Game Changing stories from mothers who have designed a life that works doing something they love. Finding yourself 20k in debt and turning it around – this one is an epic story of perseverance and commitment by two incredibly inspiring women.
1.Tell us a bit about yourself?
Robyn and I worked together for several years at an FE College, Robyn assessing in the Sports Department and I was Director of Curriculum. We both had a 3 year old daughter and became close friends when Robyn used to train me (I couldn’t motivate myself – even personal trainers need a PT). We got on really well together because we both had a shared passion for fitness – and a shared hatred for our current jobs and Education in general!
2. When or what was your Game Change?
We had always talked about how great it would be to go into business together and all the amazing things we could do – but it was just that – talk! However, when we were both on maternity leave with our second babies we were made redundant and therefore an opportunity arose for us to finally take the risk. We were definitely guilty of egging each other on and talking down the risks. We thought it would be the perfect time to set up a business when 9 months pregnant with another toddler each to look after. Pregnancy hormones definitely took over at some point – we didn’t listen to anyone’s advice, warnings etc. I’m glad though as we wouldn’t be where we are now if we did.
3. What went on along the way?
So, we decided the best plan of action would be to lease premises and to renovate them while on maternity – how hard could it be with a newborn and a toddler 🙂
How wrong we where – it was absolutely torture! We would spend every minute the babies were asleep doing painting, knocking down walls, tiling etc in between keeping a house together and seeing our other daughter. We would spend hours into the early morning once the babies were asleep, painting and adding finishing touches to our fitness studio. We literally never stopped for 4/5 months.
4. Let’s talk money – what went on financially?
Financially we invested a lot of money into the studio doing renovations – many of which didn’t need to be done in hindsight. We had both been made redundant so were on SMP, which was a significant drop in our salaries. This was tough, especially knowing that we had no salary to go back to at the end of our SMP. We didn’t get a wage for over a year – which nearly crippled us both! We had HUGE overheads with our fitness studio that we hadn’t accounted for and so at the end of each month had nothing left for ourselves. We both ended up really struggling financially. My husband and I ended up downsizing our house so that we could reduce our monthly outgoings as moving forward, I knew that any wages we would get would not compare to the income we had pre-baby number 2. Robyn’s partner was also made redundant partway through our “adventure” and so they ended up taking out credit cards just to cover their bills. In hindsight it was an extremely stressful time – and quite scary at times. I think what made it less worrying was that there were 2 of us going through it together. This kind of made it less scary and less risky as we had each other for support.
In terms of childcare – we just couldn’t afford nursery while we were trying to get our business of the ground. In the early days – we decided to split the week in half. Robyn worked 2.5 days and I had all 4 children (2 x newborn and 2 x toddlers) and vice versa when I worked 2.5 days. We had to make it work as we had no other options. Luckily – the girls got on great and thought it was amazing that they got to spend most days together!
Once the studio was built, we added a children’s play section so that the kids could come into work with us occasionally so that Robyn and I could actually do some work together.
After Robyn’s partner was made redundant, it made us really look at our business and see if it was working/worth pursuing etc. The studio was leaking money and we knew deep down it wasn’t working, however, we didn’t want to admit failure. Our family circumstances forced us to face up to this and it was probably the best thing that could have happened. We gave up the lease on our premises – and with it all the investment we had made into it. We spent time really looking at our business model (what we should have done initially) and totally rebranded and relaunched our business (in £20k debt).
5. How about the ‘balance’ question – how as a family do you hold it all together?
I honestly think (and we’ve probably not said this enough) that we could not have achieved any of this without the support of our partners. From the get go – both my husband and Robyn’s were fully supportive and told us to go chase our dreams and to do what makes us happy. They supported the family financially, helped out with some of the building work (although they were crap), made sure the kids were sorted when we needed to work and rarely gave us any grief. Yes, we did have our arguments every now and then when it was the end of the month and we didn’t know how we were going to make it to pay day. However, never once did they ask us to quit. As terrible as it sounds, Im not sure I would have been as supportive (isn’t that awful).
6. Do you feel like you are losing your sh*t on a daily basis and how the hell do you stop that happening?
Robyn and I lose our shit on a daily basis – we have almost morphed into the same person! We finish each others sentences, send about 2 million whatsapp messages a day and frequently have meltdowns. Again, they usually happen on different days -which is brilliant. When I lose it – Robyn is there to motivate me, cheer me up and get me back on track, when she loses it, I do exactly the same. That is the great thing with having 2 of us – there is always someone there who has your back when you feel like nothing is going right and you want to quit. I think the thing that kept us going in the beginning was the fact that our families had supported us in taking such a big risk that we didn’t want to fail, for their sakes more than our own. Our stakes were high and so there really wasn’t any other option but making it work. Now when we feel like things are not going well, we just look at how far we have come and see what we have achieved in a short space of time and I suppose that stops us overthinking things and gets us back on track.
