What to do when clients can't pay

Guest writer, professional personal trainer and owner of Positive Impact Fitness, James Drabble, shares his views on what to do if your clients cannot make payments during COVID-19.

It’s safe to say my phone and email has never been as busy as it was the week lockdown measures were implemented.
Clients sought assurances on how they’d be able to maintain a solid level of fitness without one-on-one Personal Training, whereas others immediately requested to freeze their agreement or, in the worst case scenario, stop paying altogether.
Deciding how to manage your clients during this time might be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately, you can gauge the relationships you’ve developed and, if required, offer bespoke agreements for each individual client.
First and foremost, you want to keep them. Here be a few tips to help.


Amazing, isn’t it? The ability to have an open, honest and mature discussion with a fellow adult.

Crack open that pack of cards and lay them face up across that table. Only by understanding the true reality of the client’s circumstances can the pair of you come to a reasonable solution. Yes, it could mean parting ways, but it could also present options they weren’t aware might be available.

Full transparency at all times.

2. Reduce session times

If you ordinarily train clients for an hour, cut it by 15 minutes to three quarters of an hour. If it’s 45 minutes, slash it to half an hour. Reducing the session time reduces the cost of the session, thus making it financially more appealing.

3. Alternate weeks

Most clients train every week. Offer to switch to a bi-weekly Personal Training program with a tailored home program, devised by you free of charge, for the seven days sandwiched between. It’s a little more work, but it keeps a customer happy.

4. Work for free

Quick example: I’ve trained a client for the past 12 years. He’s had a large reduction in income and doesn’t know whether he can afford next month’s sessions with a family of five to support.

In the meantime he’s working voluntarily for his local hospital, which is enough for me to continue training him without charge. At the end of the day I want to keep him as a client, because when he is back working I know he will start paying me again.

5. Hear them out

Don’t instantly expect all your clients to pack it in.

In fact, don’t rule out the possibility they may choose to continue paying for sessions without even taking them.

All your clients should appreciate the work you do and many will want to maintain support of loyal, local businesses. I refer you back to the first point about honest and open discussion. It can swing both ways.

If perspective cannot be gained at times like these, my personal suggestion would be to find a mirror and glare right into it for a substantial amount of time. No one wants to work pro bono, but sometimes you’ve just got to do your bit for (cliche alert) the greater good.
I refer you to John Lennon on that time he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“I wrote down ‘happy’,” he said. “They told me I didn’t understand the assignment. I told them they didn’t understand life.”

About James Drabble

Owner and Founder of Beaconsfield based Positive Impact Fitness, James takes a whole body approach when working with people of all ages and abilities. Providing his clients with a variety of exercise techniques as well as realistic nutrition advice. James has a vast experience working with injury rehabilitation as well as sports specific conditioning.

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