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How to build a fitness business

'I really value helping people feel good in their own bodies.'
Shelley Lask, Body Positive Health and Fitness

Top tips

  • Offer a free trial to promote your business if you're offering a service
  • Do work experience to get to know the industry
  • When starting up, advertise on Facebook to target specific demographics.

Before starting up

Growing up, Shelley Lask saw exercise as the enemy. 'I was never sporty,' says the 30 year old. Now, it's an essential part of her life. Shelley runs her own certified personal training business, Body Positive Health and Fitness, meeting clients in inner-Melbourne parks or at home.

Shelley only started to enjoy working out when she discovered boxing in her early 20s. She even moved to Thailand for two years to study and compete in Muay Thai, a form of martial arts. But upon returning to Australia and her career in insurance, Shelley felt unfulfilled. A redundancy package gave her the impetus to make a positive change.

Have a vision, and stick to it

Shelley met with a careers' counsellor offering pro bono work. Together, they outlined what motivated her in life - and in business. 'It was good working with him to understand what my values were, my reasons for doing it,' she says. 'I wanted to be the voice in the fitness industry that was really body positive and that wasn't based around using people's insecurities.'

Since launching her business in 2013, that vision still inspires Shelley. 'Even now when I have a rough week with work I remember why I'm doing this,' she says. 'I really value helping people feel good in their own bodies.'

Be different

Initially, Shelley didn't think that focusing her business on being healthy at any size would attract clients. She thought people might prefer trainers who emphasise weight loss.

But her careers' coach advised her to 'swim against the stream' and offer a point of difference from other personal trainers. Shelley stuck to her instincts about promoting a body-positive message and she found that clients were attracted to it, too.

Have a support network

Running a solo business can be isolating, so Shelley reached out to like-minded professionals in the Health At Every Size movement, which focuses on positive and practical ways to be healthy and happy. She regularly talks to people in that network, who range from dieticians to fellow trainers.

'Even though I work by myself I don't feel so alone, I have a group of people who support what I'm doing and vice versa,' she says. 'That's been a really good source of support and great for referring clients to and from each other.'

Keep it lean

Shelley estimates she spent about $3,000 setting up her business. But she did it slowly, buying second-hand equipment and giving a website developer free training sessions in exchange for setting up her site. She also kept a part-time job in disability support in the early stages.

Find out more about Shelley and Body Positive.

The result

Sticking to her vision and staying lean reduced the start-up pressure for Shelley. 'It helped that I started small and I hadn't outlaid a lot,' she says.

Now, Shelley juggles around 25 clients. 'I've never enjoyed a job as much as this,' she says.