Vanessa Santos of Start Up With Vanessa: “Understand your guiding principles”

Understand your guiding principles. What is your offering and what is the outcome you are delivering. It’s easy to say things like “help you live your best life” but it’s more impactful to be able to describe and show how and through what methods you can guide your clients to live that best life. When […]

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Understand your guiding principles. What is your offering and what is the outcome you are delivering. It’s easy to say things like “help you live your best life” but it’s more impactful to be able to describe and show how and through what methods you can guide your clients to live that best life. When you understand your guiding principles (code of ethics, mission, vision, values) you can authentically articulate what transformation or result you can provide.


The coaching industry is now tremendous. It is a 15 billion dollar industry. Many professionals have left their office jobs to become highly successful coaches. At the same time, not everyone who starts a coaching business sees success. What does someone starting a career as a life coach, wellness coach, or business coach need to know to turn it into a very successful and rewarding career?

In this interview series, called “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach” we are interviewing experienced and successful life coaches, wellness coaches, fitness coaches, business and executive coaches and other forms of coaches who share the strategies you need to create a successful career as a life or business coach.

In this particular interview, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Santos.

Vanessa Santos is Founder and CEO of Start Up with Vanessa, a life and business coaching practice with the mission to empower women of color to position themselves as sought-after experts and leaders in life and business. Her transformational mindset method sets her apart in an industry focused on a business-first, inner work later approach. www.vsantos.co


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and what brought you to this particular career path?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced myself like millions of other people to take stock of what’s important in their lives. I lost friends and nearly lost my mother and I began to think about the mark I want to leave in this world. The fear of losing my mom made me think about how I have not accomplished the things I wanted, and to show her a different world from the one we lived most of our lives. My childhood was incredibly humble, being a first-generation Latina, I felt like the success of my family rested on my shoulders. I opted for the traditional route of climbing the corporate ladder and although I made good money, I was never truly fulfilled. Without realizing it, the pandemic created the methods that I now use in my coaching practice. There were so many people who were struggling and I mentored dozens of women during this time and realized that my happiness was found in propelling others into their greatness.

From a young age, I was the person that people go to for advice and being the first born and having to make tough decisions at such an early age, it made me a leader before I even knew what being a leader meant.

During the height of the pandemic I began to have anxiety attacks and those were triggered by decisions that were against my nature. By nature, I mean my life’s calling, my purpose, what brings me joy. I had reached burnout and elected to take a mental-health leave. During my leave, I began a self-healing journey that would manifest into me supporting other ambitious women to recognize their superpowers and leverage that to create a life they love. I would share my learnings on TikTok (@startupwithvanessa) and Instagram (@vanessasantosfein) and those videos went viral. I began to receive more and more request from other women who were experiencing the same thing. Many of whom were also working a 9–5 and hoping to make their side hustle a reality.

I still didn’t think, OK this is it, I will become a life coach. I was just grateful to have the space to mentor women. In one of my mentoring sessions (which I did for free at the time), this entrepreneur insisted on paying me. I kept refusing her offer, because I genuinely love sharing my business and life knowledge and lessons with others. It wasn’t until she said “Vanessa, your advice has transformed my life and my business. Not even grad school provided this level of detail. I am going to Zelle you for the hour and I hope you can respect the fact that I am choosing to want to pay for your time moving forward”. After that conversation, I connected with my long-time friend Antoinette Beauchamp, who is an incredible life & spirituality coach, and she said to me “This is your calling. The signs are everywhere. You are a coach. Show up today and say yes you are coach, I challenge you to accept that.” Within hours of that conversation, I signed up two clients for coaching. It was divine intervention and it led me to the decision to resign from my 9–5 corporate job and launch my consultancy to support women as a life and entrepreneurship coach full-time. Start Up with Vanessa is about getting started, no matter you are in life and to develop the firm belief that the only direction is UP.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The 3 traits that have set me apart in business as a leader are:

  1. Trusting my intuition
  2. Challenging the status quo
  3. Empathy

On trusting my intuition: I’ve had moments in business when I Ok’d the decisions of others even though I felt differently. I assumed that because they had an ivy league education they must be right. In every instance where I went against my intuition and didn’t speak up, those decisions were costly. I recognized that it’s not about where you studied, it’s about trusting that inner voice to guide you in making intuitive business decisions. You don’t have to know all of the answers and sometimes you may be wrong but that is where you get the best education. My intuitive decision-making is what has helped me land multi-million-dollar deals, close strategic acquisitions, and make savvy business decisions that have put the companies I worked for ahead of the curve.

