Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Karisa Karmali, Founder of Self-Love and Fitness™, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, ISSA Certified Online Fitness Coach, and NASM Certified Nutrition Coach. Self-Love and Fitness™ is an athletic lifestyle brand and online retailer of fitness equipment and custom bundles for trainers, gyms, and the athletically ambitious. The brand is also a fitness and nutrition coaching company that offers hyper-personalized plans and programs for athletic performance optimization and getting back on track.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Although the initial motivation was trauma-driven because of the sexual assault I experienced in a business setting by my previous business partner two years ago, I have still always wanted to do something like this. That assault was the catalyst to solidify the idea within my heart. I only created the actual business itself less than one year ago.
The other motivator is to never rely on a single source of income and be financially independent so that I never put myself in a position of being at the mercy of unethical people or places. This makes it easier for me to walk away from places, people, and situations whose values do not match mine. I went from feeling powerless, broken, and hopeless, to taking control of my life.
The motivator now, aside from helping people level up athletically and seeing how a strong body leads to a strong mind, is that this is a huge part of ensuring that I can be in a position to give back to the community. I support the Just One Person scholarship for Youth in Care because I was one. I feel like building my business was turning resilience into an action verb, the very act of creating my independence through my business is a form of mental fortitude for me.
The odds were against me, I grew up in foster homes (since the age of 4); however, I would never call myself a victim. Why? It was just fuel for me. We can always win in the end if we use adversity to our advantage.
Describe the process of launching the business.
It started as an affiliate marketing blog with paid-for-advertising links, but then I got sick of making other people money and not reaping the full potential of rewards for my work ethic, so I launched business-to-business fitness equipment (BOSU, TRX, CoreFx, and many other popular brands) catalog for Canadian gyms. Then, I opened it up to clients. I then got certified in personal training and nutrition, at the same time, while continuing to expand my supplier network. The personal training and nutrition certifications turned into virtual hyper-customized fitness plans and programs for the athletically ambitious and those looking to get back on track. Given that this is virtual, the fitness level has to be one where the client can work out on their own, with a plan, with check-ins every two weeks. Overall, I was tired of people receiving the same plans as the next person and wondering why they are not getting results, fitness is supposed to be hyper-personalized, we do not have the same biomechanics even if we may happen to be the same height, weight, gender, or have the same goals.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I used email marketing for gyms in Canada and my first client was a local gym for wholesale orders. My other first few clients came from ads on local fitness community boards for bulk orders from my customizable catalog. Client retention comes from offering a variety of fitness equipment for their evolving needs. For the coaching side, the maintenance program retains clients who have been coaching clients in the past and simply want an updated plan, without the coaching. Tiered services for coaching clients have been a game-changer for me. I will also design educational e-books for clients so that they can learn how to create their own plans eventually if they wish to. My desire is for them to learn as well and there are many ways to diversify service offerings and retention can simply mean that they move through my offerings depending on where they are at in their journey, without having them be dependent on me for life either. I want them to learn and be able to fly solo at some point and come back to me for maintenance. I see myself as a fitness coach, but also an educator.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I need to limit how many 1-on-1 clients that I take on for quality control reasons, given that my coaching is hyper-personalized, I am working on balancing this with equipment sales. That being said, I will not hire unless I have clear operating standards as training people is far more time-consuming than the return on investment in this situation, I find. For me, automating processes and cutting time expenses in other aspects should be explored first. I am not at the point where all efficiencies have been exhausted from a system and technology standpoint. I think that a few good people, like my suppliers and editor, are all I need. I prefer to choose quality, efficiency, and processes first rather than expanding for the sake of it. I think the measure of viability for a business is not how many people work for you, it is longevity based on sustainability across all market conditions. How nimble is the business, and how quickly can it pivot? I have future coaching offerings and company wellness programs ready to go on hidden pages of my website in case I need new offerings later, it is all about planning and being proactive. Having a plan, even things do not always go as planned, simply provides a sense of clear direction to guide decisions. I want to continue with business-to-business equipment sales, business-to-customer equipment sales, and coaching. That being said, I prefer to scale without traditional infrastructure, which will require me to produce digital educational resources and a variety of e-books to reach more people in a way that can grow exponentially (without me having to clone myself or add coaches to my team). I have been working to find coaches for almost a year now, and I have decided that the best use of my time is not training a team of people on my business processes or methods, it is creating digital offerings and possibly funneling my nutrition coaching services through bigger brands and joining forces.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I learned that trusting my gut always pays off. If I was to work in the arena of pre-made programs, I would not feel like I’m being true to myself and my standards. My standards require me to have a clear schedule on certain days per week so that I can tune into my intuition in order to create those custom plans; however, this is the quality level at which I prefer to operate. I either do it right or not at all. I always put my vision and gut feeling above opinions.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
1. Shopify: I use it as my store platform and it doubles up as a container for my newsletter e-mail list.
2. Canva: I use it to design my social media posts. posts.
3. Grammarly: I use it for all of my writing as a proofreader.
4. Trello: It keeps me sane as this is where I store ideas that can wait and it helps me decide which ideas to action, and which ideas to put on hold. I am all about hustle; however, certain things are not worth me working outside my zone of genius for and while they may be worthwhile ideas, they are not great for right now and simply need to be shelved for later.
5. OneHub: This is the file-sharing system from my supplier that provides me with product information and marketing materials.
6. Google Drive: This is the file-sharing system I use to share files with clients, contractors, and it is also where I track my sales goals, outreach efforts, and some parts of certain projects.
7. Google Forms: This is the system I use for the first step in my client intake process.
8. Google My Business: This offers an additional space to post products and to simply put my brand on the map as people use Google as the first point of reference to find products or services, even more so than social media. Most of my sales traffic starts with Google.
9. Hootsuite: I use this to manage my social media accounts, and while the pre-scheduled posts may not rank as high, I do not have the bandwidth to always be online, and this provides free content to my followers, without draining my energy.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Heather Monahan’s podcast “Creating Confidence” and her new book, “Overcome Your Villains” have both given me the confidence to trust myself more.
Gabby Bernstein’s podcast “Dear Gabby” has allowed me to take action from a place of ease, grace, and flow, which means taking inspired action, rather than hustling for the sake of it and in the wrong direction. Energetic alignment for me is critical as a business owner. This also helps me stay grounded in joy and solutions, rather than be too distracted by stress whenever obstacles arise.
My bounce back rate to the state of peace and resilience is far better thanks to these resources.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Do not allow the number of brands out there in the same industry to stop you from starting your own, you will be able to put your own twist on it. While many competitors resell the same brands as I do, that does not stop me. My online client service levels and my brand’s fundraising efforts (giving back) are two of my differentiating factors. The other competitive edge I have is the control over pricing margins that I have for gym owners and wholesale clients. While I never force any coaching client to buy my products, they have access to wholesale pricing as well. I added spokes to the same wheel, instead of starting a new business each time I have an idea, which would not be bad, but I also believe in leveraging my existing business and expand on that first. I try to stay focused, which also helps guide the decisions that will have the highest return on investment. These examples are simply to make the point that focusing on clients and service will yield a higher result than focusing on competitors. Also, I think that there is no one way to market yourself. I am not someone who posts on social media sixty million times a day; however, I do market myself, but I do it in the background through email marketing and other loyalty-building strategies, which works better for me. I can only take on so many clients anyway, so I prefer to build my business in a way that works for my temperament and schedule.