What I’ve learned after 3 years in business.

Ahhh, the year was 2016 and i was a young woman with a dream.

Having spent the previous ten years exploring various educational institutions and qualifying in a range of subjects, i found myself on the precipice of bringing it all together. When i turned twenty-six, i decided that i was ready to throw away the safety net of always having a “steady” job. I had dabbled with working for myself for a couple of year in the field of beauty therapy and massage, but had not felt confident enough to give up my part time job, as i only saw my business as as unstable hobby. I journeyed into fitness and personal training as more of a curiosity in regards to learning more about anatomy, as many of my clients were streaming in from gyms or sports clubs. What ended up happening was receiving fitness clients that i still work with to this day.

In 2014, i was completely reliant on myself to generate income and had gone back to study nutritional medicine. It was working well for me to have the flexibility during the day to study and manage clients in between. But i knew that i couldn’t keep up with running between my home business and gyms that i was working out of with fitness clients. Some days i found myself waving at a client as i ran from the gym, only to just make it home in time to greet a massage client. It was exhausting and didn’t really make me feel like i was giving every client the maximum value of my time.

Of-course, i was determined to complete my nutritional medicine studies before shifting into any new endeavors.

Toward the end of 2015, i was starting to get very restless in my current situation. I’ve never been good at sitting still for too long and by now, i was getting busier than ever and felt like none of the gyms i was working in could think laterally enough to offer what i envisioned.

I never felt completely at ease with gym models of business. They lack a sense of community and authenticity.

As a personal trainer, i would walk in to a moderately sized gym with egos everywhere and feel completely inadequate. I could only imagine how this would intimidate someone unfamiliar with gym culture. From a business perspective, i always felt like the trainers were somewhat taken advantage of.

It’s this big sell from the educational institutes, making a career as a personal trainer appear to be glamorous, easy and super flexible. The idea is that once you do something a minimal as a cert 3 in fitness (which allows you to instruct large groups of people) that you can get a job in a big gym and they will look after you.

So, that’s the dream anyway.

The reality is, you pay for a qualification in fitness and literally never make any income. The big gyms charge exorbitantly high rentals and the trainers are expected to source their own clientele, offer heaps of free sessions, work ridiculous hours and if they don’t have any clients or need time off, they still have to pay their rent to the gym. I don’t know the exact statistic, but the majority of people who embark into a fitness career never make enough to pay off their educational fees.

What a dream crusher!

It’s sad to say, but health and fitness is not an easy path. The irony is that more people than ever are getting sick, overweight, taking pharmaceuticals and are generally stressed and anxious like never before and yet most fitness professionals can’t make a living.

People warned me about my chosen industries. None of them were “safe,” they were luxuries.

Seriously, how is being healthy and fit a “luxury?”

I had this clarity like never before at the start of 2016. You know when people say they had this clarity or felt called to a higher purpose?

I felt that to my core.

I knew at a soul level that i had to create a sanctuary for those who had been burnt by the traditional model of health and fitness. I wanted the one stop shop, where people looked forward to going and knew they would never feel judged. And i knew i could make it happen.

And i did.

I spent some time searching for the right location and building and ironically ended up brokering a lease agreement with the very first building i looked at. I had turned it down because i couldn’t afford the lease asking price and i didn’t care for the snake-ish charm of the real estate agent, who told me not to worry about most of the council regulations for permits and fit-outs. I may have been a fresh face, but i had done my homework.

I ended up negotiating with the landlord directly, who was not keen to have a gym type establishment in one of this buildings.  But i went in armed with a business plan for 5 years, pulled up my big girl pants and handled my first big lease negotiation. I impressed him and he softened. He gave me the opportunity and to this day, still comes in for a visit to see how i am going and will offer to set me up with his connections should i need it.

In hindsight, the lease negotiation was the easy part. The fit-out and chasing up the local council was far more grueling. There were many long days, tears and tantrums and a whole lot of stress leading up to our opening day. As it was, we were only 50% completed when we opened our doors for the first time, but people came as a show of support, none-the-less.

I can’t claim to have gotten through the crawling stages solo. My husband Daniel completed a big chunk of the fit-out with his bare hands and helped me source funds to pay for what turned out to be a very costly start-up. But he believed in my dream and so he wanted to see it blossom.

The first twelve months were some of the most challenging, as i knew i had some big favors to repay and had to generate revenue. I did not take a wage for the first year and it was really hard to be working sixty hours a week and having no financial reward to show for it. Everyone told me that i would lose money in the first year of business.

I broke even – and i’d paid off all my out-standing debts.

Being the over-achiever i am, i went to my accountant at the end of that first year with my head down. I was upset with myself for not making more money or having more clients. My accountant was astonished and assured me that although i wasn’t reaping the financial rewards personally, i had a achieved a massive feat in my first year.

I was on an upward curve and spurred to improve the next year.

I had to spend so much time educating myself on marketing tools, online software programs and even learnt a little about coding! I had no choice, because i couldn’t afford to pay someone else to do it. And so i kept burning the candle at both ends to create something that was bigger than myself.

What i began to see was people resonating with the example i set out.

I made it my mission to recognize every person who came in. I knew everyone by name and i made sure that everyone was greeted with a friendly hello and a quick chat when possible. To my utter amazement, this started to trickle into the culture of the business. Suddenly, members were greeting new faces and striking up conversations. I asked someone one day why they did this and they replied “Because i remember when i first started and if it wasn’t for you and other members being so friendly toward me, i wouldn’t have come back. I wanted to pay that forward, so that someone else can feel as special as i did.”

That really warmed my heart and reiterated that what we were building was special.

