ET17- Ditching the Cubicle for Health and Wealth

How Sara Left Her Cube to Start Her Own Fast Growing Training Business

ScreenShot011It’s not easy to walk away from a comfortable job, good paycheck and well defined career path for the unknown wilds of entrepreneurship. It’s not easy that is unless you can’t stand one more day of soul sucking monotony and feeling like you simply are wasting your time and your life doing something you’d almost be willing to pay to leave!

Sara had a great job but gave it up to follow her passion teaching people to live healthier and more active lives. The journey hasn’t been easy and there have been sacrifices but she wouldn’t go back for anything.

Great interview and very inspirational for anyone who finds themselves in the same position.

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Twitter: @SaraSDFitness


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Matt: Awesome! Well today, I am very pleased to welcome to the show, Sara Foster. Sara is not only a client but a friend as well, somebody I’ve been working with for quite a while now. She is the owner of as well as she’s recently gotten into an actual physical location, With that, Sara, let me hand it over to you and just kinda tell us your background and how you got into the business and where you’ve taken it to today.

Sara: Actually, it’s kind of a different entryway into it. I was actually in engineering. That was original degree and I did that for about 7 years. I was just sitting in a desk, sitting right at the computer and I was not happy. I kind of started doing some training classes, some classes about anatomy and things like that. I really liked personal training and it kinda just fall to place, starting training. It was scary switching industries so that was definitely challenging but it kind of worked out. I went from being a personal trainer in the gym and then being a personal trainer that went to different locations for people or my own. Like you said, now, I have an actual physical location, my own studio. It’s been a progression.

Matt: You must have met with some resistance when you told people, family and friends that “Hey! I’m quitting the engineering track that I went to school for. You know, most people think it was a probably a pretty prestigious and high paying career track and I’m gonna go out and do personal training.” How was that challenge for you?

Sara: It was interesting. Some people are like “Oh! It’s awesome!” Most everybody, of course, was supportive. But, I think it definitely struck out my parents for sure. It’s kind of interesting the different generations that I’ve seen. A lot of people now, I just get so tired of their sitting all day at the office. But that was kinda what we’ve always done. My dad has had this job. Same company for how many years. He would never think of going out and do his kind of thing. It definitely stressed out my parents. But it obviously, it all worked out and they were, [inaudible 0:06:21.3] but yeah, they say “Really?” It was a big pay cut originally. I obviously make less but I am much more satisfied. You know, you’ve got that balance.

Matt: You only go around once as far as we know so why not spend your time doing something you really enjoy versus something that you really have to drag yourself into.

Sara: Exactly. But it was definitely a [inaudible 0:06:50.5]. I have a lot of clients that I train that are in these good paying jobs then you get used to a certain lifestyle. But then, they are stressed and tired and have migraines and they end up hating they job and they feel like kind of stuck on it. So, it’s not balanced. That’s kind of why I got into what I do so that I can kind of help people with that and say “You have to make money but you also need to be healthy.”

Matt: Was there any particular tipping point for you or is it just sort of one day that’s just “Forgot this!” or did you kinda slowly evolved by taking some classes and kinda thought about it, decide it and ease out of things? How did that transition happened?

Sara: Yeah. It was definitely kind of a slow transition. There was a point where I was like “I don’t know if I can do this anymore. But then again, what do I really want to do?” I kind of looked at – I had maybe 3 things that I was like “Okay. Maybe I can go to classes for these things while I’m working and see if I like it.” and it just worked out that the program that I choose – I was looking out for personal training – was all in the evening and I could just go to classes and I thought at least it would help me in my exercise, my own life, even if I don’t become a personal trainer. At least I’ll know more about that. So, it definitely was just kind of a slow progression. I did those classes and then it was like “Okay. I’m ready now. Maybe I’ll get my training certification and just be.” I kind of did it part-time. And then, the full-time, that’s the scariest part of this. I was like “Okay. I’m gonna do this full-time. I’m actually gonna quit my good paying job.” But it did just kinda worked out. I kinda flew. So, I guess that’s how I knew I made the right decision as everything’s kinda progress but you don’t know that.

