Entrepreneurship as a Personal Trainer with Chase Schaap
Hi Chase! For those that don’t know you, introduce yourself to our audience
Chase Schaap [00:00:00] So my name's Chase Schaap. I'm a personal trainer and nutrition coach, working primarily out of the West Loop, but I also serve the city of Chicago. I've been doing that independently for three years and prior to that I was at Equinox and Fitness Formula at gyms before breaking off to go on my own.
Glad to have you here today Chase! The first question is about how you came to where you are today. How did you find out what your passion was and how did you know that it was what you wanted to pursue as a career?
Chase Schaap [00:00:35] Sure, so my career path is very non-linear. I have an acting degree and I have a business administration degree and supply chain management. So short answer, just following what was interesting to me, I got an acting degree and I graduated right when the economy collapsed in 2009. I didn't have any money saved up to go to Los Angeles or New York, like you do with an acting degree. So, I was forced to do a lot of soul searching and figure out what I wanted to do and what my next move was going to be and I realized that I didn't feel prepared from a financial perspective. I felt like I didn't know how to survive on my own financially so I had a business minor at the time and went back to school to finish it.
This was again in 2009-2010, and that's when I started to fall in love with just business in general– kind of the startup scene and when I went back, I was going to do finance but then I realized, you know, I don't want to just focus on numbers all day. I want to get a very broad perspective of what business really is, which is what led me to supply chain management because I mean, if you think about it, it's very end to end– right?
If you think of, like you drink a beer at a bar, you know, how does it get there? How is it manufactured? That kind of thing. So I chose supply chain because I wanted to fully immerse myself in business whether from a product or service standpoint. I started to just fall in love with how things are made, how services are offered, and how people can create companies out of thin air and then really add value to people. Which is then what brought me to Chicago, because when I graduated from East Carolina (I grew up in North Carolina), I took a job at a logistics company here called Coyote– which grew very very quickly, it was acquired by U.P.S. for a lot of money, but I worked there for a year and a half. And noticed that I didn't like what I was doing...on a day to day basis like the actual work I was doing.
[00:02:48] It was a great company, great culture. They basically offered everything you would want in a company but day in and day out, the actual work I was doing, I was going home and just didn't feel fulfilled. It was on me to figure out– okay, I don't like what I'm doing, I moved a hundred miles away from home you know to a bigger city for opportunity, and I hate what I'm doing. Like, what's next? So, fortunately they promote from within. I expressed to my manager that I was bored with the work I was doing and they moved me to a different place in the company. And then lo and behold the same thing happened. I got bored with the work again. So this kind of went on and on and on until I realized I don't think this is my thing.
[00:03:34] So then it was “OK”. What's my next move. So, I started to look at the skills that I have acquired over the years. I was reading a lot of books, and you know again this was the time that I was very intrigued by entrepreneurs and how they follow their passion but actually turn it into a career, not just a moment if you will. So I realized, I have an acting degree so I can speak in front of people. I can communicate with people effectively. I have a business degree, so I have kind of a working knowledge of what it takes to get by– I guess theoretically. And then I had tutored math in college as well, and learned then that I love to teach people.
[00:04:20] So I'd like to tell people as a kind of a total roll of the dice. I was like, okay well if I understand business, kind of generally, I can communicate with people. My passion is fitness and I love teaching people. Why not join the fitness industry because all those things, connect– if you think of it that way. I started doing research on what do I need to do to make the career change. I obviously took a massive pay cut to do that. I had to move out of really nice apartments to live in not so nice apartments to make the move financially. Got a job at Equinox, very first job. And then you know it– was only there for about a month. And then went to another gym, and then eventually on my own.
[00:05:11] I got where I am today really just by following what has always interested me. You know, I've always I grew up being told to be yourself, and to be true to yourself, and really go after what your passion is. But I think what was big for me as I looked at it as, OK, I can't just go after what I'm passionate about. I have to also think about how to turn it into a career because otherwise it's not going to be sustainable. So that's really how I got to where I am today– is really just by going with what I find interesting and really immersing myself into that. And then just day in day out try to get better.
A lot of students think that they have to nail down their four years in college, and that’s what they will be doing for the rest of their life. How would you say this is is true or not true?
