Getting started in the world of business can be difficult, particularly if you have no business background at all. Yet that hasn't stopped Dean Williams, who went from being a Sydney-based personal trainer to a multinational business operator.
Fitness is the lifeblood of what Dean does. When he was just 17, he joined the military as a physical training instructor.
It was an industry he opted to stick with, joining Vision Personal Training in 2011. Just a year later, he had his first studio as part of the Vision Personal Training franchise at age 22.
“I … moved onto opening my first studio in 2012, and then I moved onto opening a studio over in New Zealand in 2014, and now I'm looking at another studio in New Zealand and another one back in Sydney next year,” he tells My Business.
That first studio, which opened up in Darlinghurst in inner Sydney, made more than $1 million in revenue in its first 12 months of operation.
According to Dean, the catalyst for him shifting from personal trainer to franchisee was what the Vision Personal Training brand stood for.
“The thing that got me to join a franchise … was what Vision represents, more than anything else; … what we do at Vision is we help people lose weight,” he says.
Starting in a franchise gave Dean a much-needed business edge.
“Some of the pros [of buying into a franchise are], especially for me, although I had a lot of experience in fitness, I didn't necessarily have much experience in business,” he says.
“Being able to be in an environment or a network that offers such great support and also such great guidance as to what you should be doing is really something that's necessary to your success."
“Opening up a franchise is good. I can't speak for all franchises, but I can speak for Vision, in that they provide you clear KPIs as to what you need to do to make your business succeed.”
However, for Dean, being in a franchise also means you are somewhat limited in what you can or can’t do.
“When you think of something that you would particularly like to do in one studio, sometimes you'll be limited as to what is best for the brand as a whole,” he says.
Yet there is still plenty of scope to use a franchise model to build a successful business, provided you are taking the business in the right direction.
“I think the biggest mistake a lot of people make is they focus on the result, whether that result be revenue, whether it be a particular impact, but they don't necessarily understand the KPIs that will get them there,” he says.
Dean now has his sights on expansion, planning to open five more studios in New Zealand over the next four years.
He attributes the expansion to filling a need that wasn’t being met.
“Obesity rates in New Zealand are slightly higher than what they are in Australia and, in the end, what we do at Vision is we help people lose weight. If there's a place that needs my help more than Sydney, it's New Zealand,” Dean says.
“A lot of our customers are [specifically looking for] weight loss.”
Dean has also had his fair share of the limelight, winning the national Personal Trainer of the Year in 2011, and the NSW Young Entrepreneur of the Year from the NSW Business Chamber in 2014, which did wonders for staff morale.
“It just helps [your staff] almost have a little bit more belief in you, because they've seen the success you've had, not only in business, but actually in an accolades point of view, and it almost gives them something to be proud of.”
Winning awards can be a great help to SMEs – both in improving staff morale and increasing business – but to get one, Dean suggests, you have to give a little first.
“The big thing businesses need to look at when they're entering awards is how the award will help them, that's important, but also looking at what they're actually doing for the community around them,” Dean says.
“Giving back to the community is a big part of winning an award, because … a lot of these award organisation[s] … they really do look into what you're doing for the local community, not only your business.”
Jumping into business when you aren’t aware of the pitfalls can be difficult, and for Dean, managing cash flow was a surprise that he warns newer SMEs to watch out for.
“You've got to make sure you're working on a really clearly outlined cash flow forecast over a three- to six-month period,” he says.
“If you're seriously looking at funding any sort of expansion, you do need to look at that cash flow forecast, because if it's not there, you've really got no means of funding that growth.
“I think it's also important, when people are looking at funding growth, [to recognise] that it's going to take them longer than what they expect, and there's probably going to be more costs than what they initially anticipated.”
Dean suggests that to mitigate cash flow issues, businesses should try to break down larger payments into smaller pieces.
“The challenge a lot of SMEs get into is that they look at getting payments in quite large sums, and generally at the end of the job,” he says.
“Although that may be fine, I think some of the SMEs that do go better with their cash flow ... split up, especially the larger amounts, into smaller intervals, and get those more frequently. [That way] they're not caught out if the customer doesn't pay, or if the customer declares bankruptcy or anything like that.
“Looking at business in general … recruitment becomes your most important thing, understanding your recruitment and making sure you have a clear career path for those people, so making sure you've outlined for them what's the progression for them over the next 10 years, whether that be development into a general manager position, some sort of mentor position, salesman position, whether they're looking at buying into the business.”
When running his business, Dean always thinks back to his motto: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit”.
“An important thing to remember in business is that everyone's got a plan, everyone's got an idea of what it's going to look like in the next two, three, four, five years for them, maybe even 10 years, but I think the biggest thing you've got to be prepared to deal with is the hit … I think business is just about learning to cope with those hits.”
Quick facts about Vision Personal Training
Industry: Personal training.
Established: 2001; Dean opened his first franchised studio in 2012.
Customer base: Australia and New Zealand