Laura Moore is an inspiring woman. Laura started her personal training business in July 2014 and faced some very big challenges in her first year.
This interview explores some of Laura’s basic philosophies about starting and running a business and while she is talking about her personal fitness and wellness business. These principles are universal.
Here is Laura with her Business startup story
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Happy reading! Now here is the full transcript of the podcast.
INGRID: Let’s start, what is your business?
LAURA: My business is personal training.
INGRID: And when did you start your business?
LAURA: I started my business, officially, the business opened in July 2014. Unofficially the business started in May. That was down at Maroubra beach because I couldn’t wait any longer for the studio to be fitted out, so my initial clients got trained on the beach. Some were wearing scarves at the time as it was chilly. And the nutrition training sessions were done in cars in the car park on my Ipad, so thank the lord for technology. And so then we took them into the studio in June and then officially opened in July following all the creative issues that one gets.
INGRID: Exactly. So what did you want from that business from day one?
LAURA: Hmm, from day one I wanted a business, my parents had a business so I’ve always been part of that since I was young. Then when I fell into the fitness industry, about 4.5 years ago I knew from then that I wanted to make this my business. So what I wanted was the freedom, isn’t that what we all think we want when we start a business? But not necessarily what we get. And the ability to help people, both clients and trainers on my terms, and of course make money.
INGRID: Of course to make money. That’s right, you can’t do much if you are sleeping in your car and unable to fund yourself.
INGRID: So you started in May. Fantastic. You were so diligent running fitness sessions on the beach and in the car. But when did you actually feel that you were in business? You thought about it for a number of years, then you got to the beach, then the studio, but when were you actually in business?
LAURA: I think for me it felt like I was in business probably about a month or two in. I got a trainer working for me, he was my first employee which was exciting. And I think actually it was the sense of responsibility about him, that actually made me feel like I was in business, because I was in charge of this person’s career. Everything else in terms of training the clients were things I’d always done, but to have an employee and the power to make or break them I suppose, that’s when I thought ‘all right, we are in it.’
INGRID: We are in it. That’s lovely. I haven’t heard that from anybody else. For everyone their moment is different, so it’s quite a good perspective to hear. So, how do you know what your customers want? How did you know that your style of fitness training was what customers wanted? There’s lots of gyms and lots of ways people can get fit, but how did you know that people wanted your unique service?
LAURA: Well I suppose, I’d been in the industry for about 3-4 years by the time I opened, but I’d also been part of a franchise and knew that was a proven model, its also a different model to most of the gyms out there. So I already got that structure and systems that I knew were going to work, but also I knew that structure and system was very different from what was around in the industry, and I’d seen it work as a trainer in another studio.
INGRID: Ok. So how did you fund that? You say you bought into a franchise, that obviously cost money. Without going into personal details too much, how did you fund the business to start with?
LAURA: Luckily, while I was younger I invested in property back home in the UK, so I had those assets I was able to sell and bring the cash over from the UK. I couldn’t get a loan here because of my visa status so I had to beg borrow, and not steal, beg borrow and sell (laughs). It’s quite an investment, hugely, in building a studio and fitting it out and also buying into a franchise as well. It is a very very big investment, and the systems and structure, that was worth a lot having that brand awareness already there.
INGRID: And they helped you grow your business because of those systems in place?
LAURA: Absolutely, yes
INGRID: Fantastic. How did you find new customers? Did they help you find customers, or does just being part of that name help you find customers?
LAURA: Being part of the name does help, its very very much a referral based business. Because I’m part o the wider network that means we get referrals from other studios because it’s Sydney wide, so that’s very helpful. But then on a more local level, my best marketing is networking and working with the local businesses. Quite often I’ll run networking lunches with local business people, I’ve joined the committee for the Chamber of Commerce, I go to the BNI Chapter. For me, because it’s a saturated market, I need to get the message out there and I can’t do that effectively with just a flyer. Obviously those kind of things help because its more exposure, but we need to educate people to understand what we offer and why we are different.
INGRID: Do you find it’s a very personal thing, the clients want you?
LAURA: Hmmm, yes it can be. So actually as a business owner that is quite an interesting challenge to get over. As business owners we often don’t want to work in the business but on the business. So that is why I enjoy and find it a big challenge, mentoring my trainers, because I want my clients to be able to train with any of my trainers and feel comfortable, and get the same services from them. I spend a lot of time with the trainers to ensure that can happen.
