Today I was asked to tell my story at a networking event.
I was a bit nervous (to say the least!) BUT as a few people weren’t able to come and hear it, they asked that I put it into a blog article to share...
So here it is! My story about how I came to be a Personal Trainer (after 11 years working at RollsRoyce!), why exercise is sooooo super important to our physical and mental wellbeing, plus how I’ve grown my business over the past 18 months.
A Personal Trainer that doesn’t LOVE exercise?!?!
So first of all, I’m going to tell you all something that might surprise you! I probably don’t actually enjoy exercising as much as you think I do! Shock horror!
Yes when I was at school, I played lacrosse and rounders and tennis. I’ve always been sporty and enjoyed being active. But I found as an adult that exercising wasn’t always quite so fun and it became something that I felt like I needed to do, so it was a bit of a chore.
This was at a time when I’d left University and was living up in Nottingham working at Rolls-Royce in various roles and ending up as a contract manager working in a stressful job in purchasing. I had my gym membership (not that I always went...) and my main drive for exercise was staying slim and burning off the office cake calories!
Anyway, I was at Rolls-Royce for 11 years and my personal circumstances changed over time, so that I ended up buying a flat and living alone. I hadn’t realised that living alone and trying to cope with a very stressful job had really taken its toll on my mental wellbeing.
Until that was, for 2 weeks in a row I ended up crying in my weekly reviews with my manager (who was amazing!) and the second time she promptly sent me home with strict instructions to go to the doctors. I was signed off for 2 weeks initially (with a combination of depression, stress and anxiety) and so I came back to Newbury to get some TLC from my parents.
And looking back on it, it’s the best possible thing that could have happened. I don’t regret my time at Rolls-Royce at all. It is an amazing company with great people and I learnt a lot during my time there. However, spending time away from the office, I realised that the career I had built just wasn’t something I was passionate about anymore and I really resented living away from my family and friends. So I decided to hand in my notice! And my doctor signed me off for my whole 2 month notice period and I never returned to the office again!
BUT how on earth did all this lead me to being a Personal Trainer?!?!
Well when I was off sick I went on a residential bootcamp. I felt a bit guilty but my doctor said it would do me the world of good! I’d been on them before (much to the amazement of my colleagues! Because frankly who would want to spend their holidays with strangers exercising and eating a restricted calorie diet?!?! Ermmmmm that would be me!) But I found they were amazing for both my physical and mental wellbeing. Going away to a beautiful location and not only exercising and eating well for a week, but also spending time with many like minded women of different ages and fitness levels was like therapy!
And on this holiday, I was also inspired in particular by one trainer in particular who was motivating, knowledgeable and most of all normal. He knew we were mostly there to lose a few pounds, not because we wanted to be the next Paula Radcliffe, he admitted that he strived for balance (80% good, and 20% not quite so good!) He understood we had our strengths and weaknesses and were unlikely to return and spend hours and hours in the gym. He just wanted to encourage us to be more active and make healthier choices in our everyday lives.
It was him that planted the seed. I wanted to do what he did. Help people be more active and healthy, in a way that worked for them. And if that resulted in weightloss and a change in bodyshape, then even better! I also wanted to create a support network based around exercise. Because this would have helped me enormously when I was working at Rolls-Royce, under a lot of stress, living away from home on my own and not always feeling like I had the energy to exercise. I wanted people to be more active in the hope that it helped their mental wellbeing.
So that was the beginning. I retrained and I qualified as a personal trainer in April 2016. I decided that I didn’t want to work for somebody else. I wanted to start my own business.
And so Nightingale Fitness and the Fitfam was born!
Exercise and Mental Health
So as you can see, the driver behind me turning to personal training was primarily for mental health. Mine AND my clients (if I got any!) Yes I do like exercising (on my own terms!) but I’m not a gym-nut and I understand that it is often difficult to motivate yourself to exercise. HOWEVER, it is super important for all of us. So we just need to find a way of doing it that works for us.
We all know that exercise is hugely beneficial to our PHYSICAL wellbeing. It can help us manage our weight and keep our heart and lungs healthy and make our bodies more efficient. People who do regular activity often have a lower risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers.
