Bill Yeager | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Bill Yeager

Background:  

Founded in 2002 and based in Cheshire, Conn., Horizon Personal Training & Nutrition offers individualized fitness and wellness strategies for adults and youths.

The Mistake

You can be a great contractor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to run a business. Passion is fuel to help propel you to your goal, but it is not the vehicle to get you there.

I struggled with my weight and my health since my youth. I was a chunky kid with asthma and I was picked on a lot. And I was a yo-yo dieter. It was a huge struggle, both physically and emotionally. It was a horrible way of life.

In 2001, I discovered a physique transformation contest. It was worldwide, with close to 800,000 entries. I entered it and I won. In 12 weeks, I went from fat and lethargic and unhappy to, for lack of a better definition, jacked – not just physically, but mentally. My confidence was through the roof.

I was a painting contractor at the time and I was making very good money. But about six months into my new lifestyle, so many people gravitated to me and wanted to know how I changed and how I looked the way I did. I started working with people and showed them a nutrition plan. I set up a little gym with dumbbells in my condo garage. When one of my good friends said, “You should do this for a living,” my original response was, “No, I like this.”

Passion is fuel to help propel you to your goal, but it is not the vehicle to get you there.

The Lesson

Looking back, I probably should have done things differently. I started this business on credit card debt. Back then, it was easier to get credit. I maxed up five credit cards all at once and felt that my passion was going to be enough.

I had no mentor, it was all of my personal passion. So I talked to people and called state agencies – in those days, the internet was nothing like it is now. I did not hire an attorney, but later on I realized I should have done that because an attorney would have been able to help me with legal documents and the proper way to set up a business, especially setting up a payroll. I got into a little bit of trouble doing my own payroll. But you live and you learn and you grow.

Originally, I was also doing all of the personal training by myself. But it wasn’t long before I realized I needed help. About six months after I started the business, a woman walked in the door and said, “Hey I love the before and after pictures you are advertising. This is exactly what I want to do.”

I said, “Perfect timing!”

That’s when everything changed. When I started the business, I was thinking that I was going to own a job. The rate of the growth required me to become a businessman and start hiring other people.

One of the things that makes a business successful is being able to identify cultural shifts. After the 2008 recession hit, we needed a plan to help people stay with us when money became tight. So we offered payment plans and added different service types. We did not need to lower costs, but we manipulated packages in different ways to better work with a client’s budget.

Also, it is crucial to recognize when it is time to grow. We were originally in a smaller space in a strip mall that was never super busy and not very well known. It was tough because nobody knew where the heck we were. And as our business grew, the clients were getting a little uncomfortable with how close they were to each other. We have since moved into a bigger space on a busier road, and people tend to know where we are now.

I know that we are competing against bigger training centers, but what I tell my staff is that we can succeed if we do our own thing. We’ve become the absolute best we can possibly be in every way, shape and form for our clients. There are a lot of businesses that do what we do, but nobody does it the way we do it. Since we’ve been here, I’ve seen three or four fitness businesses go out of business. These trainers are great contractors, but there is a difference between owning and running a business.

I’ve been fortunate go from personal trainer to businessman, which I think is uncommon. But I have learned that you must have the business side down. Unless you are willing to put in your entire life to learn how to get there, don’t do it. But if someone is willing to learn how to do that, then go for it.

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