INGRID: How many trainers do you have now?
LAURA: Hmm, at the moment I have just got the one. I think we should talk in a moment about why there’s just one at the moment.
INGRID: Yeah we will. Just one of the questions I wanted to ask you is about your pricing strategy, is that dictated by the franchise or were you able to come up with a pricing strategy yourself?
LAURA: It’s guided by the network but we can essentially do what we want, so I actually chose to go at the highest end of the pricing just because I think we are worth it.
INGRID: Absolutely. And people are prepared to pay it.
INGRID: So do you charge by session, or by membership or by monthly – do you have a model, a pricing model?
LAURA: Oh yes, I like to sell it as a program and there is quite a lot of things you can include within that, but the different structures depend on how many sessions per week they do with the trainer.
INGRID: Ok that’s great. Thanks. So have you thought about an exit strategy, or, you know, what you would do….you built a business, and as you say you were more on it then in it, and you built your group of trainers, have you thought about what happens next?
LAURA: Yes I have, from the beginning I had a bit of a 5 year thought in my head, but the end of franchise agreements are 5 years, in 5 year blocks. So I always thought at the end of that I’d either want to get someone in to manage it and step back to my next venture, or I would sell. However, and this is where the interesting story comes in….almost 6 months ago now the studio actually burnt down. I was next to a noodle shop and unfortunately they had an uncontrollable wok fire and my studio took a hit. So the gym that we are actually in now, so everyone knows, is the local Seals Club here in Maroubra who very nicely took us in so we could keep business still going, so I guess in terms of exit strategies that could have been a brilliant one, but to me exiting wasn’t an option at that stage. My main concern was keeping the clients going, and having tools where they wanted to go. So in fact the day after the fire we still had our boxing class but just in the park down the road, and then I had them all training at the beach for one day, and at the Seals Club the next.
INGRID: Very generous of the Seals to take you in. And I just have to comment on the stunning view from your gym, overlooking the magnificent Maroubra Beach which is not as well known as Bondi Beach, but is equally as beautiful.
LAURA: Yes more so, I think but I am a bit biased.
INGRID: We are a bit biased. We do tend to think of Maroubra feels like far down the south coast but its really only 5 minutes away. Ah so, that would have been a bit of a surprise. Were you in the studio on the Friday night?
LAURA: I wasn’t but one of my trainers was. Id just left for the night but luckily Id taken my laptop home with me. But he called me and said there had been a bang and some smoke so I kind of thought, he didn’t seem very disturbed by it. So I came down and was met by fire engines and as I got there I could see smoke coming out the back of the studio as the evening progressed the whole side wall and the roof collapsed in the building, so at that point, I thought ‘this is interesting”.
INGRID: The obvious question had to be asked – did you have any insurance?
LAURA: Fortunately I did, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough. So it now turns out that was a big worry so while the thing was burning down I was on the side of the road looking at my emails on my phone frantically looking for my policy. Luckily it was there, so yeah, I’ve learnt a lot with regard to insurance now. And being underinsured and not actually having enough, and they might only give you a percentage of that back….and all the insurance loopholes.
INGRID: I know. And it’s just a good point about insurance, and so many people thinking “I’ll just get around to that one day” and don’t even have insurance.
INGRID: So fabulous you have it, although a bit of a nuisance having not quite enough.
LAURA: Yes, a bit of a nuisance but it’s been a good lesson. And I hope others can take something away from that lesson. I know when I took out the policy I didn’t know what I was doing cause I was new to it. So I just took the advice of the broker, and in my mind I’m thinking ‘I’m never gonna need it anyway’ so whatever, I didn’t think too much more about it. So yeah, I hope that’s something people can learn.
INGRID: Particularly having a physical space, it’s a completely different issue regarding a service, in terms of insurance for your people, but the actual business insurance. But for you at least you were able to have business continuity because you were still able to run your classes. In other businesses they actually have to be out of business for a few weeks while they wait for repairs, and that is a critical insurance to have as well, to cover the cost of keeping your business going while you aren’t able to make coffee, serve wine, or make widgets or whatever you do….
LAURA: Yes, it’s so so important I cannot stress that enough.
