One of the first questions people tend to ask me about She can. She did. goes along the lines of “how do you find the women that feature on this?” Usually my answer sounds a lot like: “oh I just stumbled across their company in an article I’ve read… I just found their page on Instagram… a friend recommended that I speak to one of their friends actually” and sometimes… just sometimes, “I just searched for female founders in Google..!”
Recently though (much to my surprise) I’ve added a fifth and my now favourite reason to my list of responses: “they reached out to me!”
Let me set the scene. About a month ago, I’d been sat at my desk frantically typing up my third interview when an email from a name that I didn’t recognise popped up on my screen. Up until this point, the only emails that came through to my inbox were in response to invitations that I had sent out myself so already intrigued by the subject line that simply read, ‘An Introduction’, I opened it and for the first time, sat back and read (with a giant grin on my face I must add) as the this week’s guest introduced herself and her business to me.
Fast forward four weeks and I’m walking down Earlsfield high street on my way to meet the lady in question- 31 year old Siobhan Middleton, Founder of Beattitude – London’s first, women’s only, low-cost fitness members club. I clearly look lost as a lady stops to ask if I need directions but after sending me on my way (thank you kind stranger), I arrive at the club, am escorted through to Siobhan’s office and after a quick sound check to make sure the recording can be heard over a circuit class taking place next door, our interview/natter gets underway.
She can. She did. I don’t know what I was expecting but this place is amazing!
SM. Thank you! At the beginning I worked on the interior space so the outside didn’t look so welcoming for about two years… when people walked in they’d be like “oh… I didn’t expect it to look like this, it’s so much better inside than it is outside!”
Siobhan’s initial email included photos of the club’s transformation. With the help of family and friends, she renovated what was once a derelict, white space into the professional and vibrant space that you see today.
SC.SD. It is funny how much things change as businesses grow though…
SM. I have learnt so much! Jo and Monica (members of Siobhan’s team) always say my story is like a book so chapter twelve was ‘how to unblock drains’, then there’s chapter 41….they’re like “when you do your TED talk you can talk about this!”
SC.SD. What chapter are you on now?!
SM. I don’t even know! One of the times she was like “chapter 100, how to market; chapter 320, how to build systems; chapter 400; stand in nanny” because one of the nannies called in sick..!
SC.SD. Did you plan for it to get so big that you needed a nanny facility?
SM. To be honest, when I first started out I didn’t realise how much it would grow in the time that it has. It’s only been live for two and half years, we’re running out of space and we’ve got the online platform about to launch too… I just didn’t know!
SC.SD. It’s so exciting though. Let’s go back to the beginning then, have you always been a PT?
With a degree in dance from Liverpool John Moores University, Siobhan spent the first few years post-graduation touring the UK with various dance companies but left the industry shortly after to become a personal trainer for a well-known chain of gyms…
SM. No, I was a dancer prior to getting into the fitness industry. At times that was a hard world to live in.
SC.SD. Did you have to completely retrain then?
SM. Yes. I had to re-train to become a fitness instructor which meant I could work in a gym, but not as a PT. At the gym I first worked at, you could actually call yourself a PT and run PT sessions under their training qualification but the minute you leave there you’re no longer qualified. I didn’t like it at all… I felt like a bit of a fraud so I went to train properly and left. We had to work awful hours for awful money… you’ll hear a lot of the girls say it but you basically become a glorified cleaner- cleaning the equipment whilst you try to get clients.
Despite the fact that the country were in the midst of a recession, a disgruntled eight months later, Siobhan plucked up the courage to set up her own PT business.
SC.SD. So what’s this 2008-09?
SM. Yes, everyone was like go and get another job but I pushed forward with it. I moved to Kensington to do my PT and from there got several female clients but they couldn’t always afford a PT, or they got pregnant or on top of their training with me I’d suggest they do something else but that can be really expensive…
So there were certain situations where I realised ‘there’s clearly a big hole that needs to be filled here’… If you look at what’s on offer for women, you’ve got your go hard or go home classes, you’ve got your cross fit, you’re pricey classes in town, your gym memberships, your outdoor bootcamps… but there’s not one place they can get everything from at a cost that’s affordable and that they can bring their babies to too unless they go to a gym that doesn’t have that community feel or they have to pay extra for childcare.
