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Self-Employed Fitness

Damien A. Joyner, JD, CPT, ICEI is a fitness professional and Owner of Incremental Fitness in San Diego, California. Incremental Fitness is focused on helping the active aging adult move with more strength, balance, agility and overall confidence. Before venturing into self-employment with his own fitness business, Damien’s past includes an international relations degree, non-profit work and law school.

When and why did you join the NASE?
I joined the NASE in September of 2020. During that year I was like many pivoting to other things because of covid-related restrictions to stay at home. I had projects to chip away at as well as thinking of other ways I could be productive and make the best use of having more free time. I found NASE and knew it was important for me to be a member of an organization that could have resources and information relevant to me as a small business owner.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?
I kept circling fitness and decided to step into it after a friend at the time suggested that it would be a good fit for me because of my personality and because I enjoyed the benefits of exercise myself. My focus on my own fitness is for the performance aspect of exercise, as I enjoy training for athletic or endurance events such as half-marathons and see how my hard work pays off. That personal focus is interwoven in how I work with clients. Although I do not have a before and after story in regards to my health, I have overcome other obstacles and have the understanding and empathy to help others, challenge them just enough and sprinkle in some humor as well.

When and why did you start your business?
I started my business early 2016 after I decided to step into the fitness industry. At that point it was a name and a fledgling website and an idea in its infancy. I could have worked at a big box gym but I was not interested in that kind of environment. At the same time, I was well aware that I needed to learn from those that were successful in the industry as well as get experience working with as many people as possible. I gained experience leading group classes in various sites and worked at a boutique gym to gather my experience and find clarity as to what my niche would be in the industry.

Over time and with the experience I gleaned, I understood who I wanted to work with and where. It was perfect timing that I found Werk Fitness, a space for independent trainers like myself to work with clients. It is a better financial choice for me as I have a well-equipped space with the weight of keeping the place running on our owner. Because of that I have a home base and only pay a monthly rate instead of sharing my session fees with the facility.

How do you market your business?
The primary way I market is through my website, incrementalfit.com. The website contains content I create that includes blog posts, instructional videos and other helpful information. Aside from my website I do share content on other platforms namely Instagram and LinkedIn. I also repost my blog posts to medium.com as well. Because of my work gaining attention I have been interviewed for articles for platforms such as American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Magazine. I also have ongoing collaborations with the American Council on Exercise and I have been featured in IDEA Health and Fitness Association’s publications. I am very grateful that I have had such platforms to broadcast the message that fitness has no age limit and displaying clients as those walking the talk. I don’t take for granted any opportunity to work with leaders in the industry or being an advocate for a population I care about.

What challenges have you faced in your business?
The challenges I have faced involve figuring out my niche, building my website, time management and finding clients.

Niche 
When I entered the industry, advice always seemed to include the importance of finding my niche. In other words, instead of focusing on the general public I should specialize. It will help set me apart from other fitness professionals and narrows down the population I am focused on. It was overwhelming trying to figure it out because at the same time I was learning from great trainers how to best work with clients and also figuring out what my training style was. Like anything trying to force it did not work. Once I decided to focus instead on learning how to be a good trainer the clarity came over time as to my niche. After realizing that my target demographic was the 50 and up crowd I was able to better focus my education and framing of how I wanted to present myself and attract clients.

Website
My website has gone through many phases of development. Some phases were learning how to design and set up my website. Other phases happened after moments of clarity on my message and how I wanted to present myself. I built it on WordPress (WP) with the majority of the work done myself. What helped overcome some challenges of design was looking at other websites to see how they presented their content and themselves. I also studied different WP templates as well. Also, there was much trial and error until I settled on what was a good first phase. After changes on the same template I realized that the site was not easy to navigate and it needed a complete rebuild. I did contemplate paying a website designer to overhaul it but I could not justify the price tag. I opted to pay for a premium template and completely reconstruct the website myself. I set aside a weekend and cleared my schedule. It was challenging but I like what the website has evolved to now. What is a plus is that I can edit or work on the website any time I want. I don’t have to reach out to a third party to do it for me and be on their timeline. It will continue to evolve and grow as I do.

