Meet the Business: Marisa Lawlor, founder of Just Believe Fit

My business offers a range of mind body exercise styles in a friendly non-judgemental environment. Currently it is only online but usually mainly in a studio or workplace setting. It is for anyone who feels intimidated by gyms or boutique studios where you have to look a certain way before you can work through the door. It is a community of like-minded people who enjoy social interaction and a sense of belonging. Our aim is for people to have the choice of a variety of exercise types do they don’t get bored and can respond to the needs of their body on any given day. I also offer in-house classes, presentations and professional development in the workplace to enhance health and wellbeing and all of the benefits these bring.

You’ve got a free half hour during your work day. What do you do?

During lockdown it has been to get outside and drink in as much fresh air as I can and if possible soak up some sunshine. 

Who, or what, is your biggest inspiration?

I have a very special friend who lives in the USA  who we visited in Sept 2014 when I was on long service leave and at my career crossroads. She could see that I was deeply unhappy about the prospect of returning to teaching and was encouraging me to think outside the square and follow my fitness passion. We talked for hours and hours about what I could do to leave my job. I had a business name Just Believe Fit and was teaching a few Pilates classes at a ballet studio under that banner. At the time that was pretty much the extent of my exit plan from school teaching. When I returned to Australia a card arrived in the mail from Kelly. It contained a cheque for $3000 USD. Kelly wanted me to have the chance to leave teaching and get started on the road to a new career that would feed my soul and keep me happy. She believed in me and she wanted me to believe in myself. And so I did.

It was Kelly who sent me a beautiful print with the quote : She believed she could...as so she did .

It has become my mantra.

We have this quote on the wall of the studio under a beautiful art installation of flying butterflies. It has been altered to say ‘They believed they could...and so they did’. Now it is everyone’s mantra.

When did you know you wanted to start your own business?

On my 50th birthday in 2013 I knew I had reached a crossroad in my life. Stay in teaching and die a slow painful death in a toxic workplace or recreate myself and try my hand at something new. Walking away from 28 years of secondary school teaching wasn’t easy though and 18 years of service in the one school made it even harder...not to mention I was in my 50’s.  Just Believe Fit as a business started properly in August 2015 with some Pilates classes in a hired space, onsite workplace wellness programs and a pre-school creative movement program. Just Believe Fit as a  Pilates, Yoga, Barre studio came into being Jan 2018 when we found our quirky little space down a laneway in Thornbury. Finding a bricks and mortar home made the business real. I think when I had a space to call my own was when my business really started.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt this year?

Hardship brings out the best and worst in people and shows you quite simply what is important and what isn’t. Thankfully I have been on the receiving end of the best and this has inspired me to give my best to what is important in return. 

What’s the best bit of feedback you’ve ever had?

The loyalty of our Just Believe Fit community during the hardest times of lockdown has fed my soul. Their willingness to stay connected, to embrace new modes of delivery and to continue supporting the business is the most authentic and relevant feedback that I could ever wish to receive.

What’s your proudest moment?

Every time I walk into my studio I am proud. I have built a community that I love being part of and that other people love being part of too. That is so special.

What’s your number one way to wind down?

It used to be drinking red wine and going to a movie with my hubby now its drinking red wine, a bit more red wine and watching a good Netflix series on TV! If my husband is not around I have been known to watch Dr Pimple Popper. Don’t ask.

What’s your favourite film and album?  

Red Dog. The only film I don’t tire of watching over and over again! I don’t have a favourite album but I am a sucker for 80’s playlists on Spotify.

What’s the smartest bit of marketing you’ve ever done?

An annual charity fundraiser called Re-Activate. We invite people to donate preloved activewear in good condition for a sale in our studio. All proceeds of the sale go to a charity of our choice. This year it was Berry St Child and Family Welfare Service. Whilst people get to clear out their cupboards they also get the opportunity to restock with brand name items they might not have been previously able to afford as a motivator to get active! We raise money for an awesome organisation and do our bit for the environment too. Whilst it does not necessarily convert to sales it puts us out there as a business with a social conscience. And that is exactly what we are. We are building a reputation as a wellness business that has heart and soul in the community as well as in the studio

What’s the one resource you’d never be without?

