What’s it like owning a Health and Fitness Business?
An interview with Mel Cook
What’s it like owning a Health and Fitness Business?
Today we find out what it is like to own a health and fitness business.
This episode is the 3rd in the series of our interviews with existing Business owners and today we’re going to meet someone who has achieved success in the health and fitness industry.
Geoff Daniel sits down with Mel Cook who is the Co-founder of Imani Tribe Transformations.
Mel shares her story including overcoming a major setback and finding the motivation to rebuild a successful health and fitness business.
Listen to other great Small Business Stories
I first met Mel a few years ago now when we started to serve together on a committee that advises Local government on matters relating to small business.
With health, fitness and wellbeing taking the world by storm, particularly over the last ten years or so, I really wanted to chat with Mel.
I’ve got to see not just her energy for her business and her clients but also her very sharp business mind in action as we’ve served on that committee together.
So, I thought who better to help us all understand what it is like to operate and grow a business in that industry?
I hope you enjoy my chat with Mel Cook.
What was your career before starting your health and fitness business?
So I’ve noticed you’ve built a fantastic business here Mel and we’ll talk about that shortly.
But for now, I thought we might go back to the beginning for you before you started the business.
So was health and fitness always something that interested you growing up?
I was always a very sporty kid, played a lot of basketball and other sport as well. And that was a big part of my life.
Even in my later years of school, 11 to 12, I did take a big interest, in nutrition. I really enjoyed health, PE, and a lot of the sciences as well. So it was always on my radar.
When you’re younger and, people ask you what you wanted to be, I used to say, a physio because, that’s all I knew of as a good career in health and sports.
So then you went on and did a university or a college degree for our listeners in the US, in that health sciences field.
At that stage did you have a career path designed for yourself?
Yes and no. Straight out of school, I went into health science. And this was because all I really knew out of school was to university and then to get a job.
I knew there were businesses but that wasn’t even on my radar at the time.
I didn’t know that my course would eventually lead me to something and at the time it was in nutrition.
That’s where my thinking was at the end of year 12 didn’t so really didn’t have a big plan.
You mentioned before the business side of things. Had that played a part in your thinking?
Were you around people in business or were one of those people that always thought you’d do something for yourself? At some point or not at all?
No, no business blood in my family at all. I didn’t know that either. I did no studies around business. It wasn’t until after uni and when I was in my job did it even come onto my radar.
What motivated you to start a health and fitness business?
Was there anything in particular that you can recall that, triggered that to happen.
It was the desire to help. And the one thing I did notice was that I naturally was quite comfortable with stepping outside my comfort zone.
I would look for personal development, and, I would naturally push myself.
People that were quite scared of often being outside their comfort zone and doing things that challenge them.
So that’s what inspired me to go out on my own and start a fitness business because I could see that I could help people.
When you did that, about eight years ago or so. If you can think back to that time, can you think of some things that You did well or went well for you, when you leapt into business for yourself. And perhaps a couple of things that maybe didn’t go as well
At the time when I left my full-time job, which was going quite well. I was 24 and still living at home with my parents. I did have money saved up. So I did go out, and I took a leap of faith into this business.
I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going to go, but I did have this inside feeling that I could make it happen.
A lot of time, people will say, “Oh, no, you can’t do that. That won’t work”, but I just had this feeling that “Of course I can do it”.
So in those early days, taking the leap of faith and following it up with hard work and action, I was rewarded with clients or with my business starting to grow.
That taught me a lot in the early days that things happen when you take action
That continues to serve me to this day but served me really well in those early days when you really have no idea. You when you really have no idea what you’re doing, you have to just to keep taking that action.
We’ve actually been speaking some earlier episodes of our show about the role that motivation plays, especially during that startup phase, but also other times in the business journey.
And how it needs to be strong enough to get you over some of the hurdles. I think I already know the answer to this, but you’d be a bit of a motivated person I believe?
Yes, but be not always a motivated person. And sometimes I do forget that I need to go out and source external motivation. But I am very disciplined at the same time, and that came from Natural skills but also my sport growing up.
You know, I learnt the benefits of being disciplined and what that does. You can’t rely on motivation all the time, so we have to create those habits, and we have to be disciplined.
But we also have to have a really strong reason “why”, why we’re doing what we’re doing. Otherwise, everything gets really, really challenging.
What makes the Imani Tribe health and fitness business different?
So let’s now fast forward and jump for a little bit and chat about Imani your current business. Firstly, is there a meaning behind the name?
Yes. So Imani means faith in Swahili. My husband is from Kenya, and he speaks Swahili. So before I met him, I had a business for five years called Run With Life. And then for about half a year, I started trading under my own name.
