Current career/life position: Fitness Business Owner to Mum!
Can't start the day without: Exercise ;) (or at least getting outdoors)
I’m most efficient at: I wish it wasn’t the case, but 5AM
Most effective productivity tool: My handwritten to-do list
Best read of all time is: Down Under – Bill Bryson, it indirectly made me move to Australia
Biggest role model: anyone that makes a living through hard work, determination, stubbornness and tenacity whilst providing great customer service/products because I know how bloody tiring it is!
Non-negotiable: exercise (am I sounding like a fitness bore yet?!)
TOP music track that sets your heart on fire: Uptown Funk, or any 90’s dance tune from the Ritzy nightclub in my English hometown
Most random job: Counting screws in a hardware store
Mindful habits: Running, yoga
Most afraid of: Being late! Hah no seriously I do hate being late but I’m afraid of never being content and always chasing the next thing. I’m trying to be content!
Go to for fun: getting a group together for some kind of activity; a sport, a run, a camping trip, balanced out with some wine and bloody good food.
Back to the beginning of your career journey, what did you first focus your studies in?
I didn't know what I wanted to do at uni at all. I did Art, Maths, Design Technology and Physics for my A Levels, so everyone said to me, "Wow! Do architecture", And I was like, "OK then."
I knew while I was at uni I shouldn't have chosen it, because all the people that were on the course wanted to be an Architect since they were 4 years old. They’d played with lego and were totally passionate about it, I just never felt that way. I finished the course anyway, I didn’t know what else to do instead and was too stubborn to give up.
After realising the Architecture wasn’t for you what did you decide to do next?
I travelled and came back financially broke, so I remember walking into this recruitment agency in London on the side of the road and got a job at a pub management company straight away. I worked for them for about a year, but they went bust. The Administrators came in to close it all down, but at the end offered me a job with them, so that's how I got into accountancy.
It was one of the weirdest turns of fate for my career, because I would NEVER have chosen it. I didn't even really want to do pub management, but I was quite good at it because it was organisational logistics stuff. Accountancy wasn't an obvious choice for me, but I was given the option of either being made redundant and being unemployed, or working for one of the big four accountancy firms. It was a no-brainer!
I was with them for about five years until my partner and I then went traveling. We traveled for about two years until we arrived in Australia where we intended to live at the end of it.
That trip was one of the most awesome things that we’ve ever done.
What job did you do once you came to Australia?
After traveling we were broke again, so I went back to doing accounting, getting a job using my London contacts. I lasted a year.
I basically came home and cried most nights, I didn't want to be there and I hated it. It was just like, "Oh my god, this is not what I want to do! This is not me”. Before, the job had always had a purpose; to save money to go traveling, to get a qualification, to get a visa. Suddenly, it didn't have a reason anymore.
I basically came home and cried most nights, I didn't want to be there and I hated it. I kept saying,"Oh my god, this is not what I want to do! This is not me”.
I kept going through the same thinking process of what I was going to do next to get out of this job. What should I do? What to do? I just felt a bit lost and had one of those mini “early mid-life crises” that so many people seem to have in their 30s.
So, my partner and I came up with a plan that gave me a ‘worst case’ backstop date of when I would quit my job, even if I didn’t know what I was going to do next. That made me chill out a bit, because suddenly, there was a date when life would change, even if I didn’t exactly know how yet. We worked out that we could afford to live on his salary for a year.
It freed me up, and allowed me to think more clearly about what it was that I wanted to do, rather than just stumbling through each day in a job I hated and never seeing the end of the tunnel. If it didn't work after a year, then I’d have to go back and get a job, in accountancy I guess, to earn money again.
What practical steps did you take to identify what you wanted to do next?
Before I quit, I'd applied for a few other jobs and not been successful. Then my dad helped me decide; rather than thinking about what specific job I wanted to do, he made me think from a different point of view, asking: “What do you like doing? What do you want to spend your days doing?” And I was like, "Right, I like being outside, I like organising people, I like organising events, I like being active.” And that led me to the path of “Why don't I do my fitness qualification?”.
Then my dad helped me decide; rather than thinking about what specific job I wanted to do, he made me think from a different point of view, asking: “What do you like doing? What do you want to spend your days doing?”
It was never a lightbulb moment of “Oh my god, I have to run a fitness business.”, I just thought about what my strengths were, what I was good at, and what I wanted to do each day, and that eventually led me to this path. So that helped, thinking from a different perspective.
How did you start bringing your business to life?
When I started doing the fitness qualifications after quitting my job, I got friends to come together and let me train them. That's how the squad kind of organically evolved. When I was qualified they started paying, and they bought their friends along, and then I got ‘real people’ finding me. It was exciting the first time I got real clients that weren't just my mates dragging their mates along!
What was the scariest thing about starting out?
It was actually scarier when I was still in my corporate job, working my notice period, hating the job and trying to decide what to do. Just thinking through the what ifs - what if it doesn't work, what are people going to say, what if I fail and all those normal thoughts.
It was worse because I had time to think about it. As soon as I had quit, and as soon as I was actually doing it, I wasn't that scared anymore because I was doing stuff to make it happen. I had a to-do list, and I just had to really get on and do it because I had a year to make it work. As soon as I'd quit, it was much better.
It was actually scarier when I was still in my corporate job, working my notice period, hating the job and trying to decide what to do. Just thinking through the what ifs
How did you feel when you actually gave your notice in?
A little part of me really enjoyed it because people thought I was nuts - all the people in Australia that I'd worked with had only ever known me as an accountant, and they were like, "You're going to do what?". A lot of people, my dad included, didn't think it was the right idea (even though he'd coached me through those decisions). He thought it was a phase that I had to get out my system. A little part of me also liked the shock factor and the thrill and buzz of, I'm doing this, I'm one of those people that I used to look at and think, “Oh, wow! They quit their job and they're going to do it.”