So… I set this place up!
SC.SD. Amazing! So you had your ‘lightbulb moment’, what steps did you take to translate that into Beattitude?
SM. I had classes dotted over the place and used different gyms to test my theory of low, medium and high intensity classes… built up a little following and then sent all the Mums out on a mission because they used to wander around with their prams and just said “whoever finds the venue, gets three months free membership!” so one of the Mum’s found this place!
SC.SD. Did she actually come in and do the site visit for you!?
Siobhan nods coyly!
SC.SD. That’s hilarious! What about your pitches because I remember from your initial email, you mentioned that you had to raise rounds of investment. Talk me through that process.
SM. Erm, looking back now I probably prepared so badly! I built a business plan with all the figures, I included five year projections, all my reasons why, surveys from my current clients etc… Then because a lot of my clients were in Kensington I was mixing with a lot of my now- mentors. My ex-clients have high end businesses…I used to talk to them about my ideas and they had contacts who had contacts. Then I was asked to speak at a ‘Women in Business’ conference in the city for a law firm. The Partner of the law firm came over to me at the end and just said “I’ve got some people interested”
SC.SD. Wow! Did you go into that knowing that there were people in the room actively looking to invest then?
SM. No! I think had I been told at the time I would have been sooo nervous! One of my clients asked me to speak because she knew the model I was trying to build into the business was all to do with mentoring women. So I will mentor Jo and Jo mentors the trainers so they can move up the scale quicker. They were trying to do that in the law firm so wanted to hear the fitness perspective!
SC.SD. So the person that was interested at the event is the person that went on to invest?
SM. Yes! They’re very clever in the beginning. They give you just enough to build this place but not quite enough! I opened this place with £0 in the bank!
SC.SD. What did that feel like?
SM. Petrifying! It was just me and to fund this place I was just relying on savings and still running my PT business in Kensington. Looking back now I just had no idea how much a business like this needed structures and systems. My Dad handed me a book called ‘The E Myth’ and said I needed to read it – I highly recommend it. It’s all about business and structure so instantly when I set up I started thinking about the systems I needed. The payment systems, the training systems, If I got unwell, what happens etc… Basically the idea is that you build a structure so that if the penny goes in here, it would drop through the system and come out here.
SC.SD. I’ll have to read it! I take it one of those plans was marketing related… how did you get people through the door in the early days?
SM. I did it on a referral basis so if they referred a friend they’d get a month free… so some people got a free year but I got 12 clients at the same time! I took someone on about 3 months in even though I’d said in the business plan it wouldn’t be for 6-7 months because it grew so quickly and after a year, we had 5 staff which I definitely hadn’t planned on!
SC.SD. How did you get the girls on board?
SM. If we put an ad out, there’s quite a lot of interest but if someone actively comes in and says they’re interested… they’re a bit more proactive, interested in the brand and the client basis, I’m more likely to hire them. It’s what a lot of the girls here did. I was very lucky to find Jo who is an excel wizard and a PT which is very rare and then Monica who’s head receptionist is also a journalist and an English teacher so I’ve got someone that can do proof reading too!
The first thing my investor says to me though is “How are your staff? How are your staff?” My clients and my staff are my main priority!
SC.SD. It’s obvious just looking around that you’ve really thought about all the small details for your clients but how do you keep on top of their priorities?
SM. See my investor also always asks “have you done the survey, have you done the survey…?” If we ever change something we chuck a survey out and we’re always surprised at what comes back. I’m like “they will definitely want a class at this time” and the survey comes back and I’m like “wow, I was so wrong about that!”
Our members are really good though because they can see the business growing so we get 100-120 responses every time. As soon as we ask, they’re on it.
SC.SD. They’re really invested in it then! Do you get to know your clients or are there strict boundaries?
SM. The one thing you tend to find in gyms is that the staff don’t know you or its cliquey and I really didn’t want that so in here we do a one to one with our clients every 8 weeks for an assessment, we do new member meet ups and there’s a social group so we host winter and summer socials where we do workouts here and then everyone brings prosecco and food! We also do challenges… they get so competitive over those!
SC.SD. I can imagine! With an all-girl environment, does it ever get bitchy?
