Gillian Johnson reveals how her background as a professional athlete gave her the expertise to start her digital fitness platform

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Gillian Johnson reveals how her background as a professional athlete gave her the expertise to start her digital fitness platform, her initial social media marketing mistakes, and how she was able to produce her own workout content during the pandemic.

Describe Gillian Johnson Fitness in a few words?

My business is an online, on demand fitness platform. Subscribers get unlimited access to athletic style at-home workouts that they can do from anywhere.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I have always believed that given my background as an athlete and as an elite strength & conditioning coach to athletes, people have been drawn to my style of training. My style incorporates athletic movements and strength training but also focuses on toning with the goal of building lean muscle mass. As I watched my community grow, I reached a point where I knew it was time to start my own business.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

After graduating from McGill University in Montreal, I went on to play professional volleyball in Austria and Italy for 2 years. It was here I discovered my passion for strength and conditioning for athletes. I worked alongside a national Austrian strength coach and then studied for my CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist) degree. When I retired as a professional athlete, I began working with Canadian sport associations as a strength coach (Hockey Canada, Squash Canada and Tennis Canada). In 2018, I moved to New York City and worked as the head trainer at Sportslab NYC – an executive personal training and rehabilitative facility. With all the knowledge that I had gained over a decade of working with and managing different populations, I knew if was time to branch out on my own and create my own brand identity in the fitness world!

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I think that once I was in the workforce for a few years I quickly realized that I am the type of person who is driven by my own success. Once I switched my mindset to be more entrepreneurial, it lit a fire that I didn’t know existed.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

My marketing strategy when I first launched my business was to use my current clientele as my main marketers! I had a great core group of followers who believed in what I was doing and wanted to help. They reached out to their community of friends and family to help promote my business in the initial phase of my launch. From there, I focused on ONE social media platform (Instagram). I did all my own research on growth techniques and marketing tools that I could do myself. 

Initially, I made the mistake of trying to promote myself on too many social platforms at once. Because it was just me doing the work, I found that it was too overwhelming to manage and create content for many different platforms. Stick to one platform and creating a content calendar for that platform felt like an achievable way to start!

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

When I first started my business, I hired a videographer to help me with capturing and editing content. This was my first hire and I did not do a good job of explaining exactly what I wanted and the timelines in which I wanted the projects completed. We also did not have a formal contract. In short, I spent way too much money and time (mostly stressing when things were not completed in time) because I did not have a formal outline and contract for the projects I wanted completed. 

I have learned that it is important to formalize any working contracts, have timelines associated with each project and lay out my expectations immediately. This way, if they cannot commit to any of these criteria, it’s best not to use them.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

I am most proud of how much content I was able to produce throughout the pandemic and the fact that I became my own videographer and editor! When the pandemic hit, I didn’t wait very long before I realized I had to take matters into my own hands if I wanted my business to continue to grow. I bought my own camera, editing software and spent hours watching tutorials on how to use the equipment!

I was able to create over 100 different at home workout videos for my platform during a 4 month period!

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

I am still learning what to ask potential team members! I hire contractors, so my biggest concern is time. How much time can someone commit to the projects that I need them for. Once they give me an answer, I try to formalize that in a contract to make sure there is follow through.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

The fitness industry has completely pivoted to an online industry! I was lucky to have made the change just before the pandemic hit, but trainers are now forced to get themselves online at some capacity in order to stay afloat in the industry.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Over the course of the next few years, you can expect me to partner and collaborate with some amazing brands and companies that I really believe in. From ethical athleisure wear companies to non profit organizations who teach kids the importance of an active lifestyle, I believe that collaboration with like minded communities, and to give back, is a great way to grow!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

That adaptation is the key to success! We cannot wait for things to ‘go the right way’. The pandemic is the perfect example of this. If I had waited and not adapted my business to an online platform, I would have fallen way behind! Even if you have a business plan and strategy in place, you always have to be open minded to adapting that plan.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

That consistency and patience is the key to success.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

My family in Canada really grounds me. Living and working in New York City can feel overwhelming, and often there’s a looming feeling of never quite doing enough. Even though I haven’t been able to see them due to Covid, weekly zoom dinners with my mom and calls with my niece and nephew has really helped me remember what is truly important in my life.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Work/life balance is extremely important to me. Because I document a lot of my life on social media it is hard to step away from my phone. We have made a rule where at least 1 day / week I put my phone down and just enjoy time with family and friends.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m pregnant! I have been open about this on my social platforms, but it certainly has been a transition for me (and my online clientele) because I am the only one who is on screen for my workouts.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

1. Workout – Working out always motivates me in every aspect of my life. I try to start my day with a workout to get my endorphins flowing!

2. Make a prioritized to do list – There are so many ideas that flow in and out of my head each day. If I don’t write them down and then prioritize them, they usually get left behind.

3. Compartmentalize my day – The way I run my business now, I work part of the day one on one with individual clients and I spend the rest of the day filming videos/content, editing film, and doing marketing. My schedule changes every day, so I have to make sure I can efficiently switch gears mentally to move onto the next project.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

To me, being an Entreprenista comes with a feeling of empowerment and pride. I am so proud of myself for taking the leap and taking the chance on myself!

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