Chase Schaap [00:06:06] So, I'm definitely in disagreement with that– completely. I think from my personal experience, going to college taught me self-discipline. It taught me responsibility. It taught me a lot of life skills that you know you need. But in terms of going to school and whatever you study– you're then going to have a 10 or 20 year career I mean I'm living proof that you know it doesn't really work that way. I see so many people, even like clients I work with– they have these degrees and they have what seems like a successful career but they're completely unhappy with what they're doing. And I think people get caught up in the fact that there’s this “fabricated” mentality of, “I went to school for this, therefore I should do this.” Which I think is totally not the way to look at it. I know you and I have talked about this in the past. I think when we first met, is like, it's the way you perceive things and I think like for kids coming through college– being conditioned to think that “I studied accounting, therefore I need to be an accountant,” instead of thinking that accounting is just a really really valuable skill set that then you can apply to a number of different jobs or fields or industries.
Your company and brand is called Incremental Gains. How did you come about starting it and what does the name mean?
Chase Schaap [00:07:56] Sure, incremental gains first is a training personal training nutrition coaching company dedicated to helping high achieving professionals transform their lives through fitness. I work with a lot of C-level executives, VPs, performers, entrepreneurs. Kind of a mixed bag of highly ambitious people. But how it came about is interesting. I was actually training my mentor/client/friend at the time at home, and I had been working independently. I want to say for you know six to nine months. So I was on my own. But you know at that current time, trying to figure out, okay, how am I going to brand myself? Do I name it after myself? Do I name it after me, or come up with a name. And my mentor and I were constantly discussing in our sessions. I'm so lucky because I felt as if I was in kind of a business coaching session myself, because I would bounce ideas off him. For me, the work I do personally– I'm working with people to help them improve their health and their well-being. So, the work I do is not about me. First and foremost, it's never about me. It's about whoever I'm working with– so that constantly was in my head, that the work I do is highly impactful, like I'm the brand. However, it's never about me, it's about the other person. So– I can't name it after myself. And I was looking at the industry and colleagues and the competition, you know, what are other people doing? What are they naming their brands after? And so many people name it after themselves, which I think is great. But, personally I think there's a connotation that comes with that– that it's about them and that's not the vibe I wanted to give off. I wanted to give off the vibe with every single person that I work to know that I'm committed to them, not myself. That was one– that I couldn't use one criteria, I couldn't use my name.
[00:10:08] The second was like– there's so much misinformation not just about fitness and the stuff I do, but like you know, “I read it on the Internet. Therefore, it's true.” Right? So there's so much stuff out there. And one of my promises when I got into this was like– I'm going to be 100 percent honest with people and clients when I'm working with them. If I don't know something, I'm not going to pretend like I do. If someone needs care from a physical therapist or a chiropractor, I'm not going to pretend to know what I'm doing. I'm going to refer out.
[00:10:38] Going back to the name I wanted to name it– I wanted the name to be very raw, very real, and very true. If you think about fitness (and you can make the same case for business), I was like, okay, well you know it's that the reality is no one achieves most goals overnight. It's a process. And it's an incremental process. And I kept bouncing names around with my mentor and finally, Incremental Gains just came up. It still feels kind of weird saying it because it goes against what we want as humans, right? We want instant gratification. Well, we want stuff now. We want it overnight. We want it fast. The reality is, that's just not how fitness works– or health at all. The people that want that go after the six pack abs in six weeks or whatever– it's usually never sustainable. So, I was like, I want something that's going to one– catch people's attention, two– be very different from what's out there, and three– be very raw. And Incremental Gains kind of just seem to stick– like yeah, that stands out. Because everyone else is promising stuff now, or next week, or the following week. And that's not true, at least not the stuff that I try to work with clients, and so that's really what led me to it. Incremental Gains.
[00:12:14] Fortunately people have seen it and they're like “huh– I don't know that I want that.” It's my job to kind of educate as the professional saying, you may not want that but what you do want, and the only way you're going to get there is to approach it as a process and a long term commitment. Just like in business, think about startups– when is it ever, “Oh, I did this in a day or week.” It just doesn't happen. So, that's really how that happened. I was training a client in his basement, in his home, and just a lot of conversations and ideas bouncing and lined up with that.
As a personal trainer, where and how do entrepreneurial skills come into play so to speak?
Chase Schaap [00:13:19] I'll use my background to answer the question. When I first started, I was at Equinox and then Fitness Formula here in the city.
