Claim to fame

2008 winner of WNSO Ian Walling FAME fitness competition. First certified Zumba instructor to teach in Yellowknife. One of eight finalists in the Business Development Bank of Canada Grand Prize for Innovation, 2012.

On planning

“Asking an entrepreneur to think ahead is hard. Living in the moment is the thrill of our lives.”

Tara Newbigging insists she’s more than just a fitness instructor. “I change people’s lives,” she says.

A bold statement, but this Guelph, Ont. native drew 25 people to a 6:30 a.m. exercise class in her studio in Yellowknife on a January morning when the mercury wouldn’t budge above -35 C.

In a province where 59% of people either are overweight or obese, she’s not only changing people’s lives—she’s saving them.

“Tara really showed me what true fitness was,” reality star Mikey McBryan wrote on his blog. He lost 99 lbs after nine months training with Newbigging, 28.

Others have credited her with transforming their careers. A young Yellowknife businessman told her “the year he trained with me gave him the confidence to buy out his partners, so he’s now the sole owner of a successful security company.”

A physical health and education graduate of Laurentian University, Newbigging’s been a fitness consultant at large corporations. But it was working at an Ontario gym that helped her realize she wanted more. “I thought, ‘I’m just a debit machine,’ ” she says. “So I asked for a leave of absence.”

It was June 2008. She followed a now ex-boyfriend to Yellowknife and launched a personal training business, christening it Fit 2 the T.

“I had three clients, and then I started running classes. At my first one, six people showed up,” she says of the rocky start. But she savoured the taste of independence: “By the end of August I knew I wasn’t going back.”

That tenacity paid off. Today, she has 500 clients—no mean feat considering Yellowknife’s population of 19,000—along with her own fitness program, Fit 2 the BooTy. She’s also scored a recurring role as McBryan’s trainer in Ice Pilots NWT, an internationally broadcast reality TV show.

She dreams of bringing her program to other remote communities, but currently has no staff. Deferred dreams aside, she refuses to consider the alternative. “After being a young entrepreneur, there’s no way I will ever work for somebody else.”

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Watch her 2013 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award submission video.

On how she made money

My first sessions involved using your own body weight, so I didn’t have much equipment. I had no overhead because I did a revenue split with the gym I worked out of. Then, I ran outdoor boot camps in summer 2009—no one here was doing that. After that, I gained lots of new clients and needed more space.

So I found a church basement: It was grungy and gross, but it was 1,800 square feet. I had a sound system put in, and people flocked to it. I also kept working at the gym, and both revenue streams developed and grew. In 2012, I got my own studio in a mall.

Her net worth

I have $200,000 in my savings account. Some is from parents; grandparents; money I saved as a 17-year-old working at a grocery store. I don’t own a house, just my car. I rent my studio and own fitness equipment. My business chequing account is $150,000. I contribute to TFSAs and RRSPs [but all within a personal savings account].

I started the trademarking process for FIT 2 the T and FIT 2 the BooTy in October 2012 and got approved. But I don’t know my next steps.

Growth rates

I’ve never had a loss. I don’t look at the numbers. I just ask if I’m drawing in more clients every month.

In 2009, my full first year of operation, I took home $75,000. In 2012, my revenue was $150,000 but I took home $90,000 because now I have more expenses and I pay more in taxes.

There are always dips but my revenue for the first five weeks of 2013 was $30,000. I’m currently charging $252 for five weeks of unlimited sessions and $26.25 per person, per session for small group training.

Eventually, I want to find someone to manage my business who’s equally able to motivate people, and who’s committed to waking up at 5 a.m. in -40 C weather.

On values

I do tons of pro bono. Last December, I didn’t go home for Christmas and taught free fitness classes for two weeks. We raised $2,500 for the local hospital to build a chemotherapy suite. If I have really good clients who can’t pay due to financial difficulty, they can train free because I don’t mind one extra person in the class.

I do a lot of barter: there’s a girl who cuts my hair and takes my classes. That’s why I love that I’m my own boss. I’d rather it be a trade of service than money.

Experience with an advisor

I made an appointment with an advisor at my local bank. I filled out that [risk tolerance] questionnaire and realized I don’t want to throw money into something unsafe.

The advisor asked about my business, personal life and goals; what money I’d be putting away and why; and when I would need it. But in the first meeting, he didn’t answer any questions. At the second meeting, he presented me with a [wealth strategies] package. It included assumptions, regular income, lump-sum income—I can’t understand it. He didn’t explain anything. There were some charts and graphs.

I was having a hard time concentrating because it was in the branch and his office wasn’t closed in. I told him it was distracting, but that didn’t help. We talked for an hour and I didn’t learn anything. I wanted him to say, “Here’s how much you’re worth; here’s what I think you should put away into this exact thing; this is what will happen.” He didn’t.

I wanted him to give me some scenarios. What if I continue in Yellowknife? What if I decide to leave and get a regular job? Make the whole meeting about the client’s goals. Learn how to talk to an excited, motivated entrepreneur.

Will I call him back? I don’t know. I’m going to get the info back to my mom [who’s also a financial advisor, but located in Ontario] and see what she suggests. I have better things to do than try to understand it myself.

He told me I have a low risk profile and I wouldn’t make as much money when investing. My mom said I have to be prepared to lose money. But I don’t want to throw away the money I worked my ass off for.

Thinking about the future stresses me out. We don’t have retirement packages like our parents did. I still don’t know what’s coming for me, so it’s hard to make long-term plans.

Goals

I want Fit 2 the BooTy to be a national certification.

My business lease comes due October 2013, so I have to know what I’ll do before then. Do I do another year in Yellowknife? More on TV? I’d love my own show.

If I’m going to buy property, it’s going to be for a fitness retreat where people come from all over the world to train with me. I need to put away my money so that when I decide to build it, the funds are there. Or if an investor wants to help, then I can contribute.

Melissa Shin is the managing editor of Advisor Group.