So when we were starting the fitness business together, we wanted to find a name that had had meaning.
So, we looked at a few Spanish words; we wanted something that wasn’t an English word that we sort of hear every day. And then we, when we went through some Swahili words in mind, he stood out and it the meaning of it was, was perfect for where Ronnie and I were at in our lives.
So, faith had played a big role in where we’ve gotten to today. You know, overcoming our own hurdles and challenges and, and pushing through and believing in ourselves and you know, never giving up. So that was really important for us to have a meaning behind our business name.
So as someone looking at the fitness industry from the outside, it seems to me that it’s a pretty crowded sort of business, pretty competitive.
You mentioned the name as being something different, but is there anything else that you’ve have done to differentiate yourselves in, in your space.
It is a very crowded industry, the fitness business, with a lot of noise. We still, I guess, battle noise daily, but we have a lot of clarity as well.
Now because it is vitally important for us to be unique and very different. And that is in who we are and, and what we deliver. While we provide a service like a lot of other people deliver, the way we do it, and who we do it with is unique.
And that in itself is what adds to our success. We’re looking for for the right people. And we’re also quite happy to, and quite confident putting in the hard work and not just take on numbers for the sake of, of dollars.
Because one essential thing for us is our mental health and our physical health. So we’re very confident of keeping putting in the hard yards until we get the right people, and also the business grows strongly rather than just taking on anybody.
Well, you’ve certainly found a niche there. And one of the things we talk about too is trying to identify a space that you’ve got a little bit to yourself.
Can you talk us through what “a day in your life” looks like and what it’s like running the business?
The alarm goes off at 4 am. We have routines for everything. First alarm goes off, and the light goes on. I spend the next 10 minutes waking myself up, and another alarm goes off then I get out of bed straight away. No snooze. We at our studio by quarter to five.
Even going a little bit further back, we’ve got our breakfast or first meal already prepped from the night before ready to go.
So as soon as we wake up, they’re straight in the microwave, the coffee is made and we eat.
No, thinking – if you have to think in the morning, it makes your morning too hard.
Our Studio is on Main Street Croydon, and we meet our Face to face clients, first thing in the morning.
We have great clients and we really, really love what we do, and that makes a huge difference.
We work with quite a few people in the morning and we’re finished by about 7:30 am.
Then, we do weight training with our clients at this stage for a 45 minutes session.
One thing we educate our clients in, is how not to spend too much time in the gym. Our clients are busy business owners, and they have kids, multiple businesses and lots of things going on in their life.
We teach people that you don’t need to spend hours in a gym. And how to train smarter is an important part of it.
So then, after our clients leave, we eat again, and then we train. So we need to structure in our training; otherwise, work takes over. And that is not a good thing.
I know in my in my early days in my business, I was doing 15 or 16 hour days, and that doesn’t leave a lot for of time for much else.
That happened when I first started and when things didn’t do very well, in the beginning, my health and my body shape suffered because your business takes over and you put all your time and energy into it.
You don’t have any energy left for yourself. So our training is super important. So then, we’re getting back to the office around 10 or 11.
We eat again, and then we get straight into our either admin work, marketing or our client’s online work, which they do with us to help them with their transformation.
Such as their food diaries, working on habits or following up on things that they need help with and all that kind of stuff.
Okay, so that remote by the year obviously gives you the ability to reach into markets that you wouldn’t if you were only operating, you know, seeing people face to face from your studio.
That’s a big part of what we do, and it allows us to work with people all over the world. It also allows us to get more out of the people that we work face to face with.
Otherwise, it just becomes that client turns up, they just train, and they go home. We can put more responsibility back on them, which is important in their journey.
What do you find most rewarding running a health and fitness business?
You’ve been going, obviously in the Imani health and wellness business for a few years now. So what aspects of running your business do you find the most rewarding?
Well, good question.
Overcoming big challenges has been the biggest growth in myself. Sometimes when you don’t see something amazing is about to happen, and then, it does happen.
So like, you know, you’ve been working to build something in your business and you know, you’re working on it because you want a specific outcome.
But then you get a better outcome. Seeing ourselves evolve and also seeing a client evolve.
Being recognized or having a client being grateful for what we do is so powerful. We’ve gone through a few years where people didn’t actually realize who we were or what we were doing.
Sometimes the work that trainers do gets unrecognized in the early days but when I have clients that really can see how we help them and they are really grateful for it.
That makes such a difference to your day.
What has been most challenging?
All right, now on the other foot. Have there been any challenges pop up that maybe you didn’t expect and perhaps you weren’t prepared for?
