Wednesday 23 March 2011
A while back, I was approached by a student from The Institute of Holistic Nutrition. She asked to interview me for a course called Professional Practice. Her assignment was to interview a successful entrepreneur in the field of nutrition. It was nice to have been referred to as a ”successful entrepreneur”! I just love what I do. And when you do what you love in life, it doesn’t seem like a “job” so much. It’s a passion! I gladly agreed and was interviewed by Carrie-Ann Dickson, a dedicated and passionate student from IHN, one of Canada’s leading nutrition institutes, which I also graduate from. I enjoyed so many of my teachers and classes at IHN. My education at this institute gave me the tools I needed to apply my nutrition knowledge to clients in the real world, and to teach me the key concepts of running my own professional practice as an entrepreneur in the holistic health and nutrition field. As part of her assignment, Carrie-Ann interviewed me, and then presented the information she learnt to her classmates.
I’ve been getting so many questions about my own story, and individuals who aspire to become practitioners in the nutrition field. That is why I’ve decided to share the interview questions I was asked, simply for your enjoyment and information:
Sara: Tell me a little about why your journey began toward the nutritional field...
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been interested in alternative health and fitness. I remember dragging my mom into health food stores every time we walked by one. I wouldn’t beg her for candies or toys; no I would plead for health foods and supplements! I can clearly remember telling my classmates in elementary school that they needed to do better on their lunches and snacks if they wanted to grow “big and smart”. I would always approve the lunch my mother would make me before she packed it for school. I stressed to her to pack me healthier lunches with more food so that I could have energy for all my after school activities! My parents never had to argue with their little nutritionist to finish the veggies on her plate. I was fortunate that they brought up (raised) my brother and I on good foods. It was when I entered high school and the peer pressure of being a girl and competitive athlete got to me. I started playing around with foods, to the point where I became overly obsessed. The worst started during puberty. I suffered through years of hormonal issues, depression, and an eating disorder, all stemming from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which I discovered during my studies at The Institute of Holistic Nutrition (IHN). I found little relief through conventional treatment. My own personal battle with this complicated metabolic and hormonal disease led me to research in holistic health, and alternative medicine, including the use of natural supplements, medicinal herbs, exercise, stress management and other natural modalities. I have since been able to manage my condition better than ever, and I maintain a deeply held passion for holistic health. Through these experiences, I have learned how to best help myself, and others.
How did you get started?
I first started my studies in nutrition while attending the University of Guelph, where I studied Applied Human Nutrition for over two and a half years. This program followed a dietetic approach, to become a registered dietitian. I quickly fell into the conventional approach of using medications and following Canada’s Food Guide again, which really didn’t agree with my own body, and wasn’t really teaching me how to get down to the root cause(s) of health issues. I lost interest and decided to take a year off to travel in South America. With all odds against me, I heard about IHN when I was in Venezuela! The moment I started reading up about IHN and holistic nutrition, I knew it was for me. I enrolled at IHN, graduated with honors purely out of passion and deep interest for each class, and I never looked back. It was the best decision I ever made in my life!
I began studying at IHN in 2009, completed the program in one year, and immediately founded my company Beyond Vitality: Holistic Health, Nutrition and Fitness. Almost a year later, I am happy and becoming well established in the field of holistic health because the sky is the limit with what we can do in this field.
Why did you pick this particular field?
The main reason I picked this field is because conventional medicine has let me down, if not made me worse, over and over again. Proper nutrition is the key to good health. The day I learnt the holistic approach is the day I gained control over my own body and personal health issues. I have never felt more alive!
What motivated/inspired you and helped you move forward?
Starting a business has been quite a challenge, but a very exciting one. What motivated me to move forward as an entrepreneur, a holistic nutritionist and as an individual is due to the way holistic health keeps me feeling great. Controlling my illness, to the point where I can consider myself illness free again, being independent of the disease-care medical system and so that I can be at my very best, to be able to offer the very best to others around me.
What is your client base target?
