When her gym was shut down by government pandemic restrictions, Elspeth Storrar pivoted. She’s now the CEO of Girls Get Strong Cycling, delivering online cycle coaching to women across the globe. She also runs women-only cycling camps in Mallorca, Spain.
We talk about her shift from gym ownership to online coaching, the myriad benefits of cycling for women, and what she’s learned about running specialty camps.
1:09 – The “hit-by-a-car test”
1:51 – The pandemic pivot
3:29 – Typical clientele
4:33 – Online cycle coaching
6:15 – The business model
8:32 – The cycling camp
11:26 – Benefits of cycling
16:46 – Focus
17:33 – Connecting and listening to your audience
21:06 – Growing the team
Tiffy Thompson: 0:04
When her gym was shut down by government pandemic restrictions, Elspeth Storrar pivoted. She’s now the CEO of Girls Get Strong Cycling, delivering online cycle coaching to women across the globe. She also runs women’s-only cycling camps in Mallorca, Spain.
We talk about her shift from gym ownership to online coaching, the myriad of benefits of cycling for women, and what she’s learned about running specialty camps.
Hey, Elspeth – welcome to the show.
Elspeth Storrar: 0:45
Hello. Great to be here.
Tiffy Thompson: 0:48
So, first off, how are you? I understand you have a broken wrist from being hit by a car.
Elspeth Storrar: 0:55
Yeah, so I had the cast off yesterday.
Tiffy Thompson: 1:00
What was that like as a cyclist – being hit like that?
Elspeth Storrar: 1:07
It was quite difficult, especially we had one of our cycling camps, like the week after it happened. So yeah, it was, it was quite difficult not being able to cycle; where I live cycling’s everywhere. The weather’s beautiful. So I believe as you know, as cycling is so, so, so good for your mental health. It really affected me, I think, just not having that routine, not being able to get outdoors and, and I suppose keep the momentum on, on my own goals as well. Within cycling too.
Tiffy Thompson: 1:41
Yeah. I want to go back to how you went from gym owner in, in the UK, right?
Elspeth Storrar: 1:51
No, I was a gym owner in Spain. I used to be personal trainer in the UK. That’s how working in the fitness industry started. Then I was a gym owner in Spain.
Tiffy Thompson: 2:02
And what, what made you wanna take a leap from gym owner to cycling coach?
Elspeth Storrar: 2:07
Well, um, I suppose it was always something in me, um, wanting to go into being a cycle coach. but what stopped me I think was because it was my hobby. I have the philosophy, um, do the job you love and you have to find a new hobby. Um <laugh> but actually it’s fueled my passion and, and really, um, you know, I try and keep the, both two separate in a way. but it’s really, really fueled my passion, um, for cycling, um, especially women cycling as well. It’s made me a little bit aware of, um, my own insecurities, within that as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 2:45
What do you mean?
Elspeth Storrar: 2:46
It’s made me a bit more aware as well of, and being more open, about women’s cycling and how we need to grow it really and provide other opportunities rather than just accepting things for how they are.
Tiffy Thompson: 3:03
I’m not entirely familiar with the cycling world. Is it for, for a lot of women that you, that you come into contact with? Is it, is it more of a hobby, like do they see themselves as, as, as pro cyclists or, or working towards a, a higher level of achievement or do they just, are they in that sort of amateur zone?
Elspeth Storrar: 3:27
It’s a mix really. I’d say most of the women, a lot of the women that train to us, um, are say like 30, 40 plus. So, you know, we have connected with women all the way up into their seventies. Wow. So for a lot of it’s for fitness, it’s a hobby, you know, a lot of them, their kids have left home, you know, they really wanna do something for themselves. They’ve got more more time, more of a disposable income as well. And just love getting outdoors. So it’s nice. We have some women as well, and, and it’s the role reversal. It’s usually the women at home, you know, having to do all the chores, but some of the women are actually, you know, there they’re embracing it a lot more in, in, you know, having the free time as well to, to get out on their bikes and enforcing that.
Tiffy Thompson: 4:15
Mm-hmm <affirmative> I want to talk a bit more about your, your transition from gym owner though. Cause it’s, it’s like you’re in a gym you’re stuck in a stationary brick-and-mortar location with all the, all the things that that comes with. What is, what did that feel like being unfettered from all of that?
