I had no idea what I was doing when I first started my fitness business. I had completed my kinesiology degree and was working as a personal trainer, but I had no experience in business management, marketing, or strategy. If I’d thought more about it at the time, I would have probably talked myself out starting a business. Realistically, it was a total crapshoot. I say this because although Vancouver’s population values physical activity, there are already thousands of personal trainers working in this city. On top of that, 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 the launch, and there are others that fall into it as I did. After the recession hit in 2008, I left the fitness studio I was working for at the time because they no longer had the hours for me. Luckily, three of my clients left with me and I started training them out of their homes and the gyms in their offices.
What no one tells you about starting a business
Those early days were really tough — I took public transit to see my clients. It wasn’t always fun dragging all of my gear (including a 10 lb medicine ball!) around with me on the bus and SkyTrain between sessions. Luck was on my side, though, as 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 grow my business. I went to networking events, gave out free sessions to charity auctions, and I sat in nail and hair salons, and talked loudly about personal training (this tactic actually worked pretty well). Additionally, I also tried to affiliate myself with people who had clients in similar demographics to the one I was targeting. I tried everything.
But even though I was putting in my best effort, the reality was this: building my business took a really long time. But I also learned the value of pushing forward.
Patience is key
Even if at times it seems exhausting, keep plugging away. Starting a business is “easy”, but keeping it going is what takes the real work. After a few years, all of your hard work will pay off and things will come together. (I promise.) For me, that took about three 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 thought about applying for a restaurant job, I’d stop and tell myself to give it time and trust the process. Sure enough, I’d suddenly bring in clients and my hopes would be renewed.
Over the last 10 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 when it comes to starting and running a business. Talking through these ideas with like-minded people has allowed me to clearly look back on tried and true tactics that helped me grow my business.
My top tips for starting a business
- Figure out if it’s worth your time: Are people willing to pay what you charge? This is necessary to make your time worthwhile. Research some competitors or similar businesses that are seeing success. Study their business models and 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 till you make it!
- 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.
- Nothing worth something comes easily: You have to be willing to give it your all. Maybe you’ll have to work seven days a week for a while, and yes, burnout is real… but if you can take care of yourself, 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.
Starting a fitness business isn’t all cushy
I’ve had my business for over 15 years now and I love watching it grow and evolve. I’ve learned that the life of an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a 9-to-5 gig. While being an entrepreneur requires making a lot of sacrifices, it’s worth, for 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 stays invisible unless it’s shared. I always find it inspiring to hear other peoples’ stories of how they got to where they are. Hopefully reading part 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.