This week we chat to Aaron Wood, a young man born with Cystic Fibrosis who has confounded the professionals who suggested very short life expectancy and no career prospects to start his own personal training business and turn it into a thriving enterprise.
AW: Cystic Fibrosis is a terminal illness that effects the lungs and digestive system. What that means is that my lungs get infections that cause them to scar and die off, affecting my ability to breathe. I also can’t digest food without medication. Not being able to breathe is probably the biggest challenge people with Cystic Fibrosis live with. The prognosis when I was born was a life expectancy to my early 20s and an expectation of life on oxygen tanks with almost permanent hospitalisation.
ISB: And what did the condition mean in terms of the career path recommendations you were given by health professionals and teachers?
AW: I don’t think there was any expectation of a career, no one ever sat me down and asked what profession I wanted to pursue. The only thing that was recommended was that I needed to exercise frequently to keep my lungs working. That’s where my passion for fitness grew from – it was making me healthier and I turned out to be good at it.
ISB: Eschewing that advice you set up Your Fitness PT at the age of 18 – what was the drive behind that decision?
AW: Your Fitness PT was born from my passion for exercise. At 18, I had just spent two-and-a-half years recovering from an infection. As you can imagine it was a mental and physical battle for me. When I started adopting exercise into my daily routine to try and recover, my life and mindset changed. Having total confidence in my physical abilities is something I’m really grateful for and I wanted other people to feel the same. Aside from that, like everyone, I also wanted to make something of myself. After years of being told I wasn’t going to make it to my 20s, when I did I wanted to make it count and build something that I could be proud of.
ISB: Your health aside, what was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the enterprise off the ground?
AW: Getting any business off the ground is difficult, but the hardest challenge of all was finding a consistent stream of clients. Being young, it was hard for people to take me seriously at first. I started with every free platform I could find, including: Gumtree, Yellow Pages, local posters, council pages and social media. My first ever clients actually came from Gumtree and I still have them to this day.
AW: How I stand apart is the very thing that has held me back my whole life. CF has taught me how to focus, be resilient, become stronger and accumulate a vast amount of movement, nutritional and medical knowledge. People are inspired by the challenges I continue to overcome, and they see themselves achieving the same. No other personal trainer can be taught what I have.
ISB: And what marketing channels did you use to attract clients?
AW: Initially Gumtree and world of mouth. If you really invest in your clients and go that extra mile then they do talk about you. At one stage I had a son, his parents, their neighbours and two other families on the same street. Your greatest sales tool asset will always be your happy clients. Google ads and targeting have also generated a lot of leads for me, but that was after a lot of practice.
ISB: Finally, what is the #1 lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others who aspire to start their own business despite having to deal with a serious health issue?
AW: My best advice for people working on their own business and trying to manage their health is work smarter, not harder. My day is always planned around taking care of myself, so I’ve learnt to tailor my work around this. Even when your day is crazy, make time to do what you need to maintain your health. It pays dividends in the long run.