Photography by Rich Maciver
“I don’t think that I chose this path. It just happened.”
To kick off the first of our community spotlight series, we spoke to Elle, Fitness Instructor and Founder of the keep it simpElle fitness blog. As an ex-athlete who fell into the world of self-employment, Elle started a blog out of necessity in 2012 to keep people up to date with her races. Little did she know that 8 years later, her side-hustle would turn into her full-time job and catapult her successful fitness business.
Like so many self-employed people, Covid-19 forced Elle to adapt her business but, it also led to an unexpected change in who she did business with and the impact she could make.
As we all learn to exist in a world where digital services are now at the core of everything we do – from food shopping to socialising with our friends and family - we’re bringing you Elle’s story to share how she adapted, and how it’s changed her business for the better.
Switching over to digital
“I essentially had to learn a new way of doing business without having the time and luxury to think it through”.
After losing the security of working at her local fitness studio, Elle launched a series of online classes to keep her business going. But this was a whole new ball game - working in a studio meant that the marketing had always been done for her and clients would turn up to the gym ready and willing to work with a fitness instructor. This was the first time that she had to promote herself to people without the support and reach of another established brand.
Jade: There are lots of people who, in light of the climate that we're in right now with Covid-19, have been forced to adapt, and change. Were the online classes your way to diversify your business and how you ultimately made money at that moment in time? And do you think, going forward, it will be a permanent fixture for your business?
Elle: Yeah, it definitely was a way to diversify my income because I wasn't teaching in studios anymore. And essentially for a period of time, I didn't really have any income. So, I had no idea how it was going to turn out. But, I didn’t just do it for the money - I also did it for the social connections. The fact that I did manage to bring in some revenue was a bonus.
If anyone had said to me a year ago, “Oh, would you like to do online classes?”, I'd be like, “Oh no, that's not for me”. But here I am and I don't see it stopping anytime soon, to be honest.
I think the biggest takeaway, with things being so digital now is just that you can try stuff. And if you don't like it or it doesn’t work for your business, you don't have to do it anymore. You don't have to go and sign a lease for a year for premises and you don't have to put yourself out of pocket along the way.
Like many others in working in industries that have typically relied on in-person interactions, adapting to the Covid-19 restrictions was key to surviving. But, there are plenty of people who understandably are nervous that transitioning to a digitally focused business could reduce the level of interaction you can have with people, or even the quality of the service that you can provide. But interestingly enough, Elle had the opposite experience.
“There’s actually very little difference between teaching online and live in a studio. I’m still able to see everything, and I’m still able to have that one-to-one interaction where I’m telling people how to move correctly and providing encouragement”.
Given that fitness classes are dynamic, fast-paced, and often some of the most interactive services that people can be on the receiving end of, it’s clear that digital doesn’t always disrupt a process, but it can also enhance it. But this was just one of many new things that Elle learned.
Opening the doors for a new type of client
“I now realise how small my audience was. I could only connect with the people who had the money to attend the studio I worked at”.
Elle’s newly fledged online and on-demand classes provided her with an opportunity to do something that studio classes couldn’t; to grow quickly and connect with a bigger audience of people who had always wanted to attend classes like hers, but hadn’t had the opportunity to. From time, location, and financial constraints, to common body insecurities, there were a number of reasons that stopped a lot of people from taking part in-studio classes. But some of these disappear when you take them online.
Jade: So what have you learnt from this experience?
Elle: “I learnt that there were so many more barriers to turning up to a fitness class. People worried they weren’t fit enough, they’re self-conscious. I had never really had to think about it before because I just turned up, people turned up and we did the workout.”
As video tutorials, classes and catch-ups have certainly become a part of our new normal, very few people had anticipated its impact on accessibility. Simply being able to turn up to a fitness class from the comfort of your own home, immediately removes so many of the barriers that often deter people from turning up in the first place. And in Elle’s case, this also meant that she could serve a new community of people who had always wanted to prioritise their health and fitness, but for a number of reasons, had just not been able to.
“There was a location barrier as I taught in one London studio - you had to be close enough to go to that studio and be able to afford it.”
While the online classes meant that people can turn up wherever they are, Elle also wanted to do something for the people who, considering the financial climate, may not have been able to afford an exercise class at all. By running free classes once a week, people can book, turn up, and not have to worry about compromising their health because of their personal circumstances.
“I created an opportunity for other people to move at a time where they probably didn’t feel inspired to.”
Highlighting just one of many benefits of being self-employed - working on your own terms and building the kind of business that ultimately prioritises serving the customers and clients that you care about.
Ultimately, we know that managing a business throughout Covid-19 has been, and continues to be a challenge. As Elle has demonstrated, ultimately we all need to look for ways to adapt and learn from these new experiences where we can.
Has your business changed as a result of Covid-19? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch over on Coconut Bite.