Today is National Women’s Entrepreneurship day, so to celebrate, I sat down with Ladies Who Lift founder and head coach, Rae Reichlin, to get the low down on what it’s like to take an idea and turn it into a successful business.
Q: What inspired you to start Ladies Who Lift?
I came at it from an equal parts business and entrepreneurial perspective and then also to fit a need I saw in the fitness industry. When I came into the fitness industry, I realized very quickly the ceiling that was put on personal trainers.
I was working at this small chain. They maybe had three locations throughout Chicago. They were selling their packages for whatever they were selling them for, and I was making $20 per session. I asked a trainer who had been there for two years longer than me what they were making per session and they were making $22 per client. And I was like, that’s crazy. There’s no way I’m going to work here for two more years and make two more dollars per client.
That’s when I first switched to Rockwell and Crosstown. When I started working at Crosstown, people were coming up to me after class, saying, your class feels really different, your coaching style feels really different than other group fitness classes I’ve experienced before, and I was like, okay, cool, I have something new and different that I’m bringing to the table here.
People want to do barbell-based work, they need to learn how to do barbell-based work, and I could probably make some extra money teaching that. So that’s how Ladies Who Lift (LWL) originated. Then I was running into the problem where I still can only teach so many Ladies Who Lift classes and I had more and more people wanting to work with me one-on-one.
That’s when I started offering online training in November of 2019 because again, I thought, I’m missing out on this opportunity to make more money, help more people in the way that they want to be helped. So the evolution of LWL was always this observation, level up, observation, level up scenario.
Q: How did you build a business from scratch? Did you get any business tips, or were you just like, let me start it and go from there?
I was definitely like, let me start it and go from there. That’s how I started. I mean, I’ve faked my way into the fitness industry to begin with, so my M.O. has always been let me just try. I definitely just started willy-nilly. I never really thought about myself as owning a business or anything until I chatted with my friend Sarah, who’s a friend of aSweatLife, and owner of Salad Club and Love Your Fat.
She was my client and she was listening to my woes and was like, hey, you should really work with my business advisor, Drew. He can help you reorganize your thoughts around this. So I started working with Drew and he really brought more attention to my finances, which I never really looked at. I was just kind of like, I can pay my rent — great.
I would very much still be in that place if it wasn’t for Drew.
Once the pandemic hit, Ladies Who Lift turned into what a lot of people know it to be now, which is our online tiered training system. When the pandemic hit, that was really when things blew up, and there was just way too many people participating in the online training programs for the kind of system that I had set up.
That’s when I think of that shift happening for LWL really becoming a business, and Drew was super instrumental in that. That was something that I don’t think I could have done alone, I really needed him. I reached the point where I knew if I wanted to grow it into something bigger, I couldn’t do it alone.
Q: What’s one thing that you wish you knew when you started?
I go back and forth on that question. I was talking about this with another small business owner, and we were joking around about how we’re both sort of happy nobody told us what to expect because if they had, we probably wouldn’t have done it. They probably wouldn’t have started because especially on paper, you’re like, holy sh*t, that’s crazy. That’s a lot of stuff.
So on the one hand, I’m happy I didn’t really know what to expect because I really, truly am not sure I would’ve had just the courage to be like, yeah, I can do that. I think it’s something I really needed to see in practice. I still look back and I’m like, I don’t know who did all that.
Q: Is there one thing different you would have done if you knew it back when you first started this?
I wish I considered work life balance a little bit more. I think when I initially started the business, that was something that wasn’t of concern to me. I was staying in on the weekend, working seven days a week. I was so focused on making this thing work, I didn’t really consider that my feelings around work might change and that the systems I was building when I didn’t care about that may not suit a life that does want to care more about balance.
I don’t know if I would change anything necessarily, but that’s one thing I wish I had considered a little bit more and taken care of.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve found a better work life balance now?
Yeah, I think I’ve learned to put up better boundaries. I don’t think the workload has changed any. If anything, it’s just the workload has remained really crazy. But I think I’ve done a better job at helping myself see and understand and respect that things can move a little bit more slowly.
Everything isn’t on fire. There’s a bandwidth and a threshold and a capacity within oneself, and it’s different for everybody. It’s different every day and you sort of have to respect that, and I think I’ve gotten better at that.
I also think there are certain jumps that had to be made in the business to allow me a better work life balance. The members’ program changing to subscription based and all of the work that had to be put into that. Hiring other people, those are things that have allowed me more freedom. But getting to the next level required a certain amount of time that required very little freedom.
It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that you know where you want to be, and you envision how once you get there, things might be — but the journey from A to B is so unknown, is really scary, and is oftentimes yes, real steep and real heavy.
Q: What for you has been the hardest part about entrepreneurship?
I think that entrepreneurship can get really lonely sometimes. I think that having other people and having a team has been so amazing for so long. I remember starting this and talking a lot with Brett and Jason of Live Better and being like, you guys are just so lucky you have each other. You’re so lucky you have somebody you can bounce ideas off of and talk to about this and get an opinion and call in for help or whatever that might be.
