YHP Interviews Nick Ferguson, Founder OF Sustain Fitness
Hey Nick, how is it going? Thanks for your time.
Thanks Joseph, busy as always! Thanks for the opportunity!
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I have been an athlete in many different sports over my lifetime, from a runner to football, to martial arts to cycling! Cycling was my final sport, I loved the freedom of it and the huge amount of dedication you had to have, just to be competitive. I went on to win 2 Junior national titles in 2006 and started developing further from there. I always loved being competitive and following after things I enjoy doing. When I was 'growing up' I could never work out what I wanted to aspire to, which frustrated me greatly! I thought, 'how am I meant to plan out my life if I don't know what I want to do?' School was a bit of a struggle, although I did well, I didn't really want to be there, I would have much preferred to be out training or learning something more applicable knowledge instead.
When I'm doing work, study or cycling, I like to play guitar, mix up music and play with fire - Seriously!
So tell us how you got into the fitness business?
I sort of fell into the fitness business.. It all started out because of getting hospitalised with pnemonia. I was in my final year at school, and was literally 4 days away from the national championships and I came down incredibly sick. I ended up losing my sponshorship and scholarship with cycling and was left a bit high and dry. I still hadn't worked out what I wanted to do regarding my future career, and figured I better make a decision quickly! I wanted to do something different from what other people did - or at least what I thought they did... i.e try as hard as you can at school, so you can get into the best possible university course, so that you might use it for your career and hope you work out what you want to do in the process. I wanted to be able to apply myself fully to whatever direction I chose, because I knew I would be successful and I knew I would enjoy it.
I wrote down all the things I enjoyed doing on a piece of paper and then wrote down jobs I was aware of that included those things. Some of the things I wrote down included: cycling, meeting new people, helping people, listening to music. Turns out there is a job where I could do all of this, and get paid!
I started out in the fitness industry as a Spin (cycling) instructor at Next Generation Gym in Adelaide. I just searched for a job that I thought would make me happy.
Why did you start your business? Why did you decide to start your business?
I didnt start my business straight away, it took me a while to decide to make the step. I began to get frustrated that I was only qualified to do one thing at the gym, teach spin classes, so I went and furthered my education and took on the personal trainer course full time. This allowed me to do nearly everything I could hope to do in the fitness industry and I figured I would start out by taking on more roles at the gym. As I studied and learned more about the fitness industry however, I found out more and more that the attitude, structure and function of gyms didn't really fit in with my idea of health and fitness. It didn't represent to me what it was all about.
The idea came to me to offer flexible fitness, what if I could bring the fitness to them? In their own environment? Take out the hassle of making the time to go to the gym, because I will come to them. I saw this as an opportunity to start something with relatively low capital to begin with and where I was able to help people in a way that a gym couldn't always do. Come into their life and help them change it. I had created myself a job!
How is it like, being an entrepreneur?
That still seems such a strange term to be called. I always thought of entrepreneurs as people who turn nothing into something or something worthless into something huge and amazing! Being entrepreneurial has been one of the most liberating things for me though. I love the fact that any ideas, goals or aspirations I have, there is really nothing stopping me from trying to reach them. Often, there will be a lack of money, contacts, resources and time to make these ideas happen, but at least they aren't being shut down by a boss that doesn't share the same vision as I do!
The best part about it is the flexibility to follow whatever ideas you may come up with through to reality, the hard part is managing them all and choosing the best ones!
I think it is a diffifult thing to explain to others around you, particularly friends, exactly what it is you do. I'm still working that out myself...
At what age did you encounter your entrepreneurial experience?
I was 17 when I started Sustain Fitness, but looking back, I definately had some entrepreneurial flairs when I was younger, just lacked the confidence to follow anything through.
How did you raise money for your business?
Worked! I was working at the gym, earning $40 per week (one class). Lets say it was a tough few months start up... I had used my savings to pay for the personal training course, so I really relied on my new work coming through to put back into the business. I bought a basic array of exercise equipment for under $1000 and made use of that as best I could. This forced me to be very creative in my training methods and actually started out my fascination with bodyweight and minimal equipment training methods, which has been very successful.
Who are your main competitors?
Because of the relatively small amount of clients I work with and the specific nature of what I do, there aren't too many other businesses I would consider a competitor. I say this because its not often I feel I have 'lost' a client to another business, its more I just haven't found them yet! As Sustain Fitness has three main sections at the moment, I have different competitors for each.
The Fitness division has places like gyms, personal training studios and other personal trainers as competitors.
The Education division has places like Les Mills International and the Corporate division has other corporate fitness providers as competitors, but this isn't yet a huge part of fitness in Australia. I'm watching this section quite keenly actually...
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I had just taken the plunge and got some more funding straight up. Although its nice to be able to say I have done all this with no help, literally from scratch, I could definately be further down the track if I had some more financial support.
I would have spent more time on brand identity originally, to find out what it was I stood for (still working on this one) and I would have tried to remain more organized.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Building relationships. People buy from people they like and trust. I think the more people you can interact with, show you are a genuine person, and that you are just out to help others, people will be drawn to you. I believe honesty, integrity and respect go a long way in any relationship, business or otherwise, and I strive to uphold these values with everyone I meet, potential customer or not.
