Interview with Sally Moss, founder of Strength Ambassadors
Sally Moss is founder of Strength Ambassadors. Find out how she built up her business providing courses, workshops and personal training in all types of weight training, both online and at her gym in London.
What’s your career background?
I did really well in school, and by the time I left university I felt like the world was my oyster! Ten years later, at the age of 34, I was in crisis. I hated my office job, I was sick of the rat race and frustrated with my bosses.
It’s hard to pinpoint what had gone wrong for me, but I was deeply dissatisfied with how my life was turning out. I had tried a few different careers, from IT to public policy, and nothing had stuck.
The thing that kept me going was my gym obsession. I got into fitness in my early twenties, after I had started working in the City, buying too many pastries for breakfast and putting on weight.
I become an enthusiastic advocate for fitness, and especially lifting weights.
Friends kept saying to me, ‘You should be a personal trainer, you would be amazing!’ but thus far, I had ignored them. I didn’t want to spoil my hobby by making it my job.
Lifting weights changed my life. I love the feeling of being strong, of making progress and seeing what my body can really do. And I realised that I did have something valuable to share, and – what the hell – if not now, then when?
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I made the leap into the fitness world in 2010. Back then, it was rare to see a woman in the weight room (and in some places it still is).
Within the fitness industry and in the gym environment there was a lack of knowledge about the benefits of lifting weights, for women in particular, but also for people who are older, those new to exercise – basically, anyone who wasn’t a young, sporty bloke.
There was a healthy dose of casual sexism around, with men policing how women should train and look. You’d get told, “Be careful, you don’t want to get too big/muscular/lean/thin”.
I could see that there was a need for more coaches who understood women and their goals better, as well as a need for high quality technical coaching in lifting weights.
I was one of the first coaches in the UK to focus on getting women into weight training and feeling confident in the weight room. Over the years I’ve seen women who came to my classes years ago now competing in strength competitions or just looking and feeling stronger than they’ve ever been.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
I packed in my office job, moved back in with my mum to save money, and started again from the bottom. I got a part time job in a local gym. I cleaned the machines, I picked up the towels, I learned how to get out on the gym floor and talk to people.
I was a thirtysomething working alongside college leavers, and I learned fast, while they were still partying at the weekends and turning up late for work on Monday mornings.
My business, Strength Ambassadors, started as a sideline. I was working as a PT, and at the weekends I ran my women’s lifting course, Ladies Who Lift – which is still going strong nine years later!
After a couple of years in the industry, learning from other gym businesses, I felt ready to go out on my own full time, which I did in 2013.
What’s your USP?
Strength Ambassadors offers high quality strength coaching to everyone, regardless of age, gender, body shape or goal. Most other gyms and fitness businesses foster a judgemental environment around being ‘lean’, ‘in shape’ or an ‘elite performer’.
We’ve built a community of strength ambassadors who all support each other and influence others around them in a positive way.
Who’s your target audience?
Men and women in their 30s-50s who want to get stronger both physically and mentally, to support their daily lives, challenge themselves and have fun.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
In years gone by, blogging and videos were a big part of what I did to spread the word. I started blogging in 2007. These days, social media is incredibly important and is where our members tend to spend their time.
Our members spread the word better than we can, to be honest! Word of mouth is important for us.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
Content has worked well for us up until now, both written long form and video content. Because I’ve been doing it for a relatively long time, I’ve been able to accumulate views and authority organically.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
My appalling management of money! I used to be terrible at managing both my personal finances and the finances of the business. It caused me a lot of heartache and distress over the years, and make the first few years of business very stressful. Several times I was ready to give it all up.
But then I had a mindset shift around money, got my act together, and am now financially secure both personally and in business.
It’s not inevitable for anyone to be ‘bad with money’. You can learn to do it, if you want to enough. It took me a few years and many attempts, but I got there.
And your proudest moment so far?
It’s hard to pinpoint one moment. I have micro moments of pride when I realise what I’ve built. Usually it’s when someone messages me to tell them how much what we do has helped them, or got them through a difficult time.
I had quite a few of these messages during the coronavirus lockdown, and I felt incredibly proud of the way we had been able to help people.
Why is work so important to you?
Work gives me purpose, provides an outlet for my creativity and energy, and allows me to help others as well as myself.
Who inspires you?
An early inspiration for me was Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop. When I was growing up in the nineties, she was one of a very few high-profile female entrepreneurs.
I admired the way she spoke out about the things she cared about, as well as building an incredibly successful brand. She showed how business could be a force for good, at a time when business was still seen as purely about the pursuit of profit for the few.
How do you balance your work with your family?
I’ve got better at this in recent years. I started looking after my mum, who had dementia and then fell ill with cancer. Being someone’s primary carer changed my priorities and although those years were hard, it made me realise that relationships and family are things I want to put proper time into.
Work is important, but not more important than the people closest to me. The coronavirus lockdown made this even more evident. When the world comes to a standstill, whom do you really need?
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
1) You can learn whatever you need on the job
Don’t wait until you think you are ready, and don’t worry if you don’t have the skills. It took me four years to learn how to manage my business finances properly, but I got there.
2) Stick with it, even if no-one is turning up
I once had a lifting class where only one guy turned up for eight weeks in a row! I stuck with it because I believed it was a good class, and eventually I was able to attract more people.
You can make tweaks to your business, but if you believe in the fundamental value of what you are doing, stick with it, don’t give up.
3) Back yourself!
Go with your instinct when making decisions, even if you are not sure. You can always change things later. When coronavirus hit, I took my business online straight away, even before lockdown. Later on, members thanked me for acting decisively and pulling out all the stops to keep the service going.
Find out more about Strength Ambassadors.