Elspeth Storrar: 4:36
Well, I thought I’d have, like, I’d be more location dependent. I’m an online site. We do online cycle coaching and cycling camps as well. So the camps are pretty full on in, in some ways as well. I mean, it’s quite seasonal, but yeah, it is very different. In some ways I find it hard to focus on one thing. I find it hard to enforce my role. You know, there’s not, there’s not like a building where there’s a person that is, is in authority and things like that as well. I think it takes longer to, to create these virtual, um, bricks in some ways of, of, of establishing that brick business and that brand. Um, but in some ways it, it’s quite a bit more fulfilling and impactful as well. Um, it’s amazing that we have ladies that train with us, um, from all over the world. So that’s really interesting. And, and for the coaches that work with me as well, I think they, at first it was a bit like, oh, they need to know the weather, what it’s like, where people are in the terrain, but actually they, they love it now. They find it really interesting, you know, they know the right questions to ask to, to, to get to know about, about their athletes as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 5:52
So explain to me how the model works. Exactly. Like how, what happens, how, how, if, if I sign up with you as my cycling coach, how does that sort of play out?
Elspeth Storrar: 6:04
Um, well I based it a lot on, um, what two brain business taught me in terms of like the marketing, um, for sales, a lot of it is all the same. So, um, initially I offered, um, just a monthly membership. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, that’s generally what other cycle coaches do. Right. Um, but actually I found it harder for people to sign up for a recurring, um, recurring, um, membership. So, um, so I started with like a six week program. Within those six week it’s more a high accountability program. So that time really is to connect with their coach. Um, so yeah, so they do, we call it a discovery call, um, where they book in with one of our sales team that are all experienced cyclists, um, get to know a little about them, get to know about their goals and then, um, then sign them up on one of our programs. So we have different options, just cycle coaching. we help them with strength specific, um, strength, like cycle specific strength training, um, that fits around their cycling and then, um, also nutrition coaching as well. So with the nutrition coaching, a lot of it is for weight loss and then also as well, um, just to help people with their nutrition, fitting it around having a busy life and, and cycling as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 7:23
So are you checking in with them daily?
Elspeth Storrar: 7:29
The first six weeks they have a video call with their coach each week. Then we use a program called training peaks, so that’s a really good tool where the coach can put all the training in there exactly what they need to do. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and then, um, technology is amazing. Now I think with cycling some people, you know, it is very flexible. It works on the athlete. Really. Some of them just like to be told what to do and see how it feels <laugh>, um, a lot, you know, they don’t wanna get to know the technology, you know, that’s too much of a mountain for them, so, which is fine, all the way to like those that have power meters so we can see exactly what power, um, that they’re putting out, um, during the training. And then it’s important for them to tell us how they’re feeling as well during the training. So their coach will check in with them a few times a week as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 8:19
And then you also have like a, a community element cuz you also run cycling camps. How do you set up those specific cycling camps?
Elspeth Storrar: 8:34
So where I live in Mallorca, it’s like cycling paradise. It’s very popular, for cycling holidays. It’s a tourist destination. Um, so for those, we market them, um, you know, through our community. So we get a lot of ladies that coach with us, a lot of ladies that wanna come on the camps that wanna be trained for the camps as well. So we help them with coaching. Um, so yeah, the cycling camps, it’s a holiday. Um, we rent out a beautiful thinker there. Um, you know, they have, um, rides that they go out on each day as well, suited to restore different levels as well. You know, we help them with skills, um, on the bike that we, we can’t help them so much, um, with the online coaching. And it’s just a really good, it’s just a really good, nice opportunity when I first did it just to bring all women together, mm-hmm <affirmative> and cycle with women, just with women, they realize they’re actually, um, quite strong. Um, you know, when, when they put, when they’re not compared to men as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 9:36
Right, right. Why do you focus on coaching women exclusively? What, what, what, what’s the draw there?