Time
I don’t just work with clients or work on their programming. I have other projects I am working on aside from putting up social media posts. I play to my strength of writing and have some things I am working on. Of course, like many I wear many hats to get things done. Every week or day can be different on how I check off things on the to-do-list. I also am proud to work part time at the University of California, San Diego in the WorkStrong Program, helping employees injured on the job move better after injury on the job. I am there for a few hours a few mornings of the week. With all of that in mind, it can be a challenge to be productive but also making time to reset and breathe. I have overcome that battle by trying my best, to take time to practice good self-care, good time management and taking time for myself. I also have plans to hand off some of the tasks that I do to others so I am more freed up and have less things to multitask.

Exposure leading to clients
Like anyone who is in a service industry there is a drive to find and keep a client base. A challenge I had was not seeing any results from spending money on paid marketing on Facebook, other online platforms as well as passing out flyers. Between advice from someone I respect in the industry and some reflection I focused on things in my control, doing good work and letting people know I was doing good work. I have had success from my posts and word of mouth but I am still figuring out what works. Thus, I have and still am working to overcome such challenges by putting out the best content I can which has evolved over time. I share the success my clients have and empower any individual whether a potential client or not to train for the life they want to live. I am very mindful that gaining clients is only part of my focus. The recognition I mentioned previously along with working at UCSD are a big deal to me. Thus, I have gotten better at focusing on all of my accomplishments and knowing that success is not all about getting clients. I also have other things I put my time and energy into that fulfill me.

Do you have any employees?
At this moment I do not have any employees. There are still some things I need to have in line before collaboration is on the table. The future could hold adding people to help me train and empower my target demographic. Never say never.

What’s your schedule like, what’s a typical day for you?
Often when others are still sleeping I work out (early mornings), then the rest of the day is ahead of me. Every day can be different for my work schedule. I may be working on writing projects I am chipping away at or interview opportunities. As I mentioned I am at UCSD a few mornings a week. I am also, of course, working with my own clients as well during the week. Because of all that, my days vary and I love it.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
The best thing about being self-employed is the space to create something that reflects my vision, values and personality.

What’s the best compliment you have ever received from a client?
Oh, that’s a tough one. They are all the best. If I had to pick one, it’s one of the stories I have about clients bragging about their independence. Specifically, my one client Ruth, who is over 80 and has no intention of slowing down. One day a week she works at a farmers market and sets up and breaks down largely without any help. When she was breaking down her tent and carrying things, a helpful gentleman offered to help her and also told her that he was a trainer. She responded that she can do it on her own and that she has a personal trainer. The reason that makes me so happy is that her ability to continue to do things on her own is the absolute core of why I do what I do with this great demographic. It’s exciting and a byproduct of the hard work she and any other of her peers do in the gym that shows others that reaching some prescribed age does not mean not being able to physically do the things you enjoy doing or have to do.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?
Get advice from as many people in that profession about what you want to do. Read helpful tips from industry leaders in that profession. Look at how those leaders present themselves and look at what resonates with you. At the same time notice any aspects of what they do you don’t want to mirror. Above all, when seeking advice or direction don’t feel like you have to follow everyone’s advice or be like everyone else.

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?
For me the main benefit is being a part of a larger group of like-minded individuals that can look to an organization that disseminates information and tools with our interests in mind.

Any other information you would like to share?
It is never too late to reinvent yourself. You are never too old to make a career change. I’m 43 years old and am thrilled that I am doing what I feel as if I am meant to do. It took moments of clarity over time to eventually connect the dots. On that note, clarity for me came more often after coming out of personal and professional struggles and low points. Part of the force that moved my clarity to the surface was self-care. Thanks to a wonderful therapist I have been better at things like not getting in my own way, showing myself more compassion and letting the good come in. She has been a big part of my success. The more I do that and other things, time after time it has been pivotal to moving forward in my journey.

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Courtesy of NASE.org
https://www.nase.org/about-us/media-relations/News/nase-in-the-news/2021/09/24/self-employed-fitness