Thinking of starting your own business? Take it from me — sometimes it feels WAY easier said than done.
When I was first getting started, I had no idea what I was doing. I had completed my kinesiology degree was working as as a personal trainer, but I had no experience in business management, marketing or strategy. Had I thought more about it at the time, I would have probably talked myself out of it and gone on to do something else.
Realistically, it was a total crapshoot. I say this because although Vancouver is a great city whose population values physical activity, there are THOUSANDS of personal trainers working in this city. On top of this, I was told by a male manager that I was going to have to work way harder at earning people’s respect than a male trainer (insert eye-roll here).
There are people who spend years of their lives brainstorming business ideas and planning ways to start a business, and there are others that fall into it like I did. After the recession hit in 2008, I left the fitness studio where I worked because they no longer had the hours to give me. Luckily, three of my clients left with me and I started training them out of their home, building and office gyms.
Those early days were really tough — I took public transit to see my clients, and trekked all of my gear (including a 10 lb medicine ball!) around with me on the bus and skytrain between sessions. I gained my first few clients quite easily, but then I hit a plateau — and I couldn’t figure out how to market myself to find more.
I tried EVERYTHING. I went to networking events, gave out free sessions to charity auctions, sat in nail and hair salons and talked loudly about personal training (this one actually worked pretty well) and tried to affiliate myself with people who had clients in similar demographics to the one I was targeting.
Even though I was putting in my best effort, the reality was that building my business took a really long time. Even if at times it seems exhausting, keep plugging away. After a few years, all of your work will pay off and things will come together (for me, that took about 3 years).
I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit and go back to bartending during those first few years of training, but every time I would think about applying for a job in a restaurant I’d stop and tell myself to give it time and trust the process. Sure enough, I would suddenly get a new client and my hope in my business would be renewed.
Over the last 11 years, I’ve had several friends sit down with me to brainstorm business ideas. To this day, it still seems bizarre that people value my business advice, but talking through it has made me realize that there are a few consistent themes to running a business. Talking through these ideas with my tribe has allowed me to clearly look back on some tried and true tactics that helped me grow my business up to this point.
Figure out if it’s worth your time. Are people willing to pay what you need to charge to make what you offer them worthwhile? Research some competitors or similar businesses that are seeing success, study their business models and then figure out ways you can diversify and market yourself differently.
Get to know your target market inside and out. Who are they? Where do they shop, eat, live and work? The better you know your clients, the easier they’ll be to find.
Perfect your elevator pitch. You should be able to describe what you do in 30 seconds or less in a way that doesn’t sound pushy or cheesy. Practice saying it with confidence (fake it ‘til you make it, guys!).
Read about how other entrepreneurs did it. This will really help you get through the bad days. If you start to get discouraged, remember that people once thought Starbucks was a bad idea.
Great things never come easily! You have to be willing to give it your all. Maybe you’ll have to work 7 days a week for a while. And yes, burnout is real. But if you can push through those hard times and come out the other side, it will be worth it in the end.
Be authentic! If you truly love what you do, people notice. Your enthusiasm is contagious, and people will want to support you and help you grow.
I’ve had my business for 11 years now, and I love watching it grow and evolve. I’ve realized that the life of an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, and that there’s nothing wrong with choosing a 9 to 5 gig. But while being an entrepreneur requires making a lot of sacrifices, it’s worth it to me because I love being able to turn my ideas into reality.
Remember, success always looks super cushy to people from the other side. But the years of struggle leading up to that success stay invisible unless they’re shared. I always find it inspiring to hear other people’s stories of how they got to where they are, so hopefully reading some of my story will inspire you. Don’t get frustrated if things don’t happen as fast as you want them to! You’ll learn and grow along the way… and that’s what life is all about.