#213: The Backstory: How I Got Where I Am Today

Michelle didn’t go from brand new health coach to running a multi-6-figure business overnight. Oh, heck no! In this episode she shares her backstory and helps you see a path for yourself. Check out Michelle’s free 30-min training to create an action plan to earn a living doing the work you love – HealthCoachPower.com/training

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The Backstory: How I Got Where I Am Today

My health coaching career started 13 years ago on a wish and a prayer. Now I’m running a six-figure business and, looking back, there were a lot of important steps along the way.

Today I’m going to share exactly how my business grew – hopefully this will help you see a path for yourself a little more clearly.

Leverage your networks

In 2008, I was working in advertising – and I wanted out. I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition thinking that someday I’d make a transition. But when the recession hit, I got laid off (along with about a zillion other people). The transition was now, ready or not.

A former colleague saw the massive shifts happening in people’s lives as a result of the recession and decided to make a documentary about it. I connected with him over Twitter and we got into a conversation. And he cast me! (It’s called Lemonade, and it’s still available online here).

The movie got a ton of press – it was like I hit the PR jackpot.  

Yes, I was lucky, but I was also putting myself out there and leveraging my networks. If you’re getting into conversations with people, you are opening yourself up to opportunities. 

Put yourself out there. Talk about yourself. Talk about your work. Leverage your existing skills and contacts (like mine in advertising). Network with your existing friends, family, and colleagues. Bring your strengths into your new business.

Learn how to scale as a health coach

In the early days of my business, money was tight. I initially filled up my client roster with readers from my blog and a few local workshops. 

But I quickly learned that eight or ten private clients was all I could manage at one time. To grow, I needed to find a way to scale.

In 2010, I created my first online course. I ran this 21 day detox program both in person and online. By opening up an online option, I instantly expanded my potential audience to people all over the world. This is how I got my first international clients.

In this format, I could enroll 80 people at one time. When I scaled up like this, I could earn way more without running myself ragged.

If it doesn’t exist, make it up

In 2010, an online course was new and different. There wasn’t a lot of purpose-built technology to support it like there is now. Even my training program through IIN had been all in-person. 

I had no model for what an online course would look like, so I made it up as I went. I emailed PDFs. I held teleseminars (that’s what we did before there was Zoom). I figured it out.

This online format proved to fit my needs – I ran my online group through my first pregnancy, a move, and living with a newborn. I could do it from my phone while life went on. It worked beautifully!

Be bold. Get creative.  If it doesn’t exist yet, just make it up as you go along.

Keep it simple

By 2014, I’d created many more online courses from scratch. 

And they weren’t fancy. 

People paid with a PayPal button. I didn’t need an elaborate membership site that people could log in to. I didn’t get hung up on the design or the technology. They were just simple, fun programs that kept people engaged – and they worked. 

Notice who is asking you for help

I now had a steady stream of private clients, several online programs, a successful blog and several streams of affiliate income. 

Other health coaches were constantly asking me for help: How did you do it? Can you help me? Can you show me how?

So I took on a few health coaches as private clients to help with business growth. 

It was really enjoyable for me to talk to other coaches who were running businesses similar to mine. After all, working alone can get lonely as heck.

I started the Health Coach Power Community because it’s what people were asking for. It started out as a Facebook group with a few friends, and it took off from there. I opened it up to the wider community once I saw how much health coaches needed this, and now we have over 12,000 members. 

Know who you’re serving

By 2016, I found myself running two sides to my business.

The health coaching side of my business is She’s Got Power. To this day, I still work with a handful of high-achieving women facing burnout and run the She’s Got Power podcast.

On the other side, Health Coach Power serves new coaches and experienced coaches through online courses, live mentorship, a free Facebook group and podcast.

I’ve been able to build this two tiered business because I was successful in one of them first. If you’ve ever thought about having multiple target markets, definitely choose one to start with.

Build skills and systems

Today, Healthy Profit University (HPU) has been around for over 5 years. Our core curriculum is for new and experienced coaches who need help with marketing skills and building systems to generate clients. For more info, check out my free 30-min training here.

