Taking the leap and starting your own business can be exciting, challenging, rewarding and unpredictable—often all at the same time. I’ve decided to follow my passions in the fitness industry and carve my own path by selling the ideas I create—something that others have called being an “infopreneur.” My hope is that, by sharing some of the story of how I did this, those of you show share similar interests might be able to identify a potential path for going your own way in the fitness industry.
Why and how did I get started in the fitness industry?
In 1995, my father died of a heart attack, which was directly related to his 424 pounds. At the time, I didn’t really have a career yet. In the years before his death, I developed an interest in fitness for my own personal benefit, which steadily grew. Professionally, I had no passion for anything yet. After graduating from college with an astronomy degree, I knew I wasn’t going to work professionally as an astronomer, but had no idea what my career would be. I was about to apply to the U.S. Air Force Academy—I was planning to be a pilot, which, combined with my astronomy degree, make it possible to apply to the space program. However, losing a parent just sort of scrambles your life and everything of an immediate and long-term nature gets shelved. It’s kind of like pressing the reset button on everything in your life—especially when you are 24 years old and have no real sense of self or professional direction. When the dust settled in the aftermath of my father’s death, I had a striking clarity that fitness would be my career with a focus on helping reverse the direction of the health of those who live as my father did.
When did I realize that my true passion in fitness was in sharing health and fitness information through writing, public speaking and media work? What caused this realization? How long did I train clients before coming to this realization?
I had been a full-time fitness professional for a few years when I began to discover that I was powerfully drawn to information delivery in all its forms—writing, live speaking and media work on video or radio. I was training six to nine sessions per day and I noticed that during the sessions where I spent more time coaching my clients than actually working out, I was more mentally engaged. A true leader does more than work out with people. Sometimes we needed to spend time coaching to help our clients learn how to make better health choices. Also, I was having a few clients actually say to me outright that I should consider speaking and/or writing. At the same time, I began to sense a growing feeling of dissatisfaction that my impact was limited to the people in my geographical area that I was encountering in one-on-one training. I wanted—needed—to amplify my impact.
What steps did I take to turn this passion into a reality? How long did this process take?
Learning something you don’t know you’ll ever need and getting outside your comfort zone can have surprising benefits later on. I had actually prepared to become a public speaker before I ever knew I wanted to. Prior to starting my career in fitness, I had an office job making maps for the U.S. military. We were periodically offered the opportunity to attend training workshops on a variety of topics. I decided to sign up for a two-day public speaking workshop. After learning some key essentials from the instructor, we had to prepare a five-minute talk that we delivered in front of the class while it was recorded and played back for review. This is every bit as unnerving as you can imagine. Further, we were all asked to vote on which presentations we thought were the best. I knew I wasn’t the worst in the class, but in no way did I think mine was the best. When the instructor announced that my presentation had been voted the best in the class, it was one of the few times in my life where I have been truly and completely surprised. But why?
Growing up, I was an only child and with two obese parents, and we got made fun of a lot when were all out in public. Without brothers or sisters to occupy my attention, I was keenly aware of the finger-pointing and whispering going on anytime we went anywhere. I had great friends in my neighborhood and in school, but I also had a stuttering problem. The result is that I was very shy in public around strangers. In considering the workshop on public speaking, I reasoned that whatever I ended up doing as a career, learning this valuable skill simply couldn’t hurt. I had no particular fear of public speaking, but no particular desire for it either. The confidence that came from the workshop was all I needed years later when I started volunteering to speak at schools, at support groups for widowed people, senior centers, etc. This was valuable practice. There are the formal “rules” of public speaking and then there is the essential way you learn to deliver your own message. The former you can learn, the latter comes only from experience. The desire for speaking surfaced around 2002-2003 and I began speaking wherever I could around 2004-2005. I began speaking professionally in 2007. And that two-day workshop I took? That was back in 1996.
With writing, it started with a simple e-newsletter that I began sending out to clients. Within a short time, a writer/editor for our local newspaper joined the gym where I was working and I simply asked her a question: “Do you have any interest in a health/fitness writer?” As it turns out, they were really looking for someone to do that. I wrote for free because I had little experience formally writing and was thrilled for the opportunity to be officially published. The column allowed me to demonstrate my care, knowledge and passion to a completely new audience. In 2007, my big writing break came when Discovery Health hired me as a fitness expert to do media work and live appearances, and to become a blogger for them. I still blog for them today and it’s been a great forum to get my message out to the public because they have a large platform and a huge audience, especially since merging with Oprah Winfrey’s media company. This led to my book, Abs Revealed, which was published in 2010, and I’m so thankful to continue to have many writing opportunities. The first opportunity came from my having the courage to just ask. The others came from people seeing the quality work I was doing and giving me an opportunity.
4. What obstacles did I face along the way? Lessons learned?
Once you are experienced in writing or speaking, command and demand fair compensation for that experience and quality. Some organizations either provide no honorarium or provide an inadequate honorarium and you will not find me speaking at those events. Once you have given enough time doing things for free to hone your skills, respect your investment of time and development of quality and only speak where your ideas are properly valued. Make no mistake, it is a lot of work, takes considerable time and none of us are naturally great at anything. Excellence only comes from consistent practice. Once you have developed an ability to deliver excellence, only deliver that excellence where it is valued.
5. What advice can I offer to individuals interested in taking this next step in their career?
First, take note of some of the things you find yourself saying over and over again to clients or attendees. Next, ask them what they think are some of the most memorable things they have heard you say. Some of the responses will surprise you and also help you see which of your messages resonate with people. This is impossible to guess or figure out on your own. Both of these methods can help you discover what will become some of your key messages. Lastly, find a mentor for this if you want to speed up the process.
Click here to learn more about mentoring with Jonathan
Watch this short, powerful video describing Jonathan’s experience with his parents
Click here to view Jonathan’s Discovery Health blog