From Hobby to Global Business – Industry Change Episode 9

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This week Richard sits down with long term collegue and friend to COM – Dan Henderson, Co-Founder of Functional Training Institute in Sydney. Richard discusses the evolution of the functional training space from it’s infancy 5 years ago to growing to become a leading fitness style in Australia. Whereas 5 years ago the industry was still in it’s infancy now you’d be hard pressed to find a gym that doesn’t have functional training equipment.

Dan and Richard talk about the challenges for new fitness professionals coming into the market. Particularly having to be a master of your craft as well as business – marketing, sales, admin, accounting, system and so much more. It’s a real challenge for fitness professionals and sometimes it’s OK to work for someone else for a while, so you’re not so stressed trying to be a master of everything.

With more and more people consuming digital content, it’s easy to see why so many people want to move education fully online. But the stats for online learning are alarming. Richard and Dan discuss instead the blended model of learning that embraces both digital and face to face learning styles to achieve the maximum success for participants.

Finally Dan talk to Richard about what he considers his keys to success as he’s grown a successful, international business and why he’s still as driven as passionate today as he was 5 years ago.

Listen to the full episode to hear more.

PS. To join Functional Training Institute and learn cutting edge skills from industry leaders to help you become a world class coach at their annual summit, click here.


Episode Transcript

Dan H:                     What is our vision? What is our why? What do we stand for? What’s the impact that we want to have in the world? How do we want to see the world? So once we answer that, then every decision, every choice we make, it’s measured about seeing that realisation of that vision.

Richard T:             Welcome back to Industry Change. It’s Richard Toutounji, co-founder of COM Marketing. Today, I’ve got a very special guest and we’re talking all about fitness, functional movement today and I got Dan Henderson. Welcome.

Dan H:                     Great to be here, mate. Thanks for having me.

Richard T:             Thank you. Well, Dan, I was looking at my [inaudible 00:00:46] and five years ago, we did an interview just similar to this one and basically, I had less hair and you looked a lot younger. Today, I wanted to really go over what you’ve been working over probably over the last five years since we talked on camera. It’s all around functional, your own Functional Training Institute. You co-founded that with Tarek. I wanted to find out from you, what’s been happening in this industry? The fitness industry’s got bigger and bigger over the years. So where have you now formed your alliances and what are you doing now within the industry in this functional space?

Dan H:                     Yeah, beautiful. I mean a lot has changed then, mate, just both for us physically, but also within that space as well. So five years ago, look, it was really a little hobby-based business. I had my facility. Tarek had his facility. We were Australia’s first ever accredited kettle bell course and we were just teaching that in Sydney. I guess where we’ve developed and grown over the last five years in particular has … We’ve identified a number of other needs in the market, so what trainers need to really magnify their impact and to be better coaches. So now we have accredited coaches in mobility, ropes, barbells, rehab, so a number of other spaces as well. We’ve expanded our courses beyond the Australian fitness market. So we’ve now gone primarily into the Pacific Rim, but also Europe as well, Canada, so about 16 different countries we’ll deliver into this year. We’ll be in front of about 4,000 fitness professionals.

The industry has really changed. Five years ago, functional training was very, very, very new. It was very much in its infancy. Not many places had kettle bells or ropes or anything like that and now, you can just see it’s absolutely booming. Everywhere you look, there’s a functional kind of facility or studio. These new brands have popped up, F45. You’ve got 12 Rounds. You’ve got Orangetheory Fitness and so, a lot of people are really embracing it. So it’s been quite a good journey and it’s been great to see that industry evolve.

Richard T:             You have definitely evolved in the process of teaching and educating the market of personal trainers and fitness professionals. How has Functional Training Institute, FTI evolved their teachings to actually impact what you’re saying and actually teach these fitness professionals? How has the teachings changed?

Dan H:                     Yeah, I guess I’ll answer that two ways. Number one, our content is always evolving. So even though we designed our courses eight years ago, we’re always iterating and updating and innovating our content so it’s really, really ahead of the game. The funny thing is the content that we were teaching eight years ago, we knew what we were saying was really well substantiated and now, the research is coming out. So now, we’re providing a lot of that rationale, that research, but we’re also looking ahead and going where’s the industry in two, three, four, five years’ time and ensuring our content is preparing fitness professionals for that phase.