On challenging the status quo: I love asking questions. I’ve always been curious and it’s probably why I studied journalism. I never worried about whether my question or opinion was stupid because I believe that everyone has an interesting perspective. If I concerned myself with what others think of my thoughts then I would be a mute. And as someone who loves to talk and is very opinionated, I listen objectively, not personally. I ask questions in order to challenge the status quo and to foster having an inclusive mindset.

Every time I’ve led and built teams, I focus on having diverse backgrounds and encourage opinions from across the board. Our decisions are rooted in our own biases and being able to step back to survey all of the opinions and review the situation objectively by challenging “how things have always been done” has proven to be instrumental in the success of my teams.

On empathy: Many talk about it but not many do it. As a 16+ year corporate executive, I have seen first-hand the lack of empathy in the workplace. Actually, the lack of empathy in general. People are quick to place judgement on others and the reason why I have high EQ (and value that skill greatly over IQ) is my ability to connect, understand, and sympathize. Much of my career successes are due to my likeability as a person and that is because I genuinely care about the well-being of people, I care to understand and that is energy that others can feel. Leading with empathy when in the boardroom or with my clients has been a gamechanger for me and what sets me apart from most executive leaders who rely on what they learned in business school.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Habits become the unconscious guide in your life. I am conscious about my daily habits and have seen the power that even the smallest of habits have had in transforming my life and business. I have morning habits that are part of my morning routine: morning gratefulness, meditation, work out, and sharing a morning perspective on my Instagram. A new habit I picked up from my friend and coach Karissa Dean is to think about the person I want to be that day as my feet hit the floor. So as soon as I open my eyes, I am thankful for waking up. I am grateful to my body for getting me through the night. I smile and I hug myself. As I step out of bed, I think about how I choose to be that day. Today for example, I choose to be happy. I then go to a quiet spot to meditate and then off to the gym for a sweat session. Sometimes, I am woken up by my dogs who need to pee so I interchange the order, but the habit of being grateful and gifting myself quiet time through meditation before the day begins has transformed who I am as a person and how I show up to the world.

I also have money habits that have supported all of my entrepreneurial endeavors, my pivots, and my decision to leave my 6-figure corporate job to focus on coaching. My habits are focused on building wealth and understanding that it’s a long-term game. I enjoy to treat myself once in a while and when I do, whatever amount I spent on myself, I also invest that amount for my future self. Therefore, if I can’t put the same amount into one of my investment accounts then I don’t make the purchase. It has been great for saving money!

Another important habit that has truly supported me in pursuing my multiple passions and helps me stay organized, is intentional scheduling. On Sunday’s I look at the week and the month and think about what I want to accomplish. I make sure to block creative time, productivity time, and relaxation time. These are non-negotiables for me. These intentional time blocks support me in finding space to create, to nourish myself so that I can give to my businesses and my clients.

This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Your habits create your routines and those routines will impact how your day/week/year will go. Your outcomes are a result of your habits. Creating good habits is like rewiring your brain to support you in performing at your best so that when something is out of alignment that doesn’t support your highest self, it will become much easier to say no to those bad habits.

I began the intentional scheduling after experiencing burnout at my 9–5. That burnout created an excessive amount of migraines that were just unbearable to deal with. When I looked back at my schedule, I realized that all of my time and habits were focused on giving, delivering, creating, and supporting others in industries I wasn’t truly passionate about. It’s as simple as blocking your morning for “me” time so that you don’t get unwanted, unnecessary or last-minute meetings on your calendars. I am now happy to say that I am mostly free of migraines, I have control of my morning time, and I am happier and healthier because of it. The choices you make in the morning have the greatest impact on your day. The same can be said about your evening routine. One habit that I support my clients in implementing is conditioning your mind/self to be in a happy state before dozing off to sleep. What you think about when you fall asleep impacts the quality of your sleep and your subconscious thoughts. It also has a great effect on how you wake up and show up in the morning. I encourage my friends, family and clients to:

  1. Pick one thing they are so proud of (could be as simple as going to the gym, cooking dinner, etc) and congratulate themselves for it.
  2. Say one thing they love about themselves and to say it until they feel it!
  3. And to fall asleep by listening to a meditation or repeating this mantra “I am so happy and grateful for my incredible life, my good health, and this safe and loving place where I get to sleep and have wonderful dreams”.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

Where many people fail is that they try to do it all at once. Start and stick with 1 habit. Whether it’s flossing every day, waking up earlier, standing up and walking more often throughout the day, eating a clean meal a week, having a green juice in the morning. Something so simple yet so positive and beneficial for you can create a ripple effect in your life. If you want to eat healthier for example, start your day by having a nutrient dense meal or a green juice. When you begin your day this way not only will you feel great and energized, you will be more conscious about the meals you have throughout your day. That’s what habits are all about, being conscious about the decisions you are making.

