6 Free & Low-Budget Marketing Ideas For Your Gym
In today’s blog, we will be tackling what independent gym and fitness clubs can do to take their marketing to the next level on a budget. And that budget? As close to 0 as possible! That’s right, we’ve shaped this entire article around what can be done for free or as close as we could find.
But why? Well, the reason is simple and intuitive. Because after talking to countless owners, marketing personnel, and other staff who work in independent gyms and fitness clubs across the country, we’ve realised what appeals.
We realised that the people marketing independent gyms and fitness clubs are often doing so on a shoestring budget. Often it isn’t even their dedicated job! As such, we thought it best to shift away from more traditional concepts such as ‘budget’. These are things that might just turn away the sort of person we want this article to reach.
Gym and fitness club owners and staff members who want to improve their marketing, social media, and general outreach for as little money as possible.
More and more, the people responsible for these important tasks are stretched thin. Understandably BAU (business-as-usual) operations are given priority, but given the low cost and high impact of these methods, gyms are ignoring them at their own peril!
Everything on this list has our own seal of approval and just as importantly, everything on this list is something we’ve seen independent gyms NOT doing when it could make such a difference.
With an ever-shifting and challenging economy, combined with an ever-increasing focus on online marketing and presentation, we thought now was the idle time to put pen to paper and list our six free or low-budget marketing ideas that can make a powerful impact on the presentation, presence and outreach of independent gyms and fitness clubs!
We will be starting with basic, free and instantly actionable measures. Just because these are free, doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth doing! Quite the opposite. Several things we are about to recommend are cornerstone marketing methods for many gyms!
From there we will be ramping it up, taking methods that require a minimal amount of expenditure, while still maximising effect! This will help create a smooth curve from what is immediately actionable and free to what will take a little more effort and a small amount of money.
And so with that out of the way, keep reading to find out what knowledge we have gained between our twenty five years of experience in the fitness industry and our desire to stay on the cutting edge of value creation for independent gyms and fitness clubs!
Jump ahead to our 6 marketing ideas!
Build an E-mail List and Increase E-mail Engagement!
So starting at the beginning of that ‘easy and actionable curve’, we have a simple but incredibly powerful opening strategy for independent gyms and fitness facilities to recommend.
That strategy? The humble e-mail list. A bedrock of marketing strategies and engagement initiatives across the world, we have been alarmed by the number of gyms and fitness clubs that have neglected to incorporate e-mail into their business-as-usual engagement operations!
The premise (for those not acquainted) is simple. Gather together the e-mail addresses of members and potential members and…Well, get e-mailing!
It really is that simple. For some businesses, gathering e-mail addresses and gauging interest can be hard. Thankfully for the fitness industry, many people harbour a genuine interest and do not mind receiving e-mails about their lifestyle choices and hobbies. This means independent gyms and fitness club management are in a unique position to capitalise on this medium…Making it all the more bizarre some don’t!
The materials required to start this are simple, just a singular website. Not even e-mails initially, they will come later!
There are many websites that provide the service of managing an e-mailing list for a gym or fitness facility. The differences and nuances between them are too varied for the scope of this article, but we will briefly touch upon some of them and list a few names for the interested to explore!
Perhaps the website that has made its mark on industries ranging from insurance to influencers and beyond is Mailchimp and it is easy to understand why.
Simple, easy to use and all importantly, free for the needs of the average small business as it tests the water (with options for greater capacity and other features). This has ensured that Mailchimp has become a by-word for the type of e-mail list distribution service we are talking about.
We would recommend that all independent gyms and fitness clubs that have not yet set up an e-mail list at least consider and explore the service Mailchimp has to offer.
But mailchimp aren’t the only game in town for gyms seeking to increase engagement via an e-mail list.
Services such as the similarly animal themed Moosend, the ominous Omnisend and the high-flying Mailjet have all encroached on a portion of the market share.
While there are slight variations in service and the post-free premium price points, we would suggest that the choice can be made after browsing a few different options, starting with the most famous and well-reviewed such as Mailchimp.
Now as for e-mails, this part is comparatively simple and just as free. As we stated earlier, the good news is that lots of a gym’s members, and even many of their prospective members are keen to hear from them!
It isn’t like car insurance or town-hall, people are often actively excited to hear from their gym or fitness club. It can help enhance the sense of community and connection, as well as keeping them informed and motivated.
