7 months ago Parisa Haeri quit her job and career of 9 years in accounting all while she was preparing to move to London for the job that she got offered in London. She even signed the contract and was waiting for the visa to come through, but due to a typo error made on the visa application meant that after 6 months of waiting, it didn’t get approved. The company that was hired to do the application was going to rectify the situation and resubmit the application, but by this stage, Parisa had enough of living in limbo, so she ended up quitting her job and diving head first into the career change!
After quitting her job Parisa Haeri joined the gym where she was a member to become one of the partners. A few years later and lots of lessons learned about business and partnerships, she decided to open her own gym. In June 2016 Parisa opened the doors to “CrossFit 168 Kingsgrove”. During this time Parisa also pursued the sport of weightlifting after picking it up in 2013 and managed to reach a high level competing in National and International events and reaching trials for commonwealth games in 2017. This year Parisa has put competitions aside to focus on growing the business and hope to have reached 100 members in the next 6 months, with long-term views of opening another facility.
Tell us Parisa, have you always been entrepreneurial?
Not at all. I grew up without any entrepreneurial flair. As a young girl, I wanted to be an accountant – I had no idea what that meant but it was my dad’s occupation and I wanted to be like him. I worked in the corporate world for 9 years and felt as though my path and purpose was just to climb the corporate ladder, but the passion wasn’t there. I didn’t realize this until I fell into the health and fitness industry, and I think it was then that I discovered what passion actually was.
How do you think CrossFit 168 Kingsgrove can strengthen and encourage Boss Ladies?
The best thing that ever happened to me was discovering exercise – specifical weightlifting through CrossFit. Not in a physical way – all the physical changes were an added bonus, but the changes I experienced in attitude and mindset were phenomenal. CrossFit brought about a confidence, drive, and determination I had never had. Initially, these things only came out during training. Literally, for the 1 hour a day that I would train I was more focused, I was passionate about something, and the most confident I had ever been. After the session, I would go back to my usual introverted self. Over time that shift in attitude began to flow into everyday life. I approached work differently and welcomed challenges rather than try to hide from them. It was like CrossFit gave me another persona, someone fierce and fiery, and it was addictive. It was through this that I became a stronger person, far more confident and fearless and developed the courage to step away from my career and into the entrepreneurial life.
When starting your business CrossFit 168 Kingsgrove, what were the legal issues involved?
There are so many things to consider and to be honest, I was so clueless when it came to a lot of the issues – it was definitely a learning curve.
Something simple like choosing a business name proved to be difficult because you had to make sure the domain name was available for the website. Once you select a name, you then have to go through the process of registering the business – that in itself is a whole process involving solicitors and accountants, particularly if there’s more than one person involved in ownership.
Then there are all the applications you have to submit to council just to operate out of the premises. These applications were time-consuming and proved to be very costly. Just to submit an application to the council to use the premises costs over $800. This doesn’t include all the specific reports which you have to obtain (noise report, traffic report, disability access report, fire safety report, architectural designs, floor plans, etc) and each report must be submitted by a specialist consultant who charges up to $3,000.
Finally, there are all the legalities of dealing with a lease agreement. What saved me was having people around who were experienced in each of these areas. I’m learning how important it is to ask for help and advice because someone who has experience in a particular area can save you so much time, money and hassle making sure you get things done the right way, first go.
What was it like to have sold your first class? How did that go?
I remember signing up my first member. It was the week before we even opened the gym, and a young lady, Jo, messaged me. She was previously doing CrossFit at another gym but had just moved to the area and was looking for a new facility. A mutual friend had recommended me and so with no trial sessions or a functioning facility, Jo signed up. You never forget your first member and its a great feeling – she’s still with me 2 years later.
For the first few months, most of the classes had no more than 1 or 2 people. I remember at the time, I lived 40 mins away from the gym. I would get up every day at 4:45 am and hope that someone would turn up to the 6 am class to make the traveling worthwhile. Some days there would be no-one, other days one or two. I also opened at the start of winter which certainly didn’t help, but gradually over time, the numbers grew.
Starting a business in this sector would you say anyone can start one? And why?
I’ve realized it takes someone with a lot of patience to start up in this industry. With the right amount of research, experience and dedication, anyone can open a gym but there’s a lot more to it than what people think, and it takes a lot of work to keep the business running.
Its a very competitive industry and a lot of people enter it because they ‘love training’ or CrossFit. Passion is great and definitely a necessity, but it is simply not enough. When you open your own business, you have to be mindful that you actually end up doing less of what you love. I love training but I also know that growing the business is a priority, and so if I have to give up a training session here or there, I give it up. It’s not like you can say “I love training so I’ll open up my own gym and just train all day”. That’s not how it works. You become the coach, the cleaner, the bookkeeper, the therapist, the mentor – everything is on you and you have to prioritize the roles that will aid in your business’s growth.
You also have to have a point of differentiation. There are tons of PTs, online programs and other Crossfit gyms that you’re competing with every day – and that doesn’t even include the F45s, Fitness Firsts and other commercial gyms. You have to have something that sets you aside and makes people want to pay to come and train with you.
As with any startup, before you dive in you have to be 100% sure of what’s involved and whether on not its a feasible task to take on.
