Entrepreneurship: 6 Lessons from a year in business

ACLAÍ has been open for just over 12 months now. Also in 12 months, I have had 1 year at the helm of strength and conditioning for the cork Senior Football team, worked as a presenter for a TG4/ BBC documentary, got shortlisted for an Irish Blog Award, continued to work as strength and conditioning tutor at Setanta College, moved house twice, and built a garden fence and gate with my bare hands and the help of my mate Darragh. The learning curve has been steep, and I wanted to share a few of the most valuable lessons from the last year of entrepreneurship with you.

1. Quality over Quantity

Everyone has heard the motto ‘quality over quantity’ before. For us at ACLAÍ, this means making sure that the service to our clients is up to scratch before we bring another element of the business online. At ACLAÍ, we do personal training, and we do it very well. But we are a young and expanding business with an energetic, and highly educated team at the core. Every week we have new ideas on how to expand our services, provide great value to a specific demographic, or extend our reach. However, we are very careful that we are extremely happy with the level of service we currently provide before launching into a new project. That’s why we recently went back over all our systems, and made our personal training system even better. More support structures for clients, more efficient administration, additional accountability, and a better programming system. Quality is everything for us at ACLAÍ. From our service, our staff, and our systems. So lesson #1 is, its better to provide a smaller range of high quality service, than a high number of mediocre services…..there are enough people out there doing that already! 


2. Work will go on forever (if you let it)

As with any worthwhile endeavor, you can ALWAYS improve. If you are a musician, you will be able to relate to the fact that you can keep improving for the rest of your life. In business, it appears to be the same. The systems can ALWAYS be improved, there are ALWAYS going to be DIY jobs to do, programs to write, articles to post, emails to respond to, admin work to finish. If we were robots and didn’t need any sleep, or require food, water, or social interaction, then we could all spend every minute of our time improving in our given field. However, we all know that this is not the case.

Therefore, I have learned the importance of dedicating blocks of time to deal with different things. Keeping a to-do list, and keeping a personal schedule as a guideline to the time I have available for the various tasks lifted so much pressure off me that I could rest assured I would get to the important things each week. This includes personal time like training, playing a few tunes on the flute, or just relaxing somewhere or going out for a meal. Without some system of organizing tasks into time, my mind would be doing over time. See point 4 below for more on this!


3. Don’t sweat the small things

This is the title of a neat little book that I read, and never were truer words spoken. Having a clear focus, and having little room for error is a great way to sharpen the mind. Starting a business from nothing is like a game of chess where one move could provide fatal. Especially in the early days, I felt like we were a business in the Intensive Care Unit!

Sometimes things have gone to plan in the last 12 months, and sometimes they have not. However, when I look back at what has been achieved in the past 12 months, the change we have helped our clients make in their lives, and the medals that have been won by our sporting clientele, and the fact that the world did not end at any stage during the last 12 months, despite what I might have thought at the time, then getting hot and bothered over small things is a waste of time and energy, as well as adding an unnecessary burden. In fact, many things that were not previously in the ‘small things’ category are now firmly in there! Having a core list of priority tasks that need to be done each week has helped keep the focus on what matters, and the rest takes care if itself!