SM. Not at all! A lot of people used to ask me that when I was dancing, I used to live with 9 girls… but I find the smaller the group of girls the more bitchy it could become. The team are really understanding and the way it’s structured in terms of staff is “you give I give” so if someone is unwell someone else jumps in. No questions asked.
It’s just never been bitchy, it’s never even crossed my mind! Even with members.
SC.SD. That’s really good. You’ve got so many different classes available here. Do you get help planning them all?
SM. Yes so as well as having business mentors, I have fitness mentors and I have osteo mentors too so I get a lot of ideas from them. It just helps to get a variety of viewpoints because I could say “I know what I’m doing” when actually there’s so many other ideas out there.
I then have regular meetings with Jo (the studio manager) and James (Siobhan’s osteo mentor). She brings some ideas, James brings some ideas, I bring some ideas and together we build it. It just helps to ensure that there’s constant diversity and we rotate the core classes every three months so the yoga programs are changed slightly, circuits are mixed up etc….
SC.SD. So you’re constantly having to evolve then. What would you say then is the biggest challenge with the business?
SM. With the business or with the job?
SC.SD. Let’s do both!
SM. Ok! With the business, it’s to make sure that as a company we give women our individual opinions on exercise in such a way that they don’t feel like they’re being pulled in different directions. Because you can go somewhere and someone says “this is the right way to squat” then someone else can say the complete opposite…
In terms of my job, the most difficult thing is that I’ve had to decide very quickly what my role is and it’s always changing. It used to be that I was the fitness instructor…
In the early days, Siobhan worked at the club 7 days a week running classes single handedly…
SM. Then I became studio manager, then I had to sort out the systems and accounting and now it’s marketing, corporate governance, staff progression, trying to grow our social media platforms and then launch new studios and our online platform too!
SC.SD. Not much then..! And a lot of that really isn’t your background is it?
SM. (Laughing) Not at all!
SC.SD. How do you feel about the fact that it’s evolved like that? Because I assume that your passion first and foremost is fitness?
SM. My passion has changed somewhat I suppose. I’m still very passionate about fitness, nutrition and building women’s confidence, but less on an individual basis (as in one-to-one PT sessions) and more on a wider scale in the way of building Beattitude, what it can offer women and building my trainers knowledge to help distribute that to more women… If you ask the girls they’d say “we love Siobhan being on the studio floor but if you listen to her behind reception, she’s so impatient!” It’s funny!
I’m continuously learning though. I’m about to go into meetings with some real big fish who are now on the board of directors so if I don’t produce the numbers, they’re going to ask why and I can’t just say, “oh I’ve just had a bad month!”
SC.SD. Do you feel like you’re taken seriously at those meetings?
SM. Yes! They’re my investors contacts so they’re generally just sit down, round the table meetings…
SC.SD. Ok so it’s not like in the movies where you’re standing up with a PowerPoint and there’s a boardroom staring back at you with blank faces?!
SM. No! These are people who are genuinely interested in your business and care about making things work… they get excited about it! If they’re harsh it’s because you could have done better, “why didn’t you see that coming?” etc…I’m not frightened to contradict them though! I will happily say “no you’re wrong!”
In one of my first ever meetings though, I’d prepared all the numbers in a big document, I worked straight through the night and went straight to the meeting with no sleep and they didn’t open a single bit of paper… They just said “right, we’ll read that later. Tell us about the numbers” and I just though oh my god, I’ve got to know the numbers off by heart as well!? But they really do expect you to know them. What were your profits last month? Last year? Etc…
SC.SD. It sounds like an episode of The Apprentice! I take it you’ve learned from that and haven’t had the same experience since?
SM. I’ve never done that again! Luckily I’d been up all night so knew the numbers… had I prepared a few days before I doubt I would have remembered!
SC.SD. I bet! Let’s move on to social media because it’s littered nowadays with fitness accounts, PT’s, celebrities showing off their training programmes… what’s your approach to social media?
SM. I can’t remember who I was talking to but someone said “would you rather 600 followers and 1000 members or 1000 members and 600 followers?” I’ve surveyed the girls and a lot of them follow accounts but don’t necessarily believe it.
We haven’t branched into social media properly yet because it is a bit of a minefield to master. We give information through Facebook though…. there’s a lot of contradicting advice out there and generally that’s because it’s not related to your specific goals and what works for your body. I don’t think we’ll ever be one of those ‘go fast go home’ social media campaigns; it will be series of information for women tailored to different problems so they can choose what works best for them.
