Auckland-based personal trainer Katie Parsons, 23, runs her own fitness company while juggling tertiary study. Parsons talks business growth, social media marketing and putting in the hard yards.

A brief description of the business

I am a personal trainer at Katie Parsons Fitness and nutrition coach. I spend most of my days training clients and have an office in the gym I work at where I write meal and fitness plans for members and my clients.

What sparked the business idea?

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I was never hugely overweight, just very unhealthy and I didn't feel very good about myself in high school. When I was in my first year of studying, to be a paramedic at the time, I basically had a complete switch in what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to help people and came across a couple of people who are now huge on social media - this was when I first started using Instagram - and that's when I found people like Kayla Itnes and Joseph Ruckus and I got really inspired by what they were trying to achieve.

I've always found people in the fitness industry quite intimidating, so finding these positive and motivating influences really motivated me to want to do that for other people because I knew how much it helped me.

I started posting videos online on my Facebook and Instagram pages and since then I've slowly built up my client base to where it is now.

How big is your team and when did the business start?

It's just me, but I've had help along the way. At the end of 2015 I started working as a gym instructor and training people, but started the business in June 2016.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My day usually starts at 5:30am or 6:00am, I'll have a few clients in the morning then have a little break. Most days I'll go to university and lectures and in between that I'll be in my office writing plans. I then go back to work in the evenings for a few hours again, and I'll do that most days of the week.

How hard has it running Katie Parsons Fitness?

It's been a long journey. I've been a student the whole time, so trying to do the whole shift from a job I was in at the time to a new job, to making enough [money] to make it the only job I needed took six months to a year.

What I did was studied in the evenings at my personal training course, and I would work all day in retail, and do university online and I did that for about six months, and then I started working at Les Mills around uni and my course as well, and that was probably the most hectic time ever. I was working there and I found it intimidating and I knew the clients I wanted to help wouldn't ever go there so I found at job at a little fitness studio in Albany and started the business from there.

How did you gain clients and initial traction?

I gained all of my initial clients from social media, but the rest have been from referrals. When I was working at Les Mills I set up a Facebook page and also an Instagram and basically just posted on them as much as I could. This was before Facebook ads and before sponsoring posts so it was quite hard to get that reach across, especially with so many people in the fitness industry, but somehow I managed to gain a little bit of a following.

It was basically me putting myself out there. It's not like I know everything - it's just [presented myself as] 'I've gone through this myself and I want to help you' kind of thing. The power of social media is amazing. From working in a studio where there were no members to having built a big client base is amazing.

How important is social media marketing in your industry?

To an extent it definitely helps, but unless you've got a lot of money to spend on it then it's not that helpful. Unless I make a proper ad it won't really make much of a difference, unless you are spending hundreds of dollars. You might get more likes on your page but it is the interaction that counts.

When you're looking at people wanting to purchase plans and do online or in-person training, you've really got to get involved. Having an ad for people to like your page doesn't always do that. It's all about exposure, but the better job you do and the more genuine you are, then the more people find out.

Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years time?

Eventually I want to have my own training studio with my own setup - it would be amazing. By 30 that's definitely going to happen for me.

What advice do you give others wanting to start their own business?

Don't let the influence or negativity of others bring you down. You know what you're there for and you know what you want to achieve. If you have a genuine heart and genuine goal then you will pull through and you will make it.