As such, our simple solution for gathering e-mails for the burgeoning e-mail list is…ASK!
Whether it is through sign-up or on the gym floor, we often hear stories of surprise at just how many members were willing to sign-up and what a difference it made to engagement within an independent gym or fitness club!
When it comes to getting potential members on the list, we find social media competitions and an on-website sign-up function are often the best. This allows prospective and potential members to come to the gym!
Build a Website – Wix (free version) https://www.wix.com
Our next action is just as free and just as important. Arguably even more important. Whereas an e-mail list will make a difference in terms of engagement (and that is very important to a gym!) then this makes a difference to not only engagement but appearance!
And that all-important first impression that we’ve seen determines whether a potential member turns up or turns away!
What is that you ask? Well it was in the section title, it is a website!
Now we know (in fact, we hope!) that some independent gym management and owners will just be met with a firm ‘Well, of course, I have a website’. And that is fantastic, but it is not a given…
But from our lengthy experience in the fitness industry, we know that there are still a significant portion of independent gyms and fitness clubs up and down the UK and Ireland (and beyond!) that don’t have websites.
The impact on the online footprint of a gym or fitness club that doesn’t have a website is noticeable and immediate. Recent studies across multiple industries have shown that the majority of people under 35 and a good portion of people over 35 use Google as a significant part of their filtering process when it comes to choosing the goods and services they consume.
This is no different in the fitness industry. Upon first hearing of a gym from a friend or seeing it advertised, one of the first things most potential members will do is check out the gym’s website.
If the website is nowhere to be found, what does that say about the gym or fitness club? Very little good unfortunately. Reactions can range from assuming that the gym has closed down to just thinking that they are newly established or amateurish.
All that to say: Nothing good!
Reactions fare only a little better if the first hit is a Facebook or Instagram page. While it might reassure them that the gym or club hasn’t shut down entirely, it is still considered largely ‘unprofessional’ and ‘negative’ in the eyes of most potential consumers.
As such, you can see why this recommendation made it very near the top of our list!
First impressions are absolutely vital and for the vast majority of customers, their first impression is going to be digital, not physical! A Google business profile link that leads through to a Facebook page is not a good first impression. It is difficult to parse information, it shows low commitment to production values and professional aesthetic and it doesn’t instill faith in the potential member.
This is why we recommend any website builder if it helps a gym or fitness club get their online presence off of solely social media and onto a sleek and dedicated space.
While websites certainly benefit from a little bit of monetary investment, that can come later. If a gym or fitness club is entirely lacking a website in 2023, it is time to get something simple and effective up quickly!
To that end, our first recommendation for a free website creator for independent gyms and fitness clubs is www.wix.com.
While it won’t be able to match the standards of professional website builders, it is a fantastic tool for getting a simple and effective website up and running in good time and at a low cost.
The information to focus on will include:
- The services, equipment and machinery that the gym or fitness club provides
- Value of the gym/club and history
- How to navigate to the gym or fitness club, including maps.
- A list of events and classes being held (updated regularly)
It needn’t win awards, but as long as it looks coherent, aesthetic, and communicates the necessary information it will provide an infinitely better first impression than the lack of a website.
Once a simple but professional free website has been created, an independent gym can either ask members for feedback or plan what the more complete, consummate version of the website will eventually look like.
One thing is for sure, having a website and combining that with our next strategy will result in an uptick of potential members becoming actual members if they value the online presence and presentation of their gym or fitness club!
Create a Google Business Page – Google Shows Your Business For Regional Searches Automatically
This is another simple and effective strategy that we highlight primarily because we find so many independent gyms and fitness clubs neglecting it!
It is safe to say as of 2023, we are firmly in the digital age, and searchability is everything! Searchability not only means that a gym or fitness club should show up if it is googled, but that the way it shows up will reinforce to the searcher that this is a brand and a service that can be trusted.
It sounds like a weighty task to the uninitiated, but really it is quite simple! Most people have an idea in their mind about what looks ‘right’ and professional’ when they are searching for a business.
One large aspect of this is the Google Business Profile. It is an innocuous little piece of information on the side of many Google searches, especially those pertaining to businesses. I’ve put a picture of our most trusted and up-together partner gyms below and their fully fleshed-out Google Business Profile.
At a single glance, this will tell any savvy searcher (and therefore, potential member!) either what they need to know, or how they can search for it further in a simple and efficient way.
