After only 2 years in business as a nutritionist I nearly quit my practice. My marriage was in shambles and I was miserable. The first couple of years in business can make or break you (and your personal relationships).
No one talks about the dark side of running a health and wellness business, and almost no one shares how much debt they were in and how much money they make now.
And for good reason… because it’s scary, upsetting and private.
Well I am a nosey gal and love to hear stories from my colleagues about their first couple of years in business, their failures and lessons learned. I feel less alone and less like a loser when someone else has had a similar experience.
So I decided that I would share some of my own stories and lessons learned from my first year or two in business.
My journey started in 2006, and each year since then has been completely different – full of different challenges, lessons, highs and lows and personal transformations that have led me to this moment right here.
This is a long post and I promise to be honest and transparent, even with the money stuff.
Ready? Grab a glass of wine or a mug of tea and settle in!
BACKGROUND: Circa 2005 – 2007
I officially became a nutritionist back in 2006. Before that I was working (my only ever real “office” job) as part of a small team of 6 to build out a 20,000 square foot fitness facility in Thornhill, Ontario called The Pavilion.
My job at 24 years old, along with a $250,000 budget, was to build out and staff the teen fitness gym – a private section of the massive complex that was just for teenagers.
I remember my boss Joshua (never just Josh) being this type A yogi with an MBA who taught me many lessons.
One of the most important ones, which I believe has helped me get to where I am today, is to leverage yourself with better people who know more, have more experience and success than you.
I did this instinctually since I actually had no idea what to do when I worked at The Pavilion; so asking for help was my only option (other than being fired).
The other lesson I learned is that any job that has you feeling like you must sleep with your phone under your pillow so as not to miss an email or text will likely give you serious digestive system issues and anxiety.
I quit The Pavilion in 2005 and went back to school to become a nutritionist.
FRAUD, DEBT & HUMILIATION IN MY FIRST YEAR OF BUSINESS
I’ve had several different therapists and healers over the years because starting up a business stirs up all of your shit. It’s impossible to escape your mindset monsters when you are striving for mastery and success.
Here were my biggest challenges and lessons learned in my first year…
Starting up a private practice makes you feel like a fraud.
Although I had plenty of experience as a personal trainer I lacked experience as a Health Practitioner. I had this crazy idea of the kind of success that would magically appear for me because I was so passionate about nutrition and health.
Build it and they will come… ya, not so much.
Being in school was like living in a bubble. You are surrounded by people who think, believe and live like you do, so you assume that everyone outside the bubble wants the information you have and will pay you to get it.
Who doesn’t want to dramatically overhaul their life in 6 weeks or less, right?!
Every time I had to introduce myself as a Nutritionist I almost puked in my mouth. I couldn’t label how I felt at the time… like a fraud.
Why did I feel like a fraud?
Firstly because I look like I’m 16 and believed that no one would take me seriously.
Second because I didn’t eat organically (couldn’t afford it), drank wine on the regular (still do) and had a diet that was NOT entirely whole foods based.
Third because of the barrage of questions that would follow my introduction – “What can I eat, what should I have as a snack, I get really bloated; any advice for that, which supplements should I take, I can’t lose weight…” The questions just went on and on.
LESSON # 1 – I gave away too much free information and help.
There is a HUGE difference between creating educational content that positions you as the expert and gives your community tangible actions to take so they can get results and personalized coaching that clients should pay for.
I would spend time creating personalized mini-protocols to anyone and everyone who asked. It’s ok to be a “go-giver” and go above and beyond… it’s not ok to privately coach people who don’t want to pay you.
It’s because I didn’t know any better… I thought I was just being friendly and helpful plus I loved sharing. Later on when the questions kept coming I would feel resentful and annoyed… I was helping people improve their lives for free.
And my answer to any question is now…
I’d love to answer that question for you but would feel awful if I gave you the wrong information. Why don’t I take your contact information and email you later to set up a complimentary discovery session. This way I can learn more about your health history and goals and share some info on the different program options I have that will help you achieve your goal. Sound good?
Because I didn’t have that script I had no idea about capturing leads, so instead I gave out my business cards… never hear from those people again.
Want more help on what to say to those “brain pickers”? Check this short 5 minute video out for my script.
LESSON # 2 – Don’t sign a clinic space rental agreement in year 1 of your business.
