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Career

The woman behind Move It Mama - the thriving Facebook Live fitness business that started with a workout on the driveway

Founder and 2019 Her Own Boss winner Lisa Fong shares her journey.

By Monique McKenzie
When Lisa Fong turned up at the school drop-off in her activewear, the other school mums would ask if she'd been at the gym. When she told them she'd just been exercising at home, she was met with disbelief: how did she fit it in among the demands of parenting? With four boys – Rico, eight, Louis, six, Carlos, four, and Teina, two – Lisa, 36, had no time to go to the gym. Instead, five times a week she'd set her boys up with snacks and water and while they sat watching, she'd work out for 20 minutes.
"It was the one thing I could do for myself and it would make me feel so much more positive. It made me feel like I wasn't just this mum struggling and getting torn in millions of ways," she says.
When she shared her secret with the other school mums, they started working out with Lisa in her garden – until a rainy day in June 2017 and limited space in Lisa's house meant they had to find an alternative. She suggested setting up a private group on Facebook, and doing the routine through Facebook Live. It was a hit. "They were like, 'Wow, that's awesome, I can keep my kids at home and get my workout.' They loved it."
That first day she had 40 people in the group. A few days later there were 200 people, and Lisa soon started sharing her workouts three times a week. When she had to go back to teaching, her followers told her, "You have to make this a business, you can't leave. We love waking up with you."

Feeling good

"I was like, 'This is so weird!'" Lisa laughs. But she remembered an idea she'd had after Carlos' birth. She had noticed lots of situations – from someone feeling stuck in a job to new mums who had lost their spark – where regularly exercising was a way to make people feel more like themselves. In her journal, she wrote down an idea for a fitness group that would benefit women like her and called it Move it Mama.
"I'd go to play groups and see my friends struggling; they felt frumpy and not like themselves, so I'd go home and write in my journal about starting a group. I knew that exercising regularly and to a timetable was a magic ingredient."
With that dream coming into fruition, her followers started telling Lisa they needed to be paying her, to which she'd respond "No, don't be ridiculous."
Regardless, a group of Move it Mamas in New Zealand and Australia pitched together to buy her gifts on her birthday. Another group of them turned up at her house – some of whom Lisa didn't know – mid-workout on a Wednesday night, bearing thank-you presents.
"People did say, "It might make us do it more if we pay," so I said, "Oh well, all right." I thought, 'If I can get 500 people to sign up, that might be worth my while.' But I wanted to keep it really cheap because back in the day there were times where I couldn't afford a coffee. I'd be pushing the buggy and had to check my account. I knew there'd be people like that out there, so it needed to be less than a coffee a week."
Lisa decided on $10 a month. She launched the business in February, and had racked up 1000 members in the first two weeks. Today, there are 5000 people signed up to Move it Mama. "I was a little bit worried because I was like, 'Oh my gosh, there's so many people looking at me, looking into my house, looking at the way I parent, and looking at me telling off the kids.'"
Having recruited her younger twin sisters Jess and Char, 32, to help her lead the workouts, Lisa wants Move it Mama to "take over the world." As for her boys, Move it Mama works because they always saw Lisa exercise anyway.
"They know why I do it; it makes me a happier mum." Members of the Move it Mama audience have written to her saying the group has been life-changing for them. They tell her, "I now get it; exercise makes me feel better. I've always gone to the gym to lose weight, but that's not what you're about."
That's been the key for Lisa: she never talks about weight, and instead focuses on how exercise affects us mentally, and can help us be stronger in body and mind. Being real is also key to her success.
"I try to totally be myself in everything that I do. You see inside my house, you know what I'm like at 6.10 in the morning. I want to be that person if you meet me at a bar at 7pm at night."

