Running a business is a bit like exercising: You need to be motivated and persistent to see results.

Matt Gentles knows a thing or two about motivation and persistence. As owner of Gents Fitness, a personal training service that prioritizes overall well-being over “quick fixes,” he inspires his clients to stick with, and reach, their fitness goals.

It’s been a steep learning curve for Gentles, a certified personal trainer, who launched Gents Fitness in 2017. “I was afraid of sales when I started,” he says, and early on, his balance sheet reflected that. Determined to conquer his fear and land more clients, he turned to a number of business books, podcasts and videos for help.

He also contacted the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC) and was accepted into the Starter Company Plus program, which YSBEC administers through funding from the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth. The program provides funding, training and other assistance to Ontario residents who want to start or expand a business in the province.

As part of the program, Gentles and 14 other entrepreneurs met every couple of weeks for a morning training session with seasoned business pros. Over the program’s eight sessions, Gentles crafted a solid business plan. “A business plan gives you a straight line as to where you want to go,” he says. “I hadn’t realized how important it was to write down my vision and objectives until I had actually done it.”

The program also spurred him to make some key changes. He switched from training clients at one gym to another gym that’s near his home in Stouffville. Although the rent there is more than what he had been paying, he’s spending less time driving and the facility is closer to his target customers. (Market research showed him that people want to drive less than 15 minutes to a gym.) He also phased out Gents Fitness’s pay-as-you-go option in favour of package deals. Clients can choose from personal training sessions at the gym, customized online training, and nutrition planning. (For this third option, Gentles taps the expertise of his older brother, Mike, a certified specialist in fitness nutrition.)

As a participant in Starter Company Plus, Gentles received $5,000 in financial assistance, which he has put toward a website for Gents Fitness and a laptop computer that converts into a tablet. The laptop-tablet comes in handy when working with clients, but he also uses it to write blogs for his website two or three times a week.

Down the road, Gentles would like to contract out some of his personal training duties so he can offer consulting services to rookie personal trainers who could benefit from his experiences.

For now, though, he’s focused on growing his personal training clientele, having wrestled his fear of sales to the ground.

You can learn more about Gents Fitness and continue following this local York Region success story at

Sara Bedal is a writer and editor who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at [email protected].