Alex Okell

5 things I would do if I was starting my service-based business from scratch

This is a transcript from The Compassionate Business Collective podcast. If you prefer to listen to the audio, listen to episode three here.

I think I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately because earlier this summer in June time, myself and Shannon Weston, who is another nutritionist, decided to launch a group program which is called Build Your Business Summer School.

It’s a ten-week intensive for people hoping to start their own businesses in the health, wellbeing, movement etc space, but not really sure where to begin or how they get their first clients, and a bit confused about all the legal side of things. So this is kind of our back-to-basics course and it’s been so much fun to do and it’s been so rewarding. We have a group of 25 students which we lead through 90 minutes webinars every week. And it’s just been such a lovely cohort of people who are asking really interesting questions and sparking some really interesting conversations. So it’s been an absolute pleasure to teach.

When we were coming up with what the modules are going to be and then writing the content, we both went back and started thinking about us when we were in those people’s position. So it gave me the opportunity to go back to think about when I started my business, everything I’ve learned over the last few years and what I would do differently if I was starting again now. I really wanted to make sure I was including absolutely everything I would have wanted to know if I was starting my own business again now.

And I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what works and I’ve done a million and one different courses, different group programs, worked with different coaches and I’ve picked up different things from each. There’s been a couple which just felt like an absolute waste of money, but the majority have taught me something which I am grateful for, but I always kind of felt like they taught me a little bit, but not everything, which makes sense, that’s not what they’re there for.

But I thought I had to collect these courses to have the confidence or the strategies in place to be able to grow my business. We quite often leave university or whatever course we’re doing and we’re hoping to go into being a service provider and maybe working in private practice or having our own business or be freelance employed within someone else’s clinic or gym.

We often come out of these courses and qualifications obviously feeling very informed and equipped. We know that there are gaps in our knowledge and those are areas that we want to go and do further learning in other CPD and things like that. For me, I did a Nutrition Masters and because it was very weight centric, I knew I wanted to go and do some courses on intuitive eating and weight stigma and how weight bais shows up in our work and all of these different things. But I felt like I had a good baseline knowledge. But the one thing I really had absolutely zero knowledge of was running a business, getting clients and figuring out what I wanted that business to look like.

And I just kind of felt a bit lost at the start and I really was just kind of in the sort of place where I was expecting that if I just put out my services, people would buy, they’d sign up, they’d want to work with me because they see that I have my qualification and that I’m excited and I feel like I can help. And I really thought people would just come running and as you can imagine, that is not how it turned out. So in this article, I’m going to give you five of the kind of top things that I would do differently if I was starting my business now.

Lesson Number 1: Take time to understand your personal values

I wish I had slowed down at the start and taking some time to understand my own personal values and also what I wanted to get out of the business. I started my Instagram account, which was the first step I suppose of starting my business, in October/November 2019 time, which is when I started my nutrition masters. And I do think this is really valuable because I met quite a few people online who I would then meet in person and have kind of connections with. And that was amazing to be able to have these conversations with people who were maybe a few years ahead of me and also to kind of get a start on social media and content creation, all of that side of things, which is obviously a massive learning curve. So it’s not that I don’t feel like I should have done that, it’s just more I wish I had taken some time to slow down and think about what I really wanted from my business, rather than kind of thinking, okay, I’m just going to post anything and everything and I’m just going to put myself out there. I kind of wish I just slowed down a bit and maybe spent a bit more time on the kind of inner work part of starting a business, which is the why? Why am I doing this? Who do I want to do it for? And then kind of thinking about who I am as a person and how my values can then be reflected within my business. Because I really do believe that that is the key to kind of having a business that feels really, truly aligned to you and feels really good and feels like you are making positive change and feels like something that you wake up excited to do every day is if it feels aligned to you. And that kind of starts for me with values work.

Lesson Number 2: Forget comparison

The second thing I think that I would do differently would be to not look as much at what everyone else is doing. And that’s really hard when you’re just getting started in the industry, especially when you’re still learning, you’re still doing the course or the qualification, you want to look at what everyone else is doing, who are maybe 2, 3, 5, 10, 15 years ahead of you, to see what you’ve got coming up and see what you could be doing. And I don’t think it necessarily means that you should put blinkers on and not look around because I think it’s so valuable to learn from others and also to see how you can use your qualification and your knowledge and the really valuable skills that you’re hoping to use with clients, how you see them in practice, almost see how other people are doing things. And it’s also really nice kind of inspiration to think, I’d love to work how that person works in private practice, for example, or I really like the way that they do workplace webinars. How can I get into that? It’s obviously great inspiration, but I also think there’s a fine line between getting inspiration, building connections, enjoying your time online, and also feeling impostor syndrome.

