"As far as attracting customers, I started out by handing out business cards to anyone who asked, paying for Facebook and Instagram ads, and regularly posting content..."
Discover why Tim Walcott founded Motus Strength Health Club, a private fitness studio in Erin an hour west of Toronto!
1. Hi Tim! What's your background, and what's Motus Strength?
I attended school for Fitness and Health Promotion at Humber College in Toronto from 2011-2013 with the intention of having my own personal training business. It was a 2 year program and I actually chose to leave a few months early and not graduate. Fortunately, most of what I had learned by that point was sufficient motivation to get out into the industry.
The main service we offer through Motus Strength Health Club is One-on-One Personal Training in a private studio in a small town (Erin) just an hour west of Toronto. It’s a highly-personalized experience with the entire focus being on the client’s unique needs and preferences. We also offer Registered Massage Therapy through a colleague who I brought onto the team this past year. Also, I recently officially launched my own Remote Personal Training services which is similar to in-person training but more affordable, more convenient and entirely over the internet.
As for the name Motus Strength (recently changed to Motus Strength Health Club) originally attracted me because of the meaning of Motus. It is Latin for “Motion” or “Movement," and one of the underlying objectives of my business is to get MORE people moving MORE often. And the “strength” part simply made sense because I want people to not only move more, but to become a stronger version of themselves physically AND mentally. It’s funny actually, I only learned some of the other translations for “motus” after a year of being in the business and I was pleasantly surprised they seemed to fit with my vision just as well (e.g. an advance, progress, impulse, passion, revolt, rebellion). The last two definitions, revolt and rebellion, are particularly fitting considering my recent positioning as a voice of reason in a confused industry riddled with willfully ignorant charlatans and pseudoscientific instagram posts.
2. What motivated you to get started with Motus Strength?
Originally, I was planning on getting hired as a trainer at a popular commercial gym in order to gain some experience and get my foot in the door. Even though it seemed to be a necessary step in my plan to eventually run my own operation, I wasn’t keen on working as a trainer in a commercial box gym (for reasons mostly due to our incompatibility of business philosophies). So I ended up working at a supplement store for a few years until I had an opportunity I couldn’t resist - my Mom’s previous personal trainer who exclusively offered in-home training was looking for an exit strategy and let me take over her clientele. In-home training is actually how I started while I luckily managed to bypass the whole commercial gym route (no shade to those working at big box gyms, just not my cup of java).
"This, coupled with the character flaw of being allergic to authority, made the motivation to start and grow my own business a no-brainer."
That’s the story of how I was ABLE to get started, but what has motivated me to start this thing is my general love for fitness, health, and watching people improve at something that takes effort. I also enjoy learning and explaining new things to people in ways that resonate with them, and personal training is mostly that - communicating valuable information in a way that inspires action. Another part of my motivation for Motus Strength comes from the realization that in every job I worked, I would catch myself being envious of my employer’s position while loathing my own position as the employee. I eventually realized that if I wanted to be where they are, then I need to start doing what they are doing. This, coupled with the character flaw of being allergic to authority, made the motivation to start and grow my own business a no-brainer.
3. How have you attracted customers and grown Motus Strength?
"After receiving the opportunity to take on a handful of in-person clients, I started to look at the area I was living in at the time and wondered how I could market myself and grow my business."
After receiving the opportunity to take on a handful of in-person clients, I started to look at the area I was living in at the time and wondered how I could market myself and grow my business. There is a large farming community here but they are part of the small percentage of people looking for an in-home personal trainer. Although there is a large equestrian community in the surrounding area, which may be easier to market to, I immediately realized that in-home training was not how I wanted to grow my business anyway. In addition the fact that a large amount of people in the area were looking to hire a personal trainer but wouldn’t be willing to pay for in-home rates, driving around to people’s homes made certain logistical issues very stressful (e.g. scheduling, travel-time, car problems, gas, wake-up times, equipment availability, etc). So after receiving a surprisingly high demand for conventional studio training, I immediately rented a private studio and began offering one-on-one training sessions (this also bears its own issues in regards to long-term scalability, but is still a better option to have my clients commute to my studio instead of me travelling to their home).