Elspeth Storrar: 9:43
I always was a bit against that. You know, you should be a quality, you should go with everyone, but the more and more it’s actually, it’s the way that women communicate is a lot different and are probably put off by a lot of the techy things that we think we should all know. Um, but it’s, it’s really nice. I wish some ways I could be not, not, not own the company that even in the community as well, if someone had made it for me, it’s really rewarding. It’s really, really rewarding to just to see the friendships that are made through the coaching and through the camps as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 10:35
And an atmosphere devoid of mansplaining?
Elspeth Storrar: 10:38
Yeah. We do have some men at the camp that, that work at the camp, um, that do the washing and, um, <laugh> prepare the food and things for us. So we have a bit of a role-reversal.
Tiffy Thompson: 10:54
So how does your approach change when you’re coaching more the professional cyclist, as opposed to the hobbyist?
Elspeth Storrar: 11:03
It’s all the same really. Okay. Um, it’s, you know, we, we, every, every person that we coach, we try and listen to what they want to get out of it and then push them to believe that they can get to the next level, you know, if that’s what they want as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 11:22
And what does cycling give you personally when you’re, when you’re out there?
Elspeth Storrar: 11:29
I love it. Cause it’s like problem solving. You can always get faster and – I know all the doubts that I have in myself sometimes it’s like, I’m not good enough. I’m never gonna, um, you know, I should just stop… So yeah, there’s all those doubts that come into me as well. But then I know that in some ways they’re not real, that, that the more, I just stick on this path, I have a coach myself. I know, you know, I get better and I’m when I’m 36 now I’m not the youngest. Um, but, but it’s, it’s nice as well within cycling. I think, you know, we can perform at a high level at an older age as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 12:22
It seems like a good way to get into flow state too.
Elspeth Storrar: 12:25
Oh yeah, definitely. Yeah. I’ve totally missed flow state since I’ve not been out cycling <laugh> um, like thing, um, not so much now I suppose I do the training’s quite intense sometimes, but yeah, definitely… all these ideas come into my head. It’s like a meeting like a, a morning meeting with myself that I have every morning.
Tiffy Thompson: 12:46
So what do you prefer then; cycling by yourself or cycling with a group or does it just depend on your mood?
Elspeth Storrar: 12:53
It depends on my mood a lot. I’m quite solitary. I quite like cycling by myself a lot.
Tiffy Thompson: 12:59
Do you have music?
Elspeth Storrar: 13:01
Not so much, not so much. Um, yeah, I just focus on doing intervals and things and just, just the time just passes. Um, but yeah, sometimes I like cycling with other people in Mallorca. There’s lots of amazing groups any day of the week, you know, I could just turn up ride with people and um, I have to say, you know, through the cycling community, um, you know, I’m, I’m moving house at the moment, actually. Every problem solved with that is someone I know with, within cycling as well. So it’s, it’s really nice. It’s a really nice community, I think in, in all parts of the world.
Tiffy Thompson: 13:40
And, and with the women you work with, what, what are you hearing from them? What does cycling do for them?
Elspeth Storrar: 13:47
The same things I suppose; they all know it’s very good for their mental health. They wanna get faster, you know, they, they don’t really see age as a barrier. I think a lot of them, um, you know, they, they, they already wanna push themselves and, and be quite courageous as well, which is great, you know, have freedom. Um, you know, not be the norm, I suppose.
Tiffy Thompson: 14:13
I think, I think the freedom piece is very key because I don’t know, I, I’m not a pro cyclist or anything, but like I, I am a mom of two little kids and like, I know if I get on my bike <laugh> I can be gone. They can, they can’t bother me. They can’t, you know, it’s a little break, like a physical break.
Elspeth Storrar: 14:39
I try and remind a lot of my, um, a lot of the ladies and athletes that train with us… I try and remind them as well. You know, I, I think there is still a lot with, with women, you know, they’re the ones that expected to be at home.
It’s actually more challenging for them to, to you just come home from work and go out on the bike and, you know, we, we, we try and encourage, um, or, or just create boundaries to understand, is it good for them? And you know, when a, I think a, a client she said to me as well, oh, well my kids, they all, they all, they all really love zooming when I get back from a ride. Cause they know I’m in a good mood.
