How long have you been in the fitness industry? I graduated from AFA at the start of 2010 and started my business straight away. I began as a sole trader and initially worked out of my garage at home. My clients were a couple of my friends, who showed an interest in learning how to box and therefore started lessons with me. I then made an agreement with my former Muay Thai coach and he allowed me to train my clients in his gym (Hammer’s Gym). This was really the opportunity that got me on my feet. I had access to a top quality centre and it gave me a chance to grow. In time I started getting busy with personal training clients and wanted to get into group fitness. I started running small group classes and this was the beginning of diversifying my services. The business kept growing and got to the point where I wanted to consolidate everything into one place, and take it to the next level. So in 2012 I found myself a commercial premises, and after fitting it out and getting all permits in order, started trading from Forest Hill at the end of 2012. I’d been involved in Muay Thai kickboxing and boxing since 2000. In 2006 I managed a Martial Arts and Fitness Centre and also taught boxing to many karate students. After this I’d always kept my foot in the industry, training a few people from home and always training myself.
What did you do before fitness? Immediately before doing my course at the AFA I’d worked as a concrete polishing sub-contractor to a large company. I did this for 3 years. I’ve also worked as a Martial Arts Centre Manager, and as a Planning Analyst for Country Road. My path to the fitness industry was varied as I was young and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’d been to university and got degrees in Arts and Commerce. I then followed the natural path into a commerce graduate role. Decided I didn’t like that, so worked in the Martial Arts. Then it was the lure of good money in construction that pulled me into concrete polishing. It dawned on me nearing the age of 30 what I was really meant to be doing, so I took the leap, and here I am!
How have you differentiated your business? The fitness industry is very competitive. There’s competition all over the place, and being different from the pack is crucial to surviving. For Knockout, we pride ourselves on offering a clean and professional environment for those who want to learn how to box, or get fit by boxing. I try to keep any ‘macho’ vibe out of the gym, and this is an effective way of getting the clients I want. Some people walk in and want the rough boxing gym environment. They quickly realise it’s not the place for them, and that’s ok. We don’t appeal to everyone, but we have our market. Being clean, modern, professional, and friendly are what sets us apart. And of course getting results is key.
What has been your biggest achievement? Thankfully, there’s been a few achievements that I’m quite proud of myself for. Firstly, still being in business is the biggest achievement. Running a small business is extremely demanding, and despite how easy it looks on the surface, it’s the hardest thing I’ve done. So I’m thankful every day that my business is still operating, and it enables me to pay my bills and live a life that I choose. But this has certainly not been easy. Secondly, being able to provide a venue and training program for people that changes their lives is very rewarding. I’ve seen people from all walks of life change their lives around, from those who have lost weight and are now healthy and positive, to those who have changed their ways through boxing and are now on the right track in their lives. Thirdly, I’ve coached 2 amateur boxers who both made the Victorian Amateur State Semi Finals. These guys started from scratch with me and went a long way. Recently I coached my first Professional Boxer in his Pro debut, which we won. This was a proud moment for me and something I’ll always remember. Hopefully there are many more moments like these to come! What mistakes did you make along the way?
What mistakes did you make along the way? I’ve made many mistakes. I’ve spent money on developing products that don’t sell. I’ve targeted the wrong type of clients. I’ve insufficiently planned for classes and they haven’t run well. I’ve over populated my client schedule which left me exhausted. There’s so many mistakes that I’ve made and they’ve cost me a lot of time and money. But one thing a good friend of mine said to me once and I always remember it – if something doesn’t work, scrap it straight away and move on. Understanding your identity and mainstreaming your systems takes a long time, and all the mistakes I’ve made have got me to this point. I now have a very clear vision, and it’s not without trial and error that this would have come about.
What are the best bits of running your own business? The best part is not having to answer to anybody. I’m quite a strong independent personality, so running my own business fits me well. I get to choose my own hours (most of the time), and have the final say on what takes place. I’m also exposed to the various aspects of business operations every day, and this is hands on. I did a Commerce degree at university, but this was all theory. I actually get to run a business and learn a lot while doing it. This is challenging, and I put myself on the line, but I really enjoy it.