Can you describe your customers, do you focus on a specific group?
CrossFit is great in that it caters to anyone at any fitness level. I’ve had members ranging from 13-year-olds through to 60-year-olds, professional athletes, pregnant women and people that have never stepped foot in a gym before, but my focus is more on the families and people who are new to the sport.
Everyone in my gym is connected in one way or another – husbands and wives, mothers and sons, cousins, neighbors, colleagues etc. all training together, and a lot of my members are not only new to CrossFit but new to training. I didn’t get into exercise until later in life, and CrossFit was something I picked up from scratch with zero backgrounds in the sport. I like seeing new members come in as beginners and watching them develop and grow. I know what it’s like not being able to do anything so it’s very satisfying watching the members progress. They’re the type of demographic I target – everyday individuals who want to improve their health and well-being without taking the sport too seriously.
What sacrifices have you had to make as an entrepreneur to become the person you are now?
There’s, of course, the financial sacrifice, which is a given. Having come from corporate, I was used to a secure income. I was paid every month, I had sick leave, annual leave and all the other benefits that came with the job. I would use my annual leave every year without fail, and travel. My hours were Monday to Friday and I had my weekends to myself to do as I pleased. As an entrepreneur, your hours are Monday to Sunday 24/7, especially in the initial stages. Weekends revolve around work and your business because if your business doesn’t grow you don’t get paid. You definitely sacrifice a lifestyle when you open your own business but this is something I was aware of when I opened the gym, and it was a choice I made.
I think its also important for entrepreneurs – current or aspiring – to remember that it’s short term. I never opened my business with the goal of working 15 hour days for the rest of my life. I knew this was the kind of dedication it would take initially, but that lifestyle is certainly not sustainable long term. Put in the work at the start and grow your business to a point where you can start outsourcing and hiring, giving you more time to work ‘on’ the business.
The other big sacrifice a lot of people make is relationships. You end up so consumed with your business that you lose friends and relationships start to diminish. I was (and am) incredibly lucky in that I have the most supportive circle around me. My closest friends run their own businesses or side businesses, so are completely understanding of my position. I also have the most supportive husband, business partner and family, all of whom have played a crucial role in the success of the business.
We all have our good days and bad days. What is your typical bad day and typical good day look like? And how do you stay motivated all the time?
It’s a huge rollercoaster ride. There are so many ups and downs and it’s very turbulent – one day you’re on top of the world, incredibly motivated and thinking of ways to open the next facility, and the next and the next. Then all it takes is for one member to leave, and you begin to question if you’ve made the right decision, what if it all falls apart, if it’s the wrong career move…it’s all very dramatic.
When I first opened, a typical good day was one where more than 2 people attended a class. Now, a good day is one where I have at least 1-2 new inquiries. A bad day is when a member cancels or I don’t get any new inquiries, although I have to say the good days far outnumber the bad lately.
It’s easy to stay motivated when things are going well and new members are signing up, but when things quieten down it can become challenging.
This is my business, and I’m very conscious of not getting complacent with it. I’m recently married and even though my husband is very successful in his career, I still want to play a role in our marriage where I can contribute to the lifestyle we want to live. I want to create a business that is growing and thriving for my members, for our team, my business partner and for myself and and family. Thats ultimately my motivation, the responsibility I have to myself and the people around me to make it work.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
- Patience. Its a long, long road and one that isn’t always fun. You must be patient and prepared to make sacrifices. The success doesn’t come easy and when it does come, you’re chasing the next thing.
- Work ethic. This ties in with patience. It sounds so cliche but the success of your business will depend largely on your work ethic. Of course, there are other factors that will be out of your control, but I really believe that if you work hard and put in 100% effort into whatever you are doing, you will see results. The best thing I learned from competitive weightlifting was that you can excel in any field if you obsess. Be obsessed with your business and work on it every single day, learn and gain knowledge, spend time with other business owners and mentors, fail, and know that some days you won’t have 100% to give and that its ok. Work hard and keep the big picture in mind.
- Kindness. I don’t think most people associate ‘kindness’ with being a successful entrepreneur but to this day I think it’s one of the most important qualities one can possess. When I first started this business, it was during a rough period when I was getting out of an old business partnership. I had lost a lot of money and wasn’t sure how things would go. It was at this time that people started coming out of the woodworks to help – not just friends but also acquaintances (who have since become very close friends). I had my marketing, branding and website all done free of charge, not because I asked for it, but because a friend wanted to help me without wanting a thing in return. Just recently I had 5 new members sign up in a week who had all been referred to me by previous coaches. Being a nice person doesn’t mean you finish last. Being a douche gives you a bad reputation, and when you have a bad reputation no-one wants to work with you or help you.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
There is no endpoint! It’s not as though the end goal is to have a particular job title or position or to have a specific salary and once you get there that’s it. You want to hit a certain number of members, make a certain amount of profit, then open a second facility, then a third, maybe expand and venture into a different market – the goals and challenges are limitless because the business is yours. As soon as you tick one goal off the list, you’re adding another 5, and with every stage of growth comes more opportunity, which is a really exciting thought.
Your mind is constantly thinking about what you could do next, how to build, create, and grow what you have, and its all on you.