Transition From Dedicated School Teacher To Entrepreneur And Business Owner
Since we opened our doors, 23W has grown from a small group of 40 to over 240 members in five years and a team of two (myslef and Asha) to eight amazing women!
When our studio birthday rolls around, I love to share our founding story with new members who might not be familiar how we started or how I made the transition from life as a dedicated school teacher to entrepreneur and business owner.
When I think about where the dream started, I go back to 2016. I was already 2-3 years into juggling life as a PE teacher and trainer, but something powerful changed in me. It was not a sudden realisation or epiphany that told me to quit school and ‘do my own thing’, but rather a slow burn or desire to invest more time into my budding business and clients.
Finding extra time for more clients, longer hours at the gym, blogging, emails and growing a beautiful, empowering community came at a cost. I gave up playing competitive sports, became less social and gave up most hobbies and interests, including TV. This was all to give me more time at the gym or ensure all school marking and assessment were done on time. I become the master juggler.
The Breaking Point
In 2016, I also stepped into the role as Head of PE, had three senior classes and was still filled with aspirations to continue making our department one of the best teams at my school. I knew that my life outside of school could never be at the cost of my quality of work as a professional educator. At this time, I reminded myself never to complain about being ‘busy’, because I knew I was at the helm of the decision-making process. But early in 2017, I realised that I was not happy. I felt tired (all the time), started feeling frustrated at school and day-dreamed constantly about what it would be like to open my own studio. There were a couple of breaking points along the way. The times I would blow up at my husband because of something relatively trivial and the numerous occasions I felt sick or unwell. I also realised that I was not following the self love advice I was giving to my clients. I became so pushed for time, that I would often get changed into my uniform on the way to school (after starting coaching at 6am). I realised that I couldn’t do my best job as a teacher, trainer or wife while pushing myself so hard. I suddenly felt like I was living a lie at school- I really did not want to be there. The master plan at the time was to fall pregnant so that I had a reason to stop, reset and reboot (which sounds crazy now I write it down). But as 2017 unfolded, I realised we needed a better solution.
Finally, the conversations started to happen about a ‘backup plan’. The solution came to Jeremy, and I like a slap in the face. After 7 years of in the profession, I was due for one term long-service and this time could be used to help me catch my breath and see if full-time PT life was still as alluring. In the backend of 2017, I had to keep my head down to build my client base, run challenges and ensure that everything was in place to see success in 2018.
My biggest concern about leaving teaching was leaving a steady income. At the time, my income as a trainer was well below my full-time salary from school, which is enough to make anyone with a mortgage nervous. In preparation for the big leap, Jeremy and I also knew that we would never be so financially ‘sound’ or ever as attractive to banks for a loan. So in mid September (2017), we bravely decided to purchase our second home, an old, run-down Californian bungalow on a large block. Having already renovated before, we also knew the extra time off in 2018 would be helpful in getting the house to a liveable standard.
I dreamed of opening a studio in 2018, so I was very money-conscious. Every dollar I earned from the gym was saved and with a new mortgage, weekends away, dinners out and clothing were areas we needed to pull back on.
In the summer of 2018, I was in my element. I hustled to get more clients in the door, took on more hours, changed my business name (from Melbourne Fitness Diaries to 23W), rebranded and worked around the clock to renovate our new home. I loved every minute of making my own schedule and being my own boss.
For the last 6 years I had been training my small squad our of a small personal training space on St Georges Road and then took the crew on a weekly excursion to a boxing gym in the area where I also paid rent. Towards the end, our group size was a logistical nightmare for other people in the gym and trainers. Our programming was similar to the core foundations of our strong program today, but with much less space to move.
By April, I had everything I needed in the way of a business plan to open up the studio I had always dreamed of. Time away from school gave me a fresh perspective that it was okay to leave and that I was not a ‘bad person’ or a traitor because I no longer wanted to teach.
In July, we signed off on 17A Shower Street and the work began. We had a 3-month turn around time to get the studio ready for business. Our permits from council came through on the last weekend of October and we were open and training clients the Monday following.
Big Take Aways
I feel like journey over the last few years has be one hell of a ride with so many amazing take away points.
The first important lesson was one in patience. I knew what I wanted and knew to do it properly it would take time. Take your time if you are contemplating giving up your 9-5 job for a passion project. Ensure you have done your homework and tested your business plan is sound. Ensure there is demand for what you do and the services or produce you offer.
The next lesson was about money. It takes a lot of money to set up a business. While you are working two jobs, ensure that you are saving hard. If possible, try to find financial security through real estate investments before jumping. The banks prefer to see a steady wage rather than a savings account of a start-up entrepreneur. I set myself a goal to have enough money saved to open 23W without a business loan. When you account for equipment, refurbishment, insurance, permits and so on, your hard-earned savings go fast. I spent 12 months making a business plan that accounted for every dollar spent, but you will always need more money for the things you do not account for. And while I made small contributions to pay our mortgage in 2018, I started paying myself a salary at the start of this 2020. I then moved myself to payroll at the start of 2022.
Lastly, it was a big lesson in self care. There is only so long you can burn the candle at both ends before the ‘wheels start to fall off’. Recognise the early signs. I knew throughout 2017, that I was plotting my ‘life redesign’ and that doing the hours was unavoidable. Give yourself a time limit for this period. It does make it easier when you know that it is only a moment in time. I am still adjusting and learning healthier boundaries with work and family life. It has been a big few years of growth; in my family, team and business. In the early stages of business ownership, lockdowns and post-COVID, I had to put in the hours, move fast and hustle. I have grown the team to help me manage the day-to-day operations so that I can focus on strategic planning and innovation and have time to focus on my role other role as a mum.
I am so unbelievably grateful for everything I have with 23W and can not wait to see what we achieve in the next few years to come.
Ange Drake is an personal trainer, women’s empowerment coach and fitness blogger in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. She is the director of one of the few womens’ only strength training gyms in Melbourne, 23W. Ange helps women to learn how to use strength based training, nutritional strategies and a positive mindset to transform their bodies, relationship with food and mind.
Your fitness style
Can’t decide which of our packages is best suited for you? Take our questionnaire to help you decide!