I’ll be the first to tell you that I judge a business by its mission. Once I saw David’s mission, I knew that I wanted to help him achieve his goals. David runs HealtheFit, a health and fitness company that does more than a standard personal fitness agency or a fitness center management company. At first glance, his company manages fitness trainers and several office gym locations around the District of Columbia. However, there is more to David and his company. He wants everyone to be healthy and wants fitness trainers to create a career out of their profession so that they can retire one day.
David graduated from Grambling State University, where he studied Recreational Therapy. After school, he ended up in an internship which turned into a job at a Washington nursing facility. He started working as a therapist and initially he was happy because he was able to apply what he learned at school. After examining his career path, he realized that all of the jobs available were in geriatrics. He decided that he didn’t want to spend so much time in this field immediately after college.
To earn extra money and get a free gym membership, he took on a side job at Bally’s Fitness as a personal trainer. He fell in love with it and the side job blossomed into a career for him as he rose up the ranks at Bally’s to be a regional manager. Once there, he decided to move on with his life.
Why entrepreneurship? Why personal fitness?
I started in 2001. I rose quickly at Bally’s and understood a lot about the fitness industry. I realized that there was not a lot of substantial work being done in the field of personal fitness. They had taken personal fitness and created a sales process out of it. They were not doing anything to market personal fitness as a way of life.
As I worked there, I also had issues with the profit sharing between the clubs and the trainers. I decided to cut out the middleman and do it on my own. When I left Bally’s, 90 percent of my clientele thought the same as I did and came with me.
If you knew what you know now when you were 18 and entering college, would you have done anything different?
My experience in geriatrics has given me a great advantage in the health and fitness sector, so I wouldn’t change that path. If I was going to change something in education, I would have gotten a dual degree in business, or possibly a MBA in Marketing. There are a huge number of good fitness trainers who work for clubs that don’t market themselves, and they are placed into a sales process. Overall, I’d definitely want to have learned more about Business Administration and Marketing.
What kept you going during that first year of being an independent fitness trainer?
Being an independent fitness trainer was scary. I was pre-programmed to go to school, get good grades, do as I was told, to get the benefits, the salary, etc. Being independent was completely different.
I tried to seek out others who had done this before. I sought out mentors who had more wisdom. I have always believed that there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. If someone has been successful, why not use their model and do what they did?
I humbled myself. I asked a lot of questions. Fortunately, my colleagues and mentors really helped me out. One helped me decide to never work for someone else again.
If you could write a book on anything, what would you write your book on?
I would write my book on the mission of my company: Empowering one life at a time.
There is no set career path for the fitness professional. Aspects of business and marketing are two topics which are grossly neglected in our industry. Some people don’t understand the basics of business: a person could be the greatest fitness person in the world, but if no one knows about them, there is no way that they’ll ever come to their doors.
What are some feasible career paths for the fitness professionals? Do you know of any?
Well, that’s what I’m trying to resolve with my company. If I were to write a book, it’d be “How to retire as a personal trainer.”
Where do you see your business going in 2011?
This is going to be a year for brand recognition. We’ll be working on branding and marketing to build a foundation. I want to establish myself as DC’s premier fitness expert and make HealtheFit the nation’s premier fitness management and career development company.
How did you get into gym management? Was it part of your business plan?
I’d love to be able to tell you that it was all part of a grand design and that I had worked out all of the numbers, but I can’t lie. There was no business plan for gym management.
The truth is that I was working as an independent contractor under someone else. A visiting property manager overheard me, essentially eavesdropping, talking about my certification background with AFAA (Aerobic and Fitness Association of America) and he asked me to submit a proposal to manage his fitness center.
I had never thought of going into fitness center management, and I submitted a proposal. There were some kinks we worked out. They didn’t want to go with a big company and gave me a chance.
We worked out the roles and responsibilities for the company and things have worked out pretty well. We’ve been doing that for three years now and are going to be adding more gyms as new buildings come up. We also have a verbal agreement that as these new buildings come up, we’ll be on the top of their list for managing the fitness centers in those buildings.
What kind of coordinated action are you taking to establish my brand?
I’m employing some online and offline marketing strategies and tactics. It’s mapped out on a step-by-step process. Separate strategies are mapped out to build my personal brand as well as the brand for company. There is a tactic schedule for daily, weekly and monthly goals, all of which help in carrying out our strategies.
I’m using sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo Answers to give people a way to get credible fitness information and let them share it easily. By giving them information, I put myself in places where people may or may not have heard about me, and let them advertise me by sharing what I have to say with others.
I’m also constantly connecting with people. I’m connecting with as many people as possible. I’m working to create rich content for our websites. Video is going to very important as far how we reach people. People are more and more reluctant to read. We’ll be using our YouTube channel shortly. We have a detailed strategy, and we’re executing the tactics to make it happen. I sought the help of a very capable internet strategist to to help me with this.
How do you enable your clients to become the person they want to be physically?
We always begin with a health screening process, in which we screen for coronary or orthopedic issues. Based on the client’s history and health status, we try to figure what could be helpful for him/her. We then conduct a physical test to determine the person’s endurance and flexibility. We also conduct an in-depth test of his/her body composition in relation to fat and muscle weight.
