Three Lessons From Building a Business in the Recession

29/08/2012 23:04 BST | Updated 29/10/2012 09:12 GMT

Two years ago at the height of the recession I set up a fitness business in east London called Smash the Fat Fitness & Fat Loss Boot Camps with no budget, no experience of owning a business and sleeping on a rickety futon in my brother's wash room.

Today, I'm writing this article at my desk in The Broadgate Tower near Liverpool Street and we've grown to 12 locations nationwide launching between four and six locations every three months. Since the beginning of this journey from wash room to board room I have learnt a hell of a lot, but in the grand scheme of things there are three major lessons that stand out for me.

Creativity is king for keeping low overheads!

I always thought creativity is only for those smart arty types, but the more and more I've got into being an entrepreneur the more and more I realise that I am creative all the time. From my experience I've come to the conclusion that creativity is just simply connecting ideas.

For instance when I started I didn't have much money for a venue, as I wanted it all to be indoors instead of a park. I rattled my brain for ages trying to think of ways to get the venue at a discounted rate or even for free. Thankfully I came across a guy who ran a lot of charity events and said that they often got venues at a discounted rate as it was for charity.

I then put two and two together and ran a charity month of Smash The Fat in a church hall, where people would donate to my chosen charity in return for getting a month's membership. The church where I still run a Smash The Fat today were so behind my cause they gave me the hall two months rent free!

After that first charity month finished I then offered clients a discounted rate of a regular month's membership, which generated revenue in order to pay for the rent after those first two months. I have stayed in profit ever since. This strategy is now known as our Launch Formula for when we launch new locations around the country, which helps franchisees stay in profit from the start. Generally a good strategy for a business.

Connecting with people face to face has never been so important!

Email, Facebook, Twitter, Texting, Instagram, Pintrest and the like are all great ways of getting in contact with people and advertising your business... if done correctly. However, from spending way too much time on all of these thinking that I was "levaraging my time" I've learnt that nothing beats face to face interaction with people.

When I was first advertising for franchisees I went down the social media line of PPC ads and posting statuses constantly, which got a lot of traffic but no conversions. It was only when I started to present in front of personal trainers at places like the European Institute of Fitness that I started to get a steady stream of enquiries for franchisees. With so many companies enticing people online it really makes the difference when you make those connections offline for building good business relationships.

My advice is to not get stuck behind the computer being a keyboard warrior and social recluse, get out there and meet people face to face! Only then can you start to build lasting relationships for business success!

"He who dares Rodney, he who dares"

Ever since watching Del Boy on Only Fools Horses trying his luck at everything I've kept repeating that iconic phrase in my head, sort of like a cockney mantra. Whenever I get scared or overwhelmed by something it seems to pop up in my head and eggs me on to go for it. The reason I am where I am today is because I dared to try, something I learnt in my snowboard instructing days.

One example is my weekly YouTube show called Smash It Out! TV where I ask members of the public questions on health and at the end I do a crazy public stunt called "UNSTOPPABLE SAM". This is when I shout "I AM UNSTOPPABLE" 10 times in a public place. This might seem that I've got a screw loose, in fact I've a few loose, but it's a great exercise to help push my mental comfort zones and help inspire people to do the same on a smaller scale.

The first time I did it I was absolutely bricking it, and still do, but the one thing I've learnt is that the only person's world that changes is yours. After you've finished everyone just gets on with their lives and probably just thinks that you're slightly eccentric, if not a little weird. At the bottom is a video of the first time I did "UNSTOPPABLE SAM" in Covent Garden.

My point is that if you dare to push your comfort zones a little and often then you'll start to get used it and create something that you never thought possible when you started. I dare you to try this exercise weekly, even by yourself in the middle of no where, and see if it starts to help you be more daring in your business.

All in all I've learnt that it's possible to build a business with not much money as you learn to be creative, gregarious, daring and most importantly, resilient. If you put one foot in front of the other you'll get there in the end, I'm still walking my journey as we want to get to 400 locations nationwide. I hope you'll start your own journey, just remember to never set your future goals on your current reality as you will get better as time goes by!

Be well and SMASH IT OUT :)