Orange branded background image with Libby Langley and Emma from Strong Birds Fitness on the left hand side with grey writing on the right which says Changing your business from face-to-face to online

Libby: Today I’m going to be talking to Emma from Strong Bird Fitness, I am looking forward to this chat because there’s a particular case of having a face-to-face business and then not doing that anymore. So, it’s going be really interesting to hear Emma’s story.

Emma: Hello, I’m Emma. I’ve been a PT and owner of Strong Bird Fitness which is about to turn three. I’ve been a PT for just over four years now, and obviously PT in its purest form has forever and a day always been 1:1, in person and talking with that coach however you’re, doing it, a consultation room, a gym or at their home or whatever it might be the power that you’re doing it. That was what drew me into it, I guess. That communication and helping people on that one-to-one thing and where I’ve gone from being very much into being personal with people.

Libby: What did what did you do before?

Emma: I worked in an office before.

Libby: Okay, so it was a total career change because you were interested in fitness. Is that why you did it?

Emma: It’s really odd that we’re talking today because tomorrow will mark eight years since we lost my uncle and that was my trigger. I went into quite a deep depression through grief and fitness was what brought me out the other side of it and I will happily talk about with anybody, because it’s that mental health side of fitness that kept me pushing and kept me going. It went from just running to be tired and to fall asleep to then go OK, what can I do? Can I do this amount of burpees? Can I do battle rope this for this many minutes? Can I do Tough Mudder? Can I do this 10k run? And it became this challenge, about pushing and now I wanted to help people do that. Eight years ago, no, I didn’t barely do anything. I wasn’t into fitness at school. I wasn’t into sports at school. I’ve never not been that way all my life so it’s been a real change over the last eight years and it ebbs and flows, though this year it’s been an absolute crazy one for fitness. That’s how I got into it – it was more on the mental health side than the actual sort of physical kind of wanting to lose weight. It wasn’t about that initially.

Libby: So it’s coming up for four years then. Did you say?

Emma: Five years I’ve been a PT. For two years I worked in a gym to start with and then Stronger Birds Fitness will be three years in May.

Libby: Congratulations getting to almost three years then! I think the stats are once you pass your three year mark, you are considerably more likely to continue as a business. I think it is in the first three years that whatever percentage of businesses fail. It’s really good to get to that kind of marker and it makes you established. I don’t know – there’s lots of barriers, I suppose, that exist until you get a few years in. So that’s brilliant, well done, particularly in the last year still being here. So, tell me what’s happened in the last 12 months then?

Emma: The last 12 months. I can’t actually believe that it’s 12 months, to be perfectly honest. We get to the twenty first it’s when they closed the gyms so that’s actually a year. That’s insane. I literally went from being able to conduct business in park, fitness in the gym, go into people’s homes and everything like that, then overnight it all just kind of stopped.

Libby: Like 24 hours’ notice or something, wasn’t there? I mean, it was just insane.

Emma: It was really bizarre because I remember this weird lead up to it. All these rumours were flying around about what was going to be happening. Oh, yeah. They’re going to close the schools. They’re going to close everything down. People going, no, no, no. It’s not going to happen. They’ll never do any of that. It was all these things. I was being really cautious with clients at this point because I didn’t know what was going to happen.

I can’t predict what they’re going to do. I had clients who were like, oh, we want to book you, we want to do this. I said I need to just wait. I can talk to you at the end of the week, when we know a bit more and kind of book for next week and keeping the slots there. I really just don’t know; we were waiting for this massive announcement to come out. Literally overnight we were not able to go into the gym. I wasn’t able to go and meet people to go do things with them – it was a really bizarre time because some people were like, right, OK, yeah. Definitely just want to go straight online. Let’s go on Skype. Let’s get on whatever it was that they were wanting to use. I know others were all a bit cautious and I was really cautious to start with, I didn’t do it during the first lockdown, I didn’t do an online class timetable. I just didn’t want to.