INGRID: And you are a living breathing example of that. So the next question is what you could have done differently, and perhaps the insurance is one of those things, but are there other things, perhaps going back like may June July last year, and you reflect if you could have done things differently back then?
LAURA: Yeah, in a way, just talking about the fire, I actually like to take the good from everything, and a lot of people say if I had my time again in business I’d do this this and this. In some ways I’m lucky I’m getting to do my time again, not even a year in, so I’ve had a lot of time to do a lot of reflection and I realise that I have 3-4 key areas, where I think I, not let myself down, but could have been stronger in and make the journey easier. One of them was being on top of my finances. I opened the doors and kind of thought, right, what’s this BAS and PAYG business? So definitely would have like to have got my head around that a lot sooner and a lot earlier. The other one was efficient and effective goal setting. I kind of new what I wanted to do but I haven’t defined it all and broken it down into smaller goals. So I didn’t have clarity on where I was going. The other problem was when I did achieve something I didn’t celebrate it, so I always felt like I was under-achieving which in itself can be a big problem. So clarity and celebration are important.
INGRID: Very insightful Laura, very insightful. So if you don’t actually have a goal you don’t know you’ve actually got there, so therefore…and that fits in with what you actually do in your business. So given that you set people goals for skips and weights and so on, and you didn’t do it for yourself.
LAURA: No, I didn’t do it for myself. And also the thing is when you have opened your business you always feel like you don’t have time, any time. So rather then just taking a step back and doing that higher level stuff, I always just was chasing my tail. Trying to do the unimportant stuff…was the lesson.
INGRID: The busy stuff.
LAURA: Yeah the busy stuff. And the last thing was time. Time management, although someone the other day said they call it energy management which I like, and balance, which is that buzz word. I didn’t quite get that, which also came from not having proper goals as well. They all tied in with each other.
INGRID: Yes that’s very insightful. Do you feel like you have more of that now?
LAURA: I do, I do actually. And I’m quite strict. I’ve set my boundaries. For me scuba diving is my happy place, and I’ve now taken up meditation so when I have those times, it’s non-negotiable, it has to happen.
INGRID: So they get locked into your diary and are non negotiable.
INGRID: Nice. Sort of related to that question, is there something you’d really wish you’d known from the start? If someone could have given you a piece of information along the way and you thought “I wish I’d known that”, what would that be?
LAURA: Hmm, a lot of my headaches came from the financials actually, and I’m one of those people if I don’t know something then I’m quite quick to brush it off. So…I actually would have liked to know more about my financials before opening up.
INGRID: Hmm, that’s interesting. Yes. And this is about other people, and up to you how detailed you want to give me on this, but I’d like to get a sense of who apart from yourself has been your greatest assistance to you and your business? It can be someone physically in the business or a mentor.
LAURA: Initially I had a business coach. She was great, really great. We had skype sessions, she was down in South Australia. She helped me immensely. The good thing about a business coach rather then an advisor, because the original struggles I encountered were more personal, or mindset based. So I’d say lets talk about the marketing plan and she’d say well lets talk about why you haven’t implemented the plan first (laughs) which made a lot of sense. So she was invaluable and help0ed me to overcome those kind of struggles. So I did open the business on my own. Even though I was part of a franchise, you get the higher level support but the day to day support you don’t necessarily get. So when you are opening a business on your own, it’s your first business and you don’t know what you are doing, it’s very isolating. And you do encounter a lot of mindset and personal problems as well as the business problems, if you like. So for me to have your support and someone to bounce ideas off was invaluable.
INGRID: Did she come with the franchise?
LAURA: No, I just wanted someone independent and outside assistance so I didn’t get stuck in my bubble. So while we get all the parameters set and the vision but the day we ran things it was up to us. So I wanted an outside view of how to do things differently.
INGRID: And that is important for people to not be in the bubble.
INGRID: And get an outside perspective.
LAURA: Exactly. And just because this is how its always been done, well maybe there is a better way. A more efficient way. (laughs.)
INGRID: Now if one of your people, or your clients, or you met someone at a party and they told you they were thinking of starting their own business, what would you say to them?
LAURA: Hmm, I would say good on you! But I would also say basically the 3 key areas that I’ve realised for me – and this can be a big thing for a lot of people. Make sure you understand how to run a business. You might know your business in a sense of what you are doing, I knew personal training for instance, but did I know how to run a business? No, not really. So make sure you know what it is you need to do to run a business.