[00:13:29] And you know everyone– if you're looking for a gym and you live in Chicago, you're probably familiar with those brands right? But if you join either gym and then decide that you want to use a trainer, you have another decision to make, because you have 20 of them to choose from– so then it's okay, do I want a male or a female. You make that decision then you're kind of stuck. Right? It's like, well who's good? Who's qualified to help lead me to my goals? So you need to be able to stand out. You need to be able to differentiate yourself. In a crowded marketplace, even though it's within the same company, it's you. You're selling yourself at the end of the day. In my industry, people are paying to work with me. Yeah I'm qualified, but it kind of goes back to the saying, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care– and you know, in my industry, that carries a lot of weight. It's great to know a lot, but you also have to figure out, how do you differentiate yourself as a person. What kind of, I guess aura, if you will, do you want to give off? What do you want your persona, your message to be? Because at the end of the day, you can have as much knowledge as possible as a trainer, but if you're not able to effectively communicate with people, and be able to adapt on the fly– because let's say I have a client who's going on vacation, now I need to fill the slot with someone else. Right? On the fly. You've got to be very agile. I think entrepreneurial skills are mission critical for anyone in my field to be successful for a long period of time.
How do you market yourself in your industry? What are you doing to build your brand? Are there any technologies that are helping you do so?
Chase Schaap [00:15:42] So primarily for me, social media. I have a website. Which I want to get into writing more. But for me, I'm a one man band. I'm kind of restricted by time, so my tradeoff is– I could put a lot of energy into that, but then I found that it comes at the expense of the quality of service I can provide my clients, which I don't want to do. So, I'm juggling working and leveraging technology for marketing reasons. That's second priority to the clients I work with, but primarily the only technology I'm working with weekly is social media which is totally crazy. Things have changed a lot, right? And it's crazy to me that I got into this thinking I needed a website, and I needed all of this stuff related to it– widgets and attributes on my website, but at the end of the day, I've found the greatest success so far from social media– which is exactly how we connected. Right? Digging a little deeper, like Instagram specifically, I've been really into the hashtags and how to really leverage good hashtags to target the people that you want to target, the areas, the demographics. So that's really been the bulk of my focus when it comes to Instagram. And then just a lot of testing, you know, you can read a lot of books, you can follow the people who have lots of followers who appear to be successful, but at the end of the day, when you're doing it– you've got to find what works for you. You've got to get comfortable recording videos and then putting yourself out there for people to critique you. So it's that in its own as a process. But you know, technology for me has been very simple. Again, I got into it thinking that I need this elaborate, techno-monster, right? And I got into it and I'm like wasting so much time. It’s way simpler than that for me. So, really just Instagram and being consistent with it, and putting myself out there, not caring what people think. Reaching out to people, responding to people. It's kind of two groups of people– the people that are willing to reach out and have a conversation over technology who've never met in person, and then people that really aren't. So, I've just kind of roll my sleeves up and started to talk more to people online and get kind of comfortable with that.
You mentioned that if you did all these different things, you would start to sacrifice quality. Do you face burnout? How do you handle it or prevent it from happening in the first place?
Chase Schaap [00:18:59] Sure. I don't.
[00:19:01] I think the way to avoid burnout is through self-awareness. I think if I brought it down to one thing, it has to be self awareness. I get very tired. I have days often where I get home and I don't have a problem falling asleep at night because I'm exhausted. I'll have periods of time where I feel like if I kept going, burnout would occur. But it goes back to self-awareness– being able to recognize that you're tired, and then actually you know. Allowing yourself to relax. Obviously, I'm a little biased, but I think taking care of your body is also one of the best ways to avoid burnout. Making sure that you're exercising. You are your own machine. I train a lot of singers. And I always tell them, you are your instrument. You're going to succeed, and in direct proportion to how well your body performs physically and mentally. The same holds true with anybody else. When you talk about burnout and how to avoid it, you have to be very self-aware with your body. You have to listen to your body. I think we all are aware, but obviously some more than others. And then you have people that recognize, “okay I'm really really tired but I'm going to put in two more hours of work” and then you have the people that are “okay I'm really really tired, I'm not going to put in two more hours of work because I know the quality is going to be way less than what I could do if I recharge and come back tomorrow.” And I think at the end of the day it's all self awareness. Then nutrition as well, right? If you use, and I hate using a car as a metaphor, but if you drove a Ferrari– you're not going to go to the gas station and put regular gas in it. Right? That's not how Ferrari's perform, they require premium fuel. Right? The same holds true for us as human beings. If you eat like crap, you're not going to perform like crap. That’s as high of a level– and add lack of sleep, and long work hours to that– you're going start to approach something like burnout.
