How I Quit My Job & Started a Successful Fitness Business at Age 23

How I Quite My Job & Started A Successful Fitness Business At Age 23 - Plus My Top 10 Tips So You Can Too - Jill Tomich

“If it was easy, every body would do it!!!!!”

When my boot camp clients felt like quitting a drill, that is what I would say to them…followed by this:

“When things get hard, when you don’t want to do anymore but you keep going anyways… that’s when the magic happens.  You have the opportunity to make magic happen. It’s right in front of you. Right here.  Right now. It’s yours for the taking.

 

jill tomich fitness entrepreneur

In my thirty something years on this earth, I’ve observed that if something takes effort and the path gets hard, lots of people give up.

Let’s be honest, MOST people give up. It’s the path of least resistance that’s the most comfortable.

However, on the opposite side of effort is usually an equally amazing reward.

My Story

This isn’t a story about a high-level executive making six figures a year who subsequently took a leap of faith on following their passion.

I wasn’t “risking it all” to take a chance on a dream. Nor did I have hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in the bank to catch me if I fell.

This is a story of a part-time group fitness instructor who didn’t want to live by other people’s rules. So I made a plan. A very calculated plan to try things my way and, ultimately, find freedom.

Let me take you back to the beginning…

 

My formal education is in architecture and design.

I went to Texas A&M University which is a renowned for their engineering programs.  My schooling taught me to think outside the box, but pay close attention to details.  So we were encouraged to dream up crazy projects, but then challenged to actually figure out how to build them.

When I moved to Boston in 2002 I got a job at an internationally-acclaimed architecture firm. However, as one of the top 10 most expensive cities in the United Sates, my salary barely paid the bills.

I never lived in the glitzy, hip areas of the Back Bay or South End.   I lived in Brighton; an “affordable” area of Boston which thousands of college students called home. The only glitzy happening in Brighton was the sun reflecting off beer cans littered in yards on Sunday mornings.

Actually, I didn’t mind it so much…the beer cans.  At least I had a yard and was living near a vibrant city full of young professionals.

So, I made a few extra bucks teaching Spinning, Kickboxing and Step at several health clubs around town.

I considered Architecture a career I loved.   It was so cool to drive by a building and say “I helped build that”.   However, I also really enjoyed teaching group fitness classes. I was good at it.  But I always considered fitness this part-time-thing-I-did-on-the-side.

But things started to shift.

With the popularity of fitness bootcamps growing on the West Coast, I decided to start a bootcamp class at one of the gyms I worked at.  My classes were PACKED.  People were getting results. Participants were asking for more. Then, they began offering to pay me for Personal Training (even though I wasn’t yet certified and didn’t have the time).

It was invigorating. I felt like I was making a difference, a REAL difference. First-hand, I saw peoples’ bodies and their lives transformed right before my eyes and I had a part in it. “I helped build that”.

 

bootcamp-results

All of those good feelings could be boiled down into three little words…

I felt valued.

I don’t want to wait until I’m 60.

Early in my architecture career, my manager told me that no one is truly an architect until they are 60 years old.

“Man, that blows…I kinda wanna be someone NOW.”  I thought.

Thinking back, what I must have heard in that conversation was this:

  • You’re too young to make a difference
  • Fall in line and follow the herd
  • You’ll be someone when I tell you it’s time to be someone

 

I don’t like being told what to do.

I’m a team player. Really, I am!

Ok, the truth is my husband calls me independent & stubborn (which I think are code words for confident & clever and are the very reasons why he loves me so much).

J-collage

But wait, isn’t that how we were all raised to be? The “team player”.

Have you considered this:

  • What if your coaches, managers and bosses have short-sighted beliefs about your team’s abilities?
  • Perhaps they consider your team C-League instead of A-League?
  • What if they aren’t confident in their own abilities and are projecting that fear on you?
  • If that’s the case, won’t you ever only be as good as your leader says you will be?

Before you even stepped foot into your current job role, your success was predetermined for you.

The cards were already dealt. Things happened before you jumped on board that will shape and form your future without you ever knowing about it.

You already have a frame, borders drawn around you, with which you can operate. I hope that frame fits.

I hope you work for a great boss on a great team at a great company where you can thrive. I hope you get the mentorship and environment you need to reach your full potential.  I really, truly do wish that for you.

However, according to a 2014 report by the Conference Board, 52.3% of you are unhappy at work.

Wait, nope. According to Deloitte’s Shift Index survey 80% of you are dissatisfied with your jobs.

Bummer :o(

percentage-of-americans-unhappy-at-work

You can’t change the people who determine what your job surroundings look like unless YOU understand change and YOUR COLLEAGUES are open to it.

And, as many of you have found out, it’s a helluva time trying to change your job surroundings. If you’ve been one of the brave that have, you’ve likely been met with foot-dragging politics, a herniated back from carrying the weight of your team and maybe even sabotage.