Tiffy Thompson: 15:19
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Elspeth Storrar: 15:21
Reminding that, that as that they could have a grumpy mom that’s there all the time when you call seven or, or someone that gets out. Another athlete that trained with us, she, you know, one of her best things, I, um, she didn’t dare do it. She turned up to the school in a cycling kit to pick up her son and she felt really nervous about doing it. Then it was like, well, no, actually I feel really proud that I’m a great role model. I’m keeping fit, um, you know, instilling great habits for their kids as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 15:49
How long have you had Girls Get Strong?
Elspeth Storrar: 15:56
Two years. So yeah, I started, um, it was when my gym was closed for covid. I thought, you know, my gym was closed . I was quite pissed off. I have to say it was really all well. And I was thinking well, and I thought, well, what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna set this cycle coaching. And it was, it was, I, I thought I’d do it just out of, recruit back the money that I lost when I was lost in, in COVID and it’s overwhelmed really. It’s taken over.
Tiffy Thompson: 16:30
What’s had the biggest learning curve for you when it comes to running an online business?
Elspeth Storrar: 16:42
I think focus, I find it hard to focus. There’s so many different opportunities. There’s, you know, there’s so many different roles and I would say the roles aren’t even really defined in, in, in such a way. So it is focus and working from homes quite difficult as well, I think in that context as well. It can be quite lonely in some ways.
Tiffy Thompson: 17:07
What helps you focus?
Elspeth Storrar: 17:10
Cycling? I don’t think I’m quite focused.
Tiffy Thompson: 17:17
Do you consider yourself a CEO now?
Elspeth Storrar: 17:23
I don’t know. Well, if someone has to be CEO, then it’ll definitely be me, but yeah. <laughs>
Tiffy Thompson: 17:31
What would you say is your entrepreneurial superpower?
Elspeth Storrar: 17:36
It’s listening and connecting with my audience. I feel quite brave saying that in some ways, but yeah, it’s being able to get to their level, not think that I know everything. That’s probably the one thing I would say to most entrepreneurs: You can learn 90% about your business by listening to your audience. There are teachers really, having the cycling camps is a great opportunity for that. You know, you you’re, you’re almost living with them for a week.
Tiffy Thompson: 18:19
Regarding the cycling camps, how do you set them up? So they’re personalized for each participant? Like I know there’s like group activities, but are, is there some sort of like questionnaire you give them before to calibrate it to what their goals are?
Elspeth Storrar: 18:37
Well, we have different levels for the camps. I don’t necessarily set something up right before. A lot of the women I think are probably a little bit nervous about coming and it’s a, it’s a big thing. They’re coming to another country, riding a bike, that’s unfamiliar with them. A lot of them hire bikes on another side of the road. A lot of them have never been on holiday away from their families for years and with a group of women that they don’t know. So the first day, um, I usually get everyone to write down what they want to achieve throughout the week. Maybe what they’re a bit nervous about, um, being there.
So a lot of them are like, oh, I’m nervous. I’m the one at the back, everyone waiting for. And, you know, everyone’s so supportive throughout the week and everyone realizes the, the anxieties and apprehensions they have then first and next of them has them as well. So, you know, they’re not alone. And then we have quite a few guides throughout all the rides. So we have maximum 15 on the camp and then we’ll have two or three guides on each ride as well. And then also a support car there as well.
So, you know, they’re fully supported in that and the guides will help them with their skills throughout the week as well. So they become, they become more proficient riders by the end of the week.
Tiffy Thompson: 20:03
And are you also participating in all these camps?
Elspeth Storrar: 20:07
Yeah, I’m up there for all of them. I learned very quickly that I couldn’t do everything <laugh>
So the first few camps, we have the staff that were great. The first I wanna be there for the whole week, but I realize my energy just doesn’t sustain that. My goal is by the end of the week, feel good, you know, enjoy the time that I have with everyone. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so I’ll go out on some of the rides, I’ll be there in the evenings with everyone. It’s just training the staff on all of the roles as well, I think for the future so that we can like differentiate that too.
Tiffy Thompson: 20:46
And how many are on your staff?
Elspeth Storrar: 20:49
So I have three online cycle coaches. One in Australia, one in England and then one in Canada and she’s a triathlon specific coach as well. So we had a lot of women that wanted help with triathlon and myself and the other coaches, so we needed someone that was more experienced than us.
