5 Business Lessons I Learned from Fitness Competing

The saying “you don’t know what you don’t know until you know” comes to mind as an immediate opener for this article. How are you supposed to know what to do if you don’t even know that there’s something you don’t know in the first place? It’s that ah-ha moment when something so simple is shown to you and you wonder to yourself “why haven’t I been doing this all along?” Probably because you just didn’t know there was an alternative or possibly you did know but your days and weeks have become so intertwined with tasks and reminders and working towards your goals that often we as humans don’t take a few minutes to sit back to ask ourselves, “is this really the best way I can be doing this?”

I started doing fitness competitions in 2014. I decided to get into the sport to help me maintain a healthy lifestyle while gaining insight on my personal dietary needs (I also needed a specific goal to hold me accountable). I trained on my own, saving food recipes and health facts on Pinterest, looking at images of fitness competitors every morning to motivate me to get to the gym, and putting together my favorite workout circuits. I was extremely proud of my dedication and personal progress compared to where I started but I was still thicker then where I felt I should have been after training so hard for 16 weeks. I continued to compete and time and time again I kept coming in last, or close to it. I worked out daily, ate foods I thought were helping me towards my goals, and did exercises I thought I should be doing.

After a competition in November of 2017, I decided that if I wanted to see real results, I needed to hire a professional to properly prepare for my April event. I was introduced to a fitness coach and while she was more expensive then I wanted to pay, I decided to go for it. It actually was quite nice to sit back and just do the work and have someone else tell me what to eat, what supplements to take, and what workouts to do. I was able to focus on eating and maximizing my workouts instead of doing all the research and changing my routine constantly. After a short period of time, I felt different then I had in previous years of training. I felt energized and invincible and I was starting to see muscle separation and definition in areas I didn’t know existed. After only a month, I could start to see changes in my body I never saw while doing it on my own. Needless to say, that April I competed in two of my biggest events yet and I placed 2nd and 4th!

What was so different from what this coach did for me that I wasn’t capable of doing on my own? Actually, that was the first place I created my own hurdle. I felt I was capable of getting myself into competition shape. I knew the ingredients for competing: Eat clean food, workout daily, and drink a lot of water… got it! But I didn’t have it. I still wasn’t looking or feeling the way I thought I should. There was so much I either didn’t know or retain from all my research. I was even a personal trainer for a period of time, so I understood how to workout and which exercises helped build which muscles, but that wasn’t enough.

I see the exact same thing happen with business owners. They think because they are a master in their field and an excellent resource in their industry, that they understand everything there is to know about running and growing their business. Think of it like this, soda is made up of the same ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, color, and natural flavors; and yet there’s something special about a Coca-Cola (sorry Pepsi). Just like soda, a service-based business is made up of the same ingredients: Sales & Marketing, Finance, Operations, Human Resources, and Management; and yet, why are some businesses widely more successful than others? What makes them so special? Just as I thought I knew the recipe to compete in fitness competitions, I only knew the ingredients, not the actual recipe, and I didn’t know the customized recipe that would work best for me personally.

5 Lessons Learned

Here are the 5 business lessons I learned from competing in fitness competitions. While they are simple concepts, they are all too often overlooked or not weighed as a priority when there is so much distraction throughout the day. My favorite saying is “the more time you invest in the beginning doing it right, the less you will need to down the road.” Taking the time to do things the right way from the start alleviates time and money you will waste over who knows how long.

1.) Riding the Rockstar Wave: Comparing this to my fitness journey, I grew up being active in dance and ice skating. I felt I was well rounded and capable of getting myself prepared for fitness competitions. What I was not proficient on was the science behind it. I really did not have a strong foundation in my health, but I was blinded to think I did. I thought I knew what I was doing but really, I was just always active and in pretty good shape. I could get away with drinking soda, eating pizza and wings, and not be in the gym every day because my body was already conditioned. However, as I got older, reality set in.

I’ve seen the same thing happen in businesses. Many business owners think they are capable of running or growing their business. The truth is they have a Rockstar or two that’s carrying the entire company, which is an ingredient for a weak foundation. This could be an employee but most of the time it’s the actual business owners that are still very involved in the daily operations and they are the ones responsible for the company’s success. What happens when they are not in the office? Is the day still productive? Are sales able to be make without them? Most likely not.

