“Hey Molly! I just wanted to write and say that I am a huge fan of what you do, both on your personal blog, and with Girls Gone Strong.  I currently have a full-time job that is not in the fitness industry, but fitness is my passion and I was to do that full-time instead.  I would love to do what you do.  How did you get started?” – Amanda C.

 

Hey Amanda!

Thanks so much for this question!  I get this question very often, so instead of replying to you directly, I wanted to write a post about it so everyone can benefit!

I guess the best place to start is my background.  My Bachelor’s degree is actually a double major in Finance and Marketing, and my Master’s is in Business (MBA).  I fell in love with strength training and nutrition around 2004 (my junior year of college), but I was not about to switch majors after almost 3 full years of college.  Plus, I still never thought I’d end up with a career in fitness!  I’ve loved numbers and business for as long as I can remember.

Heck…at 7 years old, I was charging my family members interest on any money they borrowed from me!  I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but I figured if they had my money, and I didn’t… I deserved to be compensated for that. =)

I didn't quite understand "compound interest" at the time... but I was still a business woman from a young age.

I didn’t quite understand “compound interest” at the time… but I was still a “businesswoman” from a very young age.

 

When I finished undergrad in 2006 (I took 5 years to get my Bachelor’s because I switched my major 3 times before settling on Finance and Marketing), I decided to immediately get my MBA. Around this time I met a young man that I would go on to date for the next 6 years.  He introduced me to an idea for a piece of software he wanted to have built that would automatically build meal plans for customers based on certain information about themselves (height, weight, goals, etc.).  I loved his idea and was convinced that it would make us rich.

When I finished grad school in the summer of 2007, because I wanted to work on Red Point as much as possible, I decided to forgo getting a “grown-up” job and keep my cocktail waitress job at the swanky piano bar where I worked during undergrad and grad school.

Yes.  I was a cocktail waitress with an MBA for many, many years.

By day I was reading everything I could get my hands on related to nutrition and training, working on Red Point, blowing up the forums on T-Nation and the now-defunct Figure Athlete, training for figure competitions, and completely and totally immersed in all things “fitness.”

After spending two full years having the software built, in April of 2008 Red Point Fitness launched.

 

From a Red Point photo shoot...

From a Red Point photo shoot…

 

We just knew, “If we built it…they would come.”

Seriously.  That was our marketing plan. No seriously.

Quit laughing.

Wait…did you just snort?  I thought so.

:::::tapping my foot:::::

Are you going to keep laughing or are you done yet?

Anyway, yes, we thought if we built it, they would come.  And, well, some people came.  And they really liked it.  But we didn’t know enough about user experience or customer satisfaction and anytime we got feedback about what customers didn’t like, we just got mad and justified why our way was better, and we didn’t change much of anything.  Ask me how well that worked out…? (Hint: it didn’t.)

After a frustrating year or two of hanging out in limbo, training some clients here and there, and spending more and more time with my good buddy Jim Laird, I knew that I wanted to be in the fitness industry, I just didn’t know in what capacity.  I was embarrassed that Red Point hadn’t done as well as we’d hoped, I felt like I didn’t have many options in terms of where I could train clients (my commercial gym was saturated with trainers, and I didn’t want to train at a Globo-Gym), and I felt very stuck and discouraged.

 

Hanging with my faves... Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman of IFAST

Hanging with some of my faves… Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman of IFAST

 

In January of 2010, I started training with Mike Robertson of IFAST, and so did Jim.  We both quickly realized that there was a whole world of training to which we hadn’t been exposed.

Don’t get me wrong… at this point Jim had been getting people moving and feeling better and getting them extremely strong for over a decade, and he was damn good at it.  But integrating what he learned from Mike with what he already knew about training clients, allowed him to get results at lightning speed.

After a major life transition, and spending times at other gyms in our area, Jim decided that he wanted to help as many people as possible by giving them what they really needed, and that was an intelligent exercise program, and solid nutrition and recovery information.  So he started a group class, and asked for my help.  The initial plan was, I would help coach 1-2 nights a week, and that was it.

A couple of weeks after he started classes, we both attended a “Bootcamp Blueprint” event held by Pat Rigsby and Nick Berry.  I was hooked, and after a brief chat and a handshake, J&M Strength and Conditioning was born (well, we were under a different name then, but the concept was born).

JMlogo2

We jumped in with two feet, and no idea what we were getting ourselves into!

 

We started out renting space from a local CrossFit gym.  We didn’t have any money, so we agreed to pay them 25% of what we brought in each month, that way if we didn’t make anything, we wouldn’t owe anything.  The plans were to continue renting space from them and grow our business within their building.  Unfortunately, they had to move into a smaller building with very little parking, and between their CrossFit classes, on-ramp classes, bootcamp classes, and our group personal training classes, it was way too confusing and cramped.  So in May of 2011, we moved into our own space.