So we have a specialist and then for the camps we have, um, uh we’ve how many do we have? So we have two guys that work that live in Mallorca. Then I have, um, three girls that come over from the UK, that come to work at the camp. So yeah, they obviously can’t do all of the dates. Um, so yeah, so, so we retain that to cover the, cover the camps for the year.
Tiffy Thompson: 21:42
And how are people finding you? Like, is it, is it typically through word of mouth or do you do a lot of marketing?
Elspeth Storrar: 21:50
So we do a lot of Facebook marketing, and then I write a blog as well, so the blog’s really, really successful.
Instagram is good. One thing I think is quite successful is – I do calls. I have a presentation to answer anyone’s questions. I think everything is a lot better when you are personally, are there. So it takes quite a lot of time, but I think is quite beneficial. Initially it was one-to-one, then I started doing it with a few people on the call sometimes, which actually works really, really well most of the time. They can realize it is like-minded people similar to them… maybe at the camp. So, you know, it gives them an idea of the type of people that are gonna be there and they’re gonna spend the holidays with too. That’s awesome. I started as well doing Zwift rides. That’s something I probably should have done ages ago, or an online business, really. So it’s nice to connect to other women on Zwift as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 23:01
I’ve never done Zwift. So how does it work? Like you, you see, it’s like a video game where you see who else is cycling?
Elspeth Storrar: 23:13
You that’s, I, the one you can as a, so I’m gonna do for the next one, you can get, there’s a app or a software called discord where you can chat as well. I think some people just zoom, they can leave that in the background so you can chat. Yeah. Essentially you’re cycling, you’ve got a trainer that you can connect with it. So you can see on your stats and data on there as well. I think it’s nice. Like I’ve with my wrist, I’ve been stuck indoors. Right. Which is horrible. <laugh> but I could, I could just do my training, just looking at the numbers or I could pay to use this program Zwift, but I like it even I’m there on my own. You just know there’s other people doing the same thing as you, which I think is, is quite comforting.
Tiffy Thompson: 23:51
Yeah, for sure. So looking back over this whole experience, would you do it again, like, would you make the jump from gym if COVID had never happened? Do you think that you would’ve been at this place where you are now?
Elspeth Storrar: 24:11
Who knows, but I’m definitely happy where I am now. Yeah, definitely. Yeah .Yeah.
Tiffy Thompson: 24:16
What’s next for girls get strong, then – what’s your vision for the future?
Elspeth Storrar: 24:20
What’s my vision. It’s I think it’s just building and reinforcing, um, the brand, um, growing. I think that the, the stronger that we grow our community, the better it can be.
Tiffy Thompson: 24:31
Elspeth Storrar: 24:32
It’s really exciting when I look back to how I was this year and, you know, humbling as well. There’s some of the ladies that were with me when we started and they’re a bit like, oh, maybe they’re a bit like, oh, shit, what’s happened.
But yeah, it’s nice. Like a lot of the women that, I’m just looking back this morning, a lot of the women that, we’ve got booked for our camps coming up are women that are returning as well. So that’s, that’s really, really nice to see that people are wanting to come back to, so we must be doing something, something quite good.
Tiffy Thompson: 25:06
That’s awesome. So if people wanna find you, they can find you where?
Elspeth Storrar: 25:13
So we’re on Facebook – Girls Get Strong Cycling. Yep. We also have a Facebook group; if you have any questions or anything you wanna know about cycling, or you just wanna like share all the things that you’re doing, you wanna feel inspired to do something, then please share everything there. So the Facebook group is Girls Get Strong Cycling as well.
Tiffy Thompson: 25:38
And you’re at girlsgetstrongcycling.com?
Elspeth Storrar: 25:43
Yep. Also Instagram – Girls Get Strong Cycling.
Tiffy Thompson: 25:49
Perfect. Elsbeth – it was a pleasure to chat with you today. Thanks for coming on .
Elspeth Storrar: 25:53
Good. Thank you.
Tiffy Thompson: 25:56
That’s it for Women in Fitness Business. Thanks for listening.