An exercise I conduct with my clients who want to break free of bad habits is, to lead them through a series of visualization practices. I ask them to think about the bad habits they want to get rid of, and then I ask them to consider if that habit help them or limit them for being that best self they envision. I help them adjust the bad habits and replace them with more nourishing ones. I also ask them to notice what is happening around them when they make these choices and many of the times they aren’t even conscious about their habits. So, a lot of my practice centers around self-awareness, mindset and consciousness because that will support you in making choices that are better and healthier for you.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

So simple, yet so profound. “Everything is figureoutable” by Marie Forleo. We humans are complex creatures and we create most of the drama and unrest in our lives. We complicate our own lives. We also tell ourselves and believe that things are hard and that there is no other way. Being someone who is a professional optimist, who looks at the glass half full, when I first heard Marie share this in one of her YouTube videos, I just said yep, that’s my mantra. I’ve always questioned the status quo, even in the most difficult of times in my life I understood that things were happening as they should, because there was a lesson for me to learn. If something seemed impossible, I tried to look at it from a different perspective because “Everything is figureoutable”.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am so excited to share that after 16+ years of the corporate grind, I resigned from my 9–5 to go ALL IN with my coaching and consultancy, and also to explore my passion of songwriting. I’m relocating to Los Angeles, where some of my incredible clients live and that is also where many of the writing rooms are. I have the joy of being the creative partner to my husband, singer-songwriter Derik Fein and he just signed a publishing deal with Prescription Songs, one of the best music making teams in the business. This is to remind you that it is never too late, you can reinvent yourself, change your mind, change your life whenever and as many times as you want. You hold the key for living the life you desire.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many coaches are successful, but some are not very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful coaches from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create a Highly Successful Career As a Life or Business Coach”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

The top five things you need to create a highly successful career as a life or business coach:

  1. Understand your guiding principles. What is your offering and what is the outcome you are delivering. It’s easy to say things like “help you live your best life” but it’s more impactful to be able to describe and show how and through what methods you can guide your clients to live that best life. When you understand your guiding principles (code of ethics, mission, vision, values) you can authentically articulate what transformation or result you can provide.
  2. Know your brand. Who are you as a brand? How do you show up to the world? As coaches, whether in life or in business, we serve to guide and nurture our clients through their transformations, aha moments, pivots and successes. However not every client is meant for you. If you aren’t clear on who you are as a brand and how you show up, the experience you deliver may lack. Coaching is about energetics and chemistry. There isn’t one single coach for every person in this world. Just like there isn’t one tea variety that every human on this earth loves. Therefore, knowing your brand and how you show up will help you attract the clients for whom you can truly deliver the ultimate transformation. A big driver of clients is through referrals and regardless if your method is awesome, if your client didn’t vibe with you, not only will they not come back to you but they may tell a friend about their not so stellar experience. This will put you in constant hustle mode, where you will find yourself consistently pitching and searching for clients. I’ve not yet pitched, announced or even paid for ads. All of my clients have arrived organically or as I like to put it, energetically.
  3. Practice on people who aren’t your family members. Offer your services pro-bono to refine your methods, to get comfortable with guiding and to understand what works and what doesn’t. Before I launched my coaching practice, I coached and mentored over 40 women. I truly enjoyed it and I wanted to try my ideas, my lessons, my teachings and gather feedback before commanding the five-figures that I do today. This is also great because you can collect testimonials and even expand your referral network to help you land paying clients!
  4. Set boundaries. How and through what ways can your clients get in touch with you? When are your office hours. What services don’t you offer (you don’t have to do all and be all for your clients). Be firm on your pricing but also be empowered to adjust when needed. If you have a client that is struggling financially offer a payment plan, invite them to a group coaching (which is traditionally less expensive), or if you truly feel a connection with this client and feel compelled to provide a discount, how many discounts per year will you allow?
  5. Be a student. Learn about new techniques, practices, teachings to become a well-rounded mentor. I am a student of life. I love learning about new marketing trends, psychology terms, spiritual practices, poetry, the human brain, art & design, investing, anything that empowers you to be at your highest self which you can then pass those learnings to your clients. I pull from tapping, human design mapping, psychology, business, spirituality, music, astrology, meditation, and all of my own personal experiences in business and in life to create a transformative experience that is unique for each person. Learn from the best in the game, and even those in a different field. You can pick up nuggets of wisdom anywhere! Get yourself a coach too! To be at your best, you must also feed yourself.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen coaches make when they start their business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Early in my coaching practice during my pro bono period, I made three mistakes that could have become a problem had I not had a moment of self-reflection and recognized that these behaviors wouldn’t support my business to scale.