I'm doing this, I'm one of those people that I used to look at and think, "Oh, wow! They quit their job and they're going to do it.”
So a little part was feeling that, and the other part was scared. There are so many things to do when setting up a business and it felt like I’d never get there. I've actually never got to the end of my to-do list in five years, and I never will – I’m ok with that now!
I’ve learnt that you can't procrastinate or spend too much time thinking about whether you’re doing the right thing- sometimes you have to do it to find out! All the business planning stuff is really important, but, at some point, you gotta stop the planning and just bloody do it!
How did you transform from your coaching course, to running a business?
The OzSquad business developed pretty quickly from training friends for free. They liked it and kept coming, and that evolved into charging them a little bit, just to keep it going. So I kind of already had a little bit of an income stream and it just grew from there. For the Buggy Bootcamp business, that started when I realised that in my hometown Manly there were so many new mums around all the beaches and a lack of structured post-natal exercise options.
There was this massive opportunity there to do that, so after three months or so of OzSquad, I set up Buggy Bootcamp with another trainer initially and then I took that over, about six months later.
When you first started getting your paid clients, were there any fears, worries or challenges?
The challenges are still there. There are so many competitors in the fitness world, so you always have the fear of losing or not being able to attract clients. With Buggy Bootcamp especially, the turnovers are high because people attend just while they are on maternity leave, whereas at OzSquad I've had people training with me for four or five years. It’s probably only in the last year or so that I know the seasonal cycle of the year enough, so when I take a little bit of a dip, I now think “It's OK. That happens”.
During one particularly bad Winter, I was down to just 14 members at Buggy Bootcamp, and there were lots of days with no one showing up and it was totally demoralising. I see it especially with personal trainers, people get to the point where they've nearly cracked it, and so nearly got to that critical mass, where they have a business, but it’s too bloody hard and they give up. But I think perseverance and tenacity is one of the biggest things that new business owners need.
Was there anything you did specifically to help get through those tough periods?
I would have to remind myself this is where other people might give up. This is their end. This is what you need to do to keep your business going, and just get on and bloody do it. I took action rather than thinking and procrastinating, ‘just doing it’ worked for me!
I would have to remind myself this is where other people might give up. This is their end. This is what you need to do to keep your business going, and just get on and bloody do it.
What are the main challenges running a business with babies?
So the mums lay the babies on a rug or in their prams, and yeah, sometimes we get a 10-way cry and everyone just laughs.
We just make it work. Babies are the mums' responsibility, but the trainers do jiggle the prams and try and help the mum to get their hour as much as they can. People jump in and out and if they have to feed mid-session, then they still get half an hour in and that's still better than zero minutes. It means they still get out of the house, get some fresh air, move a little and have a chat.
When you're on the beachfront with 10 babies crying, it's not going to be as bad as if you're in a room with 10 babies crying. Some days we have total no cries at all. They are good days!
For the last year I've been going to the sessions with my son, as a participant, and the first one I went to, I thought, "Oh my god, my business actually really works – I don’t feel grumpy anymore !"
Did you set any metrics to judge the success of the business over time?
I tried. And actually, business forecasting and planning was one of my weak points. In the end I just always worked towards increasing member numbers month on month.
My businesses are still evolving now. It's changing organically. I guess it's a small business with me who's ultimately in charge. I like the fact that I can wake up tomorrow and have an idea and it can be in place by the end of that day.
People are often put off by not knowing what the end result is going to look like. But again, just doing it and seeing what happens, for me, has been a good way of approaching it.
Are there specific people in your life that are big believers in you and have helped you on your journey?
Euan (my partner) definitely supported me throughout, both financially in the early days and still now by doing pretty much anything I need him to! He’s currently taking a career break too and is on paternity leave whilst I catch up on working on the business after having my son.
And then all those people that came when I was still learning, and kept turning up, and still keep coming. They've actually helped create the whole business ethos and set the vibe from Day 1 - when those real people came in for the first time, there was already friendly, positive banter - a fun vibe, which has continued on.
My hope for both of my businesses, and my whole ethos is that you should exercise to feel good and because you enjoy it, to energise yourself and to make yourself feel better for the day ahead.
Thriving and Kicking
Is there a skill you'd still like to master, and why?
I need to focus and be present on one task at a time more. I think one of the reasons I'm quite efficient is that I'm good at multitasking, but I think I'm taking it too far now with a baby thrown into that mix as well and can get easily distracted.
What three personality traits do you think have contributed to succeeding in your businesses?
Being tenacious definitely. Persevering, because it is hard, and you don't see much coming back for the first little while and so many people do give up. And being a bit of a perfectionist. It definitely helped set me apart in the fitness world, over the kind of delivery of session and customer service I was providing and making sure all those little details are in place which other trainers might not view as important.
For women who are reading this, who want more but haven't made any killer moves yet, what do you suggest for their first steps?
If they haven't decided what they want to do yet, approach it by thinking about what they like doing and what their strengths are, and what job matches, rather than just thinking, "What job should I do? What job should I do?". And then if they have decided, but aren't sure - just do it. If it's not a unique idea, it doesn't matter, a fitness business isn't a unique idea. Also you need to do it your own way. It's hard not to look at what competitors are doing and think, "I should be doing that". But being strong in your beliefs, personality and ethos will set you apart.
As for killer moves; do your planning, and at some point, stop the planning, stop the worrying, and start. Just do something, whether that is quitting your job or, getting an ABN (Australian Business Number) or whatever it is. At some point, stop procrastinating and get it done.
Photo credit: http://www.gemmamaclennan.com/