Libby: I think it was all so new and we kind of thought, what’s going on. Everybody was a bit frightened, I think, of the health situation. We just all took a step back and just didn’t really know what to do. I think it was natural that you try and ride it out. Don’t you think it’ll just be for a couple of months, we’ll just see what happens. Obviously, we know now that wasn’t quite what was going to happen, but I don’t blame you to start with. I guess for the people saying, oh, let’s go on Skype or even FaceTime or whatever people were saying, they were the ones who perhaps were used to maybe having meetings like that or communicating or working like that. If you’re in that environment it’s more of a natural switch, like for me, it was just sort of carry on as normal.

Emma: Yeah, that was really interesting – people had asked me what I was going to do and I was just like, I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how to approach it. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know – I’m going to take it as I feel like doing it. The little chunk of that first lockdown was hard. I struggled mentally. I found it really challenging. I was worried about what everyone else was doing and whether I should be doing all that.

But it didn’t feel right to me so then I wasn’t doing anything. It was a real back and forwards in my own head – I had a really tough time. When we got to July and we were coming back out and making strides, it was really nice to see that people who had been doing group sessions with me before, came back and we were doing them in the park and they were really understanding that it could only be so many people because we had rule of six and it was really great in the support coming back out was really good. We were in the park for as long as we could be in terms of weather wise because, just went off a cliff. I got to a point where I don’t want to do another winter outside and be hit and miss with weather, whether we can or can’t, whether it’s safe or not. It did make the decision to I think in October we went online completely in terms of like the classes that I do.

Libby: Also, then we knew that another lockdown was looming, didn’t we? I think we all knew what to expect a little bit more. Zoom particularly had become commonplace from quizzes to meetings to and everything in between. I think it perhaps it’s still a huge step to take when you’re not used to that in your business but there have been so many examples of other people doing it by then that perhaps it was a little bit less daunting maybe than it would have been?

Emma: I’m quite lucky that I’m from an age where I feel quite tech savvy in terms of having used it since I was at school. I find it quite easy to bring new things on board and do that. I’ve done that quite a bit over the last couple of months, even more so than I was doing before – it felt right to me at that time to then go online. It felt really good and the support would be great for that.

In between the two lockdown’s, most of my clients have chosen to stay at home anyway. They’ve got used to doing it at home and felt comfortable doing it like that. I’d gone back to doing it with them. We’d have to stop again. It was a real mixture. It’s just continued learning all the time, it’s not like OK this is the way it is, we have to continually be fluid with it.

Libby: What do you think’s going to happen from now? We’ve got this road map, as it’s called, out of lock-down and everything. Do you think that you will continue with a kind of hybrid business model of some stuff, will it still be online and other stuff will be face to face?

Emma: Yes, very much so. I’ve come up with a new kind of element as well. In terms of, I think the landscape of the working environment is going to change massively when we come out and go back to a bit of normality. However, whenever that might be, the road map is this is the ideal, but it might not happen like that. I think the landscape of the working world is going to be complete different. A lot of people are going to still work from home, even though the kids are back at school and all of that and they can go back into office. You don’t have to make sure you leave the house by certain time, you can look a little bit dodge on screen for the first meeting or whatever that might be. I think it’s going to be a hybrid working situation.

I think that it would be silly to just go by and then go back to completely being impertinent or stay completely online. I think there is a need for that hybrid to be there.

Libby: I would agree with that. It allows you to be able to work with people who aren’t local. If somebody recommends it to their friend in Aberdeen, then that’s fine, they can just join the programme. That gives an additional potential, I suppose, to your business. There’s a lot of businesses not dissimilar to yours who set up YouTube channels and free Facebook groups and things like that – it’s just going absolutely berserk. A lot of the stuff that they do is free. But it’s then from that comes the paid for programmes. So it’s definitely been something that’s been highlighted as being important for us all, for physical and mental health, which you’ve already mentioned. I think  you’re absolutely right – the more people who continue to work from home, you can rock up to work at eight twenty nine just by putting your slippers on and sitting in front of your computer, whereas before you might have had to leave the house at seven or half seven. So that extra hour or so that people are going to have, they can use it for something like one of your classes, which I think is brilliant. It’s brilliant for people to be able to do and for your business.