It demonstrates that the gym is currently open, when it closes, the reviews it has been given, the general location it is in, the address, and the telephone number.
Within a single click, these same potential members will be able to access a detailed Google Maps layout with the gym location highlighted, pictures of the outside and inside, and a breakdown of the reviews and directions.
All that information is either immediately available to a potential customer or a click away! And all of this can be available to a gym or fitness club for free!
So you can see why we find it baffling that so many gyms still do not have this system in place! It is so simple and easy. It instantly communicates all the necessary information, while impressing upon old and new members alike that you are open for business!
So the next question becomes, how do independent gyms and fitness clubs create a business profile?
Well, sometimes we are happy to leave it to the experts and thankfully Google has put everything in place necessary for an independent business to set up their own Google Business Profile with minimal fuss.
And it doesn’t take a visionary to imagine how having a simple but professional website in place, backed up by a Google business profile to guide members and potential members where they need to be can drastically improve the online engagement rate for a gym or fitness club!
Fill Up Your Gym’s Social Media Pages with High Quality, Bespoke Content
While we are on the subject of making a good first impression, it is time to address another weakness we see when it comes to the marketing and engagement of some independent gyms and fitness clubs.
The good news? Once again, it can be addressed for free! Here at https://www.canva.com/
Over our time, we’ve seen some truly awful graphic design come out of the fitness industry. We get it! As we said at the beginning of this article, marketing personnel and departments (And they are rarely departments!) are stretched thin.
But that doesn’t mean we need to immediately lower our standards to Paint and other unmentionable programmes in order to create banners.
Not when Canva exists!
The plucky Australian company that could, Canva now boasts over 100 million users, and for good reason. It is a simple, powerful, and all-importantly free at point of entry piece of software that can be used by anyone to create high-quality, bespoke marketing materials.
What sets Canva apart from the crowd? Many things.
So many things, in fact, we’ve made a mini-list within a list of reasons why Canva can’t be left on the shelf
- It is free! And the premium version is fantastic value for money, even for an independent gym or fitness club!
As with many services, Canva has adopted the model of having a free and a premium option. For our needs, this is fantastic as it means that it can be obtained immediately by any member of staff within a gym or fitness club. The free version gives you a large number of options and does not impede your ability to make sleek and bespoke images quickly.
The premium version of the service is something we would recommend if a gym or fitness club comes to rely upon Canva sufficiently enough that they want to improve their options. Starting prices are very reasonable and can easily be utilised by a small gym to great effect if necessary.
2. The versatility of Canva means it can fulfill a plethora of roles:
The fitness industry is fast-paced and varied. One day a gym might need fliers, another day it might need posters, and during both of those days, it might also need several social media posts.
Luckily Canva is a service that allows gym staff to meet all of these needs and more while doing a good portion of the work itself with the help of thousands of templates to choose from. This allows even a relative newcomer to graphic design to make visually coherent and impactful promotional material quickly.
Combine this with a large library of pre-existing images and a fantastic workspace for editing images and it is clear that the only limit to Canva is the imagination.
3. You don’t need to be a professional designer:
Due to an easy learning curve and a host of pre-existing and free templates, we are confident that anyone on the staff of a gym or fitness club will be able to pick it up and quickly produce quality material.
As we mentioned earlier, this is perfect for the average independent gym environment where some roles, such as social media and marketing, are not dedicated roles. With only a little training, a member of staff can generate quality content in no time!
4. Canva makes creating class schedules, promotional material, and customer engagement easy!
Speaking of social media, we thought it deserved its own point on the list.
And that is because the effects that Canva can have on a social media page are incredible.
In an age where every major business and corporation is running ultra-sleek, daily social media campaigns. It becomes very noticeable if an independent gym puts something out that isn’t quite as in vogue.
With Canva, that worry can disappear. Anyone within a fitness facility can immediately start creating material with a strong visual style that will catch the eyes and stand out.
With this ability at the fingertips of virtually anyone within the gym or fitness club’s staff, it means that every sale, class or event can have its own bespoke, eye-catching social media post ready to go! Customer engagement will never be higher.
5. Canva allows multiple employees to collaborate!
Some design tools, especially traditional, non-web-based ones, only allow one person to edit or create at one time.
With Canva, this issue is a thing of the past.
