Right now there are strong challenges facing many businesses. The efforts to reduce the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) around the world have presented new and threatening obstacles to many a business plan. There are of course winners at this time. There are some businesses who are find themselves providing useful services or products that are in increased demand. But this won’t be true for many.

Many of us will need to adapt, think again, and respond as and when we can. This in itself will be a huge challenge. Businesses that are unable to change may suffer the most; those that are agile and flexible will stand a greater chance of navigating through.

A Sudden Problem

When the Prime Minister announced on the 20th March that pubs, gyms, cinemas etc. would be closed many businesses ceased delivery of services overnight. For the fitness industry the pronouncement was immediate and dramatic.

Mike Spiring and Nathan Leakey both run their own personal fitness businesses. Suddenly all their work ceased. 1-to-1 personal training and all group sessions were forbidden. Mike and and Nathan had been building up their businesses over the last few years and were now facing a total end to their income streams.

And yet, within a week, both had pivoted and began to offer classes online. Neither of them had done this before. Both of them felt forced into it. But the results from both of them have been quite astonishing. As I heard from them individually I spotted some common themes in their stories, and so I thought it would be great to interview them both together and find out more about how they turned challenge into opportunity.

(Keep reading or jump straight to the video)

Forced Away From The Familiar

I asked Mike, “If you didn’t change your business model … would you have any business now?”

Mike Spiring – Personal Trainer


At one point towards the beginning of the restrictions Mike briefly thought taking another job. Now, Mike doesn’t shy away from a challenge. An ex-soldier, ex-prison fitness instructor (20+ years), who successfully made the jump to starting his own business, Mike’s not short on grit. But the total restrictions placed on his business activities hit hard.

In Mike’s case, he was fairly tech-savvy before coronavirus. He was using social media and email marketing, he had a website and was using an online lead-generation tool to drum up new business. But being in front of the camera wasn’t his thing. He can hold a room of 40 people well (I’ve seen it – he’s great) giving everyone in that room a personalised experience in a large group, but put a lens in front of him and he balked!

I was intrigued. How does this confident person, who has successfully navigated change before, not want to be in front of the camera? Mike put it simply, “Confidence came from the familiar.”

When the restrictions were imposed by the government, both Mike and Nathan had the familiar immediately removed. They had to make a big jump, or shut up shop.

Move Quickly, Get Used To It Later

To their great credit both Mike and Nathan switched to delivering online fitness classes very, very quickly. When I asked Nathan about how long it took to make the change, he said it only took a day to switch, but he added that it took a few weeks to get used to it.

Nathan Leakey – Personal Trainer

Interestingly, they both agree delivering training sessions online are not the same for them. It takes more effort from the Fitness Instructor to coach well remotely. They have to concentrate hard on a screen to help their clients get the same reward as they would in person.

Then there was the tech. Webcams, and video conferencing tools, and Britney-mics. Was their offering well-polished before they went online? “No!” But every early online session was a chance to learn. Lighting, muting the group (BIG improvement) during the class, sending invites, taking payments remotely … these things were all worked out as time went on.

The classes and individuals were very supportive. There was a need for at-home fitness training, and Mike’s and Nathan’s clients went with them, and then some.

Unforeseen Wins

The challenge from coronavirus forced both these businesses online. They weren’t operating there before. Mike and Nathan both responded positively, had a go, and now they’re seeing some unforeseen wins.

One great benefit that Nathan has already seen is that now clients don’t have to miss a session when their schedules change. If they’re travelling they can jump on a video call and still train. Their fitness plan doesn’t need to break because their week looks different.

Mike has seen people who used to come to an evening class, who haven’t been in a while, come back. Mike now regularly attracts well over 50 people in his popular Lean and Kettlercise workouts – a 50% increase on his in-person classes.

Will they be offering online training after the restrictions are lifted? “Yes. Definitely!” For both of them, their offering going forward has greatly increased as they’ve added a delivery option, insuring that they can better serve their clients through greater flexibility. What looked like killing their business initially has already served to strengthen and diversify it.

Open and Honest

Mike and Nathan took the leap to online and created their new business offering as they went. Knowing Mike and Nathan I can tell you that they are sincere and humble people. This was reflected in how they handled the change with their clients.

“Be open and honest about the challenges,” Mike advises. They admit they didn’t have everything in place, have every answer to every potential question before they were asked. But Mike and Nathan told people what they were doing, kept them informed, asked for feedback, and responded swiftly.

As I write this I know that my disposition is to have everything sewn up before the plan is put into action. I can want things to be perfect. This is just another reminder that perhaps we need to give up the need to be perfect, and simply make a start.

And it’s not just with our clients and customers that there are benefits of maintaining a transparent position. Mike made the point that at this time businesses are really going to need to work together, to collaborate to achieve success through change not as individuals but as community. Perhaps our national retreating away will be met with a resurgent desire to work together more in the future, across larger divides.

Facing Challenge: A Road Map

I wanted to call these points ‘The Rules’ of embracing change, (and then write a book on them, naturally), but great books have already been written (check out Taming Tigers by Jim Lawless) and anyway, creating ‘rules’ from two reports more than borders on the pretentious.

But if I were to sum up what I have learnt from my conversation with Mike Spiring and Nathan Leakey I would say:

  1. Move Quickly
  2. Embrace The Unknown
  3. Take Risks
  4. Hidden Opportunities Are Revealed After You Leap
  5. Work Together
  6. Be Open & Honest With Your Clients
  7. Look For The Positives

In our current situation it will be the small businesses that will be the quickest to respond. Where battalions take time to mobilise small units move much more quickly. Whether you’re commanding a brigade or a platoon, we can all learn from the early successes we observe around us at this time. There is much we in business cannot choose right now, but we can choose our mindset, and perhaps that more than anything will ultimately determine the outcome.

The Interview [VIDEO]

I want to offer a huge thank you to Mike Spiring and Nathan Leakey for their time in this interview. This has been an article for the Alexander Project.

If you are interested in fitness training at home, either 1-to-1 or classes, please contact either Mike or Nathan.