral offer to new members.

Get your free copy

Social media

This is a really easy way to quickly spread the news of your referral programme – especially if you have a large following. Write a simple post telling your members about the offer and how to take advantage of it.

You could pin this post to keep it top of your feeds and consider investing in a paid campaign to increase your reach.

Social can give you feedback fast, so keep an eye on the engagements you are getting (likes, shares, comments) to see if you can make improvements.

Your website

We’ve already covered setting up a landing page for your refer-a-friend offer, you should also consider putting this in a prominent place on your website.

The homepage or even a pop-up banner or box will help you reach more members and prospective members when they visit your business online.


Take advantage of members visiting you in-person to promote your refer-a-friend offer. Create posters to put up around your club – include a QR code members can scan to get to your landing page with all the details they need to take up the offer. Plus, you could supply leaflets for members to take away.

Don’t forget to talk about the offer to your members when they are with you.

Make sure your fitness team know about the offer and are ready to mention it when appropriate as part of their everyday conversations with members. Pick the right timing though – after a good workout, after asking the member how they are getting on, after a successful group fitness class, etc.


Email offers a highly effective way to promote your offer. Directly reach members who want to hear from you using a channel you’re in control of.

Your gym management software should make it easy to send personalised, targeted emails to your members without switching platforms.

Follow these tips to reach as many members as possible:

Software like Xplor Gym will help you create, personalise and schedule emails promoting your referral programme to targeted groups of members.

Need inspiration? Here’s an example email:

Subject line: {Member First Name} refer a friend

Hi {Member First Name},

Having a training partner can help motivate you to reach your goals faster (and keep you on track).

Refer a friend and you’ll both get an extra month on us when they join.

Just give them your referral code which can be found in the member area online. When they use it to sign up for a membership, an extra month will be added to the end of both your memberships automatically.

Our referral programme is always running. So, the more referrals you make, the more months you’ll get!

Happy training,

{Your Club Name}

Text / SMS Marketing

For opted in members, a text message campaign for your referral programme can be powerful. This is a fast way to reach members – 78% of consumers say it’s the fastest way to reach them.

99% of text messages are opened – compared to 28-33% of emails – with 97% opened within 15 minutes of delivery.

Careful and considered use of text messages can help your business meet its goals. So, to keep open and response rates high, use text messages sparingly, saving them for important campaigns – like your new referral programme.

Your gym management software should let you send targeted, personalised SMS campaigns to opted-in members. Remember to keep your message to 160 characters, include a link to your landing page and give opt-out messaging.

Need inspiration? Here’s an example text message:

Get 1 month on us when you successfully refer a friend who signs up for a membership. Get referring: [add link here]. Reply STOP to opt out

6. Measure success and refine your referral programme

Once you’ve started marketing your gym member referral programme, the next step is to see how well it performs.

By using your gym management software to provide each member with referral codes they can use, you’ll be able to see exactly who has successfully referred a friend. Plus, you’ll be able to see that everyone who should have received the incentive has – delivering on your promise and avoiding errors.

This will also make it easy to track how well your programme is performing. Think about measuring:

  • Email/SMS open rates and click through rates
  • Members who’ve successfully referred a friend (dig into demographics, marketing interacted with, etc.)
  • New members who’ve been referred
  • Average length of stay for referrers and referees
  • Return on investment

Use the metrics you’re tracking to evaluate and adjust your referral programme. Make optimisations to improve return on investment.

Retain more new members

Want to keep more of your new referred members coming back for longer? Your new member onboarding process is critical – optimise your journey with the ultimate onboarding playbook:

Download your free playbook

Article by Xplor Gym

First published: 06 February 2023

Last updated: 09 February 2024