Yeah, a lot. I lot, and they are really quite hard when you’re in them, they can make or break people.
That’s why you do have to want to be in this game and know why you’re in it. Be in it for the journey.
I did lose my first fitness business to a person who was working for me for a good year about three or four years ago now.
So your original business?
Yeah, I was actually about to go away for a few months and, she was going to look after the business at the time.
A week before I left she told me that she was going to start up her own thing. So a lot of the clients that I did have then went off with her.
She took the business model that I created which a lot of people said wouldn’t work. She’s still doing that business model to this day. So I wish all the best because that was a big lesson for me.
Turning a negative into a positive.
The year after that was really, really hard for me. I had a lot of head talk and a lot of things going on that I had to learn or workout.
And when I was going through a transformation, and at that time, I was holding on. You have just got to hold on and, continue with what you’ve got. I had some great loyal, people who, who stuck by me and kept me going with my savings as well.
So that was really important because over the next three to six months after that I, I did work a lot less than what I was used to. I was also burnt out at the time, so I didn’t want to take on more work.
I just did enough to keep myself going. But I learned a lot from that whole experience.
I find with people who are in that process of starting or thinking about starting, that there’s this idea the business will grow and grow and grow.
You’ll never have any issues, or you’ll never have any times when the business isn’t producing what it once was.
And the fact is that it’s not a straight line, is it? Which, you know, there’s a lot of ups and downs.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, in the most recent years Ronnie and I tell each other when we’re having a hard moment like “our business life”.
But before something amazing happens, you go through a low, some disappointment or some struggles or another lesson you need to learn.
So having your support system during that time is important. But knowing and understanding that these moments are always there as a precursor to, something good happening, is a fantastic way of looking at it.
What things do you least like about running your business?
Touching on the practicalities for a minute. Having built a solid business are there any aspects of running the business that you don’t care for? I’m not sure you’d be loving administration and paying bills and all that sort of stuff, how does all that sit with you?
And I went through a stage last year where it was annoying me that every time I think we were getting ahead again, I have a “Oh my god, more bills”.
But there’s always going to be bills to pay. And you’re always working on your business. It never stops.
So that’s something that I’ve embraced again this year. The admin side of things. I’m OK with that kind of stuff.
But then there are things that you just get sick of doing or they become quite time consuming or tedious.
Having some other people that can help you with that does allow you to do what you do even better.
That’s a really important point. All right, so, thinking about even what you’ve just mentioned, would you have any advice for someone who’s not yet in business, but they’re thinking about it and thinking, I wonder if I can do it?
Have you any advice based on your own experiences for someone who’s sitting there thinking, I’d like to go into business for myself?
I’d love to be super motivating and positive in that and say, go for it. because it’s the best thing in the world. But it is also very, very challenging.
You’ll come up against some of the unbelievable hurdles that you never thought you would come up against that could that would test you dramatically. So, when I was thinking about it, I needed people to say yep go for it because I was quite strong in myself at the time that I knew I could do it, but I had many people telling me not to do it.
You need to have a really strong “why” and, you need to be in it for The Long Haul.
But that’s it as we talked about before, it’s not necessarily that you jump on the escalator and start at the bottom. It’s just this linear ride up to the top of the tree is that it’s.
You’ve got to be in there for the ups and downs. And as you mentioned, really clearly, it’s the things you learned along the way that are equally as important.
Look, there’s some tremendous advice here, I think in some wisdom that you’ve been able to share with us also. Thank you for that and again, thanks for joining us.
For all the listeners, we will be putting, contact details in our show notes.
Mel, thanks for joining us.
What did we learn from Mel about starting a fitness business?
What an inspiring woman Mel is and what a great story!
I thought Mel had some really insightful things to say and it just goes to show that the success curve isn’t linear is it?
There are always going to be ups and downs in any business, and I think Mel is a great example of someone who has been challenged but has managed to work her way through a number of situations that might completely de-rail some others.
What were the takeaways for you Brendan?
- Passionate about health and fitness
- Once again, no family history of business ownership (I think that’s 3 from 3 so far!)
- Mel had a desire to help people
- Although young, at 24, she had a degree of preparedness behind her with some savings
I actually found some of her thoughts around her innate personal characteristics were really interesting
- Mel was good at stepping out of her comfort zone
- She likes to challenge herself
Mel talked about some of the challenges she’d faced. Having her client base stolen by a former employee and facing burnout (we wrote an article about that recently).
These things are really, really hard to deal with but I think it gives a great insight into what running a business can entail – it’s not all roses is it?
Perhaps the best line from the interview for me was when Mel said a lull or a struggle will often happen just before you reach success – as long as you keep doing the work and don’t give up.
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