The online resource I use most is and can’t do without is CANVA. Best tool for creating all things social media. Love it!

What or who has the most grounding influence on you?

My husband. He is practical, pragmatic and an amazing manager. He is my sounding board and strongest supporter and I couldn’t be where I am without him.

What’s the biggest challenge you face at work? 

Trying to get the landlords to fix what needs to be fixed in an old building!!! Sadly both landlords and agent leave much to be desired. They don’t seem to realise the effect that this has on the appearance of my business and that is really stressful.

AND

Being visible. My business is in a laneway so unlike some of my closest competitors I don’t have street frontage. The laneway also has heritage cobblestones which make access difficult for anyone with mobility issues.

What’s the best thing about being a soloist? And the worst thing?

I am my own boss. I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself!

I am my own boss. I have to answer to myself!

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

Be a community collaborator! The more you can work in a positive way with the people around you the wider your network will become. The business and local community around you is your survival treasure trove and you receive so much more than you give. We jump on board with school fetes, sponsorship of local clubs, sell honey with no mark up for a beekeeper hobbyist in the area etc, etc It is the feel good element of working with others that adds another dimension to the sometimes lonely life of the soloist.

Where and when do you have your best ideas?

In the shower!! I don’t know what it is but my ideas flow best under a warm shower. I really need to keep an exercise book in the bathroom to capture them. I have been known to run wet and naked to the home office to write an idea down before I forget it!

What would be your advice to aspiring soloists?

There is no quick fix or fast money. Building a business is constant hard work and every bit of effort counts, if not in dollar value in learning experience.  Don’t be fooled by everyone else who looks like they are making it with ease. It is all perception! 

What talent do you most wish you possessed? 

A photographic memory. Well any sort of memory would be good. 

What would your mum say is your greatest strength? And weakness?

I think my mum (and my husband) would say that my greatest strength is my ability to talk to and make friends with anyone within earshot. I get that from her so I count it as my birthright. My son says he got it from me and it's his birthright too. It is the best way to meet people and confirm the 6 degrees of separation.

My mum (and my husband) would definitely say my weakness is trying to do too much….hmmm that may be tied to my good Catholic, Maltese upbringing! 

What’s one thing about you few people know?

If I told you it wouldn’t be something that only a few people know and then I could never answer this question again for anyone else. In truth I am a very transparent person and there isn’t much that people don’t know. What you see is what you get….and I like to watch Dr Pimple Popper!

What is the one regret you do not want to have in this lifetime?

That I had regrets!!!!

What inspires you most about your work?

The satisfaction of seeing the positive effect of movement and exercise on people's everyday life. When participants leave the studio or a workplace class with a smile on their face I get such a buzz. When they leave saying I felt like crap before that class and now I feel amazing I want to hug them. That is my WHY!

My staff and I have the ability to make people feel good from the inside out. No drugs, no gimmicks, no fortune spent...just moving in a way that suits their bodies and is achievable. There is enough hard stuff that we have to deal with on a daily basis so when we can give something that is simple and sustainable then it makes everything we do worthwhile.

What do you wear to work?

I am pretty much the envy of anyone who has to don corporate gear. I wear active wear pretty much everyday of my life. I am known for how many different pairs of leggings I have. These matched with a branded T-shirt is standard attire. Funnily enough my favourite thing at the end of the day is to get out of my leggings and crops into my PJ’s which feel deliciously ‘more comfortable’. It is all relative I suppose.

What do you love most about running your own business?

Everyday I: meet new people; work with an awesome team; learn new things; rise up to different challenges; learn that I am capable of more than I thought; laugh lots and lots; have the flexibility to look after my family; live my passion; am able to be myself

Success is not measured by the amount of dollars you earn, it is the feeling you have in your heart as you earn them.

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