People would continuously reflect that we were not like any other gym or fitness business they had ever encountered and it was so amazing to come somewhere where they felt no judgement and enjoyed exercise. Many of these people have stayed in the business since before it even opened its doors. I never thought of the business as “mine” but as ours. Ours being the collective for that of the community it homed. I exempted myself from credit, as i was only the conductor, but it took the orchestra to make it beautiful.

Over the second year, we began to expand our class offerings and our timetable grew bigger and bigger.

That second year, i thought would be the norm forever and that if i just kept pouring all my heart and soul into the business, it would just keep growing.

Here’s what year three taught me.

I didn’t own the business, it owned me. 

Little by little, i had had to give more and more of myself to the “business” side. I often reflected that the teachers and trainers operating within the walls should be protected from the pain of seeing someone leave or the rigorous expenditure it took to induct someone new into our community. They should be allowed to love what they do and in that, the business side of my work began to eat me up. I lived and breathed it. I would be replying to inquiry emails at 11pm at night and thinking about my next Facebook post. I had no hobbies or downtime and the anxiety was always there. I had created a masterpiece at the expense of the painter.

The worst part is feeling like after everything you have achieved, it’s still not enough. There’s always a big gym popping up to under-cut you on price or a trainer willing to drop their baseline to get a new client. And it honestly made me feel sick and frustrated.

I believe if you have never owned a business, it can be difficult to comprehend the amount of time and energy that goes into it. Again, there’s this idea that if you own your own business, you have lots of additional income and a ton of working flexibility. Ahhh, yer maybe if you’re Richard Branson. The reality is that small business owners work long hours, fret about money a lot and even when they get a holiday, they’re still working.

I love what i do so much that i have always said, if money wasn’t a factor, i would do my job for free. But that’s not the case unfortunately. To come in even on a weekly basis, i have to make sure i have paid my rent, wages and utilities and that’s not even at home! So that’s twice the stress.

When someone leaves the community, it’s hard not to take it personally. I wonder how i might’ve failed them or why our services weren’t up to their needs. I literally care about each person and i just want to see them healthy and well.

We had an absolutely explosive start to our third year and business was going from strength to strength – until about halfway through. Then, in January, it died down and just didn’t swing back up. The second half of our third year was like no challenges i have encountered before, both personally and professionally.

In January of this year, i honestly felt like i was on the verge of something, but the pit it formed in my stomach worried me. In my heart, i knew this was going to be an uphill push.

Usually, by Mid-February, we see that upward swing – after everyone has indulged and relaxed a bit of Christmas and New year. It never came. I also found out i was pregnant with my first child. I did my best to battle through the nausea, exhaustion and generally feeling crappy, but suddenly i felt like i needed to step back a little and take care of myself and my baby.

I consider Personal Transformations my first born. It is a labour of love and requires so much of my focus. I have nurtured it from its infancy and its one of my greatest achievements. But i really needed it start to walk on it own for a while, so i could finally start looking after myself.

It seemed that the influx never came and i had to make peace with moving along at a steady pace.

When Daniel and i found out that our baby had a congenital heart problem and his life prognosis was poor, i had to really step away from my business and community to focus on what i had to do and put myself back together after he was still born on July 4th.

The Community at large seemed to rally in their support and the outpouring of love i received was overwhelming. I knew that Personal Transformations was being taken care of by the very members it was home to. They allowed me to take my time to grieve and offered to love my first born as much as i do in my absence.

But all up, that third year was not what most would call a “financial success.” It was however a community success.

Coming back into the business, i began to realise that business in its essence is such a contrived concept. Following the model for a successful business is so impersonal and designed only toward increasing a companies bottom line.

There has to be a better way of doing it.

I believe that if people within the business believe in the vision as much as the personal behind the namesake, then it becomes a group effort and responsibility to keep it thriving. One person can only achieve so much, but a group who truly believe in what they are doing creates an army.

I don’t want to be so stressed and anxious about winning and losing members anymore. I built the foundation and birthed a beautiful sanctuary for people to congregate and connect to each other, but i am now at the point where i cannot be owned by it anymore. This is my rallying cry.

If you love something, protect it. Don’t wait and hope someone else will do it for you. 

Small businesses everywhere are feeling exactly the same as me – many shut their doors and their clientele are the ones who feel the pain of that. That clientele is YOU. And its so simple to help small business owners to sleep at night. Go out of your way to buy a coffee from that little coffee shop, bring friends to your favorite gym (that’s us 😉 ) or buy your fruit and veg from the local green grocer. If you find yourself instantly rattling off excuses as to why you can’t serve the local business with your time or money – then find a way that you can help them. Share a Facebook post helping to promote their business or refer a friend their who might be in need of their services.

Trust me, you will get so much gratitude from those small businesses. Small business is really all about community.

I have no desire to open ten franchises of Personal Transformations. I’ve been offered. But the essence of what we stand for would be tarnished trying to replicate it and turn into another scripted conglomerate. I have no intent to be a millionaire or take people’s money unjustly. Contrary, i am here to find out how i can be of service to each person. If we all work to serve each other, then everyone ultimately wins.

So going into my fourth year of business, i am ready to recapture the passion that i felt all those years ago, but not at the cost of losing myself again. What i have now that i lacked before is the belief that i really do have something to offer people. I can offer them a safe space to explore their own health and fitness needs, but more than that, i have a very unique skill set and life experience that you wont find in your average health studio. Instead of listening to what people tell me, i hear what they are saying. It’s easy to get caught in the story when you’re living it, but i have an ability to tune into what people are really trying to express and guide them forward.

I want to keep this thing going for as long as i can – so please HEAR my rally cry and protect something very precious to us all.