7. How has motherhood changed you?
Motherhood has changed me, no question about it – I used to be a “career woman”, ambitious and driven, probably by money if I’m entirely honest.
Since having the girls, it is not that I no longer have drive or ambition – its just that my end goal has completely changed. It isn’t about the money anymore (don’t get me wrong, I still need money) but my goal is to provide a good, happy life for my family. We set up the business so that we could have jobs that worked around our family. A job that without sounding cheesy lets us “work to live” and not “live to work” like when we worked in FE. I want to spend time with my children and I also want to work and push myself and challenge myself in business. I think motherhood has given me different priorities and for me – I could only achieve these by working for myself.
I don’t want to have to worry about not making my daughters nativity, or not being able to put them to bed at night. I know for some people this isn’t possible and I am not judging. For me though, these were non negotiable and so if that meant downsizing our home, reducing our income then so be it. Robyn and I have based our company values around what works for mothers – and what all the things we would have wanted our previous employer to be able to offer us.
8. What’s the best thing about what you are doing now?
The best thing about what we are doing now is that we are doing it together! We both know that we missed out on some of the early days when we were setting up the studio and we wont get them back – so there is no point dwelling on them. However, we have to make sure they were worth it – and they were because now we get to take our kids to school each morning, pick them up after school and spend quality time with them on an evening. I get to go to assemblies, school plays and my youngest only needs to go to nursery part time so that we can spend some fun time together during the week. Don’t get me wrong – it isn’t all as rosy as it sounds – there is still a lot of late night work on the laptop, constantly trying to develop new ideas and recruit new clients. However, all the stress and challenges are totally worth it for the benefits we get.
9. What scares you?
What scares me more than anything, is not the business failing – it is the thought that I will have to ever go back to working for someone else and not having the freedom that I do now with our business.
10. If you could change one thing for your fellow mothers what would it be?
When we first set up we searched everywhere to try and find support/advice for setting up a new business and couldn’t find anything. I think that during maternity it gives you time to really think about things and what you want from life moving forward. It would have been great for us to have somewhere to go/someone to speak to who could support/mentor us in the process of setting up our business. We made lots of crazy decisions (unadvised) fuelled by pregnancy hormones and I think with a little professional advice, we may not have risked as much financially in the outset.
11. Are there any bits of your life or career that aren’t quite right but you’ve just had to make your peace with?
I hear the phrase “don’t spend too much time in the business that you cant work on it” and I think maybe that’s what isn’t quite right at the moment. Robyn and I are still doing quite a high number of PT hours/Classes – more than we would ideally like to. This reduces the time we have to meet up and do some real planning work to develop the business. It’s a difficult one because we are not yet financially stable enough to pay someone to do our hours while we do the development work. However, we need to do the development work to grow the business. It is something that we are trying to work on at the moment.
12. What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of how far we have come and the fact that we didn’t give up – even when everything was against us and our initial venture had failed. It would have been easy for us to both to give up and gain employment elsewhere. However, we believed in each other and our business idea and so kept going, even though we had lost absolutely all of our savings in the studio.
13. What do you wish you’d known at the start?
I wish we would have had someone to talk too like a critical friend who could have kept us more focussed and questioned our decisions. A fellow mum who had maybe done a similar venture to tell us what worked/what didn’t/challenges they faced etc.
14. Have you done any re-training or other development?
We have attended quite a lot of courses over the past few years to update our skills/knowledge in our industry but also a few online business courses to help us with administration tasks.
15. What is the last thing you read?
I LOVE to read and am trying to make sure I do some reading for pleasure to switch off from “work” and so am partway through The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.
16. Do you suffer from imposter syndrome?
No, I think that because there have been 2 of us from the outset, neither of us have ever let the other doubt themselves and we are always (sometimes unconsciously) praising and motivating the other.
17. What’s the one thing anyone considering Game Changing should know or do?
They should speak to other women who have done something similar and maybe ask them to be a mentor/critical friend through the early stages. Sometimes its just someone to bounce ideas off, tell you that you are not crazy, listen to you cry, listen to your ideas or just to drink wine! Try and find a business mentor to help you really focus on your business and what you want to achieve. Sign up to Game Changers – a group like this was EXACTLY what Robyn and I could have done with in 2012.
18. Where or how can we get in touch or find out more?
Claire and Robyn run www.thefemalefitnessacademy.co.uk delivering a range of post natal and pregnancy fitness programmes including Warrior Mums, alongside other exercise and advice. Aside from running a growing business they also take on amazing charity adventures and are all round amazing women. Thank you so much for sharing your story.