Start Small Win Big 2012 Winner: Tami Provost’s Fit on the Fly

Fit on the Fly founder Tami Provost began SUCCESSStart Small, Win Big small business challenge with $52 in her business checking account. “I had confidence in the need for my service and my ability to deliver, but I lacked the ability to articulate my mission to potential clients—it was crippling,” Provost says. “Fear of rejection was also holding me back. This Challenge helped me overcome the fear by offering me real-world, simple steps to follow as well as helping me set goals.”

As the Grand Prize winner of the 12-step Start Small, Win Big Challenge (held January through April 2012 and returning in 2013), Provost beat out more than 900 other entrants, some of whom had small businesses with more revenue than Fit on the Fly. But few others seemed to go from zero to 60—literally starting small and winning big—like Provost. And her company, Fit on the Fly, has a primary mission for the greater good: helping kids live healthy lives. She offers programs at schools and youth organizations, as well as small-group workshops in clients’ homes and workplace wellness seminars. During the course of the 12-week contest, Fit on the Fly earned an endorsement from first lady Michelle Obama, and the New Hampshire-based company was accepted as an official partner advocate of the President’s Challenge, a program that encourages people of all ages to be active, eat well and get fit.

Getting the Word Out

Before the challenge, Provost promoted her program to random school districts by email, avoiding that dreaded personal contact and the extra time necessary for face-to-face pitches. The emails weren’t getting many rejections—but they weren’t getting many responses at all. Even though she knew from experience that face-to-face meetings often led school administrators to hire her on the spot, Provost told herself she was too busy to do these meetings frequently. “I made the mistake of equating being busy to being fruitful,” she wrote in her Start Small Win Big final essay. “I was not seeing tangible results for my time and efforts, felt frustrated on most days and dreaded a lot of my activities.”

After starting the Challenge, Provost recognized that her email marketing efforts were misplaced, and she met with a superintendent who pointed out another flaw in her marketing strategy. He told Provost that school superintendents were often impossible to approach in person and were not really her target customers. The conversation and step five of the 12-step Challenge—“Know who you’re targeting; not everyone is your customer”—led Provost to re-analyze her target client.

Google analytic data from her website told her that most of her traffic came through her Facebook page. Analytics offered by Facebook helped her discover her key customers were moms between the ages of 25 and 50 looking to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle and lose weight in the process. The data prompted Provost to shift her marketing efforts from schools’ administrative offices to their after-hours Parent Teacher Organization meetings and expand her activities on Facebook.

She threw herself into step nine of the Challenge—“Ramp up social media activity.” Over the course of the Challenge, Provost refined her approach. “I have one main rule when it comes to my Facebook page,” she says. “Keep it simple and keep it positive! My overall mission is preventing childhood obesity, but I’m not one for tossing out doom-and-gloom statistics which, in my opinion, have the effect of being overwhelming and discouraging. If I mention a stat, which is rare, I am always going to offer up a solution or a plan on what each person can do about it.”

Provost has also learned that people active in social media want their information quickly. “In the nanosecond that I have someone’s attention in the news feed, I work diligently to get my information across in just a couple of words,” she says. “Attaching a picture is a great way to be able to articulate my message with just a few words”—a tip she picked up from Guy Kawasaki that is backed up by Google’s research, which shows posts with pictures are bumped up the Facebook food chain and categorized as top stories.

Step eight of the Challenge—“Don’t reinvent the wheel”—inspired her to take a peek at what her competition was up to on Facebook. She learned that sometimes all she needed to do was ask for a Like, comment or share and she would often get just that from her fans. “On any given Sunday evening, my page will have a picture of me holding a water bottle with a simple post that reads, ‘Like, if you can commit to drinking 8 cups of water tomorrow.’ Simple and quick posts like this have quadrupled interactions with my fans.”  

Increasing Revenue

After taking a tough look at her books and her $52 bank balance in step three—“Know Your Numbers: When You’re Down, by How Much and Why”—Provost recognized the need to tap into another revenue source if she hoped to continue spreading her message to young people. Provost had largely been communicating to students through workshops, which she provided at low or no cost to schools in need, as well as providing free materials. “My expenses started to increase as I was creating resources for schools, so generating more income was a must,” she says.

As a certified personal trainer, kick boxer and mother of two who had transformed her own physique, Provost already had a list of people who wanted one-on-one help with weight loss. She just needed a more comprehensive product to offer that client base.

She read about how Start Small Win Big entrepreneurial mentor and ABC small-business contributor Tory Johnson launched her Spark & Hustle conferences in the middle of a recession. So Provost did some brainstorming with her business accountability partner (whom she teamed with after reading SUCCESS Publisher Darren Hardy’s suggestion in the magazine) and was determined that many women would pay a small fee of $25 free to learn more about living healthy and losing weight.

Putting together a formal sponsorship package that detailed Fit on the Fly’s mission with kids, its fitness message for women and the attractive demographic makeup of potential conference attendees, Provost landed local and national conference collaborators—step 11 of the Challenge. Sponsors provided prizes, gift baskets and special offers to conference attendees in exchange for exposure. The national partners—the Vitamin Shoppe and Starbucks—also allowed Provost to post conference fliers in their stores, expanding her potential client base. The Vitamin Shoppe even signed on to sponsor future Fit on the Fly conferences in other cities.

Her first Fit and Fab in 21 Days women’s conference sold out its 40 seats just three days after being posted on Facebook, prompting Provost to schedule another conference a week later in order to accommodate the waiting list. Both conferences resulted in $2,000 in profit, and since submitting her Start Small Win Big essay in April, Provost has hosted a third sold-out conference and generated an additional $1,000 in profit.