LAURA: Make sure you go get some balance and what is important to you. I suppose on that, and what has really been valuable to me is understand what is really important to me, and what are my values and that way if I ever do feel out of sorts I know I can come back to that and can figure out where I am going wrong and rectify it, basically. I guess know what you want and get some clarity around that.
INGRID: Its interesting when you talk about values, because when we speak to people who are thinking of being in business or thinking of running a business, and we talk about what are their values, sometimes people say I don’t have time to go onto that, I want to go onto finalising my marketing plan or printing my new brochure, so why do I need to go back to my values. So how have your values really helped you?
LAURA: For me, I think they reign me in, stop me from going crazy to be honest. And just knowing why I am doing it. Start with the why and that is so important because there have been plenty of times where I could have said buggar all of this. But remember why I am doing it keeps driving me forward. You know I don’t want to be stuck in the same place – I want to move forward and I want great things in life. So if I want to do that, I’ve got to do something. I just keep that in my mind and every now and then if I think I’m slipping or losing my way, I pull out the butchers paper and my coloured pens and I’ll just write like a crazy woman and remind myself of all my values again what I need to do to get back to them if I’ve lost my way.
INGRID: Nice. So what are 3 characteristics that have made you successful in business?
LAURA: Hmm I think passion, pride and tenacity. All very important. You have to love what you do without a doubt, and if I love what I do the people who work with me will also feel that and want to come on board. Pride is important because I want to deliver a great service for the client and my trainers – so I want that instilled in all of them as well. And obviously tenacity because it’s hard. (laughs)
INGRID: And 6 months in and having the whole thing burn down you have to be able to dust yourself off and pick yourself up.
LAURA: I always think of that scene in Finding Nemo when the fish are stuck in the net at the end and they say ‘just keep swimming’ and they do and then they get out of the net. So I always think that – ’just keep swimming’
INGRID: ‘Just keep swimming’, I like that. So those being your characteristics is that what you’d recommend for someone else starting a business.
LAURA: Yes I would definitely. I’d also say another big one for me, and one of my biggest values, is honesty. And what I mean by that is being honest and true to yourself. Again knowing what you want and why you are doing it, and not being afraid to stick to your guns and stay true to who you are. I think once you start to mould yourself and your business into what you think other people want you can get a disconnect and it doesn’t feel right. And if it doesn’t feel right things don’t go as smoothly. Honesty as to who you are and what you want to be are very important.
INGRID: Thank you so much. And is there anything else I haven’t covered that you’d like to share with the audience?
LAURA: I suppose I touched briefly on having employees. I think that is a really really important thing for people to put time into actually. They are part of your business right? They are your business, and like we said before, we didn’t get into business to be in it, but we want to enjoy it and enjoy the fruits of our labour so we want good people to keep it going when we aren’t there. I don’t think people necessarily focus enough on that. I’ve put a lot of time into growing my trainers and helping them and growing their careers, and then in turn their loyalty and what they do for me, is far greater. We just have a real nice mutual respect because we help each other. So I think that’s something that’s really important to remember. So if you look after them they will look after you.
INGRID: So the secret to that as well is finding the right ones to start with.
LAURA: Yes yes.
INGRID: And really taking your time with that.
INGRID: To select the right people and get the same fit with your values.
LAURA: Exactly exactly. I sort of mentioned at the beginning I have one trainer now, well unfortunately I did have 4 with another on the way but because of the fire, the business wasn’t growing so it wasn’t sustainable for them all. Prior to that they’d stayed with me through a lot of troubles. One of them, I said, “I can’t afford to pay you anymore but I’ll help you to find a new job”. And he said ‘I don’t care I just want to stay around and learn as much as I can’. So for me, that was lovely, I felt terrible, but I thought Ok well if that’s the case I’ll give him as much value as I can and he was more then happy with that. And so I think that’s a very important one if you are employing people.
INGRID: That’s a lovely endorsement of you as a human being to have someone say that.
LAURA: Yes it was.
INGRID: That was really nice. Well shall we go and do some weights or skip, or something. Or shall we go into the surf?
LAURA: Yes the beach. (laughs)
INGRID: Laura thanks so much.
LAURA: Thanks Ingrid.
Laura Moore is an inspiring woman. Laura started her personal training business in July 2014 and faced some very big challenges in her first year.