I think we could all kind of resonate with that feeling, or we kind of know what I’m talking about when I say imposter syndrome and that feeling of I shouldn’t be here. They know so much more. How do they know so much about that niche or area? How do they know how to get clients and how are they fully booked and how are they doing this full time? And it can soon very quickly turn into a comparison game, which I just don’t think is very healthy for any of us. And it can feel really overwhelming and stressful seeing other people doing things at a different pace to you and feeling like you’re not good enough or not keeping up with them. So I think that that is something that I would definitely tell myself now. And I think I would also kind of take that one step further and also say that it’s also not just comparing yourself and kind of pulling yourself down, but also not doing what everyone else is doing in terms of the way that they run their businesses. And I felt quite stuck for a long time feeling like I had to kind of copy the nutritionist blueprint, let’s say that, of how people did sessions and how they sold packages and how many minutes they did per session. And it’s naivety of going into it and just thinking, well, this person is who I want to be, so I’m just going to copy and paste their business model, basically. And obviously now I’m looking back thinking, well, we’re all very different people and we work in very different ways. And if that doesn’t feel completely aligned to who I am and how I want to run my business, then I don’t have to do it in the same way. And that doesn’t mean I’m going out rogue and doing completely random stuff. It’s more just I found a way that works for me in terms of the appointments that I offer and the times that I work.

I think I’m being quite vague, but one of kind of more concrete example of that is I saw that nutritionists were working in the evenings because I think, okay, well, people want appointments in the evenings. I don’t work well in the evening. I’m a morning person. I like to be at my desk by 08:00. That’s my favorite time to get started with work because I like to finish early. I like to finish at 3 or 4 because it just works for my brain and my kind of just mental well being. It’s just what works for me. And it’s always been this way with university and things like that. I always get to the library early for revising and then leave early because I just don’t like the kind of that late afternoon. I just don’t enjoy it and kind of keep working in the evenings. And also my husband works a kind of conventional nine to five job, so I wanted to spend time with him in the evening and also with other friends and things like that. I didn’t want that, but I felt like I had to do it because I thought, well, no one’s going to want to work with me if I’m not doing evening appointments. And I have this so strongly in my head that it was only when I just started thinking finally after kind of years of doing it, I thought do I enjoy working in the evening? And I was like, well, no. But I felt like I had to be able to be, quote unquote, successful, even though I was actually sacrificing my mental and physical well being. So doing that when it didn’t feel good to me both not really aligning with what I enjoy doing, but also sacrificing social time and time for rest. Even though I’d be working evenings, I would still be getting up at the same time and getting started at the same time every day. So I’d end up doing ridiculously long days just because I felt like I had to rather than actually building it. The whole point of having your own business is you can build it however you want to.

So that was a big light bulb moment, which just seems so ridiculous now because it’s so obvious if you don’t want to work evenings, don’t work evenings. It’s your own business and no one’s making you. But I think sometimes we just have to hear it a little bit differently to get our heads around it.

Lesson Number 3: Be okay with change

I think my third learning would be to be okay with change. And this is something that’s coming directly out of the Build Your Business course and having conversations with some of the students. Because I think when we get started we want black or white thinking, we want clear cut, we want “tell me what to do and I’ll do it because I want what you have”. And what I have learned from two+ years doing this is you have to be okay with change and you have to almost embrace it.

You have to have trial and error basically, is what I’m trying to say. I’ve tried different things with my clients. I’ve done power hours, which I really enjoyed at the time, and they were a great way to be able to reach a wider audience. But I quickly got burned out by doing them. They were 90 minutes sessions, they were very intensive. Doing a few a day of those was absolutely exhausting. But it was a really valuable learning point for me. And now I know that’s not how I like to work. I like to do shorter 45 minutes or so appointments, I find that I can be more present during them, which therefore my client finds more valuable.

But we can always change and we can always shake things up. And that doesn’t say that I’m never going to go back to doing those 90 minutes intensives. I might do them, but do less of them. And it’s kind of being okay with that change and also knowing that we tend to move in seasons and cycles and sometimes something will feel really aligned and really good to us at one time and then it just suddenly won’t and that’s okay. And it doesn’t mean that it’s failed or it hasn’t worked or we’re the problem. It just means that right now that’s not what we want to be doing. And like I said, it’s our own business, we can make these decisions ourselves.