Emma: Yeah, it’s is. It’s interesting as well, because saying about mental health, I think wellbeing has become almost a big buzz word again, but it’s a lot more relevant now because people are OK, I need to look after this a little bit more. Companies go we need to look after our people this little bit more it’s been a really trying time. That’s a little bit of a gap I saw in the market and something else I’m going to start doing in terms of working with businesses as well under a different banner and not Strong Bird Fitness, but helping them look after their employees at home and giving them the ability to look after that wellbeing as a whole. Some of the addition stuff is how I filled my time when I’ve not been able to go to the gym and doing normal working stuff, is doing additional learning and looking at our wellness and wellbeing and meditation and how that comes into our mental wellbeing and how we connect in this new world socially. All of those things bring our basic needs and our food and all of those things into a new programme, which is really exciting because I think that it’s really great that it’s at the forefront of everybody’s minds and that we’re thinking along that route.

Libby: I agree. Wellbeing was very much the phrase of the yoga set I think really and juice drinking and all that stuff. But actually, in the last 12 months, wellbeing has just become much more commonplace – it’s just been right from making sure you are sitting right in your chair at home through to taking breaks, to walking in the fresh air to kind of ordinary stuff, which is what most people can relate to and access.

I think that’s quite important, that it stopped being kind of woo-woo and just being something we all need to think about. What have you done with social media in terms of communicating all these changes, keeping in touch with people, how’s that helped you?

Emma: It’s been good. Most of the time I have most of my clients numbers so we’ve talked either by text or Facebook messenger or, you know, comments over people’s things and just keeping it positive, chat and checking in with people. I did a post the other day of spreading a smile – saying hello to people. I just want to let you know that I’m still there and things like that. I mean, there was portions of time last year where I didn’t do a massive social media because I didn’t feel like I could. But then when I did use it, it was much more about keeping that positive message going on and connecting with people in that way.

Libby: That’s the thing, isn’t it? A lot of what social media is about is just hello, I’m here, you know, I just want to say hi and see if you are alright and again, that kind of realness, that relatable-ness of, well, everything is a bit shit now, isn’t it? But I’m still here. Anything anybody wants to say. It’s almost as basic as that, really. It can be so useful. It’s a way of keeping in touch. It’s brilliant for marketing your services to potential new clients but just the ability to be able to go online and say is everyone alright is absolutely incredible. Not just for the people that might see that, but actually for us ourselves as people to just reach out and it sparks conversations, doesn’t it? I imagine that that kind of thing helped has helped along the way.

Emma: Yeah.

Libby: What’s the biggest change that you’ve made to your marketing overall in the last 12 months? Obviously, we’ve talked a lot about your business and how that is almost unrecognisable from what it was 12 months ago, the business model. What have you changed your marketing at all or you kind of message that you put out there?

Emma: I’ve always, tried to put quite a positive message out there, trying to be quite authentic – that’s the word that is bounded about. Always myself and I’ll put good and bad out there. My food pictures I don’t make them look, good, because I’m not a Michelin star chef, but I’m not going to spend my time doing that. I like food too much to eat it quicker. I have to be honest, I don’t do a massive amount of paid marketing so I haven’t really changed anything because I haven’t added any of that in. Never needed to. I might have been quite lucky I think that most of my clients have come through recommendations.

Libby: Which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest I suppose. The things I see are just truly horrific exercises you put out there – I just think oh my God, I want to die just watching but it’s fascinating stuff. It’s really good the way you explain things. You’re very ordinary – approachable is better than ordinary – that sounds horribly derogatory, but, it’s not shiny, polished, like you say, and you get across how hard things can be. But actually how they can be explained to become easier the more you practise them. I wondered if you’d increased the amount of pressure to be more conscious with what you’ve been sharing on social media.