Matt: No. a lot of people take maybe the less scary path where they are laid off or they are fired or they are in between jobs and then they’ll say “I’ll try this for x number of months. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll go get a job.” But you actually had a job. Nobody was firing or laying you off and you actively cut that off. That’s maybe a little bit bigger jump of a cliff than some of the other ways to get into it.

Sara: Exactly. But it is kinda nice in the fact that I was leaving obviously on good terms with my company. Everybody said “Well, if it doesn’t work out, you can always come back.” And I was kinda like, “Well, yeah. I do. I mean, I have a lot of contact for that industry, that kinda thing. So, if I really needed to I could go back into it.” That kinda helped that mindset.

Matt: Right. You have a fallback position if you really had to take it.

Sara: Yeah. Exactly.

Matt: Did you use presumably savings from having work to kinda fund the business to get started? Personal training doesn’t take a whole lot of capital but still there’s something between when you get a paycheck every other Friday to getting no paycheck.

Sara: Right. That was the next part about doing it, kind of incrementally with that fact that I could kinda start saving up. I definitely looked to cut my expenses. Where can I get a little bit cheaper? That was nice that I have some time to look at that and really think “Okay. This is the minimum that I’ll need.” And kind of plan it out. But yeah, it was definitely an adjustment because a lot of my clients, when I switched, to get paid by my client is usually monthly. So, if you don’t know how to spread that out it can be a little big challenge from getting paid like you said weekly.

Matt: Yeah. You said, you started out by working in a gym as a personal trainer and then you kinda switched to having your own clients. So, did you kind of always plan from the beginning to go on to your own and just want to experience working in a bigger system or was that just a part of the progression as well?

Sara: Yes it was kind of part of the progression. I didn’t really think that I would necessarily want to be on my own. I was in a gym for a while. There’s one I inspire about it. You kind see a lot of the same people. I was lucky in the fact that the gym that I worked for was definitely a community gym; a lot of people were local and knew each other. It was definitely a friendly environment but it is different working in a gym. But it was good to get that experience from other trainers, things like that. Then, it just kinda worked out to go on my own. I have enough clients that I have either found on my own and it just kinda worked to go out. Obviously, I get to make all the money instead of having somebody paying me from a gym. It just kinda progressed that way. Then, I had a partner that I joined with in the studio and he ended up moving. I just kinda took over the studio. That was definitely something I hadn’t seen in my future. I hadn’t necessarily wanted to. I definitely don’t want to have a big gym where I have a lot of employees and things like that but the small training studio that I do have is really nice. I have a couple of part-time trainers that worked with me. I’ve been really lucky to find great clients and 2 really good trainers that work with me. So yeah, it just been kind of a good progression. On one hand, I think “Wow! I don’t really have a 5-year plan.” But it’s kinda worked out so far.

Matt: Obviously, in San Diego in particular, but I mean I think anywhere you go there’s tons of people offering personal training services and different ways to get healthy. Even aside from personal training, obviously you can just join a gym or there’s online option for getting healthy, getting fit. What do you do to make yourself stand out, to differentiate your service from all the others out there and attract the kind of clients you want and be able to retain clients that do come to you?

Sara: Yeah. That’s definitely a challenge. Kind of figuring out where to put that advertising money, what is working and I’m in downtown San Diego. I’m lucky in the fact that it’s a lot of word of mouth. A lot of people that lived down here obviously have friends down here. I’ve got a lot of people because they’ve been recommended by somebody else. That’s really helpful. Probably the biggest online service is Yelp where the majority of people find us through and contact us through. That’s definitely a big one. But I haven’t found a whole lot of other websites that are really all that helpful as far as figuring out, like I said, where to put that advertisement money and focus but yeah, it’s been a lot of word of mouth, a lot of Yelp where a lot of people get our information. There’s a couple of new services. One of which is Class Pass where people can go, sign up to Class Pass and go to different classes at different location. That’s kind of a nice way that people at least see our name and they can come in to our class and see the studio. It’s really just a matter of getting people to know where we are and to come in. that’s the hardest stuff with personal training, probably with anything. But it’s just kind of getting people in the door. A lot of people sit for about 3 months and think “Okay. Should I really get a personal trainer? But it takes a lot to contact somebody.” And I actually do something about it.

