You may remember Jazzercise from the height of its popularity in the ‘80s, when leotards and legwarmers were all the rage. Today, the leading dance fitness brand features HIIT, dance and kickboxing classes set to Top 40 music. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and topping $2 billion in gross cumulative sales, the global fitness empire continues to reinvent itself with founder and CEO Judi Sheppard Missett at the helm.
Due in large part to her personal passion for dance, Missett has outplayed and outlasted five decades of fitness industry fads and competition. There are few female-founded and run $100 million business empires like Jazzercise, privately held and with the founder still actively involved.In honor of these milestones, Missett has written a book titled Building a Business with a Beat: Leadership Lessons from Jazzercise―An Empire Built on Passion, Purpose, and Heart.
One of Missett’s key takeaways is that when your passion and life purpose drive your company, that means business. Although dance was a fulfilling career for her, at that time it was not a business that could be grown, franchised or scaled globally. After teaching her first jazz dance class in Chicago at the age of 25, she had an aha moment—realizing she could help other women achieve their fitness goals in a fun way.
As CEO of Jazzercise, Missett wears many hats: dancer, choreographer, and teacher, as well as lead business, marketing, and PR person, and finally chief cheerleader for 200 corporate employees and 8,500 franchisees. In addition, she is an advocate for women’s health and well-being and regularly speaking about her business and life philosophy with female business owners. She is also a wife, mom, grandmother, and dog mommy to three rescue dogs.
Here, Missett offers 7 tips for how to build a business based on your passion and purpose:
- Be truthful and honest about whatever your passion is. What’s your motivation? Whom and how many do you hope to help? How will it make a difference?
- If you believe in what you’re doing, refuse to compromise. Expect resistance, then do it anyway!
- Surround yourself with people who believe in and support your passion and purpose. Avoid the naysayers.
- Others may attempt to copy, imitate, or mock you. See it as the compliment it is, but don’t look over your shoulder or hold on too tightly to where you’ve been. Instead, keep your focus forward.
- Trust your team. If you hire people whose attitude matches yours and train them well, there’s no need to micromanage.
- It’s okay to have fun. Adopt a sense of possibility, the attitude of “Let’s try it and see how it works.”
- Embrace the challenges. In fact, revel in them. Enjoy every single step. And always, in all ways, keep moving forward!
Missett “danced into” her life purpose at age three in Red Oak, Iowa. “The self-expression and sense of beauty that dancing provided me were exhilarating,” Missett says. “I danced continuously and joyfully throughout childhood, high school, college, and as a professional performer.”
At age 25, Missett began teaching a jazz dance class, but students complained that it was too hard and not fun enough. At that moment, she redefined what she was doing and why, shifting the focus away from herself as a performer and onto her students. This is when she found her life’s purpose—to help others discover and use dance as a vehicle for self-expression, good health, and fitness. She designed a new, easier, more fun class that combined the art of dance with the science of exercise. The classes quickly grew into a major sensation.
“No question that my greatest reward is the almost daily occurrence of seeing or hearing from someone whose Jazzercise experience has made them happier with themselves,” Missett says. “Further, our franchisees frequently share the difference that Jazzercise has made in their lives, including buying a home, putting their kids through school or college, the opportunity to make a living doing what they love.”
The greatest challenge Missett faces is losing track of time and working too hard. “Balance is an ongoing challenge,” she explains. “Anyone who says you can have or do it all is, in my opinion, not being truthful. When things get out of kilter, you have to figure how to fix it. It’s a lot like playing ping pong. You’ve got to hit the ball back across the net. Sometimes the ball falls or flies off the table. You must retrieve it and do your best, not to win, but to keep the ball in play with the important person on the other side.”
Missett advises people aspiring to align their career with their passion to be honest with yourself. Ask what do you really want to do? What are you truly passionate about? “Turning your passion into a profession may take years of practice, hard work, and strong mentoring. You’re going to experience trial and error, as well as resistance. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, find answers, reassess, reimagine, and redesign something new, more acceptable, and exciting. Embrace change.”