We also have our very popular, live Fast Track program, a copywriting course, weekly mentorship meetings and so much more to come. 

It’s a true University for health coaches – created by a real, practicing health coach (me!) I know what you’re up against and I know what you need because I’ve been down the road myself.

Full transcript:

Hello there, health coaches. Thanks for joining me once again, every week, I'm back with more for you. My name is Michelle Leotta and I am a practicing health coach. I've got 13 years in the industry running a multi six-figure business. And I thought today I would share exactly how I got here. Maybe this will help you see a path for yourself a little bit more clearly.

So, if you are here with me live, please ask your questions. As we go along, I am happy to answer. I am looking in the chat over here on Facebook. I've got some folks over here on Instagram. I love being live with you, just like real people in a real space. Now let me ask you this. If again, if you're here live, or if you're watching the video later, what's different about today. Pop quiz. You're only gonna know if you've watched before and you're noticing something very different around here.

Hmm. What could it be? What could it be? Well, I'm gonna, I'm just gonna put it out there for you. The big difference today is that I had my room painted. My office is now a much lighter color and it is so much easier to light. So, if you're doing any kind of video for your business, please know that it is a, it's very, very hard to light a dark space. And when I moved into this house, oh my goodness, the walls were so dark. And for like a year and a half now I've been trying with all these lights to make it better. We painted it's so much better. So just thumbs up for light colored paint in the office. Of course you could also hang a backdrop. I used to have one of those backdrop things instead, but I feel like a whole new woman.

Okay, so let's get into today's episode all about my backstory, which did not include starting in this office. That is for darn sure. I used to work at the kitchen table and had no office of my own. Before we jump in this episode is brought to you by my free and extremely mind blowing training, if I do say so myself, it's called Earn a Living, Doing the Work you Love. And in 30 minutes, just a 30 minute training, I teach you how to turn your coaching business into a real salary. And you'll walk away with an action plan to get going. It's available completely free at healthcoachpower.com/training. Now, for those of you that don't know this, I am not a health coach straight out of college or straight out of high school. I mean, I had a whole other career first. How many of you are in a similar position where you've done something else? This isn't your first rodeo?

I think that's actually very, very common in the health coaching space that this is not our first career. We also have a lot of moms who've been at home with kids. We can call that a first career and health coaching becomes the thing they do next. So for me, my first thing was actually working in online marketing. I worked in advertising back in the day. It was a very different scene in terms of what was going on online than what you see now, but same, same. We were creating different types of content for our clients to be using in the online space. So I was an art director. I worked alongside copywriters and an account team and media planning, and we had big, big clients like Royal, Caribbean and Volkswagen and McDonald's and Ocean Spray. It was exciting. It was a really fun field to be in. It was a really stressful field. Like if you've ever watched mad men, it's kind of like that.

You know, it really is not a, a kind environment, especially not for women. So I knew I wanted to get out. I didn't know how I was going to get out or what else I would do with this very specialized skill set. And in 2008, 2009, I was enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Again, thinking like maybe someday I would leave my job and I would become a health coach, but it felt very, very far off. Just maybe, maybe if the stars aligned, I was gonna be able to make it happen. That's where my head was at. But do you guys remember what was going on in 2008 and 2009, we had a recession and there were major layoffs all over the place. Advertising got hit big time and I was handed my pink slip and I thought, I guess this is it.

I guess this is where I'm gonna jump into health coaching because it's not like I was gonna get another job in advertising anytime soon. And that was my, my big dramatic transition from one career into the other. Now a couple interesting things happened at the same time as I was getting laid off, a lot of my friends were getting laid off. We had ad execs, we had photographers. We had PR people, you know, the whole field was getting, let go. And a friend of mine, you know what? He wasn't even really a friend at the time, but a colleague of mine decided to create a documentary about this experience. So about a year after everybody got laid off, you started creating this documentary. It was called lemonade. You can still find it on Vimeo. If you search hard enough. And he cast me in the documentary, cuz he wanted to share stories of people who got laid off from advertising and went on to do something else with their lives.