It was small.

It was dingy.

It reeked of cigarette smoke.

It was an old adult video store. <—- NOT KIDDING!

But it was OURS and we were thrilled!

 

Fancy, huh?  Notice the umm...very dark windows. =)

Fancy, huh? Notice the umm…very dark windows. =)

 

At that point, we had about 50 clients in our classes, plus Jim’s personal training clients, so we couldn’t afford much and because had to find space quickly, we had to take what we could get.  We stayed there for 18 months, despite almost bursting at the seams with new clients after 4-5 months!  We were locked into our lease for a year, but even after the year was up, buildings kept falling through over and over again.  Every time we got our hopes up, another building would fall through.  It was frustrating and discouraging, and our clients thought we would never move!  In fact, they started joking that our “new building” was like a mermaid riding atop a unicorn frolicking over a rainbow (i.e. they thought it was just a myth!)

During this time, I was still waiting tables 1-2 nights a week as a safety net in case something didn’t work out with the gym.  Now this may not seem like a job that would be scary to leave.  After all, it’s just waiting tables, right?  WRONG.  I had been with this company for almost 7 years and was able to make my own super flexible schedule, work as much or as little as I wanted, and in 2 nights a week I was making more than most of my MBA classmates at their “grown-up” jobs.  Yeah, it was a freakin’ sweet deal.  And SUPER hard to walk away from.

In the end, it wasn’t what I loved, and I knew it had a shelf life.  I wanted to build something where I wouldn’t have to trade hours for dollars.  I wanted to help people.  I wanted to be my own boss and have a ton of freedom!

In March of 2012 I called it quits for good.  It was absolutely terrifying, but looking back, it was the best decision I ever made. It was do or die time, baby!

Finally, after months upon months of searching, Jim found us a fantastic space, and in November of 2012, we moved in!  It’s 7,500 square feet and in a fantastic location.

 

Just a small part of our new building!

Just a small part of our new building!

 

When we moved in, we had well over 110 class clients, plus our private and semi-private clients.  Within a few short months of moving in, we added another 80 clients to our roster, and we are already looking to add more space!

SUMMARY

June 2010: renting space from a local gym, 20 clients in class, 2 classes/week

March 2013: leasing 7,500 square feet and looking to expand, ~175 class clients, 50 private/semi-private clients, 24 classes/week

In addition to J&M, I have been fortunate enough to hook up with the likes of Neghar Fonooni and Alli McKee to form Girls Gone Strong.

****(The four other original co-founders, Julia Ladewski, Jen Comas Keck, Nia Shanks, and Marianne Kane all stepped away to focus on other projects and they are all rocking out in the industry in their own ways!  Be sure to check them out when you get a chance!)

 

Starting GGS was one of the most exciting and important things I've ever done!

Starting GGS was one of the most exciting and important things I’ve ever done!

 

I also have my personal blog (which you’re reading right now), and I’ve got much more in the works, so please sign up for my newsletter so you can stay tuned to what I have going on!

So here I am!  After all of the twists and turns and failures and things that fell through… I am still here and still busting my butt every day to make things happen.  I am nowehere close to being where I want to be, and all of my businesses are still in their infancy, so every day I take a huge *risk* by continuing to do what I do.

(I say *risk* because I believe it’s a much bigger risk to shy away from what you are passionate about, what lights you up from the inside out, what makes you tick… I believe the “safe” route of finding a “good job” and plugging away up the corporate ladder for 30-40 years is much more terrifying than chasing my dreams.  But then again, I am a little crazy…)

Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 where I give my top tips on how to transition into fitness full-time. (HINT: LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Responses to Weekly Reader Question 10: How Did You Transition to Fitness Full-Time? (Part 1)

  1. It’s so interesting to read how you got into the fitness industry. I think a lot of people have a difficult time figuring out just how to effectively transition into an industry that they love and make money from it. Yours is a great success story.

  2. Bee says:

    Even if Red Point Fitness didn’t make it, you still took a stunning photo! Thank you for the advice. You have to be so proud of yourself!!

  3. Christa Bagley says:

    Molly, I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog today! I am attending the Train Like a Girl Seminar this weekend and your story/experiences resonate so deeply with me! I just graduated from Georgia Tech a year ago with a BS in Business Administration and a concentration in marketing. After interning for a year in the corporate side of sports, and taking one of the biggest (personal) steps of my entire life (I’m about to move away from my hometown), I have decided to change career paths completely and enter the fitness/training industry. Thanks so much for sharing your story and I can’t wait to meet you this weekend!

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