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Kelly Howard of ‘Fit is Freedom’: “Know your numbers and keep good books”

Know your numbers and keep good books. When I started my lifelong entrepreneurial streak, I had no idea what I was doing or why. I just had this big desire to work for myself. I made every mistake possible along the way. What would have helped me the most is understanding the value of knowing […]

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Know your numbers and keep good books. When I started my lifelong entrepreneurial streak, I had no idea what I was doing or why. I just had this big desire to work for myself. I made every mistake possible along the way. What would have helped me the most is understanding the value of knowing your numbers and bookkeeping. I had my bank account frozen in my first business because I didn’t handle the sales taxes correctly. That was a hard way to learn a lesson.


As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Howard.

As a serial entrepreneur (created and sold four companies), Kelly understands that often smart women see their fitness as something they can put off until they’re successful and she’s on a mission to prove that being fit is what will make us successful. She’s changed thousands of lives with her podcast, courses and adventure hiking, biking and kayaking retreats, and she’s a contributing author to the bestselling #1 Habit to Entrepreneurial Success and the creator of the FOX TV Outdoor Adventure Series.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

About 20 years ago I bought a small, struggling company, Bayou City Outdoors to keep it from being shut down. I knew the owner and thought it was an important company in the Houston, Texas area because it focused on getting people outside and socializing. I sent an email to the entire member list of 68 paying members, 30 of whom promptly quit, stating they’d forgotten they were being charged! It took a little work but when I sold the business in 2019 so I could put my full focus on my current digital course business, we’d reached approximately 1000 members. Having always been athletic, BCO opened my eyes to so many more adventures than I’d ever done, hiking, backpacking, white water kayaking and so much more. I was hooked.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Just before I sold BCO, I was leading a small, local hike and a woman showed up with a cane. Not hiking poles, but a cane. She told me that she wasn’t going on the hike because she wasn’t in shape, but she had dared herself to even show up in the parking lot. No way was I letting her leave! With a little teamwork and a lot of coaching she completed that hike and it literally changed her life. I just got an email and a selfie from her, hiking a big trail in a National Park for her 65th birthday. No cane required. That hike was the impetus for my current business, Fit is Freedom. I absolutely believe that if we aren’t fit, we hold ourselves back from so much joy, fun and adventure we can have in life. Fit is not a perfect weight, it’s a way of living life well.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Fitness or business? I’ve had many instructors over the years in all areas; from whitewater kayaking to mountain and road biking to backpacking and I’ve learned so much from each of them. And, I also know that personally, I learn from doing. And I’ve done it all wrong at time or another! Once I was used in a bike safety video as what NOT to do (I was clueless), I lost 4 toenails on a backpacking trip, and I took my new surf ski into waves that literally sank it. All of these “mistakes” helped me be more understanding and compassionate. I remember what it’s like to be a beginner and that’s become one of my strengths. The biggest mistake I made in starting this most recent business was I forgot about being a beginner, it can take time to learn something new. I just assumed we’d be successful and profitable out of the gate. Once again, going back to beginner’s mind saved me from giving up when it wasn’t easy. Business and fitness take time, and they are both so worth it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The line of amazing, helpful people is a very long one! But the person who had the biggest effect on me and my focus on fitness was my mom. She became a 5th degree blackbelt in her 60’s and weighed a whopping 110 pounds. At 83 she was still teaching yoga five days a week. With a role model like that, the sky is truly the limit.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I believe that fitness is so much more than just the right weight. When we stop worrying so much about how we look and start looking for fun and living the long game of feeling great, life shifts. I want women to put their health and wellness first. To prioritize themselves. There are no truer words than “You can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself”. All it takes is one serious injury or illness to remind us how important being fit is. When we feel good, we do good.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I’m starting a movement that eradicates the worry of “What if I can’t keep up, I don’t want to hold everyone back” This is the number 1 worry I see again and again. We don’t want to be the last person picked for the team (I was always that person as a kid) and we don’t want to be the person that slows other people down. No one wants to be “that person”. But someone always is! If I could show everyone who lets that worry hold them back how inconsequential it truly is, I’ve done my work.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Know your numbers and keep good books. When I started my lifelong entrepreneurial streak, I had no idea what I was doing or why. I just had this big desire to work for myself. I made every mistake possible along the way. What would have helped me the most is understanding the value of knowing your numbers and bookkeeping. I had my bank account frozen in my first business because I didn’t handle the sales taxes correctly. That was a hard way to learn a lesson.
  2. Working 80 hours a week isn’t going to make you successful. It wasn’t until my fourth company that I really got this lesson, and it came from getting burned out first. I believed that if I just worked hard enough, on the other side of success would be all the rewards, play and relaxation. When I woke one morning and had to crawl to the bathroom because I was in too much pain to walk, my body forced me to slow down. The wonderful thing about all that pain was it led to exactly where I am today, running a location independent business with the perfect hours to fun ratio, teaching others this important lesson!
  3. Only work with clients you love. The wrong clients can ruin you and your business. The first time I “fired” a client I was nervous. It was in my event business and we had a very toxic couple join. I knew they had to go, but I’d never done that before. When I gave them the news, they barely blinked. After that it was easy because I understood how much the wrong clients can pull you and your business down.
  4. Trust your own council. Friends, family, partners want the best for us. But they aren’t us. If I had quit whitewater kayaking when the instructor suggested it might not be for me, I’d have missed out on one of the great loves in my life. If I’d given up early into new businesses (all of them) I’d have missed out on success, fun and friendships that were created.
  5. Trust your gut and say yes. Trusting your intuition takes real courage because there is nothing but a feeling to go on. When I bought BCO I had zero plans to make an offer on a company that day, but I knew it was the exact right thing to do, when I did it. It was a gut decision. When I was invited to sail across the Gulf of Mexico and I’d never been sailing offshore, I said yes without hesitation because it just felt right. And it was. I made that 700 mile sailing trip across the gulf 8 more times and loved it every single time.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 30 years. I do eat some cheese if it’s locally or humanely sourced, and I love the fact that more and more people eating plant-based diets. It’s good for us and it’s great for the environment.Mental health is on my mind 😀 a lot these days. In all my courses and writing you’ll find that everything I teach always comes back to our habits, brains and how we use them. We’re living in exciting times for our minds and it’s only going to get better. Ten years ago, the concept that we could change our brains was unbelievable to most. Today, brain science is making news almost every day and we’re learning how to turnback brain issues and create new neuropathways to improve our lives. Plus, meditation is now mainstream. How healthy is that? Layer on the understanding of how being outdoors improves our mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing and we have another article to write ☺.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

You can find all my social media and podcast episodes via my website www.FitisFreedom.com

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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