Like you, I left school with no real-world business training. I followed the advice I learned in my 12-hour business course and got business cards and brochures designed and printed. I incorporated a business and signed a clinic rental agreement and put up a website, all within the first 3 months of graduating.
That cost me $5,000 (probably closer to $8,000 if I look back on my credit card receipts).
If I had a do-over I would not have done any of those things… I would have used that money and invested it in a business mentor instead. Back then I didn’t know about business coaching.
So where do you see clients then?
- Their home
- Your home
- Co-working space
- Profit share a space (pay a % of revenue)
Not having a designated office space doesn’t make you seem less professional (although you might feel that way). It’s smart and savvy business sense to avoid unnecessary overhead costs.
My monthly rent was $350.
At the time I was charging $150 for an initial consult and $60 for a follow-up. I needed about 5 new clients a month just to pay rent.
Within a couple of months I had to have a very awkward and uncomfortable conversation… I needed to be released from my rental agreement. I couldn’t afford it any more. If you’re considering renting or profit sharing in a clinic setting, read this first.
LESSON # 3 – Single sessions & one-time follow-ups will leave you broke and angry.
Ah! What do you charge your first year? And how do you ask for money without crying and apologizing for it?!
I was back to feeling like a fraud again. How do I charge people when I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing? How do I charge people when what I’m doing doesn’t seem like it’s even helping? Should I give them their money back?
Because of my lack of confidence and inexperience in actually helping clients I didn’t feel like I could charge hundreds of dollars for my services.
My money frequency was all messed up. I charged what my personal training rates were because I was comfortable with them.
Let’s do some math… The one and done model – – single consult with a 1-2 time follow up:
Yearly Revenue Goal: $100,000 (this isn’t profit in your pocket)
Initial Consult: $250
Client Value: $345
If you sold nothing else and just saw clients you would need about 290 clients per year to make $100,000 revenue.
Pretty upsetting, right?
While I was working at the women’s only gym I caught on quickly that the 1:1 practice model wasn’t going to cut it financially for me. Especially since the gym took 40% of the revenue (I kept 60%).
So I spent a year and created a group weight loss program. I still had private clients but the majority of my time was spent working hard to fill those groups.
Here’s what the numbers looked like:
Per Person Investment: $250 per 10-week program or $225 if they joined straight during the early bird price.
# Of People Per Group: 12 (I never ran a group with less than 8 people)
Revenue Per Group: $3,000
Profit: $1,800 (60% of the revenue)
# Of Hours Worked Per Group: 15 (10 for the actual group sessions and 5 for admin)
Hourly Rate: $120
I had at least 3 groups going at all times. Every 10 weeks I made about $5,400.
Plus I had my private clients. My monthly income averaged about $3,000 for 20 hours or so of work per week. All because I created a signature program (without knowing it at the time).
Is $3,000 per month a lot or a little to you? I didn’t start making that amount of money until 2.5 years after I graduated.
This brings me to my next not-so-feel-good lesson. When you aren’t making money and feel like things are spiraling out of control it’s really annoying when your family and friends ask you, “So, how’s business going? I bet you are helping loads of people!”
Back to feeling like a fraud again.
So how do you handle those situations? I remember my then boyfriend trying to give me business advice. I was so defensive and unwilling to listen. It didn’t even occur to me to seek out a business coach or you know… learn anything related to business, sales and marketing.
It wasn’t in my awareness that I had to.
I wasn’t a businesswoman.
I was a nutritionist damn it!
The joke was on me… turns out I’m 100% Boss.
LESSON # 4 – Shift your self-identity from practitioner, healer or coach to CEO & Entrepreneur.
Be careful who you share your hopes and dreams with. Not everyone will see or agree with your vision for your business and future. That’s okay. It’s not your problem.
If no one in your circle of influence (friends and family) are entrepreneurs they likely won’t understand your drive to work for yourself. They won’t understand the long hours and minor major obsession with achieving success.
As a nutritionist I couldn’t handle a lot of the negativity that came my way but as a CEO of a start-up I anticipate stress, setbacks and failure. I got used to the remarks from people,
“You are so busy all the time.”
“Maybe you should get a part-time job to support yourself.”
“What if you got a full-time job and did nutrition as a hobby?”
