This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
I’m Laura, and I’m a running coach and writer. My background is in journalism. I’ve worked on newspapers and magazines, and I still write for Women’s Running magazine as a columnist and regular coach. I live in North London with my partner and our two-year-old son.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
I set up Lazy Girl Running, which offers women-only running groups and coaching, in 2013 as a hobby. It soon became my ‘side hustle’ and grew to become my full-time business. I’d started running myself five years earlier and had made my way from not being able to run for more than a minute at a time to running a marathon. I was the original ‘Lazy Girl’. This was back in 2008, way before the third wave running boom we’ve been experiencing.
I didn’t know anyone who ran, and I’d thought about joining a club, but they were all a bit intimidating. I also didn’t know what I was doing so for a long while running wasn’t very enjoyable, but for some unknown reason, I persisted with it.
Once I had run a couple of marathons and run out of friends to convert to a runner, I decided to create the sort of running group I’d have wanted to go to when I was just starting out: friendly, beginner-focused and with an emphasis on fun. I’ve since taught hundreds of women to run, my beginner’s courses fill up fast, and I always have a waiting list. I also coach runners online.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
I’d been working as an editor at a cancer charity for eight years. When my line manager went on maternity leave, I acted up as Editorial Manager, but I didn’t enjoy the managerial side of it. I enjoy writing and editing – the management part took me away from that. The only way for me to progress in this job would be to do less of the part I liked, and more of the part I didn’t.
I’d been running my groups in the evening around my 9-5 and was coaching four nights per week. When my line manager returned from maternity and I went back to my regular role, I asked for a reduction in my hours, but this was denied. This was the push I needed to go it alone and see if I could earn a living doing coaching full-time.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
I left my 9-5 to become fully self-employed just before Christmas. January was set to be a busy period as this is when a lot of runners start training for spring marathons, so as well as running my beginner’s 0-5k groups in the evenings, I’d have training plans to write during the day and plenty of time to do it. But that January I injured my shoulder, which made it incredibly painful to use my right arm or to sit at a desk. There were a lot of tears and questioning if I’d done the right thing – there would be nobody paying me for sick days anymore. I ended up creating a standing desk in my kitchen that involved balancing my laptop on the toaster that enabled me to work through it.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
When runners started signing up for my running groups who hadn’t seen any of my flyers or social media and had just come via word of mouth. The first year I stopped actively advertising the sessions because they were filling up just from people telling their friends about me. I think that when you go from non-runner to running convert, you not only want to share that experience with friends but you want your friends to be able to join you on a run. It’s a more sociable activity than you might expect.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
As I coach outdoors in parks, there were very low start-up costs. The main costs were the qualifications (I think it cost me around £300 to become a coach and £1500 to be certified as a personal trainer) and my website. As I was working full-time for the first few years, the risks were very low, so I could afford to take them. As I was coaching most evenings, I wasn’t going out much so I saved most of the money I made, so when I became self-employed, I had enough to get me through the first six months. I told myself that if it didn’t work out by then, I could find another job but I haven’t had to.
What has been your best investment?
I asked one of my runners, who is a graphic designer to create a new logo for the group. I then got 100+ t-shirts printed and gave them to all my runners. Just a few simple t-shirts have been great for marketing the groups as people often stop when they see a group of 20 women running around the park. It has also helped the runners feel part of something and have a sense of ownership over the group they attend.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
I haven’t ever seen my business as a start-up – I’d probably say it crept up in that I didn’t really plan for it to become a business. But being a woman in the coaching sphere has been interesting.
I was at an event with other coaches, and a discussion about the business side of coaching began in a small group I was sat with. Running has traditionally been a club sport coached by volunteers, so there’s still an expectation that coaches will work for free. One of the other coaches was asking people’s experience of charging for sessions, but every time I spoke, he ignored me – maybe because I’m a woman and younger than him. So I dropped a few figures of what I charge and how much I make which got his attention, but by then, I wasn’t interested in sharing any insights with him.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
I wanted to work for myself so that I could work around having my son. I didn’t want to go to a job I didn’t enjoy every day just so that I could pay for him to go to nursery. It didn’t make sense to me. The lesson I learnt though is how much less I’m able to get done around looking after him than I thought I would. I was pretty naive. But two years in we’ve got the hang of things, and he’s a pretty good co-worker.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
My friend Liz Goodchild is a life coach, and she set up her own business around the same time as me. It was great to have someone who was going through the same issues – from self-doubt to filing that first tax return – to talk to about it.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I’d like to grow the number of locations that I have running groups. Last year we had three locations with other coaches leading sessions, but COVID has obviously impacted that. I’d like to have some sessions in locations outside of London and recruit new leaders.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
As well as establishing new locations, I’d like to help other women start their own businesses in the fitness industry. Whether it’s as a personal trainer, a boot camp instructor or a yoga teacher – there is so much potential for creating a lifestyle that works for you around other commitments. I want to give them the right business knowledge and push to get started as this is something that isn’t covered on most of the qualification courses. So I’m holding my first ‘Making Fitness Your Business’ workshop this month, and there will be more to follow.
What can our readers do to support your business?
Tell your friends about me. Everyone knows someone who has signed up for a marathon and has no idea how to train. I’m the person your friend needs.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
The book that started this all for me was Free Range Humans by Marianne Cantwell
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
If you can, keep hold of your day job too for now. It’s a difficult financial climate, so I don’t think I can advise people to go all-in just yet. But it’s still possible to build something significant outside of your 9-5.
Where can we find you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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