I worked with a company where the two business owners were still running sales calls. What can a business owner do that a sales rep can’t? Offer the best discount that no one can compete with, that’s what. The business owners would go in after a demo their sales rep couldn’t sell, and they would of course make the sale. This was their business model. This went on for years, until the business owners didn’t want to be running leads anymore. But now there’s a C level sales team who can’t really sell with no real sales/product training. This company was riding the Rockstar Wave but as soon as the rockstars stepped away, the sales went down drastically. You could even see it with their month to month revenue. One month would be great but then next would be terrible if the rockstars went on vacation. The unfortunate thing is that just like it took me a while for reality to set in, it’s the same in business. It’s usually a couple of years until the business owner gets so burnt out that they realize they need to bring someone in to help, which leads me to my next lesson learned.

2.) Bandaid Approach: Throughout the years of me training on my own, I did the workouts I liked and ate food I enjoyed. If it made me too sore or was hard to swallow, I wouldn’t give it another chance. What I learned after hiring a coach was that there were many alternatives to exercises and foods to actually make them enjoyable or less painful. At first, these were really hard decisions to make. My food intake increased daily by 500% I remember meals would take me about an hour to get down because they were so damn big. I mean, who eats 6 oz of chicken with half a sweet potato and 2 servings of broccoli in ONE meal! Are you freaking kidding me?! And I’m expected to do this 4 times a day with 2 protein shakes? I thought for sure it had to be a mistake, but my coach insisted I eat what I could and assured me that eventually it would get easier. It did get easier and it actually got to the point that if I was more than 5 minutes past my mealtime, I would be starving, even though I just ate a farm 3 hours prior. I soon realized I needed all the food to help me push through my intense workouts and ironically, more food helped me tone up faster.

I have personally experienced and seen this happen many times. A new concept or software is introduced into a business, but it doesn’t adopt well. Employees don’t want to learn a new system and the business owner doesn’t have the time to learn it, so it morphs into the most simplistic and basic form of what the concept of software was initially brought in for. Its uncomfortable and time consuming to implement something new, so it’s typically avoided… especially if there is no real expectation laid down and monitored. Again, the days are moving too fast to hone in on what the original intentions were and what the result actually is, so the company as a whole settles in an effort to keep things moving forward.

This particular lesson reminds me of an accounting firm I worked with that invested in a software to track clients, projects, and had a wide range of useful reports. If you understand how accounting and law firms operate, time literally is money. Every minute spent on anything administrative is minutes spent not doing client work, which is not billable. While they had this robust software which could give them all the information they needed and could pull data easily just by maximizing the software, they were still working off individual excel spreadsheets. Why? The CPA invested thousands into this software so why were they still operating the way they did back in 1995? The answer is that the time it would take someone to learn how to maximize the system could take several weeks, which the CPA couldn’t justify sacrificing the time. Year after year after year, slight tweaks and changes might be made but they continued to follow the outdated and cumbersome processes. Issues may arise on the daily but bandaids are applied to keep things moving in the moment. What business owners don’t prioritize is taking the time to utilize and maximize resources, whatever they may be. Ultimately, time and money will be saved down the road (I’m sure the investment was made in the first place to achieve one, if not both).

3.) The Bad Apple: The saying that it’s a lonely life being a fitness competitor is so true. What does that mean exactly? Well, I wasn’t drinking alcohol while training, so no bars or nightlife. I wasn’t eating out, so no lunch or dinner outings with friends and 5am, 8am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm meal times doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity. Waking up at 3:30am didn’t exactly boost my energy at nighttime… so, I basically avoided everyone and everything. This was my life in order for me to reach my goal while working with a coach. I wasn’t as strict in previous years and put my friends and the nightlife above my fitness goals which was the biggest distraction. “You already look great” “Why are you doing this to yourself” this is what people would say and ask. While a few closest to me supported my efforts, many were more focused on how miserable I looked while eating my dry chicken (and at times I was miserable but I was focused on my goal).

When something new is introduced into a business, it’s usually the Bad Apple who will lead the pack towards always seeking the Bandaid Approach. This person needs to be held accountable to participate in the changes or needs to find an opportunity elsewhere. This is where the vicious cycle begins and weighs down on the business owner. This Bad Apple has usually been with the company long enough that they see change as a negative but that’s because they are focused on their personal experience and not the betterment of the entire company. The unfortunate thing here is that the business owner will settle and let things continue with this Bad Apple if they can’t justify hiring a replacement. An even worse scenario is when the business owner molds their business around the employees they have.

I was working with a company in the construction industry and much like the accounting firm referenced above, they too were operating with old and cumbersome systems. Everything they used was on excel. Project management, employee tracking, project calendars.. everything. While this may have worked when it was just the business owner and a few employees, the business had grown widely in a short period of time and these systems were not scalable. Luckily, this particular business owner was able to recognize pretty quickly that he needed to upgrade his infrastructure. Upon introducing a new system where information was easily seen and systems talked to each other, there was one older employee who was very resistant to change. She stated that the way she had …“been doing things for the past 20 years works perfectly fine” and she didn’t see a need for her to learn anything new. She didn’t care about anyone else having access to the company information she was responsible for and was constantly negative in meetings. Another issue with this is that a lot of her work was still done on physical paper which she refused to upload into the new system, making the information only one dimensional. If anything were to happen to her, no one would have any clue what to do, which is another ingredient for a weak foundation.