As far as attracting customers, I started out by handing out business cards to anyone who asked, paying for Facebook and Instagram ads, and regularly posting content to my social media accounts. A big one for me has undoubtedly been the content I post on my Instagram - it has really helped me to accurately deliver my unconventional philosophies and perspectives on all things fitness and health to the local community, as well as encourage user interaction on controversial or thought-provoking content. Instagram definitely has helped me but as far as getting new leads, most now come via word-of-mouth and, surprisingly to me, organic Google searches. I reached my first growth ceiling around May of this year when I couldn’t take on any new clients unless my current ones left or reduced frequency. And it’s been that way until now, which was one of my motivations to launch and further develop the emote side of my business.
4. What's your business model? Why do you focus on the personal experience?
"In my experience, most people who are on the fence about hiring a trainer are less hesitant about the actual cost and more hesitant on the value of the service not being worth the cost."
A lot of people who hire trainers can actually afford to do so. This contradicts the commonly-held belief that many people don’t pay for personal training because “it’s too expensive”. Unfortunately, I think this misconception is the reason why most trainers set their prices too low AND end up focusing too much on what they charge and not enough on the value and service they can provide. In my experience, most people who are on the fence about hiring a trainer are less hesitant about the actual cost and more hesitant on the value of the service not being worth the cost. Like most things, the cost does not only consist of money by the way - time and effort are two big factors here too. And I’d argue that it is even more important to focus on these two factors when trying to attract more clients.
This is why I structured my business model around offering a “white glove” personal training service that has an extremely high focus on the “personal” experience of personal training. Every single thing is tailored to the needs of the client, from the music selection all the way down to my tone of voice and the words I use to communicate with them. It all comes down to the client experience. I combine this with a high emphasis on effective time-management (“I won’t waste a minute of your time”) and a training philosophy based on scientific evidence (“you can trust me”).
5. What do you think has had the biggest impact on your sales since you started?
The answer to this is likely a combination of a few things. I’d have to say that my focus on making the client experience exceptional for each person has been the biggest factor on my sales. I think especially in industries where you’re directly interacting with the clientele multiple times per week, it’s extremely important to maintain a high level of customer service. It has helped me build a positive reputation which is particularly important in a small community where word-of-mouth is the most effective form of advertising. A specific example is being extremely flexible for scheduling and always accommodating my clients’ personal schedules if I can. The latter being an underrated area of focus for most trainers I think.
"My clients are with me for only one hour out of the day and they’re on their own for the remaining twenty three, so I make sure they know they have me as a resource and support even in the hours they’re stuck at work or at home."
Something in particular that I think has had a strong impact on my sales has been making myself as available as I can for all my clients. I make it very clear that they can contact me via text or email as often as they need in regards to all inquiries fitness and health related. My clients are with me for only one hour out of the day and they’re on their own for the remaining twenty three, so I make sure they know they have me as a resource and support even in the hours they’re stuck at work or at home.
In addition to that, an honourable mention for something that has impacted my sales include posting regular social media content that brings real value to the customer base I’m marketing to.
6. Have you found any resources or habits particularly helpful or advantageous?
"... winding down at certain points in the day or night and allowing myself to not do anything business related has been very helpful"
Planning out my day in advance has been a useful habit for me, even just loosely. I certainly believe it’s always better than going into the day blind. Also, and this might be the biggest one, but winding down at certain points in the day or night and allowing myself to not do anything business related has been very helpful. Once I started making this a regular objective each day, I found that I was much more relaxed throughout the day as well as more comfortable at night when bedtime came around. And the funny part is that giving myself moments throughout the day to “do nothing,” or at least do something unrelated to my work, actually didn’t hurt my total productivity. I would highly recommend working on this if you’re someone who finds it hard to not think about work in circumstances where you’re not suppose to think about work (e.g. dinner with family, lunch with a friend, travel time during errands, Netflix).
Piggybacking off that, a specifically useful habit is to give yourself a chunk of time to wind down before bed. Give yourself permission to chill out and watch a shitty TV show or a read a book before hitting the hay. Excluding rare occasions, I make this a non-negotiable every night.
7. Do you have any helpful advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs / wantrepreneurs?
Most importantly, I would refer to my advice in response to the previous question.
"... remember to enjoy the actual process of starting and operating a business."
But I would also recommend any new (and old) entrepreneurs to remember to enjoy the actual process of starting and operating a business. This has become a bit of a cliché but could not be more true. Admittedly, it’s much easier said than done but it’s well worth it. I think it can be too easy to forget that the journey is the goal as much as the destination. Look back on the salad days with satisfaction, not regret.
Also, do everything in your power not to refer to yourself as an entrepreneur until it becomes painfully clear that you are, indeed, an entrepreneur. I’m only partially joking.
Thanks for sharing Tim!