“It was a leap of faith,” she says of the conferences. “I had many people come alongside me to help because they believed in my mission. My graphic designer offered her expertise and volunteered her time to design a program flier. Two national hotel chains deeply discounted their conference room rates and didn’t charge me for audiovisual equipment.” She took advantage of free event-planning services from Eventbrite, and she created private Facebook groups for each conference, giving attendees a forum to stay connected, share ideas and find support. The forums also allow Provost to collect testimonials and post-conference feedback in an effort to perfect her product. “I have worked very hard to cultivate a positive, safe environment on my Fit on the Fly page, where people can share and learn in an upbeat way,” she says.  

Moving Forward

Today her conference profits are dedicated to her primary goal of reaching 1 million kids by spring 2013 with the message that being fit isn’t just about looking good, it’s about feeling good and having fun along the way. In the 12 weeks of the Challenge, Provost identified new markets and landed local and national sponsors, boosting Fit on the Fly’s profits and profile and giving Provost the confidence to make more face-to-face contact with prospects.

“The SUCCESS Start Small Win Big entrepreneurial challenge gave me the motivation I needed to break out of my isolation and work toward conquering my fear of rejection,” she wrote in her final essay.

Provost has made numerous new contacts among school districts and is planning a fitness conference exclusively for teen girls. She’s also coordinating workplace seminars to encourage employees to live healthier lives, and she hopes they will share what they learn with their families.

These days, Provost spends her days pitching to the media, courting new collaborators, responding to posts on Facebook and on her newest project: writing a book. Whatever she’s doing, she’s far more conscious of how her actions are helping Fit on the Fly reach its goals. Tracking her time and demanding a larger return on investment for her efforts—step 12 of the Challenge—has become part of a daily routine she no longer dreads.

Guerrilla Marketing

Start Small Win Big Runner-Up

When he started after graduating from Marquette University in 2011, Richie Burke and Jeremy Bemis, who is now vice president of sales, took an unconventional approach to launching a dot-com company. “I was going door to door trying to get businesses on board before I had a website to show them,” says Burke, one of the two runners-up in the Start Small, Win Big Challenge.

Over the course of the Challenge, Burke’s main goal was to get his Milwaukee-based business off the ground by building his mailing list and launching GoGedditTV, a video marketing service that tied into the daily deal for each client.

The team set a goal of 6,000 emails on their contact list by May 1. By mid-April, when they turned in their final essay, they were already over 6,500. Today they’re up to 11,000 subscribers. “We met this goal on a shoestring budget using different guerrilla marketing tactics,” Burke wrote in his final essay. They planted opt-in boxes throughout the city and offered a gift card drawing each month. GoGeddit also sponsored a Milwaukee Brewers opening-day ticket giveaway on the site. And the team went out in person armed with GoGeddit-branded sunglasses and an iPad to sign up subscribers at local bars.

The biggest tactic was connected to GoGedditTV. They recorded a promo video for Lakefront Brewery in coordination with the daily deal offered by the bar. “They sent an email out to their 10,000-plus person mailing list and put a post of the deal up to 15,000-plus Facebook fans,” Burke says. “This was great exposure to a new audience, and about 1,000 people ended up joining our site.”

After serving nearly 80 business and nonprofit clients around the Milwaukee area by featuring their deals, planning fundraisers and other events, or shooting promotional videos through GoGedditTV, Burke says the business model is shifting. “We’re kind of morphing into a small-business marketing firm,” he says, explaining the company’s efforts at increasing customers’ social media profiles.

Burke and his team at GoGeddit, which donates 1 percent of its profits to charity each month, have seen their real potential in helping others. And they credit the Start Small Win Big small business challenge with helping them get the solid start they needed to make a difference in the future.

No Client Too Big

Start Small Win BIg Runner-Up integrity/Architecture

Why would an architect leave a stable job at an established firm to launch his own venture in an inhospitable economic environment? The company’s name says it all, according to integrity/Architecture PLLC founders Joey Nolasco and Joe Rasnick. “The name kind of creates its own sense of accountability,” Nolasco says of the Lexington, Ky.-based architecture firm, launched in November 2011.

Accountability is particularly important in an industry where firms bill by the hour and over-budget horror stories are sometimes the norm rather than the exception. “We’re not selling widgets,” Nolasco says. “Our commodity is time, and we’ve been very open and honest about what we want to charge people.”

In addition to impressing clients, that straightforward approach made it easy for the firm to analyze monthly billing and expenses—step three of the Start Small, Win Big Challenge—and set a concrete gross billing target for 2012 that would cover startup costs and give the firm enough financial cushion to complete jobs while pursuing new projects. The architects’ experience at established firms also gave them instant credibility and a foundation for a top-50 list of potential clients, step six of the Challenge.

By the end of the first quarter, integrity/Architecture reached 70 percent of its estimated annual gross billing goal. The firm also hired a third architect. “That freed up 25 percent more time for each of us,” Rasnick says. “Freeing up those hours enabled us to expand our marketing reach.”

With the extra time, Nolasco and Rasnick submitted more project proposals, which resulted in the firm being short-listed for jobs with the state and the University of Kentucky, as well as landing large corporate clients including Xerox Corp. “We decided there was no client too big. Those are big names in the state and in the nation, so we didn’t censor ourselves.”

The result, along with increased social media outreach, has been exponential growth and a strong outlook. Current revenue trends point toward lingering startup costs being covered by the end of the year.

Read Start Small Win Big's 12 steps here on, broken into three installments: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

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