Matt: In terms of why they would, aside from obviously you got to give 5-star service and be really well with the clients with what you do once you got them in and signed up and they’ve had some experience with you. But, is there anything in particular that you promote as being something that you offer that others don’t or the difference between you and some of the other choices out there?

Sara: Mostly just the fact that we’re a smaller studio so everything is really tailored to our clients. Somewhere like bigger gym, they might have a set workout that they do just with everyone that day or that week. Whereas, we definitely tailor to each person individually. We have a lot of people that we work with that are recovering from injuries, or even surgeries and things like that. Obviously, they’ve done their physical therapy and things like that but after that you still have to learn how to move. We really focus kind of on that, more form-driven and specific to individual client. [Inaudible 0:16:49.8] smaller studio and we can have a lot of just personal training not that set where people come into the store and workout but really focus on that form.

Matt: Okay. That sounds like probably a good way that you may potentially target new clients if you got that sort of specialization in mind. Maybe getting referrals from physical therapists who are about to kind of let their clients go. They’ve hit the end of their whatever it is, 10 weeks or 20 weeks or whatever physical therapy program that they’ve gone to. They don’t want to quit but they don’t really qualify for physical therapy anymore. That might be a way to get some introductions and some new clients.

Sara: Yeah. We actually have physical therapist that were gonna start working with that’s gonna have an area in the back that she can actually see physical therapy patients. But then, yeah, we really do kinda have that focus.
Matt: Interesting. In terms of your decision to go from training clients, either in home or public locations to actually having your own physical bricks in modern location, what was the decision process for that? I know you said you had a partner and the partner kinda fell out but as soon as you take on physical location, obviously, you got rent. You got to buy equipment. You got insurance. You got utilities. A big chunk of what you were taking home last month is now going overhead that you didn’t have. What’s the trade off and how did you come to the decision that was the way to go?

Sara: It kinda depended on the location. We actually already had the location and everything that set up. We didn’t have to do anything like flooring and adding mirrors and all that kind of stuff to the studio because it was already there. It really just came down to the what is the rent, the bills, and what is my take home. It did help that I was kind of sharing, obviously, some of the income but then also some of the bills with my partner. So, it worked out just kind of moneywise that it made sense to keep the location because otherwise I’m running around – my current clients I kinda looked up “Do I have a place to train them? Would that be consistent?” A lot of places I could go to their house and travel but then you got your travel time. You got to factor that in and I can’t just have a 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock. I have to spread it out a lot more. Then I have to figure out traffic time and all that stuff too. So, it’s kind of easier and harder at the same time. It turned out it just seemed like it would be. I still have almost the same income even with the added bills because I’d be able to fit in more people throughout the day. It was a lot. It was kinda like “Okay. Let me sit down and look at this and see what really makes sense.” Because like you said, it is finding that added insurance and all these things come along with location.

Matt: Right. Now, I would imagine, I mean one of the tipping points has to be that with the location, that you have the ability to have other people as part of your system vs. being just a single professional who is out there, just doing as many clients that you can fit in in appointments with considering the travel time and everything else. With the location, people are coming to you. You can have more people at once and you can have people that you work with who work at your location that wouldn’t necessarily go and train your clients in their house but would be fine to be substituted in your place to train them at your location. At that point, you can finally consider things like a vacation.

Sara: That is a big thing to consider when you work for yourself. The more you do, the more people you train, the more money you can get. But at the same time, it’s really easy to burn yourself out in any case where you own your own business. It’s definitely finding that balance because it is hard to turn down money, turn down clients, turn down business but you do need to have that time that you take off.

Matt: Well, you might have 3 new clients calling one day which is great and you kinda wonder how you are gonna fit them in but at the same you don’t want to say no because you may not have any other new clients call for the next 2 weeks and in the meantime, a couple of people drop off. So, you’re always juggling that “Do i? Or don’t i?” question.

Sara: Right. Very true.

Matt: So, where does it go from here? Now that you are in a location and had some time establishing yourself there, what are your – you said you don’t have a 5-year plan but a 12-month plan?