SC.SD. That sounds really useful! Have you had any moments along the way where you’ve felt like you haven’t been taken seriously? Where you’ve told someone what you do and they just say…
I roll my eyes…
SC.SD. “Oh right…sounds… interesting.”
SM. So many! When you say you do women’s fitness, people think it’s fluffy! Even now when people come in, they’ll say “Yeh but I want to work out hard” and I have to say (she whispers) “…we do work out hard!” There’s a real stereotype around women’s fitness.
Also, I think initially before we rebranded and it was called ‘Switch’ and not ‘Beattitude’, the website wasn’t great and the branding wasn’t very strong so I wasn’t forthcoming about saying “oh go to our website” because it just wasn’t as slick as others in the fitness world. Now we’ve got a really strong brand and team so if someone says “what do you do?” or asks me any questions about the company, I know what to say now so it’s a lot easier for me to say “screw you” basically if they insinuate any ‘fluffy’ business!
SC.SD. So you’re more proud of it now?
SM. It’s not that I wasn’t proud of it then I don’t think… I think I was just unsure of my abilities to produce a business initially so now I’m much more confident in what I do.
SC.SD. So you should be! So many of the women I’ve interviewed so far cite exercise as their way to switch off. When you own a gym, what does time for yourself look like?
SM. If you ask my staff they’ll probably say that I work 24/7! I’ve just taken my first holiday though…
SC.SD. Oh yes, I remember you saying! Did you enjoy it?
SM. Oh my god it was so good! I slept, I ate, I slept, I sunbathed….!
I used to be really good at organising my day and my energy but then as things grew really fast, I lost that. The problem with having your own business is that you don’t have set hours and sometimes it can run way past the necessary hours you should be doing…. I can work 80… 90… 100 hours a week sometimes. I cap it now by giving myself a start and an end time and allowing a slight deviation past that if necessary. You’ll get brain fog, you get tired so I go for a walk and then come back to it or I meditate…
SC.SD. Are you ever tempted to join in the classes here?
SM. I did a couple of times but the girls got really competitive with me so I couldn’t focus on my own training! When I work out I like to shut the world out and have a bit of me time but I just can’t do that anymore so I go elsewhere now!
SC.SD. To a different gym?!
SM. Yeh, I dip in and out! It’s good research! I get to find out what they’re doing, what competitions they’re running etc..! I also love paddle boarding…
SC.SD. In London!?
SM. Yes I go in Canary Wharf! It’s great for the legs and core! Because I am so busy here, I try and see friends when I can but because I decide so many things here, I tend to let my friends decide what we do. They just say “we’re going here, let’s go” and I’m like ok!
SC.SD. How did they along with your family react to this venture?
SM. Erm…. my family didn’t really expect anything else from me, whatever they say I can’t do I usually end up doing! Not that they tell me I can’t do something..! My Mum always says that you can never predict what I’m going to do though. Apparently when I was younger I wanted to be a cleaner.
SM. I know! My friends are all really supportive too. The amount of times I’ve missed socials when I was setting this up and Dad would do all the DIY work during the renovation… you don’t realise until you start something like this up what family and friends actually do for you.
SC.SD. 100% What about dating? Do you have time for that?
SM. It’s funny… initially when I set up, for a year and a half I lived and breathed this business. I didn’t really date, I didn’t really socialise but it became so apparent to me that it was very, very necessary for me to get out and get a grasp on things other than the business. There’s a lot more to work so yes, I’ve started dating!
SC.SD. And how do they react when you tell them that you own this place?
SM. I’ve never really had a negative response. If I really think about it though, I think that the guys I go for have changed slightly since starting the business. I probably go for guys that have a bit of get up and go now, something that they can… not teach me but a different perspective I guess whereas if you’d have asked my friends a few years ago, we’d walk in to a bar and they’d be like that’s her type just there!
SC.SD. Amazing! Have you ever had the impression where anyone’s been intimidated?
SM. Not that I’ve dated but there have been times where I’ve gone out and started talking to people and you see the puff go up on the back of their neck but I don’t know if that’s in my mind?!I’m reading their reactions the way I perceive them but they might just be having a bad day or something!!