Only after our assessment, we begin the first training session. A session may be half an hour to an hour.
We always make sure that we connect the health screening process to the exercise session. We always make sure that everything has a purpose. Nutrition is very important and can be responsible for 80 percent of a person’s fitness results. We use an online nutrition program called VitaBot to help people structure an eating plan.
Our method is very structured, and we have a scientific foundation for everything we do. All of our assessments and recommendations are backed by health, medical and fitness institutions.
How do you enable your personal fitness trainers to become entrepreneurs?
As with our clients, I always complete an assessment. I ask trainers a series of questions regarding their goals. What are their personal goals? What areas do they want to focus on? What demographic they want to work with? I ask what their financial situation is; where they’d like to see themselves financially; whether they want to be a part-time or full-time fitness professional. I then try to help the trainers plan out their actions for a year. Our industry changes so often that it doesn’t make sense to plan out for more than a year.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I would have to say that one particular trainer has done extremely well. I got him involved in the industry in 2002. If you searched on google for “DC personal fitness trainer” he comes up on the top 10. He has done very well.
I have been extremely surprised with what he’s taken from me and how far he has ran with it. He’s taken a lot of what I taught him and is doing well. He’s hired a good designer and using SEO to get to the top of the results. I’m extremely proud of him.
What is your favorite aspect about being an entrepreneur?
The freedom to make a difference. I have the freedom to make a difference in the different areas of the fitness industry. I can help clients become fit. I can help a fitness expert get certified. I can teach a class at the AFAA and impact the greater fitness community. I set my schedule on a day-to-day basis. I make a huge impact on any and all of my clients. I have the freedom to make that impact.
I noticed that you have an office downtown just for your desk. As you render your fitness training and gym management services off-site, how has office space helped you?
Having office space has helped me immensely. It has helped me separate my home life from my office life. Before, when I had my home office, it was difficult to move forward with my business plans. Leasing a real office helped me clearly define boundaries between my personal and business life. It helped me have a clear mind when setting personal and business goals. When at the office, it allowed me resolve any overlaps between the two.
What’s a good book that you’d recommend to someone in business?
Go-Giver’s Sell More. It’s by the same authors as The Go-Giver. Essentially, it helped me get an understanding of what I must give away as personal fitness trainer. It made me aware that I’m not selling a person on fitness training. It gave me the understanding that I should take time to explain how I can give more to them as their fitness trainer vs. someone else. Some professionals only give you what you are paying for. My clients don’t feel restricted when they need questions answered. If they have a question , they can always call me. Once they become a client, they are always a client – regardless of whether they have met their fitness goals.
By giving a lot of free information and advice, I’ve have had more clients that I can handle. I’ve been able to get a lot of business through referrals because my clients sell me to other prospective clients.
Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?
I would have to say it is a combination between my mom and my classmates when I was growing up. “We always knew that you are going to do great things,” they told me. I did not know what I was going to do, but I always knew I would do great things because I had the support of these people.
My mom always said that I have had an uncanny ability to take negative situations and turn them around. I look at the issues in the fitness industry and the obesity epidemic in America and I realize that I have part of the solution. I see that I have a solution and I need to spread it.
I want to leave a legacy of giving a viable solution to resolve America’s obesity epidemic. I want to put in the infrastructure to mobilize fitness trainers to help people get healthy. I want to bridge the gap between health and fitness.
If you were in my situation? How do you decide higher and lower priority?
I think you should sit down and look at what has to be done. See what cannot be done by anyone else. These are the things that only you can do. These are the things that you have to do grow your business.
Everything else can be done by anyone else. I’d imagine you have a good enough network that you can get them to do something for a short period of time. You have to just ask.
Knowing you, there are people that would take time to do a specific task. The task has to be very specific.
People will do work just to be appreciated. Just giving them a pat on the back will be enough.
I have seen a dichotomy between Gen-Xers and Millennials when it comes to whether or not a business plan is necessary. What is your experience with a business plan? Do you think it’s needed?
My experience with a business plan? The act of putting together a business plan helps everyone. Whether you use it is a different story. After you put it together, you have a clear direction of where you’re going. After that, you have to take care of business.
It’s important to put together a plan for the financial projections. Even as I’m going through my MBA program, I see the need for a business plan for different reasons. Big companies have operations in place to review different metrics, and they don’t necessarily need to be following a business plan that was set on day one. For new companies it’s different.
One business plan is necessary in the beginning.
I am excited about the possibility of a healthy America. While news reports and TV shows highlight an America that is growing heavier and unhealthier by the day, there is a champion in our midst fighting to make a healthy lifestyle the norm. David has very big ideas and knowing that he is committed to helping people, I don’t doubt that he will leave a great legacy.
His example strikes home the idea that there are problems in our country and the world that can be helped by businesspeople with ingenuity, persistence, hope and most important, action. David is an action-oriented character.
He understands that forward progress is only possible by doing. Although I’ve known David for a year and have helped him with his business professionally, it dawned on me today where he’s going. I understand now his vision for what he hopes to accomplish with his company. He is creating an infrastructure and mobilizing people to create a healthier America.