HOWEVER, the importance of exercise has not (and still often isn’t) highlighted as a necessity for our mental health. Research shows that physical activity can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
But when I was working at Rolls-Royce and went to the doctor (at my wits end) I wasn’t prescribed exercise or given suggestions for my nutrition. I was offered antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy. Looking back, this seems strange considering there were such marked differences in my energy levels and mood when I regularly exercise compared with when I didn’t.
And I’ve also witnessed this with my clients. As a personal trainer you get to know people very quickly because you have to take a medical history before you even start training. This includes asking about medication. And I have been staggered by the number of people suffering with depression, stress and anxiety. A lot of people who live with these difficulties struggle to exercise regularly, they get anxious about turning up to regular classes, they talk themselves out of exercise and can end up feeling alone. I wanted to help with this, by running a business that looked out for its clients – not only physically but mentally too.
I have a Facebook group for my online clients so we can share our successes but also our worries if we’re having a bad day, I have messenger chats for all my classes to share info but also to make sure everybody is included, I message people privately if they don’t come to class to check that they are ok, and I organise events that keep people active and bring all my clients together (whether they are PT, class attendees, online members or parkrunners...)
And not only have people achieved great results physically, but I get really amazing feedback about the positive influence on their mental wellbeing.
How I've grown my business!
I feel a bit of a fraud giving out tips when my business is only 18 months old, but here is what I’ve learnt so far!
1. Be yourself – I am a very open person and I wear my heart on my sleeve. In a corporate environment this isn’t always seen as a positive thing because people don’t always want to hear what you think! Anyway I wasn’t very good at “playing the game” and I was often too honest for my own good. With my own business however, I use this to my advantage. I am honest and open with my clients, which they respect. And in return, they are open and honest with me. I don’t pretend that exercise is the be all and end all of my life. It isn’t. And I don’t pretend that I am 100% perfect when it comes to my nutrition. I want to show my clients that I am normal and that they can learn how to live a more healthy lifestyle by making little changes that are sustainable in the long term.
2. Over deliver – I worked in Customer Business at Rolls-Royce, with airline customers who paid us millions and millions of dollars every month. Customer service was key and I did everything in my power to give them customer satisfaction. I hate bad customer service myself, so I always try to go above and beyond with my own customers now – whether these are existing clients or prospective clients. Sometimes that might involve sending them extra workouts or an interesting article or a recipe they might like. Sometimes it might mean making a slightly different payment arrangement or being flexible with my classes to account so it works around their childcare. Whatever it might be, it shows my clients that I care and I value their business. I also do lots of free things – whether it be taking clients running or leading the occasional outdoor workout for my online clients or training a sports team. Plus I make sure I get feedback so I can improve all the time.
3. Be passionate – I absolutely LOVE what I do and feel very lucky to be doing it. And I think this shines through. Sometimes people think that I’m a bit crazy because I tell them how excited I am about a new workout I’ve designed for them or a new exercise idea I’ve had, or even that I’ve spent a whole afternoon laminating exercise cards (I love my laminator!) But I think they value working with someone who is passionate about their job and it makes them excited about exercising too!
4. Keep it fresh – I am always thinking of new ideas for my clients and for my business. I try to make every single one of my classes different to keep people guessing. And with my personal training clients, I change the sessions every week so that they get to see lots of different types of training methods and might find something new that they like that they will continue themselves. With my business, I always have lots of new ideas and strive for growth.
5. Be savvy – At Rolls-Royce I worked in commercial and contracts so I do read across that experience to my business. I have something for every budget and I try to ensure block bookings for which I offer discounts. I have also launched merchandise (vests, t-shirts, hoodies, rucksacks) because it is fantastic for marketing and my clients really love it. I have comprehensive terms and conditions (because I’m a geek like that!) but also because it keeps things professional.
6. Celebrate success – I have learnt to have the confidence to shout about my success and people generally do love to hear about it. I really struggled doing this at Rolls-Royce but I think because I am so genuinely excited about what I do now, I want to share it with the world. Whether it is my success as a business or more importantly the achievements of my clients, I shout about them. And I hope everyone else with their own business does too.
I left Rolls-Royce 2 and a half years ago. I left the security of a good salary and a pension. But I was never as happy and confident there in the whole 11 years, as I am now. I hope you have enjoyed reading my story and that it gives you a little more of an insight into me and the reasons behind starting Nightingale Fitness.
Thank you for reading!