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Employee Turned Entrepreneur – TrainerDiva

Posted Under: Entrepreneurship, Our Heroes

Today, our guest under the “Our Heroes” series is Elena Ciccotelli. The Former Head Personal Trainer, at a franchise personal training company, got so tired of the management’s ill treatment of clients and cookie cutter solutions that she decided to bring the personal back in the personal training business. Only this time, under her own brand – TrainerDiva. Let’s chat with her…  

DD: Who are you and what kind of corporate job were you at?

EC: My name in Elena Ciccotelli. I am the founder and CEO of TrainerDiva, Inc., an in-home personal training company that serves the Greater Philadelphia Region. I am also a graduate of Marymount Manhattan College with a BFA in dance as well as a certified personal trainer with the AAAI/ISMA (American Aerobic Association International & International Sports Medicine Association.) One year ago I was the head personal trainer for a franchised personal training company that operated multiple locations in the Southern New Jersey area.

DD: What made you leave the job? When did you realize that you wanted to be an entrepreneur & why?

EC: The final straw that pushed me to leave the company was the management’s failure to treat their clients like human beings. Every client acquired was just another account filed away in a dusty drawer only to be revisited when the client’s monthly invoice was due. In other words, the company was the epitome of horrendous customer service. I found this overall demeanor to be appalling and completely counterintuitive, considering that the business of personal training is meant to be personal. The company was completely unaware of the value of building relationships and was clueless to the achievements of their clients, such as Mrs. Jones, a six month client who finally hit her goal weight and no longer suffers from chronic back pain. The longer I stayed, the clearer it became to me that the company’s mission and ideals were distinctly different than my own. I remember feeling that if I continued to stay with this company, I would be compromised both personally and professionally. I also realized that the only way that this was going to change was if I did something about it and offered an alternative to cookie cutter personal training. It’s amazing what a little integrity will do.

DD: How did you prepare yourself for the employee to entrepreneur transition?

EC: I actually did not intend to start my own company, or to be granted the title of “entrepreneur.” All I knew was that I wanted to continue to make a positive difference in people’s lives through the use of fitness, and I knew I was capable of achieving this on a much larger scale, hence the creation of TrainerDiva. After I left the corporate position, TrainerDiva evolved organically through unwavering dedication, trial and error, an abundance of target market survey questions, and tons of referrals. The transition from employee to entrepreneur was subtle yet extremely empowering. It was the complete opposite of waking up one morning and shouting, “Yes! Today I am going to be an entrepreneur!” Instead, I woke up one morning and thought, “Let’s see if I can make this work.” And one year later I am still asking myself the very same question.

One of the most important preparatory measures I took when I founded TrainerDiva was to attend social media classes on a monthly basis. These classes helped me stay on top of the latest trends and techniques that would have never been implemented for my business if I was left to my own devices. As a result, social media has been the cornerstone of my marketing strategy and has given me the opportunity to establish a reputable company at minimal cost.

The initial days of living solely on TrainerDiva were absolutely thrilling and frightening all at the same time. Being your own boss is indeed liberating, but it also takes a great deal of discipline, focus, and willingness to face your fears in order to actually make a living AND create a company. In order to overcome these set backs, I now keep a strict to-do list and office work schedule so that I am as efficient as possible. I also make sure to celebrate my small victories, such as writing a fantastic blog entry or finally completing the training schedule for the month. My biggest challenge during my first few months in operation was to remain optimistic, even during this economic meltdown. I constantly had to remind myself of the bigger picture and why I started TrainerDiva in the first place. Even though wearing every “hat” in the company is exhausting, I am still learning how to navigate the ebb and flow of business. Although it may be cliché “two steps forward one step back” is my mantra in an effort to stay optimistic. So far it’s worked.

DD: What are your tips and suggestions for employees who want to be entrepreneurs?

EC: 1. Don’t compromise your ideals: Stay true to your convictions and make it a part of every aspect of your company. Even if you have to write down your company’s mission and plaster it all over your walls, solidify your beliefs through your business practice. It will make all the difference in the world.

2. Afraid to leave the steady paycheck? Think McDonalds: Yes, this is the only time you will hear a personal trainer say this! Aside from their fatty foods, McDonalds has a remarkable franchise prototype/business model. Their principles regarding consistency, market research and employee training can all be adopted in any small business regardless of its size or budget. Once you have your plan together and you’re ready to go, think of your business as a thriving franchise complete with systems operations and procedures. You will be amazed at how much more organized and profitable your business will be as opposed to chaos and uncertainty.

3. Just Do It: Are you just dwelling on an idea that could work? Bite the bullet and find out for sure! It’s all about starting small and doing your homework. Is there a need for your product/service? Does your product/service solve a problem? Who is your target market? Your biggest critic is you. If it helps, get an objective third party perspective. Either way, get some answers and get a plan together.

DD: How are you now? Are you still in the same business, and how do you feel?

EC: I am happy to say yes, I am still in the same business and my company will be celebrating our one year anniversary in April 2010. I feel an immense sense of pride and accomplishment, one that I have never felt before in my life. I created TrainerDiva from absolutely nothing, and now it is definitely something that has risen above and beyond my expectations for the first year.

DD: Wow! Thank you so much Elena! It is great to hear all about your successful journey from personal trainer to entrepreneur and company founder. Congratulations for finding a successful alternative to cookie cutter personal training. I wish you the best of luck with TrainerDiva.

EC: Thank you, Devesh, for having an interest in my story and for supporting entrepreneurs like me who are tired of the corporate world and those within it who don’t understand the importance of building actual relationships with clients and customers. We entrepreneurs appreciate your support!

DD: There you have it ladies and gentlemen, Elena Ciccotelli, founder of TrainerDiva, Inc., a different approach to personal training, and a successful one at that!

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