Because time and money are the two things business owners value, they tend to focus on competency and affordability when hiring. The problem is these are two things that add no true value and often leave the business owner putting up with employees because they’ve been there long enough, and they don’t want to deal with the hiring or firing. So, they settle. A human being does not make for the ideal employee within your business. There are much deeper components that will ensure you are hiring a good fit with similar values which will decrease turnover and headaches.

4.) Refinement Process: You don’t know what you don’t know until you know. So… how do you get to the point of knowing? Trial and error, that’s how. When I was training on my own, I was eating tons of eggs and chicken and greens… but guess what I love on my eggs, chicken, and greens? Hot sauce! And guess what there is a lot of in hot sauce? Salt! I put so much hot sauce on my eggs and chicken that there would be a puddle of it still in my Tupperware to which I would shamelessly drink as if it was hot cocoa. Looking at my past competition photos, I see how puffy and tight my skin looked, but I had no idea what it was from. I actually thought maybe this was just my adult body type. Once I started working with a coach, I drank a gallon of water a day and decided I wanted to avoid as many sauces as I possibly could, so I did. I still didn’t realize how much salt affected me until just after my first successful competition.

My husband and I threw a party with sweets, cheeses, meats, and good wine and I went all out. To go from nothing to everything in one day, I was sick for a few days and my feet and legs swelled up so bad I felt like a balloon about to pop. For the next few months I noticed my hands and feet would get so swollen after certain meals. While still eating relatively clean even though I wasn’t training, I decided to experiment to get to the bottom of what was making me react this way. Once I was over being in denial, I came to terms that I needed to slow down on the charcuterie and anything heavy with salt. When I ate clean and drank a lot of water, I felt great but as soon as I ate something too salty, my hands and feet would swell up. I love cheese, pizza, wings, bread, hot sauce… you know, everything that’s heavy with salt. But since I’ve discovered salt was the culprit to my discomfort, I’ve been able to manage and grow from it.

The same thing in business is that the refinement process takes time. Once a decision is made regarding an employee, software, or workflow, it’s put into action and expected to function properly. Only when there are enough issues will it draw attention back to itself again, and when there is a problem, most likely just the Bandaid Approach is getting applied to keep things moving. Only until it’s a big enough issue will something actually change. What a terrible business model!

The first place I ever worked at was a laser tag joint. I was 15 when I started working there and I loved my job. Weekends were really fast paced and hectic and once I started running birthday parties, I saw just how hectic things were. There were 4 rooms available to hold birthday parties, but they could only accommodate two at a time. There would always be several walk-ins, laser tag game briefings were inconsistently long, and rooms needed to be available when the previous block of parties ran over to avoid having kids open their presents in the hallway. Again, what a terrible business model. Being the observant person I am, I could easily identify where the holes existed. I took it upon myself to time my own game briefings and starting the game to see where I could create valuable time. I timed how long on average it took the kids to open their presents, eat their cake, play video games, get into the room for briefing, get vested up, and how quickly I could start the game after the briefing. I documented this and after about a month, I was the most efficient birthday party host. The manager noticed that my parties were always on time and promoted me to be the birthday party coordinator at the age of 16 (what an accomplishment!).

Once in charge of all birthday parties, I was able to get all 4 party rooms running at the same time while still accommodating all walk-ins. Parties were no longer going over, there were no more unwrapping gifts in the hallway or refunds provided to disappointed parents. I stayed there until I was 18 years old and throughout the years I would see the same families return or be a guest of a friends party because of the excellent experience their children received. For years, this laser tag company was fixing the problems after they happened but much like with health, addressing the issue before it becomes an issue is obviously the most effective approach. Many businesses do not manage the changes therefore they do not grow to the level to which they are capable of, which brings me to the final lesson learned.

