Dan Mezheritsky, the 29-year-old owner and founder of Fitness on the Go, is on the phone from Nashville. He’s in town to explore new franchising opportunities for his company, which provides in-home personal training services. Nearly 7,000 people move to the Nashville area each month, he explains. It’s an image-conscious town, one where personal trainers are surely in short supply.
Fitness on the Go grew out of the personal training business Mezheritsky started in 2005 in his native Vancouver after an injury ended his career as a decathlete. Despite a few setbacks, the company’s on an upward trajectory—Fitness on the Go has a presence in 97 cities across Canada and 94 cities in the U.S.; last year, the company grossed about $4 million. It’s a feat Mezheritsky has accomplished without a single employee.
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Mezheritsky is harnessing the power of the new freelance economy. Across many sectors, businesses are delaying hiring full-time employees, instead outsourcing the work that once fell within the purview of in-house staff. As more business make the shift, a new challenge is emerging: How can you consistently get the best performance out of employees you rarely, if ever, see in person?
While the core of Fitness on the Go’s business doesn’t fit the freelancing trend exactly—its business strategy has a lot in common with the model followed by direct sales companies—there’s a lot of overlap, and Mezheritsky’s entire support staff is freelance.
Here’s how the company works: Fitness on the Go is a franchiser, and franchise owners are responsible for recruiting trainers, who pay $400 a month—a “desk fee” essentially—to join the company’s roster. That pays for marketing and advertising materials, business software and other office support services. Beyond the fee, whatever the trainers earn, they keep. “They’re essentially owners and operators of their own small businesses,” says Mezheritsky.
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Currently, the vast majority of trainers regularly renew their contracts with Fitness on the Go but getting to this point wasn’t easy. It took a few tweaks to the business model, Mezheritsky recalls. He had to offer contractors the most value for the monthly fee, or else the temptation to strike out on their own—taking their client base with them—would have proven too strong. Mezheritsky decided to invest more in his contractors in the belief that treating them well would pay off in the end.
Mezheritsky says the best way to extract the best performance from his trainers was to offer opportunities for personal and professional development. Finding that his trainers knew little about entrepreneurship, he invested in training programs to help them develop business skills. “We assign a business coach to each of our trainers, that they check in once a week, at least,” he says, adding that the company also supplies video training guides on how to build a book of business. “We have the full infrastructure that they need to build a business that’s more professional. When you’re looking at being independent owner-operator, more often than not, you can’t afford many of those needed services to operate well and to compete against larger companies.”
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There are also opportunities to connect with other trainers during a monthly check-in conference call. It’s a simple idea that has helped Mezheritsky tackle a major challenge facing businesses that run primarily off of freelance labour—instilling corporate values from afar. “One thing I’ve noticed with other small business owners, your morale goes down. If you try something and it doesn’t work, you’re not going to be that happy with yourself,” he says. “That’s where the moral support, the emotional support, comes in.”
Freelancers are generally a highly motivated bunch says Mezheritsky. Sweeten the pot once in a while, and business owners stand to reap huge benefits. “Contractors will work harder. Especially when they’re paying us money, it eliminates the jokers,” he explains. “They’re doing what they want to do. You’re not dangling a carrot saying, Hey can you do this? I’ll pay you money for it.’ It’s the other way around: This is what I do — please can I have your business.'”
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How do you motivate and manage your freelances? Share your experiences and thoughts using the comments section below.