4. Don’t Add MORE Pressure on yourself…..

I’m sure that some of you can relate to this one. Since opening the door of ACLAÍ in August 2013, it has been a roller coaster ride. The highs of getting great results for our clients and seeing the business grow, and the lows of putting in the hard hours, working until 2am to have things ready, getting the rent together in the early days, and getting bogged down in the red tape or administrative tasks that can seem frivolous on the surface, but are 100% essential for the survival and effective functioning of the business. The one big way that I have adapted over the past 12 months is that I have become sensitive to all the pressure I used to put on myself. Because of the extra responsibility, and the drive to provide a top class service to our clients, all of a sudden there was no room for the pressure I would normally have put myself under personally. Statements beginning with “I have to do xyz…”“I must remember to...”, “I should have done...”, “I would love to...”, “I really want to...”, are all but a thing of the past. Owning a startup business has cleared the path of a lot of mind junk and has allowed for clear thinking and a ‘get it done’ attitude that gives clarity of thought and productive days. If something pops into my head that I would like to do, I put it into my notebook, and store it there until such a time that I can deal with it. There appears to be enough pressure in running a business without piling on some additional pressure myself with even more deadlines and expectations. Funny enough, these days I got A LOT more done, both in the business and in my personal life, when I am not forcing things, rushing from place to place, and just letting it happen. As the saying goes "Seek, and you shall NOT find."

5. Few Know the Way…and even FEWER walk it!

I knew this before I started out on the ACLAÍ adventure, but every day it becomes clearer. The ‘health and fitness’ industry is so far of the mark in terms of helping people gain long-term health that sometimes it makes my mad inside! This topic deserves an article of its own, but to put it in context, I opened a Cork newspaper this morning to find a particular add stating that you could go there for 6 weeks and lose 40 pounds ! Of course, they are very careful not to say that it was done in 6 weeks, but the add is CLEARLY made to make people think it was! This type of deception is both unrealistic and dishonest in my own opinion.

Let me level with you. I am not a personal trainer. I am not even a fitness instructor, and I have ZERO certificates in spinning, TRX, body pump, aerobics, or circuit training, etc. I am a sport and exercise scientist, as are the rest of my coaching team at ACLAÍ. We study how the body works, how it moves, and the things that bring REAl health. We are not from the ‘health and fitness industry’. We come from another planet to the ‘fitness instructor/ personal trainer’, and this is probably what makes me so incensed by the nonsense I see in the papers every day.

Heavy exercise and calorie restriction will make you lose weight, but it wont necessary make you HEALTHY! Health is what allows you to be mobile for your whole life. It protects you against disease; it gives you energy and allows you to enjoy life. Being ‘skinny’ does none of these. The ‘health and fitness industry’ is missing the point totally. Exercise and does not equate to health. It is but one factor that contributes to health. Mental health, cultivating sustainable lifestyle habits, social interaction, enjoyment of movement, eating unprocessed foods, getting enough sleep and rest, and engaging in meaningful and taking part in rewarding activities all form part of being healthy. How does this all happen in 6 weeks?!

I’m not saying that we are the only place in Ireland that considers these things in our philosophy, but there are very few people out there who do. And even less who act on it. Its time for people to reclaim the ability to live long and healthy lives, and not be duped by the shiny newspaper adds that promise the world, but deliver very little, and a lot of the time end up doing more harm than good. This is probably the same in any industry, but I know I would not want an accountant with a part time weekend qualification, who promises to do our full set of accounts in 20 minutes, for next to nothing in return to do the ACLAÍ accounts! And that brings me nicely to the next lesson in 12 months in business.


6. Numbers are Important, but they are not everything

Going back to the Intensive Care Unit analogy, for a startup business, the numbers are critical. Keeping a close eye on things like cash flow, schedules, budgets, payroll (and the list goes on), is crucial for our survival. We have targets that we want to hit, and deadlines to make. However, the big lesson I have come to learn in the past 12 months, are that they are not THE important things.

THE important things are health, movement, enjoyment, and relationships. Eating nice food, and staying hydrated. Resting enough, and being kind to people. For me, these are among what really matters. I could go a week without keeping an eye on the cash flow from the previous week, and the business would probably be ok. However, a week without sleep, or without wholesome food, water, or movement, would have much longer lasting negative effects. Doing this over the course for a year or more could even be catastrophic! Sometimes I can take my eye of what’s important, and neglect a relationship, miss a good nights sleep, or not get enough water on board, but I just try to get back on course when I realize what has happened.

This Article is by ACLAÍ Owner,and Strength and Conditioning Coach, Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.