Lesson Number 4: Build an email list

Okay, my fourth is more practical. I feel like all the other stuff I was saying was more mindset inspired, but this one would be to build a funnel at the start and grow an email list. I’m going to go more in depth into funnels because I think that it’s so fascinating and people find it quite complicated. It really doesn’t need to be complicated at all. But basically a funnel is just a kind of marketing term for people entering your world and finding you and then leading them to a purchase. And that could be of your service, it could be of an ebook, it could be of a webinar, it could be anything. And basically our aim is to get a decent amount of ideal clients of people who you really want to work with at the top of the funnel and then funnel them down into that paid offer at the bottom. And I think that I would start by making some sort of email funnel.

It really doesn’t have to be anything complicated, but it would be something like offering a freebie. The one on The PCOS Collective is a five step guide to managing PCOS without restriction. It took me a few hours to write and format on Canva. Then I set that up so people could download it. Then they got a little welcome email saying, thanks for downloading, here you go. And over the next few days, I would introduce myself and the PCOS Collective and kind of tell them what they can expect to see. And then I would say, if you want to work with us one to one, here are your options. And that’s a really nice way to build an email list. Start nurturing people, allow them to get to know you a bit and to tell them what you offer.

Then every week I send an email on PCOS Collective, a kind of newsletter-style gathering of everything that’s gone on that week. So we have all our different articles, any podcasts I’ve been on, any ebooks that we’re creating, any news, any community clinics we’re doing. Having that touch point with people is so valuable to nurturing and eventually hopefully converting. But also, even if you don’t convert, you’re still helping so many people by having these valuable pieces of content into their inbox every week. So I think that would definitely be what I’d start by doing, is just getting that email list going. And to be fair, I started pretty early with an email list, but I think I was just sending an email about once a month. Just talking too much about myself, to be honest! Whereas people don’t want that. They want to know how you can help them and they want valuable advice and education, which is completely understandable when you think about how you use your inbox. You’re not just using it just to keep up to date with what this person is doing within their day to day life. That’s not very interesting for you.

We want to know if you’re signing up for a PCOS focused newsletter, you want to be getting valuable PCOS related advice. So I think starting the email list a bit earlier on would be so valuable because an email list is something you own, so even if something like Instagram or TikTok goes down or you get hacked and you lose all your followers, you have that email list of nice warm leads. People who have signed up very willingly, given you their email to keep in contact with them.

Lesson Number 5: Curating an online community by creating value-led content

And then finally I would really be thinking about curating an online community by creating content that’s really true to your values. So rather than engaging in the latest trends, and I kind of want to say fads, to be honest, on social media particularly, and kind of just creating content to create content, taking a step back and thinking what sort of community do I want to build and how am I going to build that? So creating really valuable educational content, creating content that really resonates with people, having interesting conversations online, being a little bit vulnerable, showing a bit about yourself and about how your journey, why you’re there, why you’re online, and focusing on building a community that brings you joy and isn’t just for the numbers.

There’s no point having 50,000 followers if no one’s engaged, if no one’s interested in what you’re doing. It’s just vanity metrics. I’d rather have 500 people who respond to my stories when I’m asking for advice or whom I can provide educational content to and hopefully help in some way and truly connect with them, then maybe work with them one to one or within a group program and see their progress and see how they develop. And that sort of thing is interesting to me and exciting rather than just saying I have a certain amount of followers just to say it.

So,creating an online community that feels really aligned to you would be my advice. And you do that by creating content that will resonate with them and that feels good to you and also thinking about growing that community in nice gentle way. So being consistent but not worrying that you have to post a ridiculous amount of times a day, just like leaning into what feels good, becoming visible in ways that aren’t too taxing. So maybe trying to feature on a podcast once a month or creating your own podcast, if that’s something that you like doing or doing Instagram lives with other people, but if this is draining your energy and it’s not feeling good to you, you’re not going to show up in a way that’s authentic. So picking strategies for becoming more visible that feel really aligned and true to you and fill you up rather than deplete your energy is 100% the way to go. So for me, I love making podcasts, I love being a podcast guest. I find that really fun. I like producing webinars for other people’s groups, I really like doing that, but I do not like doing Instagram lives very much. I would do the occasional few for people that I really like and respect and trust and want to work with. But I won’t be doing them consistently just because I don’t love jumping on Instagram Live or Facebook Live. And I’ve tried it and I’ve tried doing the consistent Facebook Live thing and I just don’t buy with it, to be honest. And that’s okay. And I think that’s what’s fine. And that’s part of what I was saying with lesson number three, which is being okay with change. And you know, I’ve tried that, didn’t like it so much, so I’m moving on and I’m trying something else.

I hope that you found these lessons interesting or something to think about. They’re just lessons that I’ve had, there is nothing concrete or backed by any other evidence apart from my own lived experience.

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