How This Fitness Trainer Went From Homeless, To The Set of Empire
April Sutton is a fitness trainer and a professional stunt-woman.
Tell me a little bit about how you got into doing your business?
AS: I got laid off working for Bally Total Fitness. I tried to jump from jobs to job. I realized I was too busy trying to catch up on bills and it was not working out. I hit financial rock bottom and had no choice but to build myself up. I saw this as an opportunity to create my own brand and start my own business as a personal trainer: Sutton Strong. From there I began studying film and production and it’s how I stumbled on an open casting call for Divergent. I became a full-featured extra and then got bumped up to the stunt team. That was about 4 years ago and I've been doing stunt work ever since.
What are the tools you used to build your brand?
AS: Social media because I needed to build a name for myself. I knew people in the gyms that I worked, but outside of that, I needed to get my name out there. I created a lot of posting workout videos in the different areas of Chicago. From there people would say ‘hey I saw you working out, are you interested in doing this boot-camp business?’ or ‘are you interested in taking in this client?’
I built up my business little by little. I also went to a lot of networking events. It's all about who you know, and showing your face more and more. It's a very long, steady process when working to build your clientele. It requires patience. However, if you're eager, focused and willing to meet new people and shake a lot of hands, you can be successful.
How important are low-tech marketing tools like networking?
AS: The importance of something that is not digital is based on people. When others see you face to face, there’s more of an emotional connection. When you talk to them and they get to know real you, not just what’s on social media. People want to hang out with you for the person you are. That helps build your brand and peel back layers of who you are. It helps draw them in even more, and then they're more comfortable introducing you to their circles. That's my way of networking. I prefer going to galas and after work happy hour events. It's creates deeper connections.
What are your three tips for growing a social following?
AS: Number one stay consistent. Everyone thinks once they go on Instagram and they post a cool few photos, they're automatically going to go viral. Then there’s disappointment. They're comparing themselves to everyone else that has these huge media followings, but they did a lot of work behind the scenes for those numbers. Post at least once a day and don't ever hope for it to go crazy viral.
Number two, doing cross-promotional stuff helps a lot. If I repost from someone, or they repost my picture, that helps grow my following. Notable clients began sharing my work with them on their personal accounts, it helped grow my following. When the content is unique and impactful (like behind the scenes info or motivational content), people will repost it.
And last, share your personal life. When I share content, it’s mostly fitness related. People may get the impression that’s all I think about. So when they see my personal photos that reflect my multi-faceted interests, they're like ‘wow, she's relatable, she does eat Pizza.’ They see I have a balanced life.
What keeps you motivated?
AS: I think the number one thing that keeps me motivated is the people that are always rooting for me. There's always going to be people that discourage you or won’t root for you. They won’t give you credit. But then there's the people that you don't even know that just love what you do. They let me know I’ve made a difference in their life. It’s kept them motivated and they’re inspired by my story to make better choices for themselves, or to pursue their dreams. It might seem corny, but I think it's awesome. That's what keeps me motivated.
What lessons have you learned since you started?
AS: There’s never a straight and narrow path. It's never exactly how we envisioned things to be. As a result, it’s important to make you have everything handled. I never let negativity drip into my business or personal life. You'll never see that as part of my brand. Why would someone want to work with someone who does?
How do you grow, how do you continue to grow, how do you grow your business?AS: By doing things outside of my comfort zone. There's certain times where I just don't feel like going out. It might be because I'm tired, or I feel like I'll be socially awkward that day because I'm not in the mood to be around people. In those moments I’m like “April, you could be meeting someone today that's going to change your life.” And that's the thing, I always need to make sure that I'm pushing myself just a little bit more every single time. That's what's key.
What advice would you give to your younger self?AS: I’d tell her everything is going to be ok. You're going to grow out of it. Relax. Time will pass. Every time it feels like the world is crumbling you’ll survive. You’ll learn by failing and it won’t matter five years from now. It's always going to be ok girl.
The video portion of this interview will run on Entrepreneur.com on Monday, July 24, 2017.