On a sunny Monday in early fall, my balcony bore witness to a pleasant lunch conversation between the Founder of AIM (Activities in Motion) Fitness, Meg Stickl, and one very curious sports enthusiast and Zumba instructor (yours truly) about entrepreneurship, health, wellness and fitness at any age. If you are or know someone – perhaps a relative or a friend – who thinks they might be too old or weak for exercise and physical activity or that it is simply too late for them, this interview will inspire you and motivate you to AIM for Fitness.
Meg studied psychology and gerontology at the University of Ottawa. She is a certified personal trainer and seniors’ fitness instructor. She founded AIM Fitness in 2013 when she was the recreation manager at a retirement residence leading social and physical activities and events for all the seniors and doing fitness part-time.
What spurred the idea of going fully your own entrepreneurial way?
I was looking for a change and looked into marketing and sales in the same industry. I applied for a few different jobs, but none felt right. A friend of mine encouraged me because the seniors’ market was growing, and it made sense to branch out and do full time what I was doing part-time: senior fitness.
They say beginning is the toughest. What was your business premiere like for you?
I have never thought about owning a business and I knew no business owners. A friend, a business owner and consultant in high tech industry helped me put a plan together for 9 months. In January 2013 I was working 2 jobs, including growing a company so I could transition into full-time entrepreneurship by September. I remember my vacation that summer at my cousin’s cottage answering calls from potential clients hoping to have enough of them to be able to give notice. I wanted to feel comfortable with the switching of sources of income.
Why did you choose to specialize in gerontology?
I always enjoyed spending time with seniors when I was young. When I was in 6th grade, I volunteered at a senior’s residence helping with bingo, bean bags, and crafts and I felt at home there. People appreciated my listening skills and how patient I was. In both high school and university, I did placements at seniors’ residences and realized this kind of work came very naturally to me. Moreover, I always considered myself an old soul. I find it easy to talk to seniors, I feel at ease with them. After these experiences, one door let to the next. While I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do I always believed that whatever I am meant to do will open up for me.
What are the main services AIM Fitness provides? Who is your clientele?
It is fitness for seniors and the main aspect is one-on-one personal training. I work with two different types or age groups of clients: People in their 50s and 60s who are very independent, live alone, like to travel, golf, and volunteer, and are social but are noticing that their fitness and energy levels are going down. Their goal is to to improve and maintain their active lifestyle. I also work with seniors in their 80s or 90s. Oftentimes, their children reach out to us because they googled us and found us online or through friends. They worry about their aging parents’ health: they notice their memory is worsening, or that they have had a lot of falls. They feel helpless because they see their parents’ health decline and they don’t know how to support them.
I also have a variety of speaking engagements at community centres and retirement residences on topics such as fall prevention or living a more fulfilled life after 65. The vision is to be holistic, look at lifestyle, sleep, eating, nutrition, stress level, motivation, and purpose in after retirement. I like to speak about the importance of movement and fitting in simple exercises daily.
How does one find out about AIM Fitness? What is your marketing strategy?
I advertise actively by giving value and providing free content. I publish one article on LinkedIn every week, for example ‘Helping an isolated senior parent live a more active lifestyle,’ ‘Top 5 fears seniors have that they won’t tell their families,’ or ‘Simple exercises to do with your senior parent to help them feel more confident.’ I also published a free e-book which has generated many leads.
Do you often get new clients?
The majority of my clients have been with me since I started. These are so-called lifer clients; they want to keep exercising and maintain an active lifestyle. There are also those clients who work with us for 6 months before a specific hiking trip, for example.
Do you see yourself as a leader? What does leadership mean to you?
Yes. I lead and work with a team and have always valued teamwork; from the start, my website has said “We” will come to you and serve you. The first trainer joined me after a year and a half when I was feeling burnt out. Once she joined AIM Fitness, I started perceiving myself as a leader.
Leadership is not about having all the answers, but about facilitating discussions and helping people rise to become leaders themselves.
What makes a good and effective leader?
A good leader is someone who practices what they preach. Having my own fitness routine is really important; I love fitness and it trickles down into what I do. Being a good leader also means giving people the opportunity that they normally wouldn’t have. I’ll give you an example. The MS (Multiple Sclerosis) society asked me to lead warmup stretches and I asked my team if they could do it for me because I was unable to make it. I encouraged them to do it and gave them an opportunity to use their skills and be leaders in the community. They walked out of this experience feeling more confident. This was exciting for me. A leader empowers others and lets them thrive and grow through the process.
What piece of advice would you give someone who would like to launch their own venture or business but feels afraid or stuck?
Find something you are really passionate about because it is going to give you the drive necessary to get you through the inevitable hard times. See if what you offer can solve a problem because people like to buy a solution to a problem. At AIM Fitness, I am selling a peace of mind to seniors and their families, I am offering health and vitality, ability to travel, and more independence.
You will learn as you go and make a lot of mistakes, so it is important you give yourself permission to fail. Be passionate but take it one day at a time because it can be overwhelming. You can’t fake passion; if you are genuine, people will sense it and it is what is going to make you successful: Care about what you do, align your values with your work, and go for it!
What have you read or heard recently that truly resonated with you?
The book ‘The Big Leap’ by Gay Hendricks. It is all about how we sometimes self-sabotage ourselves when we are doing well. The premise of the book is that we all strive for a certain level of happiness or success; in other words, we say we deserve to be this happy or successful but when the higher we go the more we bring ourselves down because subconsciously we don’t believe we deserve that happiness or success.
Know that you deserve to be happy and successful in all areas of your life and if a difficulty comes up, be open to exploring if it is happening by chance or if you created this to divert your attention.