Emma: Yeah, I’ve been more conscious of what I’m sharing – sharing stuff that I feel is relevant to the workout. The workouts that I share, I feel that if people are at home and they wanted to maybe start getting some kit. Something I’m going to do on my YouTube channel that I’ve not done it for very long, but just start talking about, OK, what kit to purchase and how to spend your money wisely because, although a lot of people have done it, a lot of people have bought because they’ve had to and they’ve just gone all out, whereas some people are like, I’ve been doing loads of bodyweight workouts. Now I want to start doing a little bit more with a piece of kit. It’s like, OK, what do you buy? I’m going to start talking in that kind of way and giving advice. I explain in a way that I feel comes across useful and not this is what you should be doing so you might want to do this. This is an option. This is what I use this for. I’m a firm believer in that, if I can give my thoughts and feelings on something, you can go, OK, maybe I’ll try that and see if that works for me. But if I give you the education of, saying, OK, this is how you use this piece of this kit, this is how you do these things, and then you take that on and you learn it and keep going with it, then that’s far more powerful to you as the individual on your journey to health and wellbeing than it is of me going right this is what you should be doing. This is how you’ve got to do it. That definitely that feels completely wrong to me. Giving people more suggestions on how to be and to find their own path is much more powerful to them in the long run and they’re more likely to do it.

Libby: They’re more likely to own it and more likely to stick to it. Definitely. Which of the social media channels has been the most useful for you or, which is your favourite? Because they’re not necessarily the same time.

Emma: I talked to my friend the other day because in the last six weeks in this particular lockdown, I switched from Instagram’s always been my favourite. I switched to YouTube.

Libby: Well, I wondered because you mentioned YouTube just then and I wondered.

Emma: I know what happened to me like I’ve always been Instagram. I’ve really switched off from Facebook. I just don’t get on with it at all. I sometimes link my Instagram post to my Facebook page, I’m going to get to a point soon where I’m just going to not do it. I’m going through a process of doing that. I’ve made a bit of a change because I’m very visual, I like images and I like looking at those videos and things like that, too. I think it just kind of I was always a bit wary of YouTube, but I’m really not on TikTok.

Libby: No, I know you didn’t even join up last year when everybody joined Tik-ToK.

Emma: No, I’m really behind sometimes.

Libby: It can be all of these platforms can be absolutely brilliant, but it’s about knowing who you are talking to, where they are and what you’re comfortable doing as well you know. I think that’s what it boils down to and learning the intricacies as well to a certain extent, because Instagram works in one way, YouTube works a whole different way. The content can be similar and it needs to be formatted slightly differently. Even just the keywords and all that kind of stuff is different. So, yes exciting when you think, oh, I like this and it starts kind of working for you. I think that’s really cool, really good. I think probably YouTube videos have more ability to go viral, that’s the wrong expression, but grow like that and certainly have more longevity than stuff on Instagram. Instagram is a constant need to create, whereas YouTube doesn’t have to be. It’s a smart move.

Emma: Yeah. I think the plans in the future and things like that of how I want to move forward. It just seems a better way to keep things going because I can see this other element. The Corporate Wellbeing UK that I’ve just started up at the moment, that could very quickly become something a lot bigger than Strong Bird Fitness ever was. If it goes to plan, which could be quite scary. Strong Bird Fitness is so dear to my heart because it gave me so much when I started. It is very personal and so I want it to always be there but it might change its guise a little bit over the coming year.

Libby: You know what, that is one of the absolute beauties of working for yourself is that you can just do that. It’s 10 years this year since I’m started working for myself and I will never tire of the fact that tomorrow I can just do it all differently if I want to. It’s such a buzz. It’s such a great feeling, because if you see a little niche where you can help more people, you can just go do it. You don’t need to commit to meetings, you don’t build a report. Yeah, it’s wonderful. It’s really liberating, really kind of empowering, I think, to be able to.

Emma: Yeah, massively.

Libby: What’s the new business called?

Emma: It’s called Corporate Wellbeing UK – it’s obviously on Instagram and it’s on YouTube and LinkedIn. I’ve chosen not to go on Facebook at all as it’s business related. LinkedIn is obviously the place to be. I’m quite liking LinkedIn in terms looking at it from that more formal side, although I’ve read a lot of things recently that LinkedIn is not as formal as it once was, it’s still a much more business arena but it’s no excuse, no.