The second part of that is we’ve changed the way that we deliver our content as well so that has evolved. We’re embracing technology, particularly learning management systems, to really expand our reach. So we’ve spent a lot of … This year in particular, investing in a great learning management system, a lot of resources, a lot of time so we can reach more people in a blended model of learning as well.

Richard T:             Do you think that’s for new trainers coming up, is that what they’re expecting, the blended model learning, the online platforms? Is that what they’re after?

Dan H:                     Yeah. Look, I mean nothing ever replaces face to face and so, we still believe that’s very, very important and it’s an essential feature of our education delivery and what we stand for as an organisation. We won’t move everything online. I think that place is, when you look at the online learning statistics, it’s very, very flawed. So what we believe is a blended model where we can deliver a lot of the theory, a lot of the rationale behind what we’re doing, a lot of the principles and philosophies. Then they can come in. They can actually experience it first hand and get great feedback from us. Through using both of these mediums in the blended model, we can deliver a better overall impact as well. I mean how people learn, we’re watching more video than we’ve ever watched in our lives. People are consuming more information digitally than they ever have and so, we need to tap into that as well.

Richard T:             Awesome. So let’s talk about the fitness industry specifically and I know you deal with fitness industries all around every country that you go to and you guys do travel quite a lot.

Dan H:                     Extensively.

Richard T:             All the time. So let’s talk about the Australian fitness industry. I mean if we look at the general population, we’re still having quite a large obesity epidemic out there and however, we still have more knowledge and teaching and courses that fitness professionals are doing. Are we impacting who we need to be impacting at the moment?

Dan H:                     Yeah. That’s a big question and if I’ve got to answer that, I would probably be in government in terms of how to try to get people more active and healthy, but as a fitness professional in our fitness industry, I think what a lot of us are doing is we’re competing for the same 19%. So approximately 19% of the population is exercising regularly and is a member of a gym or a facility. So a lot of our businesses or fitness businesses right now are competing for that same 19% and so, we’re seeing these people quite transient and gym hopping and everything else.

The power is how can we tap into the other 81%? I believe there is some places that are really starting to do it. One particular business that I coach, he prides himself on being the most welcoming facility. So for people that are too intimidated, too scared to walk into a gym, he’s created an environment, a culture where that difference is supported. So he’s really targeting the people that wouldn’t even look at a mainstream gym.

Richard T:             That’s great.

Dan H:                     So the more businesses that do this, the better. The other part of that I think would be really identifying where our population is going and some of the [power of the niches 00:07:13]. So we know we got an ageing population. So can we provide more and more services to this ageing population that may not have been in a gym previously or they may not be in gyms? So if you actually narrow in and have a look for some opportunities, I feel like we can activate some of that 81% as well.

Richard T:             Yeah, that’s great insights because it is interesting when trainers are learning these courses, information, this education, it’s like how are they going to best utilise that to really grow their business? Touching on business, I know you work with a lot of fitness professionals in their business and you also do some one-on-one coaching as well to grow businesses as well. Where do you see the gaps in business growth or I guess probably the better question is asked where is the opportunities that personal trainers that are watching this can actually say, “Hey, I can do this and it can quantify more clients for me?” Where do you think those opportunities lie?

Dan H:                     Yeah, again, another big question. Look, I think where I think our industry is very difficult for a lot of fitness professionals is straight out of a Cert III or IV, a lot of the jobs that are available right now are actually asking them to run their own business. So not only do they have to learn their craft and be a great coach, but we’re then asking them to run a business. We know, we’ve been in business a long time, how demanding and difficult that is. I mean you have a look at all the statistics and they’re not favourable. So straight away, trainers are coming out and it’s just overwhelming. That’s why we see a lot of people drop out of our industry.

So, I think the first thing I would say to a fitness professional is do you really want to be running a business? It takes a special kind of person to run your own business. If you don’t, that’s absolutely okay. There’s some great employers out there, all right. Go and work with them and be the very best coach you can be within their work environment.

But if you want to run your own business, then just know that it’s going to be a tonne of hard work, but it’s very, very rewarding. You’ve got to fully commit. It can’t be a hobby. If you’re going to run your own business, you need to be all in. Like you can’t just dip the toe in. You need to leap into that pool. You need to plunge into it.