And if your boss is part of a different generation, brace yourself for battle.  We simply have different views about change.

Work ethics between millenials and baby boomers

Growing up in a fast-paced world of technological change is the norm for Millennials while Baby Boomers point towards work ethic as their defining uniqueness.

Pew Research: What makes your generation unique?

Source: Pew Social Trends

So, what are you to do about the dissatisfaction of your corporate job?

Well, this is America!  Home of the BRAVE and FREE. And as you undoubtedly learned from The Secret, it’s all about mindset and you have options. You can choose to:

  1. Push the boulder of change uphill if you have great medical insurance (beware of of those herniated discs)
  2. Complain about your job until permanent frown lines are etched on your face
  3. Accept your job circumstances and hope Reality TV fills the void in your life
  4. Make waves trying to improve yourself so that you have the skills and tools required to create a job/career/company/start-up/destiny/life that you love

Me? I chose #4.  It was time to make a change.

Side note: I Heart Michael Jackson.

Opportunity: A set of circumstances that make it possible to do something

  1. Clients were offering me good money (well, more money than I was making hourly in architecture) to get them in shape
  2. Bootcamps weren’t yet popular on the East Coast (market opportunity)
  3. I easily found a business partner (who could help me navigate Boston since I just moved there)
  4. I had enough money in the bank to buy a laptop (my first big business purchase)
  5. I still had a student version of Photoshop software (so I could design marketing materials)
  6. My friend helped me design our first web site (it was great to have a network I could rely upon)
  7. I lined up a freelance architecture gig (my cushion in case the whole bootcamp thing didn’t work out)
  8. I had the foundational skill-set and tools to build things (this time it was a business instead of an architectural project)
  9. Anything I didn’t know, I could look up on the internet (thank you Google..actually it might have been AOL back then)

 

Goal: A desired result that a person or system envisions, plans and commits to achieve

  1. Be in charge of my own career/life/destiny
  2. Help Other People
  3. Make more money

 3 Months from Start to Quit

As you can see from my goals, I wasn’t a visionary set out to cure the world of disease, famine or hunger. I simply wanted to make a positive dent in my little corner of the world and make a decent living.

Some people might call me a risk-taker. In fact, I was voted “most likely to take a risk” by my 5th grade teachers.  Huh? I’m not sure how a 10 year old gets that honor, but it happened.

Anyways, if you do address me as a “risk-taker”, please use the word “calculated” in front of it.

Before I quit my corporate job I did a shit-ton of research.

I read.
I attended workshops.
I read some more.
I sought out free business counseling in my neighborhood.
I spent weekends at the library.
I asked people smarter than me for advice.

I even listened to the nay-sayers because, on occasion, they had points worth considering.

chinese proverb interrupt

After months of research, Ultimate Bootcamp finally launched as an outdoor fitness program.

I had 8 clients in the beginning…all of whom I knew from teaching group fitness classes at other gyms.

The next month, membership doubled.  When I realized there were faces in our class I didn’t recognized, the excitement set in that this new venture might actually work!

I immediately began to ramp up my guerilla marketing efforts:

  • I designed flyers and left them at the local businesses I frequented
  • I rode my bike along the Charles River (a popular running spot) and scratched our web address in chalk on the sidewalk.
  • Since Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist back then, I used the original form of social marketing – I asked our current clients to help spread the word and spread flyers around town

For months and months my life was eat, work, bootcamp, repeat.

start a fitness bootcamp

This is what my days looked like:

  • Wake up at 5:20am 4 days per week
  • Teach Bootcamp from 6-7am
  • Race home to get ready for work. Be on the bus at 7:50am. Be at my desk at 8:30am.
  • Race out of work at 5:30pm
  • 2 evenings per week I taught step or kickboxing from 6:30-7:30pm
  • Other evenings I spent hours operating the company’s daily tasks – answered emails, phone calls, created marketing plans, etc
  • Saturday mornings I taught a fitness class for a gym from 10-11am
  • Sundays, I took naps

3 months after Ultimate Bootcamp launched, I quit my corporate job.

 

There Weren’t Fireworks

What I expected to be a joyous day for me and a sad, sad day for my employer seemed, unfortunately, just like another day.

Nervously I asked my manager’s manager for a meeting. We sat down. I told her I was leaving. I handed her my letter of resignation. She said thank you and good luck. I sat down at my desk and finished that day’s work. It was all very anti-climactic.

I replayed what quitting my job would look like in my head a thousand times over before I did it…and confetti was definitely in the picture.

What happened to the glitter explosion and balloons falling from the ceiling celebration I envisioned?!?!

There should have been confetti. Hmm, maybe even fireworks.

fireworks

But it didn’t happen and I was a little disappointed.