These are the 3 mistakes I see coaches make early in their business:

Mistake # 1: They are available 24/7 for their clients. They condition their clients to feel like any time they have a problem the only way to get through it is by calling their coach. At first, this may feel good to your ego but the problem here is that 1. You are not in control of your time and have not set boundaries in your business and 2. You are limiting the growth and transformation for your clients because you are not allowing them to trust in their own abilities and what you have imparted on them to make the necessary decisions in their lives.

Mistake #2: Not having standardized business practices such as an intake form and an agreement for the coaching relationship. It’s important to set your coaching practice to operate efficiently and support you as you grow. An intake form can serve as a first step introduction to understanding what your client sees as blockers. It can give you insight into their thinking and current state of mind. Consider deploying the intake form before your call and request that it be completed 2 days in advance of your call. An agreement solidifies the commitment between you and your client. It sets the ground rules for the relationship and protects you in the event that a client defaults on payment or cancels appointments last minute. I would also recommend utilizing a business tool such as Dubsado or Honeybook for customer onboarding.

Mistake #3: Not having revenue targets and concrete pricing. One of my clients had a handful of projects and clients all at different rates. She had the unfortunate incident of quoting a price to a potential customer and in her haste to get a proposal out she left the pricing from another project which was significantly less in the proposal. Needless to say, that mistake led to an awkward email exchange and ultimately, she didn’t win the business. She did gain a valuable lesson. She recognized that she was charging based on what she thought the client could pay and not based on her needs in her life and for the growth of the business. I challenged her to set a revenue target for the year, something she can track on a monthly basis. I then challenged her to raise that figure by 33%. Why? Because I believe money is energy and a mindset. In doing so, she gained more confidence in her abilities and after establishing a pricing guide that would help her meet those targets, she only accepted projects that met her new price range. She realized that the clients who were paying her much less were much more difficult to work with! Not only did she have a clear picture on her financial needs and goals, she was organized and had a better view on which projects she could outsource some of the work so she can get to the part of the business she loved the most which was creating. Early on in your business is the best time to put in place some structure and guidelines to support you as you flourish! If financial planning, P&L, or price setting is not your thing, reach out to a coach, a financial planner/accountant, or a trusted friend to help you establish your prices before you are open for business.

Based on your experience and success, what are a few of the most important things a coach should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience? Please share a story or an example for each.

In order to create a wow! Customer experience, you must understand that each client has a unique journey. Before I dive in with my clients, I always schedule a kick-off session. This is what I like to call our first date. We get to know each other, share some personal stories, allow them to talk about what excites them or frustrates them. This helps me determine what tools within my toolkit would work well or resonate with them. For example, some of my clients are into spirituality and astrology, so I’ll pull a card from the Divine Feminine or The Wild Unknown Animal Spirit deck before our session and I’ll share it with them. Some clients, we start the call with a meditation or breathing exercises. Other clients have limited time and we get down to the nitty gritty. Some of my clients are entrepreneurs and launching businesses. This doesn’t mean that they stop being human. There are times where I can sense the energy or their mood and I allow them to just share versus getting into the business task for that call. In doing so, you have enabled a release in your client so that they can make space for the business tasks at hand. Learn what levers you can pull on to help maximize the experience for your client and help them feel like they are in a safe place to be who they need to be in order to create and thrive.

The second would be to not be afraid to check in if you are called to. I set clear boundaries with my clients, they know how to reach me and when. They know how to schedule time with me and they also know that the weekends are my private time. However, from time to time, I’ll come across a meme, a poem, an article, podcast, or TikTok and I’ll send it to them. If I’m called to or if something reminds me about a conversation we had, I share it. My clients love that personal touch. I love it too. I love having that kind of connection with my clients.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business, and particularly in coaching. What are the best ways for a coach to find customers? Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

Inbound is always better than outbound. This means to position yourself as a thought-leader in the topics that are guided by your coaching practice and show up. Post and share articles on LinkedIn, join online communities & groups to network, share your wisdom and insight on Instagram and TikTok, and if you do these things authentically, your clients will find you. I have never been a fan of buying lists or working with sales leads companies that promise you a certain number of clients. First of all, I have never met one that worked and this is based on feedback I’ve received from friends, fellow coaches and clients of mine. Second of all, it’s not organic. How many times have you responded with a yes to an unsolicited request?