So, we had one person that opened up a coffee, roaster, another, uh, person changed gender. Another person, you know, started running, uh, marathons. You know, it was just like all these different stories that came out of people who had lost their job. And of course my story was, I became a health coach. Now, because I was cast in lemonade, I got a lot of press, like I said, some of the best PR people in the business were now working pro bono on this project. This is how I ended up on some major, major news outlets. I mean, I was in my first year of business getting interviewed by Tom Ashbrook on NPR. Ah, like it was crazy guys. It was crazy, but I was very, very lucky.

So, I know not everybody is going to hit the jackpot like that in terms of getting PR and being cast in a film. But, the point was I never would have connected with Eric who was the director of the film unless I had been networking. So, at the time I was big on Twitter. I'm not on Twitter these days, but anyway, he was on Twitter too. He was talking about his project. I replied to him, we had a little conversation about it and he was like, yeah, you'd be great for this documentary. Again, your opportunities may be different than mine were, but you wanna make sure your networking to connect with opportunities that I assure you. You never could have predicted has anything like this happened so far, maybe on a smaller scale in your business. Maybe not quite what I'm talking about right now, but you're talking to somebody, you're having a conversation. You're not expecting anything to come out of it and Hey, why don't you come do a workshop at my office or Hey, you know, they have an opportunity for you keep yourself open to these things.

Cause I had a couple really interesting opportunities like that. Just out of nowhere because I was out there. I was talking about myself. I was talking about my work. The other thing that I want you to take away from the stories so far is that you can leverage your existing skills and your existing networks, your existing friends and family, in my case, all of my colleagues in advertising. So I, I kind of laughed when I told you I used to work in online marketing because these days I sure do a lot of online marketing, right? Don't we all, I thought I was leaving that career, but actually I took so many skills with me and brought it into my own business. Now again, maybe you don't come from a marketing background, but maybe you were an accountant. And so you're gonna, I was not good with the money in my business at first.

You're gonna be great at that. You know, maybe you come from whatever field, there are so many different skills that you can use inside your health coaching business. So leverage, leverage, leverage. Okay, so, now we're back in what like 2009, you're thinking, all right, Michelle, you were put in a movie, you were on ABC, you were on N NBC. You were on NPR. Oh my gosh. You must have had clients just banging down your door. Um, not exactly. That's not exactly what was happening. I had been just laid off. Of course money was tight. My clients were really all coming through my blog at that point. So I had been blogging for a couple of years leading up to launching my health coaching business. And I announced that I would be accepting clients. So, that was how I initially filled up my client roster. I would say between my blog readers and holding workshops just locally. I quickly learned that about eight, nine, maybe 10 private clients at a time was all that I could manage. And I realized I was going to need a way to scale.

So, in 2010, I created and ran my first online course. I know that doesn't sound like such a big deal today in 2022. But what were you doing in 2010? Had you ever taken an online course? Mine was a 21 day detox that I created myself and I held it both in person and virtually as an online course. I don't think it had ever been done before, like to my knowledge. And certainly to my knowledge at the time, this was breaking new ground to be hosting an event, to be running in a program with people who were all over the country. I had people coming from, I think I had someone in Ireland, somebody in the UK international clients for the very first time.

And there wasn't a lot of technology to support this, even my certification program. So I read, uh, graduated from the Institute of integrated nutrition back in 2009. And even our program back then was held in person. It was not an online course. It just wasn't happening yet in the online space. So there was no model. I just made it up as I went along. Can you believe that? I figured, well, I'll have some PDFs and I can email them to my participants. We didn't have webinars. There was no zoom, but there was something called... And if you remember these, then maybe you're as old as I am. They were called teleseminars. I guess you could still do a teleseminar, but who would do that? I held teleseminars with my participants from around the world.

So again, you are starting your business in a different time period, right? There's going to be different opportunities available to you, different ideas that you're going to have, but here's my lesson to pass to you. If it doesn't exist yet, make it up. You know, the world keeps advancing and you are the owner of your own business. You call the shots, you get to decide how it's going to go. If you see an opportunity by all means, go for it. Are you gonna make mistakes? Yeah, but you were gonna do that anyway. If it doesn't exist yet, just make it up as you go along. That's really all that we can do.