Entrepreneurship can be really lonely. That’s why it’s so important to find a tribe of like-minded and like-hearted people who get it.
Now I didn’t know anything of this back in 2006-2007 so I basically wasted loads of time and money for about a year and a half.
Did I fail at my first attempt to run my business? You betcha!
Was it super embarrassing to have to go to my dad and tell him I couldn’t afford to pay him back? Oh ya!
Did it really piss me off that I had to return to personal training (no offense trainers, I just really wanted to be a nutritionist)? Hell ya!
LESSON # 5: Learn how to stay focused.
It can be really easy to get distracted and overwhelmed in your first couple of years in business. You are trying to do 100 things at one time because there are 100 gurus telling you that each one of them is super important.
In some ways I think not having all of the internet noise around me back then was better than what’s going on today. There is no much noise. It’s hard to listen to your own instincts.
One of the things that took my focus away from working ON MY BUSINESS was feeling like I had to always work in my business. Unless I was creating or recreating program materials or seeing clients I didn’t feel productive.
It’s taken me a looong time to switch that mindset.
Now I spend more time working on growing my business because I have automated a lot of tasks and leveraged my time.
Staying focused means setting some business goals and defining your rules to live by. Having clearly defined 90-day goals that I work towards helps me to focus. Once I have the goal I can plan a to-do list around how to accomplish it.
Whenever I feel like I’m veering off track I ask myself, “Is what I’m doing right now tied directly to achieving my goal?” 99% of the time the answer is no.
If you aren’t moving forward start asking yourself that question. If the answer for you is no then stop what you are doing and course correct. Not sure where to focus your time and energy? Save your spot here.
Things I Wish I Did In My First Year Of Business.
At the time of writing this I’ve been an entrepreneur with my own business for 8 years. That’s a long time! If I could have a do-over there are a handful of things I would do differently.
1. Hire a mentor or coach right away.
I invested in my first business coach and mastermind in 2012. I spent $20,000 I didn’t have to join a high-level mastermind group. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
The first year after I joined the mastermind group I made 6-figures and my business has grown in revenue each year since.
I believe that working with someone who has achieved the success you desire is super important. You will fast track your success and skip over the many, many mistakes you would have otherwise made.
2. Learn direct response marketing and copywriting.
Like so many of the practitioners, healers and coaches I speak to, my marketing sucked! It’s no wonder I couldn’t attract clients – I wasn’t using their language.
There is SO much free information on the internet now about how to attract your ideal clients, how to use language so they hear you and how to position yourself as an expert.
I spent a lot of time learning how to become a better marketer and copywriter.
3. Focus on growing my email list.
Oh how I wish I kept track of all of my client emails from those early days. Growing an email list is the most important thing you can focus on in your business. It doesn’t matter if you have an online or offline business… the relationship you have with your email list is the lifeblood of your business.
Building the relationship with my email list is the first thing I do almost every morning. And because I have grown and nurtured my email list over the past 5 years I now make money every day… without having to trade dollars for hours seeing clients.
To be honest, other than these 3 things mentioned, I wouldn’t change anything about my first year in business.
My advice for first year holistic health entrepreneurs…
You don’t need a fancy website or any website to get started but you need a way to take in payment (aside from taking cheques).
Get your business PayPal set up and link it to a business bank account – not your personal one. Start out right and keep the business money separate.
Don’t stress too much about anything really technical like SEO or analytics. That’s not where you should be putting your energy.
Avoid over-thinking. Make a decision and run with it.
As you gain experience, insight and learn who you really want to work with your business brand and offerings will change and evolve.
Show the highest form of love you can to a client when selling them your product.
If you are only giving them free advice because you are too uncomfortable to sell, you are leaving them high and dry. They will look for someone else to guide them (aka your competition).
Set boundaries. Set boundaries. Set boundaries.
Make decisions on how you want to live your life. Create personal and client boundaries and stick to them. Nothing is an emergency and email is other people’s priorities over your time.
You’re never going to feel ready. You don’t need anyone’s permission or acceptance.
Follow your intuition and let your purpose and passion guide you.
Remember that it’s 100% possible for you to create your own dream business and life all on your own terms.
Are you in your first year of business?
What is your biggest challenge right now? Share your lessons in the comments.