Sara: It’s kind of just building up the gym and were actually, I kinda mentioned Class Pass which is a group or app that we started with. But I like to start kinda building up more not necessarily classes but kind of group sessions. We’ve done really well when our clients meet each other and get to know each other and then if you are in a lot more like community, it’s nice to have that option for classes which is a little bit cheaper than personal training but it is still small enough that I can know all the clients and really make sure the class works for all of them. That’s kinda the next where I see us going to. Still having mostly personal training but then adding in kinda those class times or just kinda more community time. We could potentially make more if we get more people.
Matt: Right. Classes presumably have better economics than the one-on-one teaching even though each individual is paying less. In aggregate, you’re earning more and profiting more.

Sara: Yeah.

Matt: How much room do you have to continue growth where you’re at? A lot of rooms before you hit capacity?

Sara: We have a pretty good amount of space and the equipment is set up in the fact that we could have quite a few people in there and still have enough room to move around. The nice part is it’s a pretty quiet building. Sometimes, we use the hallways because they had some wood floors whereas we have kinda padded floors. We can do towel workout on the floor where you do like towel drags and things like that which kinda changed it up a little bit. We can get pretty creative and have a decent amount of space for some classes. Probably not more than 8 to 10 people but that’s a pretty good amount to try and get in to the studio.

Matt: I would imagine one of the challenges with the business that you’ve got when you’re doing classes. It’s probably, most people can either go to a morning class before work or maybe an after work class but it’s probably tough to fill the middle of the day classes and maybe weekends especially weekend afternoon, anytime on Sunday. So, even if you got space on the gym, you got a little bit of capacity issue that way. There’s only a limited number of times, class times that will attract enough people to make it worth having somebody to teach them.

Sara: Right. That’s definitely the case. We have to find some time that exactly works for the majority of people. That’s always the struggle. Finding people to go to class. Finding a good time for the class.

Matt: Every business has its challenges. If you are starting over, if you could go back and talk to the Sara who was just about to quit but hadn’t quit yet, is there anything that you would give, advice you give, things you would differently that would’ve help or make things go faster than they did?

Sara: It’s a good question. I definitely struggled a bit at the beginning because I’m an LLC. That’s kind of what I started my business as. It would’ve been helpful to have someone my year probably that would be able to answer a lot of my question. But I had one recommendation though. I had one person that I worked with. I basically I worked in a lot of house. If I had done a little bit more research, kind of on the business side, the actual LLC Tax Logs and things like that and really understanding all the different tax that I was gonna have to pay, that probably would’ve been helpful. I did a few payments that I missed and things like that because I didn’t even know about them. That was probably the hardest which is even really related to training or things like that. That was probably the hardest part for me.

Matt: I think a lot of people who are new into business are focused on the thing that they do. In your case, personal training but it might be plumbing. It might be house painting, or whatever the case might be, general contracting. The business side of it is not an afterthought but it’s not their strong suit. They don’t know what they don’t know so they’re not really aware of what they need to be asking and researching and looking into what the choices are or they may just get a bit of hearsay advice from this person or that person that doesn’t necessarily fit their situation. That’s one of those challenges that I think most entrepreneurs run into at least their first time through. That’s what were hopefully here to do today. Help spread some of that experience and knowledge.

Sara: Exactly. It really is just kinda finding the best people to answer your question. I mean, you can go online and [inaudible 0:28:00.9] and pay the initial fee or whatever, but then, here in San Diego, we have the County of San Diego Taxes and then the City of San Diego Taxes. Whatever, all of these people that I started getting bills from and I was like “Where is this coming from?”

Matt: Everybody has the hand out as soon as you’re in business.

Sara: Right.

Matt: Well, fortunately, it really keep on top for you. Now hopefully things are running a lot smoother. But there’s always some hiccups when you are starting a business. Well, I definitely appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today. For people who are interested in checking out your services, your gym, where should they go? Where should they look online to find you?

Sara: I have 2 websites. There is and then our location, I was telling that earlier that were actually gonna re-branch soon so, it might change within the next year. We’ll see. But right now, its

Matt: Awesome! Sounds good. Surely for people who are in the San Diego area will check it out for sure. I appreciate, again, you taking the time to chat with us today. Have a great rest of your day!

Sara: Great! You too!

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