My client base target is people in the age range of 20-60, both males and females, people who are seeking natural treatment for disease, weight loss/gain/management, athletes who which to improve their performance, female health issues (especially PCOS, PMS and infertility), and health conscious individuals who would like to increase their vitality.
Did anyone help you (get started)?
I was fortunate to have my partner as well as my parents help me get started. While I have an expertise on the subjects of holistic health, nutrition and fitness, my area of brilliance is definitely NOT marketing, online search engine optimizing, business management, accounting, etc. I have been able to cut cost by seeking the help of family members, but as my company grows, I look forward to being able to hire skilled professionals in these fields, that I will be able to delegate tasks to, which is a personal weakness for myself. I like to do it all, but I’ve come to realize that when running a company, I must just let go, and focus on what I do best, which is being the Holistic Nutritionist.
How difficult was it/how easy was it?
Hmmm…well “easy” and “starting a company” should not be in the same phrase! The beginning process of starting my company has been a LOT of work that feels like it never ends. I realize that it will always be an ongoing process (especially the website), but my drive and passion for holistic health is what makes it worth the work and effort put in. Along with the hard work came many wonderful opportunities that I could have never imagined. For the last year, I’ve been travelling through Venezuela as well as Trinidad and Tobago, discovering some of the world’s super foods, and giving consultations/workshops to clients worldwide. It has been quite an exciting adventure!
What has worked/not worked for you in getting started?
One of the things that didn’t work too well was trying to target a clientele in Spanish while in Venezuela, when all my website and social media content was in English. Another aspect that wasn’t working was trying to promote myself online without a personal website. People really like to read up and consider what they are investing in, so once I got my website up, everything started falling together. So the website definitely worked, and so has online marketing. As of yet, most of my clients came from the Internet. Creating a blog was a big help for getting people onto my website to see everything I have to offer. Good content is key.
How did you choose your business name?
I am a bit of a perfectionist. (Working on that!) The one thing I am not good at is making decisions! And this one was one of those decisions that took me a while to decide. I must have gone through a total of about 200-300 names over some time. Every day I would eliminate some by sending the list to my family and friends and telling them to vote on their top 10, top 5, top, 3, and so on. I also had to make sure the business name wasn’t registered and that the domain name wasn’t taken. So after careful consideration, and comparing names that were almost the same but written different (lol), I finally came up with BEYOND VITALITY!
What do you feel is the most wonderful aspect of being in the field of holistic nutrition?
The passion and positivity of both my colleagues and clients is the most wonderful aspect of being a holistic nutritionist. I have never been surrounded by so many eager to learn, health conscious and amazing people. At the end of the day, it’s seeing how my clients have grown and become new, vibrant people. Being able to share my knowledge with people who truly appreciate it keeps me motivated to continue giving.
What has been most gratifying?
What has been most gratifying is helping my clients achieve their goals, seeing my company grow before my eyes, becoming colleagues with some of my idols in the holistic health world, receiving opportunities I would have never imagines, and of course, GREAT health.
What has been the most difficult/challenging?
The most difficult/challenging aspect of my career has been the launch of my company. I had no experience in marketing, accounting, business management, advertising, etc, so I learnt a lot from my mistakes. Another aspect that was very complicating for me is that I registered my company in Canada, but went to live and work in Venezuela, and now Trinidad and Tobago. There are a lot of legal and tax implications that have to be looked at when working with international clients from an online basis.
Where do you see this industry going?
I see “alternative” medicine becoming the mainstream medicine very soon. Alternative and natural modalities have been practiced for thousands of years because they truly work. There is no need for clinical studies and all the scientific facts to prove that herbs, super foods, whole foods, etc, work in decreasing the risk of disease, and/or improving overall health, because all indigenous tribes continue their traditional alternative methods of healing based on how they feel and the positive results they keep achieving. We must do what FEELS good. These people live for hundreds of years, simply because they haven’t been exposed to mainstream medicine and continue practicing traditional natural medicine.
How is what you’re doing different to everyone else in the nutritional field that sets you apart?
