By Mira Dessy, Board Certified Holistic Health Practioner and Bauman College Alumn
There’s an excitement that goes along with graduating from school as a holistic nutrition professional. With that, comes some hesitancy as well. The self-questioning, the worry about being ready, being good enough. For some, the fear of the unknown leads them to become professional students. They think, ‘If I just have one more certification’ or ‘If I achieve this level of education’, it will all feel okay and the business will fall into place.
The truth is that most people feel this way. For a lot of us, this training represents a huge shift. Many come to this profession from a different angle, leaving another career behind to devote themselves to the work of wellness. In spite of the hesitancy or nervousness, it is important to remember that the knowledge is there. The comfortability and composure will all come in time.
Having said that, there are a few things that can help you move forward and grow as a professional. For some reason in this profession, most of us seem to think that we need to do it all ourselves. We have to wear all the hats and be independent. We have to figure it all out, often reinventing the wheel. While that seems like independence and appears to be good in theory, it’s actually the path to burnout.
Tips for Your Holistic Nutrition Business
These are the top five tips that I believe every practitioner needs to keep in mind as they begin to work in the holistic nutrition business. These don’t need to be implemented right away, but keep them in mind for when the time is right and implement them when and how you can.
1) Remember: This is a Business
It sounds simple. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. Many of you will get caught in the trap of caring so much that you find yourselves working for free. While it’s easy to get caught up in the worry and misery of the challenges of others, if you continually allow them to not pay you, it teaches them that you don’t value the work you’re doing. And if you don’t find it valuable, why should they?
In time, this becomes highly stressful. You’ll feel resentful, your ‘clients’ (in quotes because if they don’t pay, or don’t pay full value, they’re not really clients) will not be engaged or compliant. Remember, this IS a business. If you feel you must give back in some way, do pro-bono work, but set reasonable limits to how much of it you do. Respect yourself enough to be comfortable charging for your services.
As an example, I’d like to offer the following story:
Shortly after graduating from Bauman, I was on a three-hour flight from Texas to California. I wound up sitting next to a woman and we struck up a conversation. When she found out what I did, she wanted to pick my brain about some health issues going on with her nephew. I was so excited to be asked for help that I began to share strategies for nutritional support, holistic health options, and I even designed a menu plan.
She kept writing everything down saying, “Oh my goodness this is great. I can’t wait to share all of this with my sister. I have to have your number, I’m definitely going to call you and I think a couple of my friends might call you too.” I was thrilled and kept sharing more and more information.
At the end of the flight, we parted—practically the best of friends. I walked off the plane feeling great, knowing I had helped someone and I was going to get a new client out of it. The truth is that phone call never came. She had invested nothing with me except for a little conversation to pass the time. I’m fairly certain that if they used any of the information I gave them, it didn’t come with any sense of obligation to call or to continue to work with me.
The moral here is don’t give it all away for free. Your knowledge and your time are worth money. If you don’t believe that, your clients won’t either.
2) Be Willing to Fire a Client
I know, that sounds like heresy. We got into this business to help people, not to push them away. And besides, every paying client is a good thing, isn’t it? Not always. The truth is you can’t help everyone. And some people are just not a good fit. Not being a good fit comes in all shapes and sizes.
Here’s another story for you:
A professional working mom, age 52, with two adolescent sons, who presented with digestive health issues and concerns about weight gain, had been experiencing a number of symptoms that her doctor didn’t seem to understand. The client didn’t really know what was going on either, but knew she didn’t want to take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and that she definitely wanted to lose weight.
In the beginning, everything seemed to be going well. We started to clean up the diet, supported her digestion supplementally and with functional foods, and made some holistic health changes as well. Initially, the client lost a few pounds and noticed that her digestion was improving. Then things seemed to break down and she wasn’t feeling as good any more. Her weight began to plateau. She also stopped food journaling, claiming she was too busy.
After questioning, the client admitted that she had not been compliant with her nutritional plan. There was always an excuse why it was okay to deviate from the plan: it was a holiday, or a birthday, or a professional event at work. In the beginning, I tried to be gentle and encouraging to help her come back to the plan that had worked for her. Eventually, after a few months, I came to the conclusion that things were not going to get better unless she got serious.