When you do it, you need to learn all facets of the business at least initially because you’re going to be wearing all hats. So it’s not enough just to be very good at writing great programmes, but you need to be a master at social media. You need to be a master at all kinds of marketing. You need to be great at sales. You need to be great at accounting and admin and systems. So you really need to have a look, A, is this what you want? B, if it is, commit wholeheartedly to it. Then C, go and find some people that have done it before and learn off them because that will speed your success up at an enormous rate.

Richard T:             I like that advice and I actually did a rant about this the other day and the rant was basically what you’re saying there is that if you want to be a personal trainer and work for somebody, that’s awesome because then you can really hone in on your skill set.

Dan H:                     Correct.

Richard T:             You can be an amazing, personal training, you’re doing your 20, 30, 40 hours a week you want to do and that’s a really great job and I think we need more great personal trainers. Not everybody wants to or needs to run a business.

Dan H:                     No.

Richard T:             I think it’s okay just to be a great personal trainer. I think that is an amazing skill set and an amazing job and you can train outdoors. You can train indoors. I think it’s really important to continue just being an amazing personal trainer instead of wanting to open up maybe a national franchise or something.

Dan H:                     Correct. I actually believe, and I mean this is very general advice, but I actually believe in the first 12 months, if possible, you shouldn’t be looking to have a business at all. You should just be mastering your craft. You should be trying to do everything in your power you can to be the best coach. So you should be working on those technical skills. You should be working on those communication skills and you should just be training as many people as you can so you can see how to train different populations, different demographics, people with different needs. Then once you’re a great coach, then ask yourself whether you want to run a great business.

Richard T:             Great piece of advice there. Great piece of advice. You had a local personal training studio. You’ve recently sold that. Is that correct?

Dan H:                     Correct. So yeah, I owned a local personal training studio called Coastal Bodies in Sydney’s East for nine years. I sold that in April this year so that was my baby that I gave up. Successfully sold it, still a great business, still running very successfully. That was merely just to throw myself into more of this education space, more of the coaching space.

Richard T:             Awesome.

Dan H:                     Really commit to equipping fitness professionals with as much knowledge as possible so they can have a bigger impact as possible.

Richard T:             Amazing. Let’s talk about the impact that Functional Training Institute do make. Every year, you run a national summit and I believe that live events and basically being around proximity of those people can literally change the shape of your entire life forever, forever.

Dan H:                     Correct.

Richard T:             I definitely honour you for running these summits and you’re always travelling, yourself and Tarek, your co-founder, is always travelling around the world putting on amazing events. You got currently running an event at the moment in Sydney I believe.

Dan H:                     That’s correct.

Richard T:             Talk about why you put on these events for.

Dan H:                     Yeah. Look, I mean when I have a look, I’ve had a great 11 years in this fitness industry and I’ve been able to speak at the biggest conferences all around the world. I’ve owned my own facility. When I have a look and I tap into why I’ve had the success I’ve had to this point, it’s because I’ve surrounded myself with great people, I’ve equipped myself with great knowledge and skills, and it’s really from attending conferences and seminars and courses all around the world.

So what I wanted to do, my vision for this summit when we launched it last year was to create the same platform, the same opportunity for personal trainers all around Australia and so that’s why we’re putting it on. What I can guarantee is any coach that walks in that door on Saturday morning will walk out that door Saturday evening a very, very different coach. They will be equipped with knowledge, strategies. They will be inspired. They will be motivated. They will increase their proximity because they will be surrounded by 80 other amazing coaches and they will have a bigger impact on more people.

Richard T:             Amazing. We work a lot with your clients. The one thing I do see is that you guys produce amazing quality raving fans around the fitness industry, the functional space so basically, you guys do a very good job of really impacting them with what you guys believe in and how you can empower them to be better.

Dan H:                     Yeah. I mean that’s all we want for our clients is we just want them to be the best version of themselves and so we want to try provide the platform that they can do that.

Richard T:             Amazing. Well, we’ll put the details down about the event, which I know is coming up very soon so I’m looking-

Dan H:                     Yeah, December 2nd.

Richard T:             I’m looking forward to that event, December 2nd.