All right, let me pause here and just ask any questions so far. Are you curious about that first course? How I ran it, how I was working with my clients? I mean, I'm just hitting the highlights for you today of what I see as like the big milestones in moving my business from earning $0 to a multi-six figure business. But if there's anything that I'm missing, just shout it out and I'm happy to answer your questions.

So, I think we're at 2011 now that's when my online detox really hit the height of its popularity. At this point, I was solely running it online. I was running it for 50 to 80 people at a time. I was earning thousands and thousands of dollars. Even during my pregnancy. This is my first pregnancy and a last minute relocation because doesn't everybody like to relocate when they are 36 weeks pregnant. I remember doing this and simultaneously running my online group from my phone. Keeping in mind that phones back in 2011 were nothing compared to what they are today. In any case, we relocated from Boston to Washington, DC, had a baby. Life was crazy. but this was something that really became a mainstay in my business, running these kinds of online programs.

Fast forward to 2014, when my second son was born by then, I'd created lots more courses. I had created a cook together meal planning program called winning at kitchen. It was really, really fun and a program for improving mood, which was born out of my own struggle with postpartum depression that was called, come on, eat happy. I was having so much fun creating and being able to do it all on my own terms. I wanted to have a six week course. I created a six week course. I wanted to, you know, make a membership type program. I could create a membership type program. It was freeing in a way because there was no model. Like I said, it wasn't like, oh, I have to do it just like her or have to do it just like this other person. I just did it the way it was gonna make sense for me at this stage of business.

And it wasn't fancy at all. You know, people were paying me through a PayPal button. There wasn't really much else to it. There was no member site. There was no password or login or any of that kind of stuff. I guess my point is you really can keep it simple. You can be profitable without being super fancy. You can be profitable by just offering simple programs that work and that people also, this is so important that they enjoy that. They find fun, you know? Cause otherwise they're not gonna do it. I wanna also mention that along the way, like along this whole path, health coaches had been noticing my success. I mean, starting way back in the beginning with like my blog, they'd be like, Hey Michelle, you have a blog. How did you do that? Hey Michelle, you're using Twitter. Can you teach me how? Health coaches had been noticing what I was up to?

So, I now had a steady stream of private clients. In addition to all of my different online programs. I had this successful blog and several streams of affiliate income and health coaches were more or less constantly asking, I would get emails every week. How did you do it? Can you help me? Can you show me how? In fact, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition had asked me to record a couple of classes for their curriculum, their business curriculum. So hundreds, thousands of coaches were finding me that way. I started taking on a couple of health coaches here and there as private clients to help with business growth, very informal. And it was so much fun. I really liked having peers to talk to, you know, like when you're working alone and nobody in your life understands what you're doing. It was really enjoyable for me to talk to other coaches who were running businesses similar to mine.

So the lesson here is pay attention to who in your life is asking for your help. Your business might take an unexpected term. I certainly did not think I was ever gonna go in a direction of offering services and courses and dedicating the majority of my time to helping other health coaches. But here we are, it all started very, very informally. Like I said, I started the Health Coach Power Community Facebook group around 2013, 2014. And we had just a handful of members. I swear. Now the group is so big, but we started with just a few friends of mine and the coaches that I had been working with and same thing through Facebook every day, there were all these requests from other health coaches to join the group. And I was like, decline, decline, decline, cuz I was just keeping it to like this group of people that I actually knew.

Eventually the demand group so high. And I realized, man, coaches need this kind of support. They need this type of community. I opened it up to everyone and now we have what like 12 and a half thousand members. So, that was like a big milestone again in the business where I was like, okay, bring it on. I'm here to support all of you. About a year later in 2015, I started the first iteration of what would become Healthy Profit University. We call it HPU because I found that when I was having conversations with health coaches, they all needed the same things. Like they were all missing the same stuff in their business. They were all lacking certain aspects of strategy. So instead of repeating myself over and over and over, I realized, oh, I could record this. I could offer this as a series of lessons or a series of tutorials and offer it as a, at a much more affordable rate.