For so long I didn’t have that. And other than Drew, who I’m paying for a finite amount of time, there really wasn’t anybody to look to or talk to and be like, what do you think about this? Does this sound right? It was just me.
I also would have to say that staying driven, staying motivated, staying passionate, and staying positive can be really hard. I think there are a lot of times where you’re looking for this external validation of be it content creation, be it sales, be it whatever you want to know, that the hard work you’re putting in is appreciated and is making an impact.
So often that sort of feedback is few and far between. Whether that’s because people don’t appreciate it and it’s not making an impact, or because people view what you’re selling as a product, and that’s it, which is fine, I think it can be really hard to wake up every day and be like, all right, that wasn’t received the way I wanted it to be. That didn’t receive the support I wanted from it, whatever that might be. It’s very difficult to wake up the next day and be like, all right, let’s do it again.
Q: What have you learned about yourself through the process of entrepreneurship?
I genuinely don’t think I had a sense of work life balance before or think that I needed that. I was 100% workhorse mode all the time. And I’ve learned that I’m not that way. I’ve learned that I’m somebody who likes and appreciates and wants to fulfill multiple parts of myself.
I’ve most definitely learned what it means to be disciplined and how important just checking boxes can be sometimes. How important just consistency is. Sometimes how important just showing up is. Sometimes how important just continuing to put one foot in front of the other can be.
I’ve learned that I’m a good creative problem solver, and I’m discovering where my strengths and weaknesses live. I think that’s an ongoing lesson, something I’m still very much learning.
Q: What’s the best part of entrepreneurship?
Freedom of time. Being able to control your own time is absolutely everything. The days where you are super motivated and you’re working all day and you’re like, hell yeah, I did so much today. Those are awesome.
The days that you’re not feeling that way. Everything’s coming up shit, and it is 11 am in the morning and you’ve had a mental breakdown, and you’re like, that’s it for me today. I’m done for the day. It sucks when you feel that way, but the fact that you have the freedom to be like, I’m going to go watch a Netflix or whatever it might be, is really great, and I don’t know if I could live my life any other way.
I think also what excites me the most, what has always excited me the most, is building something from scratch is crazy. It’s not lost on me at all, what I’ve done. What a lot of entrepreneurs do is they come up with an idea, and they come up with multiple ways of communicating this idea, be it their marketing materials, like their website, the way that they post on social media, whatever it is, and that people hear you and they pick up on that idea.
And when people pick up what you’re putting down and you’re like, wow, I communicated that, and it works. That’s amazing. Going from the ideation phase to the build out, and then once it’s a part of the system and it’s working, that’s such a rewarding experience. It’s even more fun when you do it with other people.
I think that’s just so much fun to say here’s a problem, here’s what I think is going to be a solution. Here are the steps that I think we have to take to get there. And then when that does work out, you’re like, cool. That’s so cool. And it’s hard, and it gets harder as it goes on, but it’s working in the way that I intended.
Q: What tips do you have for other women looking to start their own business?
Number one is do it, just do it, just start. I definitely wish I had some clear systems in place with certain things, but just starting is number one. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect. People are going to buy into the idea and people are going to like it. Those people will give you feedback as to what they’d like to see better and then you can change and hopefully they’ll stay on.
But I think just starting is really important and going for it. I would also encourage people to see if you can get some sort of proof of concept with very low overhead. Investing a lot of money into something is scary. If you can make money without spending much money, that can set you up and provide you with a really nice sense of accomplishment to drive, to believe in that next idea, and drive that next idea. And I think that that can be really valuable.
Q: What are your big goals for Ladies Who Lift in the future?
I would love to open an all-woman strength training gym and an all-woman personal training gym. That’s something I’ve learned a lot of people want and ask for. I would love to do that in Chicago and then in other cities. I think community is such an important part of all of this and that being online post-pandemic isn’t the same experience as it once was. I think there’s definitely a BC/AD thing happening when it comes to the internet and COVID. So I’d really like to do that.
I would love to continue to hire more trainers to work with our online training programs and with our online training clients and see if we can continue to provide people with a really valuable education and a really valuable basis of knowledge when it comes to their lifting, general health and wellbeing, and help them get off this path of guessing what might need to happen, how their body should be moving, and just provide them with the real info they need on nutrition, mobility, strength training. I want to continue to hire the right people and build the systems and the things that we need to help provide a better education.
Q: Final thoughts?
Asterisk this is the hardest shit ever. Caution.
Make sure you just let everybody know that it’s hard.
If you know an entrepreneur in your life, tell them you like them. Just let them know that they’re seen.
If you’re interested in learning more about Rae and Ladies Who Lift, head to ladies-who-lift.com. Rae and her team of coaches offer online training programs designed to empower women through strength training.