The truth was, I had been planning that moment for months and months. Looking back now, the REAL FIREWORKS happened the day I decided and committed to start a business.  THAT was the day everything changed.

Long before I quit my job, I was already planning my life around my newly hatched business idea.

The next couple of years were spent freelancing as an architectural designer and growing the business…remember I said I was a “calculated risk-taker”.  I didn’t just up and quit my job. I had the safety net of at least some sort of income and a wee bit of savings in case shit really hit the fan.

Slowly, over the years, Ultimate Bootcamp began to grow.  I stopped teaching classes at gyms and health clubs.  In fact, I started hiring and training instructors to help open new boot camp locations.

Then, eventually, I set aside architecture altogether. I was able to make a living off my fitness business full-time.

They say necessity is the mother of invention.

I didn’t invent the concept of fitness boot camps.

What I did was reinvent myself.

I removed myself from the ill-fitting frame that my corporate job painted around me.   Once I did, I had the freedom to explore who I really wanted to be.

When it came down to it, deciding to quit my job was easy. It was figuring out how to start a fitness business that was hard.

While I normally like to give concrete, actionable tactics to help you start and grow your business, I do think it’s equally important to understand other factors that can make or brake your business ventures.  So…

Here are my Top 10 Tips to Start a Successful Fitness Business:

  1. Don’t let the world define you.
    Only YOU get to say who you are and what you want to be
  2. Find a positive support system
    It’s easier for long-time friends and family to unintentionally (or maliciously) blurt out snide remarks that put a divot in your enthusiasm. Check out your local SBA or SCORE to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and business mentors who can help you grow with positive feedback and constructive criticism.
    mastermind
  3. Do It For the Love (and money)
    If you want to start a business because fitness is your passion, you’re going to fail. Love doesn’t pay the bills. If you want to start a business solely because it seems financially lucrative, be prepared for burn out, lack of motivation and failure.  You need both love and the very real potential for a paycheck to start a fitness business.
  4. Plan, Plan, Plan (but don’t Plan, Plan, Plan, Plan)
    Failing to plan is planning to fail. But don’t over plan. If you find yourself researching and hesitant to hit the launch button, likely you’re using the planning phase as a stalling mechanism.
    planning to fail
  5. Write Down your Fears
    Just last month I launched a new start-up company. However, it took me a year to finally do it.  For months I stalled.  Even though I ran a successful company before, I had real fears about my abilities to launch another. It wasn’t until I faced my fears that I began making real progress. Write down everything that you’re fearful about in business. Then, attack them one by one to see if they are founded in reality or not.
  6. Solve a Problem for a Small Sector of People
    I’m sure you could solve your city’s health problems given unlimited time and budget.  But this isn’t an alternate universe. You have both restrictions. As a wellness professional you need to carve out a niche, a very specific group of people, who you want to work with and attract to your company. This will keep your marketing costs focused and your enjoyment levels high.
    target-audience
  7. Be a Jill of All Trades
    Unless you have financial backing for your company from day #1, YES, you WILL have to answer emails, wash the floors, do the finances, create marketing plans, oversee a website build and manage employees at the beginning.  It’s a great way to understand your business as a whole. However, you’ll quickly find which areas of small business you’re good at and which you’d be better off outsourcing or hiring others to do.
  8. Hire People Smarter Than You
    If you’re constantly behind on customer service inquiries, hire an office manager. If looking at spreadsheets makes your eyes glaze over, hire an accountant.  If your marketing brochures look like a third-grader made them, hire a graphic designer or check out my new web site FitTemplates.com (yep, that was a shameless plug). Just be sure to define their exact role and understand how it will affect your bottom line.  The right hire will  free up your time to focus on growing your business. The wrong hire will be a time-suck (fire them immediately).
    wicked smart
  9. Manage by the Numbers
    How many leads do you generate? Where are they coming from? How many of them convert into customers?  How much were your expenses this month? How much do you expect them to be in the coming months? Make a list of at least 10 key performance indicators (KPIs) you need to track to be successful. Track those numbers every month.
  10. Embrace Perseverance
    “When things get hard, when you don’t want to do anymore but you keep going anyways… that’s when the magic happens.  You have the opportunity to make magic happen. It’s right in front of you. Right here.  Right now. It’s yours for the taking.”

magic-happens-quote

 

Have you tried starting your own fitness business? What successes and failures did you have?

Do you want to quit your corporate job and pursue the wellness industry full time? What’s holding you back?

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Jill Tomich

Jill Tomich is an award-winning entrepreneur and marketing consultant at Fitness Marketing Foundry, a full-service marketing and graphic design agency helping wellness companies attract more clients. Check out her free ebook 135 Fitness Marketing Tips to swipe proven marketing strategies to grow your business.