Loyal following

As Lisa is so passionate about Move it Mama, she feels like she hasn't really had to grow the business at all. "It's just word of mouth, being completely me and inviting people into my family life. I've been really consistent, I'm punctual, I practice what I preach and I walk the talk. The people who follow me really know me and I love that. It's a community, it's authentic and that's the key."
Now that she's got Jess and Char on board, Lisa's getting better at delegating. Jess works 10 hours a week taking care of the admin side of the business, which means Lisa can focus on other areas of
Move it Mama. She still tries to be the face of the business because that's what drew people in at the beginning – and she's the one with the large family. "I think a lot of people follow me just because I've got four boys," she laughs.
Lisa's husband Dan, a builder, has been the breadwinner for years, and after living on one income, the fact that Lisa can now offer something to support the family has been a huge bonus.
"Dan's been working so hard for us for so long; I saw the immediate reduction in stress on him. I've dabbled in a bit of teaching, but it was just a little bit of petrol money. But now I can actually bring in an income."

Making moves

One downside to having a business on social media is that people can say things over the keyboard that they wouldn't say to Lisa's face.
"I'm sensitive and I'm a people-pleaser. Sometimes I don't know if I'm cut out for it but I have an amazing support network that I can call on and they'll be like, 'Lise get your head straight, you're fine.'"
Even after someone criticised Lisa's parenting, she just had to pull herself together. "I thought, 'How ridiculous, I do a great job, my boys are really good boys.' People seem to think if you have four boys it must be absolute chaos but it's not like that. There are rules and routines, all of them are in bed by 7pm, and they don't jump on my furniture."
She adds that she quite likes it when she's faced with something challenging. "I take a step back and then almost go about five steps ahead. It makes me grow. It gives me fire in my belly, big time."
As for what's ahead, Lisa would like to do a tour for some more face-to-face interaction with her Move it Mamas with one-on-one consults. Adding a stretch workout into the roster of eight weekly sessions is also in the cards. Currently Lisa runs four HIIT workouts and two beginner workouts, with Jess and Char pitching in for pregnancy workouts and Saturday morning sessions.
"I feel like the business is just rocking and rolling," Lisa says.
"We want to solidify and keep going with what we're doing and keep it exactly where it is, but spread the sparkle even higher and wider. There's so much we can do with it."
When she found out that Move it Mama was both the winner of Her Own Boss for 2019 and the winner of the People's Choice Award, she was heading into the dentist. "I hate the dentist, so the news got me through. For someone who is never lost for words, I was lost for words! I can't believe it. I just feel so proud."
But no matter how big Move it Mama grows, Lisa's number one goal is to always remain relatable. "Even though I'm going to reach the stars, I'll always take myself back and remember what
it felt like having lost my sparkle in the depths of motherhood, or in a crappy job. And, remember how it felt to be on one income, so I can relate to everybody on every level."

What the judges said

Cecilia Robinson, My Food Bag
"What Lisa has done is truly inspirational. She has created a movement leading the way for NZ mums. She thoroughly deserves this recognition and I'll be excited to see what she does next."
Liz Wotherspoon, The Icehouse
"Judging is tough when there are more than a few that are worthy of serious consideration. In the end, Lisa just stood out and we were unanimous in this view. Not only is Lisa an inspiration, balancing a young family of four boys with getting Move it Mama established and performing, the business also shows real promise and growth potential. Congratulations Lisa!"
Kelly Coe, Augustine
"Lisa's business has shown amazing growth since its inception. It's a great success story of how you can create a business when you are at home full-time and have four children. Lisa has taken the fitness phenomenon and given it a Kiwi twist. Her success is due to her down-to-earth relatability and work ethic. Her business has great potential to grow."

The women Lisa admires:

Kelly Coe
She's authentic. She's absolutely beautiful, gorgeous and glamorous all of the time, but she shows some tough things too with some of her Instagram posts. I like the way she writes – it's really down to earth.
Brené Brown
She's American and does TED Talks about authenticity and vulnerability. She's who I want to be like. Her business is public speaking and it's all about being real. I love her message, and everything she says I try to take on board.

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