How important is networking and what are some ways you get around doing it?
Chase Schaap [00:21:47] Yeah, so networking– I like to tell people– it's my superpower. I guess it’s the one thing I know I'm really good at. And again going back to how I got to where I am today, like my acting degree, I draw so much on that because it's taught me to perform on stage and speak in front of people, and I was for sure nervous when I did it but I did it so much that now, it's second nature.
[00:22:13] So I leveraged the heck out of that, and networking has been everything to me because when I went from working at a gym to on my own, I was pretty much off social media for a while. All I had to rely on was networking, I had to literally hit the pavement, literally go knock on doors, literally go meet people, shake people's hands.
[00:22:52] I do a lot of stuff with Chicago Innovation. They used to go by Chicago Innovation Awards, and now Chicago Innovation. But that's been a game changer for me, and fortunately my mentor is Tom Kuczmarski– the guy who was a co-founder of Chicago Innovation. And when I first started going to Chicago Innovation events, I felt like I wasn't on the same tier or level as other people.
[00:23:24] I didn't belong because I'm in this room full of successful entrepreneurs and people that were much more wealthier than me and successful than me. But again, like the more I went, the more I got comfortable with it and just started doing it as much as I can. That's turned into so many client referrals, and I think more importantly, just confidence you know? You're not going to meet someone you know, not everyone you meet is going to have an impact on your career or change your life. Right? But unless you put yourself out there, and you go to these things and you meet people– you're not even giving yourself a chance. And if you're related to like sales, the more times you try to sell something to people– eventually someone's going to say yes. Right? I think the same holds true with networking. You just keep meeting people, meeting people, and meeting people, and then just like this, like now, we're chatting together and it all started from just a basic social media interaction. Then you just keep kind of progressing the relationship. I think networking is way more valuable than people give it credit for, old fashioned networking in particular. Now people reach out on social media, but like, How much more powerful is it when you're in the same room with someone and you can actually shake their hand and you can actually gauge their behavior and have real conversations? So for me it's it's been everything. And I do not think I'd still be working on my own. I know for a fact I would not be working with the people that I'm working with if not for networking. It's a pretty sweet thing.
What are your thoughts on building a personal brand?
Chase Schaap [00:25:31] I don't know if I'm having a really fun time working with people right now and I know if I were to scale what I'm doing and then bring on a team. I know that it would turn into less working with people, right? I would have to work with people, I would have to manage a team, and then to scale even more, I would eventually have to network with people at all, right? And going back to the name. A lot of people in my industry have named their gyms after their name. The problem that you run into with that is, as you start to gain popularity and people find out who you are, they want you. Right? They want the name. They want the person behind the name of the business. And you know if you scale an operation, you're not going to have the time to be that person for them. So if I named it, you know, Chase Fitness– people are going to want to work with Chase. Well, what happens if Chase doesn't have time? I'm busy building the business. So that was another thing, where I can't name it after myself. I have to go with Incremental Gains or something else because if someone, let's say in Chicago, is reaching out for a trainer they know that the brand offers high quality services. And anyone that works for that brand, they're going to perceive it the same way that they all offer the same high quality services.
[00:26:51] I've had people say I've done a lot of workshops and continuing education. And one of the common things that gym owners say (who have named it their gyms after themselves), is that they wish they could do it all again. They would name their business something else and not after themselves. So, I really took that advice to heart when going after the branding stuff.
[00:27:17] Yeah on top of that, I think branding is super important. I'm a big Richard Branson fan. Pretty much everything he does, but he's so consistent. Right? It's so consistent and real and who he is, all across the board with him. His message is always very impactful, very real. And I think, your personal brand is going to affect the business brand. Right? And that's going to affect success in a lot of ways. Whether you're talking about a company's brand or your personal brand– they're very interconnected. They influence each other. When it comes to branding, it's all about being true to who you are, who you serve, what your message is, and being very very consistent with that.