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SFN Expo - From Zero Funding to World Class Event!
by Startacus Admin
Having gone from absolutely no funding, with only some people skills, books and ideas, Neil McLean talks to us about starting the SFN Expo, one of the biggest Sports, Fitness and Nutrition Events in Scotland.
So Neil, tell us all about the SFN Expo “The SFN Expo is Scotland’s first ever Sport, Fitness & Nutrition Exhibition. It’s held in Scotland’s biggest event venue, The SECC in Glasgow, and hosts the biggest names in fitness, live seminars, over 100 exhibitors such as USN, Promixx and Jordan Fitness; and live events such as Strongman, Throwdown and Les Mills Classes - all under one massive 6000sqm roof.”
Wow! That’s really impressive, How did you come up with running such a huge fitness event? “I spent most evenings behind my laptop writing business plans for whatever wacky idea I came up with that day. My friend made the point that I should stick to what I knew for once - fitness, nutrition and events, as I used to run club nights. I don’t see the point in the ‘start small’ mentality, regardless of financial positioning, as I see dreaming big being beneficial for someone with limited cash for starting a business. I’ve just finished my first book, which is all about how to start a large scale business when you’ve not got a penny to your name.”
Is the Expo only catered towards fitness junkies? Or is there something for everyone? “To be honest, this doesn’t really make business sense, but we built the show around drug tested events, which no other fitness exhibition does. This is much less lucrative, which in our position was very risky, but Jamie and I had a vision for the show. It can take away some big personalities and brands, which was tough to give up at startup stage. However, the point was that we wanted the show to be an inspirational show, regardless of where you are currently in your fitness journey. What you see at The SFN Expo is truly what can be achieved through hard work and dedication. Therefore, I’d like to think we cater for anyone, at any level.”
We know a little bit about your startup story; coming from zero funding to a HUGE expo turnout! Tell us about that. “Yeah, it’s been a crazy year. Jamie and I actually signed contracts worth about 20x my best ever annual wage right at the beginning, before we’d sold a single thing. I think the biggest lesson I could ever tell anyone wanting to start a business with no money, is to read at least 3 books a month: one on people skills, one on sales and one on marketing. People skills buy you unofficial payment terms, discounted rates, gain priceless partnerships, get you to the decision maker at the first call etc. Sales are everything and you need to get pretty good at them as, in your position, you don’t just want sales when you open, you need to convince people that you are worthy of pre-sales. The best Marketing is free anyway, so learning everything you can will put you on par (or close) with your seemingly scary competitors, with their massive budgets ‘wasted’ on massive billboards on every corner.” What challenges have you faced to get to this point? How have you overcome them? Do any persist? “The biggest problems were, like most startups; cash flow and getting the word out there with a limited budget. Both were tackled and both still persist, but they’re much easier to manage now as we’re now profitable, albeit a bigger, more expensive show to put on. For cash flow, we focussed on pre-sales of exhibitor stands and tickets. Literally down to the day, there was always an incentive in place as to why you wanted to buy today rather than tomorrow. We would take a ‘hit‘ on whatever someone would be likely to pay down the line, so we could make the sale today. Getting the word out there with no marketing budget took quite a lot of trial, error and creativity. One of the best things we did was start The Scottish Fitness Awards and run it at the show, on the final day. Voting for the winners took place on our website and once you voted you received a discount code for tickets. With the best of the best in gyms, brands and PT’s driving their fans to our site, around 12,000 voted and received a discount code with a great proportion taking action!” What are your plans for the expo and yourself? Any goals or ambitions for the future? “The plans for the expo are massive. We’ve got our 5 year plan pencilled in for the venue as we grow every single year into - we hope - the biggest exhibition of any kind in Scotland. We have also been approached by recommendation to take the show to another continent in 2016, due to the success of the first show and the clean image it represents. Personally, I’ll be focussing on the growth stage now of The SFN Expo instead of spreading myself too thin on any other projects. I’ve got future plans to start a business that allows me to work around animals, but will have to put that dream on hold for the meantime! My book about starting a large scale business without a penny in the bank will be available in around a month. I think with the lack of accessible funding available at the moment for startups, and ambitions not getting any smaller in the entrepreneurial community, it’ll be a great read that will spark some ideas on how to get around crazy startup costs and get to launch stage! If anyone wants to speak to me about how to get around their start-up costs in the mean time, I’m more than happy to help out. Just hit me up on Twitter!”