Leading personal trainer Karl Henry talks to John Kennedy about entrepreneurship, building a digital platform and leading a business and family through the Covid crisis.
When the going gets tough, the tough knuckle down. For Karl Henry, one of Ireland’s most highly recognised and leading personal trainers, his personal experience of leading his business and family through the Covid-19 pandemic speaks to his own work and fitness ethic: always have goals.
A recognisable face from radio and TV programmes like Operation Transformation as well as his books and podcasts, Henry began life as an entrepreneur in his early 20s. “You could say fitness was in the family as my dad has a well-known gym in Dublin.”
“It may come as a surprise to people, I’m not naturally fit. I have to work as hard at it as anybody else”
Six months before Ireland went into lockdown, Henry was already working on developing a virtual side to his business of one-to-one training as well as corporate training and when the crisis hit he was able to successfully bring his clients online through FaceTime and Zoom.
Henry starts his working day at 6am, training many of his clients before they start work as well as running classes. “The sessions are exactly the same. By the time the pandemic began in Ireland I had already been through the issues of how to structure a product and had it fine-tuned. The result are as good as anything we would accomplish in the gym, the weight loss targets and fitness goals work exactly the same way.”
He applies his gym ethos to his business and personal financial goals: “The biggest things you need are goals and targets.”
Goals + Actions = Success
“Every year I always try to sit down and look to the future and understand what is coming down the line”
His foray into business began when he was about 23 and when he was studying for a degree in Sport Science and Sports Management at UCD. “I was asked to train someone in their home because they were too busy to get to the gym and I was recommended to others and before I knew it, I was driving to people’s home to give private one-to-one fitness training. So, while I was in college the business was growing quietly thanks to word-of-mouth referrals.”
A stint at business college served Henry well in terms of formulating a strategy in terms of building up a viable business based on sessions. “I had also set a target of having a fitness book published within five years. So everything boils down to targets and goals.”
Word of Henry’s work reached Social & Personal magazine and he was invited to write a column. His fame began to grow and before he knew it he hired an agent and soon was part of the Operation Transformation team and a regular guest on the late Gerry Ryan’s radio show on 2FM.
Now a household name for fitness and five books later, Henry has built a thriving business focused on one-to-one training as well as corporate training programmes.
“The corporate wellness work is very different but exciting because the numbers of people you can generate to watch the sessions can be pretty large. In one recent session we had 2,500 people watching.
“It is a fascinating time for wellness because all of a sudden the accessibility has been transformed through media like Zoom. And it was this gap I was developing months before the pandemic began but it happened to fit the market need, faster than I expected.”
Henry does the majority of his work from a standing desk in a gym in his home. “It may come as a surprise to people, I’m not naturally fit. I have to work as hard at it as anybody else. So, when I’m giving advice and guidance, I’m not preaching to people because I’m just the same. The food recommendations are exactly what I will eat myself. I personally consult with my clients before they come on board to make sure I can deliver what they are looking for.”
Looking to the future, Henry believes that while the pandemic has created the perfect storm for people to try and stay healthy and fit, across society a bigger issue lies in healthy ageing. “I think healthy ageing is where it is at. We are seeing all the impacts of age. Healthwise we have people in their 20s presenting with issues you’d expect to see in 30 and 40 year-olds and in people in their 30s even more so. This is because of life and what we eat and how we move. And how we live today is actually making us older prematurely. In the UK the government and the NHS are driving a strategy to achieve weight loss for the country and it is very likely we will see something similar here.”
His attitude to innovation matches his penchant for goal-setting. “Every year I always try to sit down and look to the future and understand what is coming down the line. Three years ago I figured out there would be a need in the market for fitness podcasts to deliver the kind of content I write about in the Irish Independent.
“With everything I do in business, I try to do the best I can and we are already hurtling towards 3.9m listeners. My initial foray into digital training came about when someone in the US who followed me on Instagram asked would I do an online class for them and it worked. Today most of my classes are delivered from my home studio via my 27-inch iMac and HD cameras and mics, but I worked hard to make sure the set-up was perfect. So instead of going to people’s homes one-by-one as I would have done more than a decade ago, I can do it virtually and have just as much of an impact.”
At the end of the day, whatever Henry achieves, you can be guaranteed he assessed it first and set out clear goals. “I write out the strengths and weaknesses and prepare and prepare. I then follow a time-frame. But you have to truly believe in it first if you are to have a decent chance for it to work.
“But six or seven months into this strategy and we’re flooded, it’s been busier than ever.”
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By John Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published: 8 October, 2020