5.) Managed change, Creates growth: The first several years that I was competing, I’d spend about 20 minutes in the gym bathroom changing into my gym outfit and taking cute pictures of myself in the mirror to post on Instagram. Usually my iconic peace sign or side profile to show the size of my tummy was my main focus. I’d take the picture, share my thoughts for the moment, post on social media, then head off for my workout. I’d respond to the occasional comments but would never look back at that picture again. Once I started working with a coach and dishing out the dough, I wanted to make sure my investment was worth it. I had to send her pictures of myself in a bikini every couple of weeks, but I wanted to see the progress for myself. I started taking morning progress pictures every single morning (this was actually part of my morning routine). I was able to see the slightest changes in my arms, abs, obliques, and legs. These slight changes I noticed gave me the motivation I needed to do it all over again the next day, and the next day, and the next. I started comparing my pictures to similar pictures from the previous week. I could see huge changes from these photos, but to the naked eye, they were non-existent. Only towards the end were my physical changes obvious. If I had not taken those progress pictures and compared between days and weeks, I would not have seen the progress I was making and most likely would have either given up, or decided to not listen to my coach feeling like I wasted my money.

Obviously, a business owner is not comparing pictures from week to week, but there is a business snapshot that has got to be looked at. These are your KPI’s or Key Performance Indicators. Many business owners overlook this necessity because who has time to measure and monitor if a process, workflow, employee, or software is working properly? Most of the time business owners don’t even realize their business is not functioning at maximum capacity because they are not making the time to review this information.

This reminds me of something I experienced while working with a home improvement company. As I’ve talked about before, this company was a successful business with 15 years running at $4M in revenue. One of the biggest things I noticed when I started working with this company was that they were not participating in trade shows. When I asked why not, they stated that they had tried a few but they were a waste of time and money. I was stunned how such a successful business in this industry was not involved in trade shows. I organized a table at an upcoming Blues Festival which they wanted to run the way they had in the past. I needed to see how the show was operated and handled, so I played along. While the festival itself was fun, the results were worthless. It was all a numbers game where the more names and numbers they had, the better. What’s worse is they were capturing the information on pieces of paper to which were all given to one appointment setter afterwards to call and follow up. This strategy of course did not work and the only way they measured their performance from the event was asking the appointment setter “how many leads have you setup from the show?” When the answer was not favorable, they decided trade shows were not for them.

After seeing how the Blues Festival flowed, I coordinate a few more festivals before doing an actual home show. I became selective with who we talked to, how we approached them, what we said, and how the information was retrieved. After the show, I would enter the information into a new system I built and I personally would call to setup or confirm appointments. After a few festivals like this, I had the process and follow up down to which they agreed to participate in a big home show at the Dulles Expo Center. With the show foundation now setup and a new follow-up process, this show alone produced over $300k in revenue. Needless to say, I then had the green light to setup as many shows as possible. Within the first year of doing shows, this became their most lucrative income source and now generates over $2M in annual revenue.

With fitness, much like with marketing, it’s relatively easy to measure your progress. Waist size and number of followers or conversions are easy to identify as KPIs. But what about everything else? How do you measure the progress with Operations, Technology, or People? Because many business owners don’t know how to measure their progress, they either don’t or they hire a professional to steer and guide them.

Final Thought

It’s interesting to compare my fitness journey to lessons learned in business but as you can see, the parallels are there. It takes insane discipline and drive to be able to compete in fitness competitions as it does with growing a business. Simply hoping success is just around the corner just doesn’t cut it. Developing a plan & organizing your actions is the first step towards progress and growth. Without planning and organizing, your actions may result in you reinventing the wheel each day which will burn you out. When I was training for my first competition, I dedicated 16 weeks, but the results were not what I expected. I didn’t really have a plan other than to compete and begin eating clean. I didn’t organize what food I needed to eat when or what supplements would help me perform the best. I didn’t do any of that and the results showed. Working with a professional who knew what to look at and guide me towards my goal was what I truly needed to be successful. I realize now that just because I might be capable of doing something, does not mean that I am going to get the results I want.

I’m interested to hear your personal experiences with any of these 5 lessons learned. Leave a comment below to share!

If you are a business owner interested in seeing where your business operations currently stand and where they could go, reach out to Evolving Enterprises for a free consultation.

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Improving daily operations & creating valuable time, steering your business towards growth

Tiffany has been successfully helping businesses grow since the early age of 16 years old. She quickly discovered her ability to identify inefficiencies and improve operations in an effort to decrease stress and improve the overall quality of work life, which she noticed was lacking in her first place of employment. She went on to start her own in-house ballroom dance business which she ran for 5 years.  

After graduating from GMU with a bachelor’s in business management, she accepted a position at a construction company acting as the Director of Operations to which she re-engineered the entire foundation, increasing the company’s annual net revenue from 4 to 12.5 million dollars.

Tiffany owns Evolving Enterprises with her husband, Rick Carroll, and their mission is to raise awareness and educate business owners on how to establish a strong foundation in their businesses, and the importance behind it, using Evolving Enterprises proven Foundation Building methods.

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Evolving Enterprises, LLC

 Broadlands, VA


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