Dan H:                     December 2nd in Sydney. It’s going to be absolutely brilliant. We’ve got some terrific speakers there and we’ve got some great partners involved and all of our teaching faculty’s going to be there so it’s just going to be one hell of a day.

Richard T:             Yeah. It will be an amazing day. Now Dan, I want to get a little bit more insight into you in your business process ’cause I really believe that you can empower and motivate people based on experiences. So what have been like, if we can just finish up with three of the main you’d say life changing or changing moments that you’ve had to do to continue delivering your passion and your drive? What are those things that have definitely changed the space because you did a certain thing and because of that, you moved to the next stage? Do you have some maybe some clear examples you can share?

Dan H:                     Yeah. I think the first thing was getting crystal clear on what we stood for, yeah, really delving in deep and really asking ourselves what is our vision? What is our why? What do we stand for? What’s the impact that we want to have in the world? How do we want to see the world? So once we answer that, then every decision, every choice we make, it’s measured about seeing that realisation of that vision.

So what I would say is get really crystal clear around your vision, really understand your why and that will drive you to do things on a daily basis, even when it gets really, really difficult because the challenges, the obstacles, they’re inevitable, but when you have a big enough reason why, you will leap over those. You will conquer them. You will push them aside.

Richard T:             Amazing.

Dan H:                     That would be one.

Richard T:             What’s your second one?

Dan H:                     Second one, unleash the power of habits. Really when I observe success and success in all different industries and in all different spaces, the most successful people in the world are a collection of the most successful habits. They just do more of the right things more often. So I would really just absolutely advocate what are the things that you need to do each and every day, then each and every week to ensure that you are more successful? That maybe more successful as a parent, as a partner, professionally, in all different facets of life. So I’m really big on identifying those habits and just adhering and trying to really maintain those habits each and every day.

Richard T:             I love it. Just actually doing it and getting it done.

Dan H:                     Getting it done. There’s no silver bullet here, people. There is no magic potion. I know you and I talked about it before. People are on the search for it, right. Just do more of the shit, do more of the right shit more often. That’s what it is. That’s the silver bullet right there. Just do what successful people do more often. Read more books. Attend more courses. Make more calls. Thank more people. Be more grateful.

Richard T:             Makes sense. I think that sums up a third one. Do you have a third one there? There was a lot there, but …

Dan H:                     There was a lot there.

Richard T:             Squeeze a bit more out of you.

Dan H:                     Look, I think right now my third one is really to be more present then in everything that I do. I’ve always been a very busy guy, you know that and I kind of run around like a headless chook a lot of the time. I’m frantically doing many, many things and where I’m just going, “You know what, Dan, just do things with more intention.”

Like before I came in here, I said, “What’s the intention you want to have for this interview?” I want to be crystal clear about that. When I go back into the office, I’m about to do a coaching call, what’s the intention I want to have? When I’m sitting down with someone, phone is away. I’ve deleted all my social media, emails off my phone so I can be more attentive, I can be more present.

Richard T:             Love it.

Dan H:                     Yeah, I just feel like in today’s world, we have the attention span of a goldfish, we’re frantically doing-

Richard T:             I think we do actually, yeah.

Dan H:                     We’re frantically doing many, many things and we’re not actually ever there. So yeah, just that level of mindfulness has been really paramount. I’m actually enjoying a lot more of the interactions, both personally and professionally because I’m just doing things with more intention.

Richard T:             Love it. There’s some really amazing tips. So thanks so much, Dan for being on the show five years later, you know what I mean?

Dan H:                     Absolute pleasure. Mate, we’ll do it another five years and-

Richard T:             We changed a few things up, but hopefully [crosstalk 00:18:43].

Dan H:                     We’ll look a little older again, but it’s awesome to be doing this five years later. Just goes to show how much fun that we’ve had, how aligned that we’ve been over the years as well.

Richard T:             Sure.

Dan H:                     Looking forward to sharing many more moment, memories and lessons in another five years’ time.

Richard T:             Thanks, Dan. Thanks for tuning in. To listen to this on iTunes, simply go to iTunes. Search Industry Change and you can find the episodes here. You can also search the episodes for YouTube if that’s a preferred platform for you. Otherwise, you can go to my website, or you can also see it on Thanks so much. I will see you next time on Industry Change.

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