• Jessica Shields

One-Woman Side Hustle to $1 Million

I started Health and Fitness Activations, at the time Primetime Promotions (what was I thinking with that name?), in 2012. I was doing demos/events full-time, and a close friend of mine introduced me to the founder of Oatmega Bar & Live Soda. He was looking for a company to help staff his demos. I honestly hadn’t really considered starting my own agency, but since I had done what many say is the most difficult part, landed my first client, what did I have to lose?

A 2013 demo with our very first client. 2013 phones didn't take the best photos, lol!

I had worked on the client side and as a brand ambassador under at least a dozen agencies and was NOT impressed with either experience. On the BA side, I felt like we were consistently being asked to do things without being compensated – pick up supplies, attend trainings, etc. On the client side, I didn’t feel like our agencies really cared about our events. I mean, no one from the agencies we used were available on weekends…when all of our events were! I knew I could do better than the competition and was determined to provide great customer service to my clients and appreciation to my brand ambassadors.

So, Primetime Promotions was born. It wasn’t glamorous. I was still traveling the country managing sponsors for a major race property and holding interviews with potential BAs via Skype after hours. When I was home, I felt like I lived at FedEx. It was a grind!

I had to figure out how to do my taxes, manage payroll and form an LLC. But, one thing I didn’t have to figure out was how to find the right staff. I knew what I’d wanted as a client – passion! So, I crafted the interviews in a way that would weed out the “less genuine.” I also renamed the company Health and Fitness Staffing to showcase our unique position in the industry.

This burning the candle at both ends went on for about 2 years. When my husband and I found out we were going to have our first child, I knew I was going to need to change something. My clients worked Monday-Friday. Almost all of our demos and events were on the weekend, which meant I was on-call from 7am-6pm on average. As we grew, it was clear I couldn’t grow a healthy business and a healthy baby doing what I had been doing. But I also couldn’t afford a second salary. So, I did something crazy.

I started a full-time position with Vega in December 2014, two months after my daughter was born…and I gave my “other baby,” i.e. my business, to Alicia Boisvert to grow as she saw fit, giving her a very healthy commission based on company performance. We both knew one day I might come back to HFA, but I felt (and still feel) this was the best way to give my clients and family the attention they deserved.

Alicia took off full-steam and took ownership of her role from day 1. She gained new clients and grew the business 75% in her first three years.

In 2016, Alicia and I created a dream budget. What if our company made $1 million per year in gross revenue? In that same year, our actual revenue was $221k, so it seemed like a pipe dream. But Alicia and I are dreamers, so we put it on paper. We figured out what we would need to do to get there and brainstormed ideas on how to execute the plan.

I entered back into the business part-time in mid-2018, while still working full-time at Vega. It was a challenging time, but Alicia and I were committed to growing HFA so I could come back and we could really “do this thing.”

During this season, we made a lot of major changes. We rebranded again, this time changing the company name to Health and Fitness Activations, reflecting that we do more than just staffing. We also moved all of our 1099 contractors over to W-2 employees. Again, I found myself at the base of a steep learning curve – trying to navigate overtime and vacation accrual laws in 44 states, hiring full-time account managers and trying to cover the cashflow challenges that come with any growing business. But these changes, among others, really took HFA to the next level, allowing me to come back to the business full-time in March of 2019.

On September 30th HFA broke the $1 million annual gross revenue, with 3 months to spare. It’s surreal to see this bucket-list item come to fruition. Surreal, but not surprising. We dreamed, put together a plan and navigated a tough road to get our business poised for growth.

Alicia and I have updated our dream budget many times, increasing the annual revenue to what we think is on the verge of possible. However, we have left the title of the document the same, “$1 million revenue breakdown.” There’s something sentimental about this title – remembering a time when this seemed out of reach, when we were just trying to make our mortgages and daycare bills.

Wherever you are at on your career journey, my encouragement to you is to dream big and find your own path. My road to owning a $1 million/year company was not the traditional one, but I got there in my own time.