Because if you don't know this as a new coach, hiring private help with your business, a business coach, a business mentor, somebody that you're paying for one on one time, it's very, very expensive to do that. It just didn't really make sense. And I was like, oh, I could offer this in a much more accessible way. And that's how it all started. I remember recording the very first videos for the course, no lie. I was in a basement that honestly this little room that I sectioned off to be my recording studio, it stank, it was really smelly and gross in there, but I needed something with a door because I had toddlers at home and I didn't want them coming in and messing with all my equipment. I ordered a backdrop, I bought a teleprompter, I got a set of those big umbrella studio lights and set it all up in this room.

It was so much work. Even just figuring out how to use the Laier microphone. I had like a 30 foot cord and I was always getting tangled up in it. It was so much work and the tools were like nothing compared to these days what's available. I mean, now you can get a teleprompter on your phone and you have like a really good camera right here in the palm of your hand and it's all free and you can get a ring light for 30 bucks. The technology, the availability of this stuff has really come a long way. But back then, uh, it was, it was really an ordeal. I spent hours and hours and hours and hours trying to make it work. By 2016, maybe 2017, we were up and running with HPU and I realized uh oh, I am managing essentially two businesses, which I still do to this day, right?

Still working with my health coaching clients. And it was around that time, I started, started really hitting my stride note how many years that was started in when, uh, 2009. So now it's 2016. So, like seven years later. And I finally felt like, yes, I am working with the women. I really wanna be working with. I found myself having a lot of clients who were high, high achievers type, a women facing burnout. And I was having the most interesting conversations with them and decided I was gonna start focusing on that target market. So I at, at the same time I was launching HPU. I pivoted my whole health coaching business at home though. Times were tough today. I'm talking a lot about the ebb and flow of my business through the years. Of course, at the same time, we all have a personal life ebbing and flowing and sometimes it's working for, and sometimes it's working against business.

Do you know what I mean? Just say yeah. In the comments, if you know exactly what I'm talking about times were pretty tough at home. I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. My ex-husband had a lot of issues and as he lost one job after another, after another, I found myself more and more capable of covering our expenses, which was incredible. Cause he had always been the breadwinner and I had left the cushy job and started with zero income. And for me to say, oh yeah, don't worry. I can cover the mortgage. This month was outrageously mind blowing. And it gave me hope that one day I was gonna be able to leave. And I did. In 2019, I set myself free. And at the same time I relaunched my health coaching practice under the name, She's got power with Health Coach Power representing the work that I do with health coaches.

I'm still working to this day with a small handful of health coaching clients and running the She's Got Power podcast and Healthy Pprofit University has grown beyond a single course. Now we have our core curriculum and that's perfect for new coaches and even more experienced coaches. If you feel like you're spinning your wheels and you need some systems, we also have our very popular live fast track program, a copywriting course, weekly mentorship meetings and so much more to come. It's a true university for health coaches created by a real health coach cuz I know what you're up against and I know what you need because I've been there. And this last point I wanna make. And I wanna give to you to think about in your own business when coaches say, can I have more than one target market? Can I work with two different groups of people?

You can. It is a lot, like I said, I currently have essentially two separate businesses. I wish I had twice as many hours in the day to service them. Both. It is difficult. I would never recommend starting that way. That would be a recipe for disaster. The only reason I've been able to build this two tiered business operation that have going on is because I was successful in one of them first and then was able to branch off and build the second. But, if I was trying to do them both at the same time, I mean let's face it. Just trying to start one business at a time is hard enough. So, do choose one area that you're gonna focus on when you're starting your business. And until that becomes easy systematized, something that you kind of have on autopilot. I wouldn't even think about adding the next thing and getting too complicated because simple really is the way to go. Even these days, I'm always looking at my business going, where can I simplify? Where can we combine efforts? Where can we cut things that we don't really need? Because once again, there's only those 24 hours in a day.

That's it for today, you guys, I hope that gives you a glimpse down the path of how I got from here to there. And if you would like to get my free 30 minute training on how to turn health coaching into a salary so you can do the work that you love and sustain yourself, doing it. Go to healthcoachpower.com/training, and then 30 minutes you'll get an overview and an action plan of everything that you need. I'll see you next week, everyone. Take care.