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“Once the investor saw my business plan on LivePlan, he immediately got back to me and said, ‘I’m in.’ ”

E'a Williams is many things: an artist, a dancer, a service provider.

One thing she would never have thought of adding to that list is “entrepreneur”. “I don't have a business bone in my body,” she says with a laugh.

Yet the Chicago resident is making a go at running her own business thanks to an overwhelming desire to help people; a surprise investor; and a little help from LivePlan business planning software.

BE Fit! Tri Wellness isn't your average gym, just like its owner isn't your average businesswoman. First of all, it doesn't look like a gym. With hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling mirrors, it feels more like a dance studio. People who sign up for classes such as Groove Theory Zumba, Afro Beat Dance, Power Yoga, and Chair Dance Boot Camp get a serious workout, but they have fun while they're doing it. “I'm offering to treat you the way I want to be treated,” E'a says. “I hate the gym. I hate machines. There are so many ways to incorporate dance and fitness into your routine and trick yourself into getting fit.” Even her boot camps, she says, provide the same level of mind, body and soul healing that you would get from a yoga class.

The studio also offers wellness and nutrition workshops, massage therapy, and acupuncture. That is E'a's special touch – helping her clients look at health and wellness holistically.

“You have to supply people with all the information they need or healing is not going to happen. If you don't eat well, a workout isn't going to help you lose weight. If I give you a massage but don't tell you how to stretch or do something else in between sessions to help you feel better, you're not going to feel good and you're going to think massage doesn't work.”

BE Fit! Tri Wellness
E’a Williams puts her vocational training to use during one of her massages

The desire to provide a higher-than-average level of customer service was one of the things that led E'a to start BE Fit! Tri Wellness. She worked as a dance and fitness instructor at other studios for 17 years. Many of those places discouraged her from taking extra time to talk to people about how to improve their physical and mental well-being, which she found very frustrating.

She also worked at several places that shut down due to poor management. The last time that happened, she took a hard look at her life and didn't like what she saw. She was frustrated about seeing the failures in other people's businesses and not being able to do anything about them. She had two kids to support, including one on his way to college, and she needed a steady income. “I just wasn't where I wanted to be in my professional or my personal life.”

She decided she had two options: go out and look for a job in “corporate America,” or start her own business. Rather than pulling up job postings on Craigslist, she sat down and came up with a plan. She had six regular massage clients who she'd been seeing for years. If she could get each of them to commit to seeing her for the next three months, she could afford her own space. Now all she had to do was convince them.

Rather than pulling up job postings on Craigslist, she sat down and came up with a plan.

“Everyone knows that if you want to start a business you need a business plan,” she says. She tried business planning software but found it outdated and hard to use. Then she discovered LivePlan. She liked the fact that she could pay for an online subscription rather than purchasing a program that might be obsolete in six months. And she found LivePlan very user-friendly, she says.

“The interface was fresh and lively. The program gave wonderful examples of what should be in the different sections. I was able to take bits and pieces of those examples, but when I finished each section it sounded like I had written it.”

E'a was particularly concerned about putting together the financial statements since she'd never done it before. LivePlan made it simple. “I could just plug in information without having to do any of the math. That saved a lot of work. It made it very easy to get the business plan done.” In fact, she completed her first draft in 45 minutes.

BE Fit! Tri Wellness
Having the option to simply plug financial data into an application - without having to deal with complicated spreadsheets - makes managing a business a pleasure!

Her next step was using LivePlan's pitch section to craft an email to her massage clients. All of them wrote her back and said yes – except one. E'a read his message with growing disappointment as he said he couldn't commit to three months worth of appointments. Then she got to the next paragraph and danced with joy. What he really wanted to do was invest $10,000 in her business. Maybe more.

The investor asked to see a complete business plan, which she was able to email quickly and easily. When he expressed concern that a few sections of the financial statements were incomplete, E'a added him as a user on her account and told him to make any changes he wanted. “Once he saw the plan he believed in it. He immediately got back to me and said, ‘I'm in.’”

All of her clients wrote back and said yes – except one. What he really wanted to do was invest $10,000 in her business. Maybe more.

E'a found a location in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood, a historic area on the south side. She completely remodeled the building's 1,500 square foot interior to create a space that would make clients feel warm and welcome. BE Fit! Tri Wellness had its grand opening in April and has had a very positive response in the neighborhood. Right now the studio offers eight different types of classes seven days a week. E'a is currently teaching all the courses but plans to bring other instructors on board very soon. She envisions the studio as a community collaborative, a cultural center where people who live and breathe wellness can share their gifts with others. Just like she does every day.

“I've been through a lot in my life, but there's no reason why you can't go forward and enjoy yourself,” E'a says. “Part of opening this place is that people need healing. That's my mission in life: to help people heal.”


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