At our next appointment, I kindly but bluntly told the client that it was not a good use of my time or her money for us to continue to work together. I shared the progress notes from the beginning and the excuses from our more recent interaction. I asked her to make a commitment to herself and our relationship. She shared that she really liked working with me, but just somehow couldn’t bring herself to stick to the plan. At that point, I told her that it was probably best if we stopped working together, as she wasn’t going to make any progress if she wasn’t willing to make consistent, clear cut changes.
If you’re expending massive amounts of time and energy on a client who does not resonate well with you, or you with them, you’re actually stopping yourself from having the availability to work with someone who really wants your help and support.
3) Find a Mentor
A mentor is someone that you resonate with who can help guide and support you as you grow and develop. Sometimes a mentor can be someone who can introduce you to others, or help you get a certain account because you’re working with them. It may be someone who does case study with you or answers difficult questions. The mentoring relationship is a valuable one that really allows you to have access to the knowledge and experience of someone who has been there and done that. It is not unreasonable at times to pay for mentorship.
- A business coach is a form of mentorship and is someone who can help you learn how to be a better business person. You’re already a holistic health practitioner, but that does not automatically make you good at the business side of things.
- A practitioner in your specific niche who can mentor you, one-on-one, can be an invaluable way to gain insight and guidance.
- Another type of mentor may be someone who has a skill set that you would like to emulate. Working with them exposes you to that skill set and allows you to add to your expertise.
- It can also be very helpful to join a mastermind group where there are a number of practitioners all sharing ideas and supporting each other.
4) Self Care
Self care is a major part of your growth and development as a practitioner. Sadly, in the beginning, many of us feel that we are invincible. If we just push that little bit harder, it will all magically fall into place and we will have it made. But if we neglect ourselves along the way, it can be overwhelming and lead to burnout. Make time to take care of YOU. Practice what you preach. After all, if you tell your clients to make sure they’re getting enough sleep, but you’re only getting 5 hours a night because you’re staying up late to “get things done”, you’re not being authentic. And somehow, on a non-verbal level, your clients will know that.
It’s also important to realize that, if you burn yourself out by not practicing self-care, you won’t be available to help anyone. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but it is important to be consistent with your message by taking time for yourself as well.
5) Stop Doing Things You Don’t Like to Do
Figure out what you don’t like to do in your business and find a way to stop doing it as soon as possible. Not everything that goes along with running a business requires your brain, your skill set, to make the business run smoothly. Your talent as a practitioner is irreplaceable. Your talent as a bookkeeper, web designer, or file clerk? Not so much. This doesn’t mean that you have to hire someone full-time.
Using a Virtual Assistant service—like Upwork or TaskBullet—or finding a business who specializes in supporting small businesses can be a great way to get started. If you only need a few hours a month for a bookkeeper, find someone who can do that. Need more time for graphic design or copywriting? Look around. Ask for recommendations and be clear and specific in what you are looking to outsource.
In the long run, the work that you can hand off to someone else creates more bandwidth for the things in your business that require you and your talents, and, in turn, leads to more time to generate revenue and grow your business.
My first hire was a bookkeeper. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with math. At a certain point in my business, I was in over my head. I was three months behind on invoicing and monthly balancing took me nearly two days of frustration and lots of bad words. And when it was tax time? Forget it. I went into meltdown mode. When I finally decided I needed to bite the bullet and just pay someone else to do it, I was amazed at how much less stressful my life became. This was someone who loved numbers. For her, all of the data entry and balancing and staying on top of things was easy. What took me nearly two days took her just a few hours. Tax time? That was an hour or less. The time that was freed up by hiring a bookkeeper made it easier for me to take on extra work that more than paid for her services. And my accountant is a lot happier at tax time each year.
Do the Work You Love
By incorporating these strategies, you are allowing yourself to do what you do best. Don’t distract yourself from a more balanced life because you’re too busy and over-scheduled. Because let’s face it, if you’re burned out and exhausted, you can’t help anyone, much less build a business. Take the time to hop off the hamster wheel and take a good hard look at what you’re doing and where you can make a change that allows you to do the work you love.
Mira Dessy graduated from Bauman College’s Nutrition Educator Program in 2009, is a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP), the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, and the American Holistic Health Association. She is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner who has been working with clients for over 10 years, supporting them in reaching their health goals through holistic nutrition, lifestyle modifications, and chemical cleanup.
Mira can be found online at The Ingredient Guru and is the author of the book The Pantry Principle: How to Read the Label and Understand What’s Really in Your Food.