Firstly, all of us Holistic Nutritionist work as a team, and our approach is very different from the typical dietitian or nutritionist. We look at the person as a whole, and not just a specific disease or symptom. We understand that health is not merely the absence of disease. As an individual, I strive to achieve a feeling beyond that with my clients; VITALITY! What sets me apart from others in the nutritional field is my fitness back ground and experience as a competitive athlete, as well as the many concepts I have learnt while living abroad.
How did you come up with your different ideas and what inspired them?
I came up with a lot of my ideas while in school, exchanging thoughts with classmates, going to workshops, researching online, reading books, attending conferences and receiving advice from my creative mother and partner!
What is your perception on the business, how do you see it changing in the next 5 years?
I would like Beyond Vitality to become well branded as a business, and to create a network of constant clients. My ultimate goals for the future are to host tropical health retreats, write a book and have several appearances on television and the radio, to be able to continue bringing awareness about holistic health. I hope that Beyond Vitality will permit, and give me more opportunities to travel, and become a speaker at conferences worldwide.
How is your business working for you?
I’m very satisfied with my business’s slow, but steady growth. I enjoy running it, and I’m fortunate to have a lot of help from great family and friends, as well as my partner, who can say it’s his business as well.
What has worked/has not worked so well with your practice?
As of yet, my practice has been from a completely online basis. I am just starting to work in a physical office, and to see local clients in the capital of Trinidad. Up to now, I haven’t had any pitfalls. Marketing and putting myself out there by giving seminars, getting involved in groups and organizations, is the best way to attract clients.
What are some of your marketing ideas?
Some of my marketing ideas include but are not limited to: flyers, brochures, social media, search engine optimizing, workshops, cooking classes, seminars, lunch N learns, TV/radio shows, blogging, YouTube viral videos, article writing, referrals, business cards, etc.
What do you find most rewarding about what you have done, or continue to do?
The most rewarding aspect about what I do/continue to do is receiving the positive feedback from satisfied clients. There’s nothing better than helping somebody feel their very best. Another great aspect is all the wonderful, like-minded people I have had the opportunity to meet.
Do you have an accountant and book-keeper, or do you set time aside to do this?
We record all our business expenses and claims, and my partner keeps track of them on a spread sheet that we submit to an accountant, simply because there are a lot of complications while working abroad and having a company registered back in Canada.
How effective do you find social media?
I find social media extremely effective, as a large percentage of my consultations are from an online basis and I have a lot of clients worldwide. Facebook has actually brought me the largest amount of new clients as of yet!
How have you been promoting yourself?
My three main sources of promotion are my personal website, blog and Facebook. I have been travelling a lot, but now I am in one location long-term, therefore I plan to promote myself mainly with flyers, posters, business cards and by giving workshops.
Have you come up against any issues regarding your Ontario certification abroad?
As of yet, I have not had any issues regarding my Ontario certification abroad. Canada is a first world, developed country that is very well renowned around the world, and IHN is one of the leading nutrition schools in the field. I am proud to be a graduate!
Name some of your unique business features.
Some of our unique business features include online consultations, non-client e-mail/Skype support (international), sports nutrition, fitness programs, Zumba classes and our website blog called Holistically Nuts.
When designing your business plan, what did you find most useful to know or be aware of?
When designing my business plan, I found it useful to research some of the expenses I’d be facing, what type of people I’d be targeting, where I would be working, and knowing that I had support and encouragement on my journey. Finding a niche market and learning how to reach them has been one of my main strategies.
Have you had challenges, and rewards? Please state how you managed to get around the challenges.
Yes I’ve had many challenges and rewards, but the many challenges came before the rewards. I just pushed through knowing that all businesses are difficult to start, but in the long run, it becomes easier and the rewards soon follow.
Did you refer to your business plan? Was it useful?
I referred to my business plan a lot for the starting steps, but as time went on, it has been renewed and improved by new ideas and opportunities that came as a result of hard work. It was definitely useful to write down and record all my goals and progress, but the business plan changed a lot.
What do you feel are some key important elements to running a successful business, practice or career in the Holistic Nutrition field?