Libby: Definitely is. It is a business platform, but it’s much more kind of Facebook-y, I suppose, in the fact that people have a bit more fun with it now. It’s a good hybrid place I would say.

Emma: And all the adverts, which is great.

Libby: I mean, Facebook – as someone who does social media advertising, it’s great that there are loads of adverts for something, but when you scroll through, when I scroll through mine, every second post on Facebook is an ad which is interesting when you look at it from, why am I seeing this one, how they’ve worked that. But if you’re not in the advertising space or business, it must be the most infuriating thing in the entire world. Thinking about this last year then, has it been stressful? Has it been fun? Has it been a learning experience? Would you repeat it? Would you do anything differently?

Emma: All of the above. It’s been a real roller coaster of a ride. It started off with, OK, I cannot go to the gym and I can just do people from home. It’s great not leaving the house all that often – it very quickly became, I don’t like this at all. Then it went back into online and I’m going, I want to go outside. Then it was like, oh, no, I don’t want to do that either. But it’s been fun because we’ve had to think a little bit more about what you do in your spare time when you’re not doing work so you’ve got to be a bit more creative. It’s been hard because, money has been lower than it would have been and it’s gone up and that’s great. Again, it’s just a different year. I’m quite accepting of the fact that it’s been a year of my life. Some people are like it’s not happening and I’m just going to restart my life, well, no, it’s part of your life and you have to take that on board and just go, OK, these are the things that we’ve done in this year and these are the things I want to do in the future.

Libby: I would agree with that. It makes me really sad people say right, well, we finally get to start living our life again because there’s been so many valuable lessons for all of us from this this year. Even like you say how do I spend my time if I can’t go to the pub and I can’t pay for entertainment then and what resources can I draw? I think that that’s really important learning exercise for all of us to be able to look at and evaluate what’s really important to you and where you want your business to go if this happened again. But if something else came along or you broke your leg or something, you think what’s the backup plan. It makes us all think about stuff like that, which I think is really nothing but a positive, no matter what else is going on in the background. What’s the one thing that you’ve learnt in this year of turbulence of ups and downs that you think could really help somebody else’s business?

Emma: Doing what feels right to you. Do not compare yourself to what others are doing, because it can be you can go down a rabbit hole on any social media and go, but they’re doing this, they’re not doing that really well. They are only showing you what they’re showing you. You don’t know what else is going on. Do what feels right to you. Even if you’re saying the same thing that somebody else has said, they’re not going to say it in the same way that you do and how you come across to people that have affinity with how you say it and how you are and whether they know you in person or not, because just doing what feels right to you, you’re going to want to do it and you’re going to want to build it and you’re going to want it to succeed if you’re trying to do something because someone else has said that you should do it like this – it’s never going to stick.

Libby: Yes, to that! Absolutely couldn’t could not agree with you, with you more on that. Just in whatever you’re doing in life, your personal life or your business. Look to others for guidance and inspiration, but your path is your path and be proud of that, you know, fully embrace it. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s superb.

Emma: I think if you’re self-employed and you work for yourself, you have to get the joy of living your life. Yes, you might do more work hours than a normal person, but you’re generally doing something that you actually enjoy so it doesn’t feel like work anyway. When you do five hours in the morning, two hours at lunch time and three hours in the evening, you spend the rest of the time messing around like I do on a frequent basis because I feel like it. I watched two episodes of Bridgerton this morning because I felt like it. That’s what it’s I want to do. Yeah, you could do that. You just then put the work in and you enjoy what you’re doing and it feels right to you. You know, the consistency will come and you’ll be doing what you want to do for a long time.

Libby: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Brilliant. Really good advice. Thank you so much.

Emma: Thank you for having me.

Libby: Some really good points. You should be proud of yourself for sticking with it and adapting and being where you are now. I wish you all the best with the new business as well. I’ll watched that one with interest – that’s got a lot of leg in it. Or whatever that expression is!

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