Alumna opens Portland fitness studio to help improve lives
Ten years after earning a marketing degree from MBS, Jess Foss Elsner ’06 is running her own business in Portland, Maine. She is co-owner of Foss Fitness ME where she is fulfilling a long-held dream to make a positive impact on the world by helping people become healthy and fit.
“Health and fitness is fundamental to happiness, and working with people to help them live happier, and change their lives for the better, is immensely gratifying,” says Elsner, who opened Foss Fitness ME with her sister Amy Gamboa in January 2015.
Foss Fitness ME, which uses movement therapy to help clients meet their goals, offers personal, group and online training; fitness and nutrition assessments; as well as guidance for weight loss, pain management, functional movement post-injury and more.
“As we guide clients through the health and weight loss programs we design, it is amazing to watch them improve the quality of their lives and the way they see or value themselves,” Elsner says.
Elsner is a certified personal trainer, nutrition specialist and writer, whose article about the importance of an individualized approach to exercise recently was featured in Essential Living Maine magazine. She lives in South Portland where she grew up.
What do you like about owning and managing a business?
I love being my own boss and having the freedom that comes with that. I don’t need approval from anyone about implementing a new marketing campaign or a new business strategy. Every day is a learning experience and a way for me to challenge myself to be a better thinker, personal trainer and businesswoman.
What are the rewards and challenges?
As a business owner offering a truly life-changing service, I am experiencing personal growth, a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of purpose. Of course, there are challenges too: I have to make sure we stay profitable, figure out the right marketing techniques, and bear the burden of risk that falls on all business owners. It can be a little scary — but I’ve realized that pushing through the fear enables you to meet your challenges and gives you a sense of empowerment and strength.
One of the best things about running my own fitness studio is that every day is different. Each day we offer different classes and training sessions, see different clients, and work on different administrative or business-related tasks, whether creating a marketing campaign, networking with other fitness professionals, or researching business models so we can continue to provide our clients with the best services possible. Keeping up with the latest fitness principles is also an important part of our agenda. Having complete control of my own schedule gives me the freedom to fit in all these daily tasks.
For me, the biggest challenge is marketing — nailing down my target market and the message I hope will reach it. Marketing has become a bigger challenge than I anticipated because I need to rely so heavily on technology. In 2006 when I graduated, social media was not used for marketing and Instagram didn’t exist.
How are you using your MBS education in your daily work?
I use my MBS education every day as I manage all aspects of my business. I constantly apply the critical thinking, analyzing and technical business writing skills that were ingrained in us as students. These allow me to live and work to my fullest potential. And, while I frequently rely on my marketing training, I also appreciate the knowledge I got in my business law, international business, operations management, and management information systems classes, since running a company means knowing about all aspects of business.
What was your career path after graduation?
I always planned to live and work in Maine, but after graduating I moved to Boston to expose myself to a new state and opportunities that would set me apart when I eventually returned. I worked for four years as an analyst at Partners HealthCare, a not-for-profit health care system where I became an expert in information systems.
I did a great job and received a lot of praise — but it wasn’t my passion. I was still missing a sense of fulfillment and had a calling to be my own boss. I would often think, ‘If I can do well at something I don’t love, imagine what I could accomplish in a job that I actually want.’
In 2010, my sister Amy, who graduated from nursing school, told me about a health science class that changed her life by helping her permanently establish healthy eating habits. She was eager to help other people change their lives, too. During our conversation, the idea to open a fitness studio together was born. I believe my MBS schooling and training led me to that moment when I could create and seize an opportunity.
Today, I love what I do and I love the direction my life has taken.
How did MBS prepare you for your career and life after graduation?
MBS prepared me for the real world by shaping me into a confident young professional. My business classes were fun, interesting and diverse, as well as challenging and sometimes stressful. The challenges were what made me so successful after graduation and allowed me to thrive at my job in information systems.
For example, the fall semester of my senior year was incredibly difficult. The classes needed to complete my concentration were the hardest yet; the stakes were high and the pressure was on. During one stress-filled week, in addition to completing projects, I had to deliver presentations in front of my classmates and local business professionals. I can’t tell you many times I wished for that week to be over.
But now I am thankful for the experience because it enabled me to become comfortable with the public speaking that was required in my previous job. Although I had co-workers who disliked getting up in front of large groups of people, I always felt confident, because no presentations ever came close to being as nerve-wracking as the ones I gave in December 2005.
How else have you continued your education since graduation?
I’ve continued my education both for fun and for professional growth. While working in the nonprofit sector, I completed an intensive nonprofit management certificate course at Duke University. I earned my personal training certification from the World Instructor Training School in 2014. And, for the last year and a half I have been studying Universal Movement, a form of martial arts. I currently serve as a volunteer classroom assistant for children’s martial arts.
What are your fondest memories of MBS?
I am grateful for the many wonderful friendships I made that still continue today. I also have great memories of movie nights at DPC; fond feelings about a building in which I spent so much time.
Learn more at fossfitnessme.com.