I also think that my ability to adapt and offer what this industry wants has allowed me to grow. Starting out originally as a Personal Trainer only, I quickly realised there was only so far I could take this. It was a job, and there was no business when I wasn't working.
I always look for feedback from my clients and people I meet about what they need, what they want, how they are finding what we are doing currently and what needs to change. I am always looking to find things I can offer that benefits the customer first, which in turn can benefit me.
What motivates you to remain focused on growing your business/website?
Sometimes, I'm not sure about this one.. I know on a basic level, I have bills to pay, and I can't just tell them to stop for a few weeks, because I want a rest from it all... I think my drive to succeed, and be the best I can be is a big part of it. This probably comes from all my years of sports. I know that natural ability can only get you so far, but your tenacity, drive and creativity will get you the rest of the way.
Probably the biggest part of if would be that I want to enjoy my life. I want to travel, I want to be fit and healthy. I want to go out for lunches and dinners with friends, date amazing girls and do amazing things. The more control and freedom I have in my life, both in free time and financially, the more likely I will be able to do the things I want to do. I just don't see how holding down a 'good safe job' will let me do this. This is what keeps me focused.
What has been your greatest challenge as a business leader, and how did you overcome it?
Probably one of the hardest times I have had was quite recently, when the financial crisis had reared its head, as well as the winter down turn also. I saw a 75% cut in my income, and was barely scraping by. Savings were dipped into - it didn't feel good. So, I got a bit creative and dreamed up a few projects through gyms, build up a list of clients, invested in some new equipment, put HEAPS of work into it, to find out the gym wasn't allowing the project to go ahead. When you get these sorts of dissapointments, you can do two things, give up, or find another way. Sometimes finding another way means shelving the idea for a little while and working on something new.
As it turns out, the gym h as come back to me for a meeting, after overwhelming member feedback asking for it to go ahead! We may have progress yet...
You are currently planning a 6 week challenge to find Adelaide's fittest guy, who is that going so far?
Really well! It started this Monday, kind of amazing really. It all started out over a few beers with a friend, where we challenged ourselves to a 6 week fitness challenge to see how fit we could get. Just over a week ago, I got called up by a radio station who were asking for my advice on how to prepare for a running event, which turned into a promotional opportunity, we found sponsors, a charity, put up forms on the website and the competitors started rolling in! You can get so much work done in so little time if you set yourself to task. This has turned into a good opportunity for me to showcase my training methods also, because I can show people my results on myself over the 6 weeks. Time will tell! It will be good fun either way.
Do you have anyone you model yourself around?
I like to keep up to date on what Robert Kiyosaki, Richard Branson and Skip La Cour are up to.. Twitter makes this easier I guess! That is one thing I guess, I haven't found anyone who I model myself on just yet. I observe the positive traits of people around me and try to model those aspects to make myself a better person, and learn to avoid the negative traits I see in people too! Sometimes I will see a movie that has a powerful character, such as Tyler Durden from Fight Club, or even James Bond in any of the more recent films... Not necessarily going to go and blow up some Aston Martins or pick fights with myself after watching them, but they are cool guys none the less!
Do you have any favourite young entrepreneur at the moment?
I met some great guys over in Sydney earlier this year for the news.com.au Australian top 10 under 20 Entrepreneurs actually.
Miek Jarocki from creditcardfinder.com.au and Ryan Djurovich from Antevo (Sydney and Melbourne) are doing really well at the moment! Also Shaun Stenning from Aus with his SEO and online Marketing Business.
What is your favourite quote?
I have a few, but I really like 'The difference between a goal and a dream is the written word.' 'Follow your bliss' also comes to mind.
What advices do you have for young entrepreneurs contemplating or those that have actually started their business?
Stay focused! Don't let anyone or anything come in your way of achieving what you have set out to achieve. Aim high, set a very clear goal of what you want to achieve, write it down and have it visible to you every day. The 'how' will probably seem crazy, but don't worry too much, it seems to have a way of working itself out.
Surround yourself with positive, influencial people. Their support and their success can help motivate you to achieve better than you thought originally possible! My mentor, Tim has been very helpful in this whole process. If you don't have a mentor yet, what are you waiting for?
Finally, don't be afraid to pay for expert help. Be that advice, services or products. The right investments can pay for themselves many times over.
What should we be expecting from you in the future?
Hopefully I'll be getting myself more onto the public speaking circuit, I'll be conducting some seminars at our FILEX fitness convention in Sydney next year if all goes well... I have a few decisions to make in the next two months regarding which direction I fully commit to, but if all goes well, you will be seeing a line of Sustain Fitness Workout DVDs, new certified courses for Spin instructors and Fitness Entrepreneurs, plus some exciting new content online - Videos, challenges and new content (www.sustainfitness.com.au). It's going to be hard, its going to be fun. Can't wait!
Thanks for the time nick
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