The first and most important element in running a successful business/practice as a Holistic Nutritionist is the passion for health and always being eager to learn more because every day new studies and health trends come out, which are important for us to keep on tract with. Dedication, organization, communication and stress management are skills that I consider very important. It is not so much of a routine career because there are always different types of opportunities and work that come up. It’s full of surprises!
How are you effectively running your successful business?
I am effectively running my successful business with a lot of hard work, patience, dedication, passion, and of course, much help from my partner.
Financially, what has been most profitable?
Financially, the first most profitable aspect was having my website launched, which brought in many more clients. Another small expense that came in handy many times was our investment of a good photography camera, to be able to share pictures of my travels, recipe creations and small educational videos; all for the purpose of online marketing, as well as sharing my knowledge with the general public. It is part of building credibility as a nutritionist.
Did you have any challenges abroad with business operations that you would like to share?
Being abroad must have been one of my biggest challenges and complications when it came to business operations. I first had to register my company in Canada because I am a Canadian citizen. Then I had to meet with an accountant to discuss all international laws, taxes, etc. I also had to obtain a Business Visa to be able to legally operate and travel in Venezuela where I had to deal with a Spanish clientele with a completely different currency. The second part of my travels into Trinidad and Tobago involved getting a Work Permit to be able to legally work in that country, and the list goes on. Although it sounds like a very huge hassle, I would not choose to be in any other place in the world right now. My experience abroad has been amazing!
What are your specialties?
What other aspects or training have you taken that have become useful for Beyond Vitality?
Some of the useful aspects/training that I have found very useful for Beyond Vitality are the fitness instructor and personal training certifications, watching an endless amount of webinars about online marketing, advertising, blogging, etc, as well as having worked in a health food store for some time, to learn about all the supplements and health foods that are available.
Is there any insightful information you can share about the nutrition field, and running a nutrition business that I may have over looked?
The sky is the limit when it comes to opportunities in the nutrition field. So be creative and try new things. If anything doesn’t work out, just start over from a different side and keep going until it finally does work out. The prize at the finish line is very rewarding! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
Thank you so much Sara for taking this time to share your journey and experiences.
And here are Carrie Ann’s thoughts about her experience…
As I embarked on putting together a list of questions for Sara, I became excited about my own personal answers to this collection of questions. Self reflection and business projection created a stream of delight through all my energy centers. “I can do this…soon!” I thought. This was also the perfect opportunity to reconnect with a former fellow student, whom I have been fondly following through her worldly blogged travels, Facebook messages and web site development. Even though I am a few years older, our history is very similar. We both grew up in small northern towns, were members of competitive sports, both had the desire to learn about improved personal health while searching for vitality, and we are both fitness instructors! I was honored when Sara gladly agreed to be my interviewee.
Through Sara’s immense spirit and creativity, I am strongly energized and empowered to take on some intimidating marketing strategies looming over me. Public speaking is a necessity for creating and presenting my ideas and knowledge. I will be moving forward to join a toastmasters group, each Wednesday evening, beginning next month; and to develop more confidence in my skills. I will take Sara’s advice and research thought the web ~ marketing techniques, with which I have very little experience, but large desire to learn; also to engineer a blog, web site, and professional page. My goal is to have a professional page by June 2011, web-site by October 2011, and blog in November 2011. I will continue the excruciating task of finding ownership in a business name that resonates with my beliefs and offerings.
In my future I project also teaching abroad for specialized retreats, I really found Sara’s information about her experiences, extremely enlightening. Her drive and positive attitude really created motivation for me.
Sara also speaks so highly about client success, and receiving their feedback. She is also however, extremely realistic about the time and energy involved with the start up, and constant maintenance of her web site and blog, I appreciated her honesty about time management, delegating the duties that are not personal strong attributes, and gathering help and advice from her family and friends.
This beautiful interview has my mental wheels turning. There is only one directing, I see the light, and it’s straight ahead! Moving forward, I wish to express gratitude to Sara Ouellette and to Anna Midolo, both for teaching me an abundance of worthy, tried and true encouraging advice and guidance. I embrace the vision of when we meet again.
In grace and praise, Carrie-Ann