Once again, we’ve seen this be particularly useful to independent gyms, who often have to start and stop tasks due to the fast-moving nature of this business. The Canva collaboration system means that if one staff member is unable to finish, another can pick it up in their place!
Running competitions, events and give-aways- Use incentives that are free or low-cost such as memberships, free day passes or overstocked goods.
For our last two tips, we are going to move on from ‘free’ to ‘very low cost’.
While we could’ve ended the article with what can be implemented within a gym or fitness club for free, we thought it was a shame to limit the scope of the article to only that which can be achieved with no budget whatsoever.
This is because we didn’t think it was right to ignore a couple of the great methods of driving membership engagement and marketing that can be achieved for very little.
And they fit our theme, what can be achieved by independent gyms and fitness clubs on a super-low budget, so here we go.
Starting with that classic piece of engagement, competitions!
Events, competitions, and giveaways are a great method of generating hype, publicity, and engagement within the local community and beyond. With the benefits of social media, these gym competitions and events can far outweigh the reach they generate on the day as well!
(Especially if you have slick Canva images to promote them!)
Gyms and fitness clubs find themselves in a good position when it comes to competitions, there are lots of prizes they can offer, many of which come at a relatively cheap price point.
Memberships are, of course, the go-to prize. It is a valuable commodity to the consumer while costing a gym or fitness club no immediate budget upfront. Not only that but if a free membership is given, there is every chance that the money might be partially or fully recovered by secondary spending.
The same applies to runner-up/secondary prizes such as day passes. They are a perfect sweet spot as they represent both value saved by the consumer/potential member and also a potent and free advertising mechanism for the gym or fitness club.
The publicity generated from these competitions is also an asset that must be considered.
It has become a frequent and effective trend to run a ‘following and retweeting’ (now reposting) competition on Twitter (now X). The entry method for each potential winner is merely retweeting and liking the post. This enables it to be spread far and wide, with the cumulative effect of each participant retweeting it to their own batch of followers while increasing the online following and reach of the gym or fitness club!
As you can imagine, when combined with our earlier steps, especially utilising Canva and providing a good ‘first online impression’, a gym or fitness club can rapidly start to reach a lot of people in a professional, engaging, and largely free way!
Working with local partners and community groups
Our final strategy will require the most time and commitment, and most likely the most resources if it is to be done correctly. But if done correctly, it can significantly increase engagement and membership numbers within an independent gym or fitness club!
And the method you ask? Getting out there into the local community, establishing a presence within the area, and making connections that will give a gym or fitness club the edge in the local community and economy.
In this increasingly online, increasingly stratified society it almost feels like the local area sometimes takes a backseat. There has become this trend, even amongst some independent gyms and fitness clubs, to view their business as a detached, aloof brand first.
But this isn’t the case, and one of the many lessons that the Covid-19 pandemic taught us just how physical and just how local the world truly is.
The local community and economy that an independent gym exists within cannot be overlooked or underestimated. Time and time again we have seen that there are significant gains to be made from reaching out to the broader community, meeting influential individuals in the area and engaging with pre-existing groups and organisations for community and sporting events.
And the fantastic news is the options are as varied as they are effective.
Whether it is approaching the local regional, town, or city council. Whether it is reaching out to charities, sports clubs or local businesses. There are opportunities everywhere when viewed through the appropriate lens.
We have seen independent gyms increase their engagement by reaching out to councillors and council workers involved with the health, sports, and fitness sector. Organisations and organisers responsible for weekly events within the area, and people within the fitness and health sector can be vital. We find that once a gym starts reaching out to these individuals, they can help them get into contact with others within the community.
In order to achieve this effectively and meaningfully, this will require going to events, even sponsoring events, and hosting events. It will require networking and it will require a genuine passion for the community that the gym is operating in.
But the rewards in terms of membership uptake and membership engagement are well worth the time, effort, and cost. In an era of corporate, budget gyms attempting to dominate the landscape with cookie-cutter gyms up and down the country, independent gyms and fitness clubs can really play to their strengths and shine by engaging with the community and making their facility more than just a place people can work out.
And really that same mantra applies to all of our tips. In a time of increased competition and challenge, the innovation that can occur on an independent level is vital for not only surviving, but thriving.
We hope these strategies, methods and ideas have helped show that there is an awful lot that an independent gym or fitness club and their staff can do to improve, even when resources are tight and the budget is tighter!