Personal trainers as a whole are committed and dedicated individuals. To be trusted and respected by their clients, they must lead by example, setting a standard for active, healthy living.
But many fail to appreciate that what makes them a great trainer, can also serve to make them a successful entrepreneur.
As a teenager with a keen interest in fitness, Jean-Luc Boissonneault, founder of Free Form Fitness, didn’t plan to build his own personal training business. But, growing up in a humble, working-class family with four siblings left him eager to make his mark.
He believes his success comes from his drive to succeed and his strong desire to help others.
“My reputation mattered more to me than money,” he said. “I always wanted to prove myself.”
He credits much of his drive to his stepfather, who would regularly push him out of his comfort zone.
“No matter how scared I was of a situation, he would say to me ‘just do it, meanwhile my mom showed me what caring about people really was’” Jean-Luc said.
Working part time at the front desk of a local gym gave him insight into what personal training was all about. He read everything on health and fitness he could get his hands on. One day, a 400-lb man who could barely walk up the stairs came to the gym, looking for help.
Jean-Luc decided to take on the challenge.
“I said, ‘by the time I’m done with you, you’ll be able to jump up those stairs.’”
A year later, this first client was a much more healthy and active 220 lbs. He became Jean-Luc’s “walking billboard.” So many other clients asked to train with Jean-Luc that the gym’s owner encouraged him to get his personal trainer certification.
So there he was — at the tender age of 17, already building a name for himself as a personal trainer. But it wasn’t an easy road. It took courage and fortitude to stand up to people who thought he was too young and wanted to see him fail.
“That didn’t matter,” Jean-Luc said. “I just kept helping more and more people. Other trainers saw how passionate I was and wanted to help me out.”
His clientele soon came to include business and professional people. Their lives and insights opened up a whole new world to Jean-Luc. “It’s like I was in business school, learning from the top dogs from the age of 17” he said. He started reading books about entrepreneurship and business. Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kyosaki, changed his life.
“That book opened my eyes to a different way of thinking,” he said. “I started to see things as a business person, and understand what most business owners where doing wrong.”
But the final nudge to become an entrepreneur came when he found a mentor, his “Rich Dad,” in local homebuilder Claude Dagenais, founder of Junicon Homes.
Jean-Luc’s insatiable appetite to learn resonated with Dagenais. Personal training sessions became business-mentoring sessions. Dagenais taught Jean-Luc the importance of working on a business — focusing on long-term strategy — rather than getting mired in the day-to-day of working in the business.
By his early 20s, Jean-Luc had met and married his spouse, Chelsea. They entertained the idea of starting their own gym. Dagenais didn’t waste any time laying down the challenge. He demanded Jean-Luc set a deadline by which to make this happen.
“I said 12 months. He said ‘do it in six,’ and we did,” Jean Luc said. “I owe a lot to him and my mother in law for believing in me in those early years.”
In the years that followed, Dagenais continued to serve as a hard-nosed mentor who never shied away from keeping Jean-Luc focused and accountable as Free Form Fitness grew from its first location in Kanata. But he had one final lesson to give that would, unfortunately, be his last.
Dagenais, by Jean-Luc’s measure, had always been the classic example of the overworked, high-stress entrepreneur consumed by his business. In his late 40s, after a year of not exercising Deganais passed away after suffering a heart attack.
The loss of a man who had very much come to be a surrogate father made Jean-Luc value what is truly important in life.
“Now more than ever, I realized, the impact of stress,” he said. “Life is short, build a business that works but don’t stress out too much. No matter what, my wife and daughter are the most important things in my life.”
FFF has become a recognized name in the Ottawa market, as personal trainers who care about helping clients become accountable for their health, through exercise and nutrition. “Our model is now a holistic approach looking at stress, sleep, brain health, energy levels etc. We believe in training smarter not harder.” It’s a distinctive message that has resonated with consumers and allowed FFF to successfully compete against big fitness chains and other personal training gyms that focus on selling memberships at the expense of providing great service.
Jean-Luc credits it all to those individuals, especially Dagenais, who helped him believe in his own potential and find the courage to take the risk.
“Something that used to stop me was thinking I wasn’t smart enough to do it,” he said. “I was always the kid who had to work extra hard just to get passable results in school. Later on I realized that there is different kinds of smart”
Today, Jean-Luc relishes the opportunity to pay it forward as a mentor in his own right.
“I really get a thrill out of helping other people succeed while not losing sight of what matters most” he said.
With FFF, that means seeking out enterprising individuals with a passion for fitness and putting clients’ needs first, willing to partner with Jean-Luc to start different synergistic ventures in Ottawa. There’s a ton of a business opportunities that aligns itself well with FFF. Aging Canadian baby boomers are increasingly aware of how they must take better care of their health, and fad diets and home gym gadgets sold through infomercials just don’t cut it.
“You can make your dreams come true,” Jean-Luc said. “But you have to get over the fear and doubt and commit yourself to a dream, so you have no choice but to make it happen.”