SC.SD. Perhaps… it’s an interesting one!
SM. Dating is always interesting! It’s always the first thing girls talk about!
SC.SD. Love a bit of gossip! Are there any women out there that you look up to?
SM. I don’t really have an icon… I’ve never been the girl that gets obsessed with Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise for instance…
SC.SD. Does anyone get obsessed with Tom Cruise!?
SM. Haha! I just don’t think any one person inspires me, I’m inspired by a lot of women but it tends to be parts of their personality that make me think ‘gosh I like that’ or ‘ooo I want to be more like that.’ How someone has dealt with something as opposed to how I might have handled that situation…..
SC.SD. Like how patient they are for instance?!
SM. Yes haha! But I don’t think that’s ever going to change! Actually it’s something I’m sure my investors would say. If they’re trying to explain something to me, the first thing I’ll say is “just give it to me, I’ll read it and then I’ll talk to you later.” I just want to get on with it!
SC.SD. Do you take their criticism well?
SM. Yes you’ve got to. I think it’s instilled from dance. You were never constantly at the top and it would really egg me on to work a bit harder. You were always being told to better this, better that… Initially I found it hard taking criticism for this place because I was so insecure about what I was doing but I remember one of my clients in Kensington said something to me last year and all my worries went away.
SC.SD. Go on…
SM. He just said “Look Siobhan, business isn’t a sprint. If you can get your head around business as a hurdling race, you’ll be fine. Get over one hurdle, run free for a bit, get over another hurdle, run free a bit more…” Suddenly it was like flicking a switch. No one had ever explained it to me so simply.
SC.SD. Neither, I love that!
SM. It just wiped away all of my insecurities. There will always be cash flow problems at some point no matter how big the business gets and it takes time to make profit… it’s never straight running.
SC.SD. But it’s continuously striving to go forward?
SM. Yes so we’ve just put our corporate governance in place, we’re working towards a 5 year plan, a 4 year plan, a 3 year plan etc… We have people crunching the numbers constantly so now the aim is to get business number two online and for me to step out and someone else to step in. Prove that it works then build the same model elsewhere and then go for serious investment… we’re almost there!
Basically, if you said to me tomorrow, “can I take over your business?” I could say “here’s the manual, off you go!” It’s one of the things The E-myth teaches you. If you have a business that’s not producing money but you have some seriously strong systems and strong procedures and people can see that, they’ll invest in the systems and the model regardless. That’s why a part of everyone’s training here is if you don’t do your job this person is going to suffer and so on. Equally, they know that if the business is doing well, they’ll get rewarded well for it.
SC.SD. With those systems in place then – last question – is this what you want to be doing forever?
SM. One of the questions the investors asked me before they invested was “do you want to have a couple of studios, go on holiday a few times a year and put your feet up or do you want to make this into a bigger thing” and I said “I want to make this into a bigger thing” and he went “right… you can go now.”
We’ve got the online platform that’s launching later this year, there’s plans for other studios, we have a clothing line that we want to launch as well…The aim of the game in a business is that you build a business that you plan to sell and work backwards. Whether I do that or not yet, I don’t know…
SC.SD. To be confirmed?!
SM. Just write, “Tbc, dot dot dot..!”
After messing around with the camera – all the while very aware that Siobhan’s one self-confessed impatient woman so I need to be quick (!) – we snap a few shots and I leave more grateful than ever that she stumbled across She can. She did. when she did last month.
In my opinion, you don’t build a loyal following unless you’re damn good at your job and it’s clear from meeting Siobhan that she’s exactly that.
She identifies what women want, listens to them as that changes and then works her socks off to deliver the results. She holds her own in business meetings (which despite not being like the movies, let’s face it, still sound scary..!), she isn’t afraid to admit that the company won’t evolve if it relies on her knowledge alone and she’s created a structure within her team that serves to empower them. Plus, she’s designed it in such a way that if she walked out the door tomorrow and never looked back, it would continue to thrive without her, one squat at a time.
It’s no wonder to me why investors took note.
What she has built in Beattitude and continues to build is not just a fitness club but what seems to be the start of a fitness empire. I’m genuinely excited to see where she goes next.
For more information on Beattitude, visit the website here.