Send an email blast with an offering (perhaps a free guide, worksheet, or free 15-min exploratory calls) to your email list or network of people announcing your services. You never know who is in need of a coach or may know someone who is.

Participate in conferences and panels as a speaker to expand your reach. Pitch yourself to podcasts to be a guest speaker and also reach out to the publications that align with the clientele you wish to attract and see if they are looking for contributors or if they have any op-ed opportunities.

All 3 have something in common. Which is to be visible and show up. Do your social media channels, handles and profile bios say that you are a coach? Does your LinkedIn header say you are a coach?

Engage with online communities by commenting on posts with something meaningful. In fact, I once commented on a post from Create & Cultivate on Instagram. It wasn’t anything deep, it was just an authentic comment about self-care and what I do to prioritize myself. Someone saw my comment, clicked on my profile and saw that I was a coach. She reached out to me via DM and now she is an amazing client of mine.

Another opportunity is to offer your services to a community for free. I am a huge fan of the We All Grow Amigas community. I reached out to Ana Flores, CEO and Founder and told her that I have a great idea for a masterclass and would love to bring this premium content to her audience. Luckily for me, she agreed, we launched my masterclass “From Concept to Launch: Business fundamentals to turn your idea into a successful reality”. The class was booked solid, I gained exposure to an audience I admired, and I had the wonderful privilege of mentoring many of the women from the masterclass through their personal and entrepreneurial endeavors.

Finally, provide value on your channels and on your website. I have some awesome free downloads on my website and those drive eyeballs and requests for coaching and consulting services. When you give value you get so much more in return.

Coaches are similar to startup founders who often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to end up burning the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to your fellow coaches about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting their business?

This is by far my favorite question because I have dubbed myself the queen of self-love and self-care. I know all too well what burnout looks like. I had to take a medically approved mental-health leave from my corporate job because I did not do such a good job of taking care of myself. I was consistently pouring onto others and never filling my own cup. That led me to the realization that if you don’t take care of yourself, your physical and mental health, then you have nothing. If you are sick all the time, how will you create a thriving business and life a life of abundance? Give yourself first what you so often are quick to give to others.

Here are my recommendations on how to fill your own cup as you launch your business:

  1. Self-care goes deeper than booking a manicure and a pedicure. How often are you saying no to others? How often are you saying no to things that don’t serve you? Be empowered to say no to things that don’t nourish you and aren’t aligned with what you need in this moment of growth. Saying no is powerful.
  2. What habits/activities do you honor that creates time for you to be loved? Is it a nature walk? Meditation? Going to the gym? Yoga? Booking a therapy session? Whether it’s one or all of these, you must incorporate this as a daily/weekly habit.
  3. Set boundaries with your time and energy. Energy like time is precious. Once spent, you don’t get it back. The beauty about entrepreneurship is that you set your hours. Yes, there will be some long days/nights however offset a long day by giving yourself a half-day. Be intentional with your time.
  4. Ask for help. You really don’t, and no one expects you to, to do it alone. When I first started my business, I used Canva templates for my business branding. I built my website on Squarespace because it’s so easy to use. I reached out to a dear friend and incredible coach for guidance on some best practices. Leverage resources around you and those who have more experience than you. As my business grew, I hired a designer to revamp my brand, to create templates and slides. I hired people who could help get my business to the next level. If you want to scale, you must create a supporting team. The team can be just 1 more person or even a coach, but for the love of everything holy, stop telling yourself that you and you alone must launch this business.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve talked about this, I have posted about this all over my social media channels. I want to have business celebration showers. With as much joy and money spent on bridal and baby showers, why don’t we celebrate those that choose the path of entrepreneurship? Why don’t we celebrate those who choose to put themselves first? Maybe we can call it, a ‘You Shower’ since it’s all about celebrating you or ‘Business Shower’ to celebrate your business. Then instead of your typical registry, all those invited can purchase an item from your shop, or book and refer your services. We could even create business registries where you register for things you need to help launch your business! And yes, one of the registry items should include a business and life coach.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’m big on manifesting and attracting what you think about and I’m also a bit of a create your own rules kind of gal. While there are a handful of people who I’d wish to thank in person because their work has been so transformative in my life and in business, I can’t just pick one. These are the 3 beautiful humans that I’d like to hug and say thank you: Brene Brown, Marie Forleo, and Tony Robbins.

How can our readers further follow your work online? Through my website: www.vsantos.co

On TikTok @StartupwithVanessa

On Instagram @Vanessasantosfein

On Twitter @Startupwithvs

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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