By Gretchen Schisla
Are you setting up a nutrition-focused business? Here’s a handy checklist of what you'll need to create as you build your practice:
✓ A growth plan and strategy to set your goals in motion
✓ Differentiation and value to define why you’re the best
✓ Naming and logo design to give your program personality
✓ Targeted messaging to attract new clients
✓ Business cards and brochure to make a lasting impression
✓ Membership in organizations to grow your local network
✓ Website content and design to promote your message
✓ Social media presence to build your community
✓ E-newsletter to connect with clients regularly
✓ Presentation materials to create partnerships
But, once you've created these materials, how do you successfully market your business?
Each time Enrich participates in conferences focusing on healthy lifestyle, nutrition, food as medicine and fixing our broken food system, we meet passionate nutritionists, health coaches and medical practitioners who want to effectively reach their audience — and ultimately spread their mission to improve the lives of others in the process.
After talking with many of these individuals at the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference (PBNHC), the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) and Esca Bona, we we decided to chat with a few professionals about challenges they face in building their healthy food and wellness-focused businesses.
MJ Costello / WYNK
Mary Jo (MJ) Costello, is a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Pittsburgh who we met a few years back at PBNHC. She’s a vibrant, energetic and devoted expert in food nutrition. Her company, WYNK Nutrition (What You Never Knew), provides corporate employees with unique Lifestyle Reboot programs.
Q: How did you find your way to health coaching — and eventually to plant-based nutrition coaching?
MJ: After spending my 30-year career in the food and nutrition business, I hit a brick wall in 2011. My career frustrations had grown to where I felt a moral obligation to do something about it, even if it was one person at a time.
I have watched our food supply deteriorate, specifically ingredients, over the last 40 years. Not only has our food turned to “not food,” but the overall health of America has tanked as well. This is not hard to see from a dietitians’ perspective, since we generally get involved once health concerns have already started with chronic diseases/conditions, obesity and excessive medications.
Primarily, plant-based nutrition has always been my way of life and the science has pointed in that direction ever since I can remember. However, it wasn’t until T. Colin Campbell published the China Study that the comprehensive term "Plant-Based Nutrition" was established and recognized not as a “diet,” rather as whole life nutrition, perfectly defined based on scientific evidence. That was exactly why I needed to run with it.
Q: What type of services do you offer in your business, and which do you feel is the most unique?
MJ: My services range from community classes to nutrition education lectures and individual counseling, with the most unique and effective being corporate nutrition education classes.
Q: Why would you say that this aspect of your services is so special?
MJ: It is like finding a treasure when the light switch goes on about how big of a win-win nutrition education is for a corporation and its employees. Both the corporation and the employees better understand the beneficial impact of taking control of your health and the role of nutrition. The obvious reasons being better health, improved productivity and cost containment with the ideal result being a dramatically heightened awareness of the power of optimal nutrition…for many who have never realized that what goes in your mouth has anything to do with anything.
Q: That being said, who is your typical customer?
MJ: My typical client wants to lose weight. I fight this battle everyday trying to circle back to helping them understand that if their nutrition is correct, they will default to a much more normal weight, ideally a normal BMI. This battle is easily won once they have a few sessions on the rights and wrongs of nutrition, supported by science-based evidence. Age, gender and demographics are all across the board.
Q: Do you feel that you’re facing any challenges in marketing your coaching practice?
MJ: The American public is duped by excessively misleading, false and confusing information. Therefore, what I teach is a very tough sell because is it an extremely comprehensive philosophy, not supported by the mainstream. To most people, this is initially perceived as just another approach to diet and/or weight loss.
My competition doesn’t even make sense. For example, gym trainers tell clients to eat their weight in protein, the media makes everything sound harmless and okay, and doctors tell patients to eat less and exercise more, which is of no help to most.
Q: Are there certain tools you find helpful? Or tools you would like to have?
MJ: Although there are many, my most relied upon tools are the movie, Forks Over Knives, and websites like forksoverknives.com, PCRM.org, dresselstyn.com, engine2diet.com and drmcdougall.com.
There are so many different resources available online, some good, and some not-so-good. I try to find the best tools to fit different people. Filtering the bad ones from good science-based ones is one of my most tedious and time consuming activities.
One of the most essential tools that is very difficult, if not impossible to get, is factual outcome data from insurance companies. If this were shared and recognized for what it is, our healthcare system would be forced to reverse their incentives to favor proactive health education and care, versus reactive sick-care.
Q: What advice would you give a nutrition/lifestyle coach who is starting out?
MJ: My recommendation, based on experience, is to have a water-tight business plan before you start. Don’t invest anything you can’t afford to lose because it is very difficult to find revenue streams that support nutrition education. If your passion is not huge for this, do something different.
Until the government swings the financial incentives toward health versus sick care, it will continue to be almost impossible to be recognized and paid for the tremendous value we bring. If you determine that this is your passion, the rewards are remarkable. Once participants recognize that health is primarily the result of our most important life skill — eating right — they can better realize how optimal nutrition can save their life, prevent and reverse chronic disease. They feel empowered, and for some, it is a spiritual awakening. There are very few things quite so wonderful for me, as knowing you helped someone to this level of optimal living.
Alison Allman / Pyramid Health Coaching
Alison Allman is a health coach located in St. Louis who, along with Marilyn Disch, MD at Pyramid Health Coaching, recently launched a CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Plan) program. When the Spring 2016 program wrapped up, the Enrich team enthusiastically brainstormed ways for health conscious people to learn about this outstanding resource in St. Louis.
Q: How did you find your way to health coaching and plant-based nutrition?
Alison: I’ve been in healthcare my whole career — first as an RN in an ICU, then became interested in helping people get healthy and stay out of hospitals. I first worked as a personal trainer, then wanted to empower people to take charge of their own health ~ health coaching is the best way to do this. Nutrition is key to health, and the more research I did, the more convinced I became that plant-based, whole food nutrition is the healthiest way to nourish our bodies. My certification as a facilitator with CHIP sealed the deal!
Q: Which of your services sets your practice apart and why?
Alison: As a health coach, I provide accountability, resources and support. My medical background is very valuable as a foundation of knowledge, and my personal training education provides an added layer of understanding physical health.
Q: What does your typical client look like?
Alison: Most of my clients are 40-70 years old, both women and men, who struggle with weight, physical fitness and the other inevitable health issues that come with aging.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face in marketing your coaching business?
Alison: There is not a lot of money to be made for most health coaches, unless they coach the stars. Getting people to understand what health coaching is and the benefits of engaging a health coach is a challenge without strong marketing. This is hard to do when you only have a small budget to work with.
Q: Other than the CHIP materials, what tools do you think would be most helpful to grow your practice?
Alison: We’ve gotten some of our clients from our website, so increasing online exposure would be useful. We need to develop more interesting website content. We also need to give more talks at public venues to increase awareness.
Q: If you could offer advice to a nutrition/lifestyle coach who is starting out, what would it be?
Alison: Build a good website, have a strong social media presence and give free talks on health/nutrition. Be flexible with your time and available to those who work and need later hours. Attend health fairs if the booths are not too expensive and give out free consultation cards.
In talking with these and many other amazing practitioners, we heard a few common challenges.
- Despite the large number of health coaches and nutritionists with rich resources for better health, being found by potential patients and clients is hard.
- Connecting with your audience is especially tough if people don’t even know that your practice exists.
- Having the right message and materials is key, but it's more than that. If they're not delivered in a clear and impactful way, you won't connect with your future clients.