In 2016, fitness expert Pat Divilly sold his gym business in Galway to devote more time to delivering his personal development and leadership training courses, both online and across the country.
As a teenager, my aim was to go into the fitness and training sector, working with athletes as a strength and conditioning coach. Unfortunately during school, I had told myself a limiting story that I wasn’t academic and reckoned that I’d never get enough points for a course like sport science. So as a fall back, I ended up doing an arts degree which was something that I had no real interest in. However, I made good use of my time in college also completing a diploma in personal training. In 2009, I went onto complete a Science Masters (Nutrition) in the UK, which from an employment perspective, probably wasn’t the best time to graduate from college.
Back in Ireland, I landed a job in a commercial gym in Dublin and worked there for a while to gain experience, before attempting to strike out on my own in Dublin. I was a bit young and naive about running a business and lacked a sufficient social network in Dublin. Ultimately I failed to make it work, which was definitely a big knock to my confidence at that stage and that’s when I decided to head home to Galway for support and to reassess my situation.
I was considering going back to college to study physiotherapy but needed to save some money. In 2012, I began offering fitness bootcamps on the local beach in Galway and the business just seemed to take-off from there. This time round, I was able to leverage my network in Galway which until that point was something I probably didn’t appreciate. In Dublin, I was training people on a one-to-one basis but at home I put more emphasis on community and being the best part of these people’s day. I started sharing results online on our Facebook page of transformations and updates about what was happening on the beach. It gained momentum and over the next few of months we increased to a couple of hundred clients, operating across four locations in the city working out of two parks, a beach and a martial arts studio. Then a year to the day after starting out, I opened a premises in Barna in Galway which became our base gym.
During that time a lot of people from my generation who had left for Australia were getting in touch asking how they could get involved. So I put together some online programs, recording workouts and enabling them to follow the same programme that we were doing in the gym. Soon I had up to six to seven hundred clients a month going through our online courses. I also put together meal plans and other resources and over the next two years the online business far surpassed the gym. We also gave bespoke advice to people on social media forums, making it all accessible and affordable for our clients. At the same time I wrote three books which helped drive people to my website and ultimately to the different online courses on offer.
There are also a lot better personal trainers and nutritionists in the country than me and I believe it’s not about what you know – it’s about how well you can put it across to someone, who may be intimidated by the information. As a trainer I was always asking myself ‘what do my clients have trouble with it?’ If it was nutrition I would strive to get better at that – the same with mind-set, anything they would struggle with – I saw as a potential product to offer.
The reason my clients seem to have been successful with me was because of the holistic approach I took, which brought me down the route of introducing forums, recipes and meal planners. I think when it comes to the way you look, feel and move – nutrition accounts for a huge percentage of it – and you can’t be in the fitness space without having a good knowledge of nutrition.
At the moment, speaking either online or at presentations takes up nearly most of my time. Since selling my gym business two years ago I have continued giving talks and seminars around personal development in my one day workshops, covering how to set goals and how to move towards what you want. The best presentations we see and the best talks we hear – are all really about the engagement – it’s not all about a slideshow and the speaker, but how they put ideas across. I also set up a new initiative called, ‘well in the workplace’ which delivers online training courses for employees within companies. It’s one of my latest ventures – where the employer pays for their staff to have access to our online programs in mindfulness, personal development, fitness and nutrition.
I carry out some consultancy with Centra, writing training and nutrition programmes for their ‘how to live well’ campaign. In addition, I am involved in ambassador work for Cotswold Outdoor, the outdoor clothing company.
When promoting my business, I find that video content works best. The Internet is becoming harder and more competitive all the time but I find LinkedIn particularly good at the moment. It’s where my potential corporate clients are and I find it less crowded than the other digital media channels.
I think one of the biggest things is to keep checking back on why you started. For me I wanted a certain lifestyle and the freedom to travel. Another area I’m always preaching on is that we only have a certain amount of energy and we need to pick a few things that we are going to concentrate on, rather than trying to do everything. I’m committed myself to that and my aim is to become world-class as a speaker – I’m not there yet but I will get there eventually.
By Brendan Byrne
Published: 15 July, 2019