What are the hardest parts? Running a small business is not easy. It’s not for everyone, and I’ve had many nights awake, stressed. Being resilient and having some stubbornness will pull you through. The hardest part is trying to do everything. I’ve got the fancy title of Managing Director, but don’t be fooled. I’m also a cleaner, regularly cleaning the toilets, and sometimes mopping up vomit. I’m a bookkeeper, not naturally, but it’s economical. I’m a Public Relations guy, keeping all relationships around me running smoothly (or trying to). I’m a customer service guy, talking to potential clients. I also try very hard with marketing, keeping the flow of clients so the place stays afloat. At the end of all this, I’m a trainer, and I try to always stay current and on top of my competition. Thankfully, I have a lot of help from my partner, and my staff. It’s at the point now where it simply cannot be run by myself alone, and I’m very lucky to have some amazing people on my team.
Where did you seek advice from when setting up your business and along the way? I’d had the vision in my mind for a while before setting up the business. I’d also worked in the industry, managing a martial arts centre, and doing personal boxing training at that centre, and from my home. So I had a good idea on what I needed to do. Luckily, I’d also saved up enough money to stop work, study the course full time, and set up the business. Initially, I did everything as cheaply as possible. My first mentor was my partner’s dad, who’s very savvy with small business operating procedures. He’d contracted in the past to Small Business Victoria, and guided me with most things that I needed help on. This was great because his advice was free. I also had a good accountant, who was able to help me structure the business. As the business grew, I engaged a business mentor, who I still see to this day. These guys are expensive, but very valuable. He’s helped me when I’ve felt a bit lost, and given me things to work on to get me back on track. I also have a very good solicitor, who’s great for the more intricate legal things that any business owner faces. I also try to surround myself with good positive people. When you break away from the herd and decide to run your own business, it’s very lonely. The last thing you need are whingers, or negative people making you doubt yourself. I’ve got a great support network, and I’m very lucky in that regard. Finally, when you’re on your own, you need to get things done on your own. You’re only accountable to yourself, so if you get lazy or take your foot off the pedal, your business will suffer. You need to self-educate, get involved in business support groups, and generally be pro-active. Nobody is going to tell you exactly how to do something, or do it for you. You need to take the bull by the horns and lead the way on your own.
Is there any other advice or information you can offer to those wanting to work in the industry? The main theme of my comments throughout are based on my experiences in the industry. My main concern is that young trainers will rush in, and spend all their money setting up businesses without careful consideration. Business operations are hard. Always remember that. Some people think personal trainers are all rich because they get a nice hourly rate. If you’re a business owner, you’ll have a lot of expenses, and you need to be careful calculating these costs. They always blow out from what you budget, so add 10% to be a little safer. Carefully identify what your area of specialty is. Then research the market to see how you’ll be able to stand out and be better than your competitors. Seek advice from professionals, and play your cards carefully. I’m one of the surviving small business start-ups in the fitness industry. I’ve been operating for 4 and a half years (at the time of writing this). It’s still hard, I need to carefully budget, and stay on top of my game, always! I hope this advice rings a bell with the right person. If you do your homework, you stand the best chance of making a really good go of it. I wish all budding entrepreneurs and fitness professionals my best.
What are the key lessons you have learnt along the way? It’s not easy. Now, I was told this before I got started, and I thought I understood it. But I didn’t. Depending on how much finance you invest into your business, don’t expect it to run at a profit straight away. You’ll most likely run at a loss, or if you’re lucky, break even in your first year or two. You need to consider the financial stress, and how that will affect you, and the people close to you. You also need to be very resilient, and if you believe in yourself and your business, stay positive through the hard times. This can be testing. There’s many difficult elements that need to be considered, and you need to ask yourself, ‘do I want to do this?’ Then ask yourself the same question again. If you answer yes convincingly both times, then you’re in for a challenging ride. Be prepared, work hard, and stay true to yourself and your vision. If you do that, you’ll be a success. But never go into it underestimating what’s involved, or assuming it will be easy.
Be passionate. If you lose your passion, you’re not going to enjoy going to work every day. If you love being fit and enjoy what you do, this shines when you train people. If you don’t practice what you preach, and you’re half-enthused about training, your clients will notice. It’s a very competitive industry, only the strong survive. So make sure you’ve got a passion for fitness and what you’re embarking on doing!
Listen. Listen to clients, listen to people in the industry who’ve been successful, listen to people who are specialists in advising you how to run your business. Don’t assume you know everything. There’s some very clever people out there, and if you ask the right questions, and listen attentively, you’ll learn a lot. Listen, learn, and be able to take advice!
You need to self-educate, get involved in business support groups, and generally be pro-active. Nobody is going to tell you exactly how to do something, or do it for you. You need to take the bull by the horns and lead the way on your own. You can find out more about Knockout Fitness and boxing here.