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Women in Business – Surviving the First Two Years: “Get out of the comparison trap.” Interview with Sarah Mayland

Interview with Sarah Mayland, founder of Inside Out Weight Loss Coaching, on her experiences being a woman entrepreneur.

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Please tell us a bit about yourself, and describe your company.

Inside Out Weight Loss Coaching is an integrative weight loss coaching practice that helps women achieve safe and sustainable weight loss by addressing underlying issues that get in the way (things like stress management, discomfort tolerance, self-esteem, self-efficacy, etc.) and building new healthy habits around fitness and nutrition. 

In addition to helping clients one-on-one, IOWLC is now expanding into group coaching.  I have also created another related brand called Inside Out Transformations which focuses on workshops, online courses, and corporate wellness initiatives.

A little bit about me: I was originally educated as a psychotherapist, and that education has largely informed my philosophy of practice as well as given me tools I can share with my clients to help them address the underlying issues I mentioned above.  Additionally, I am a Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and am currently working on a prenatal and postpartum coaching certification. 

On a personal level, I’m 34, and mom of an amazing 5-year-old boy with Autism. I’m really passionate about the arts, and love watching opera with my son and going to the ballet with my husband (at least I did pre-COVID!).  I started taking piano lessons about 6 months ago, and I love to knit, crochet, read, and cook.

What has been the most challenging thing you have faced in the first two years of operating your business? How did you overcome it?

Hands down, the most challenging thing over the past two years has been learning the basics of running a business.  I am really great at my work, but when I started my business, I knew nothing about the “business” aspect of running a business.  To overcome this, I got help!

First, I hired a business consultant that works with small businesses.  He helped me with automation, and helped me a lot with tracking numbers, which allows me to see where my business comes from and which ideas are working (and which ones are not).  I worked with him for a month, and that helped to acquaint me with some business basics.

From there, I started reading business and entrepreneurship books and listening to podcasts.  Not all of the information made sense for my business, but I pulled as much helpful information as I could from as many different sources as possible.  I don’t know what I don’t know, but gathering information from people who have already done this helped me think about things I wouldn’t even know to think about.

Now, I still read and listen a lot, but I have also built some great professional networks and made some great friends who I talk with regularly and we business coach each other.  When you’re involved in running the business day in and day out, it’s really easy to get lost in the weeds.  Talking things through with my friends who are fellow business owners gives me a new perspective and often helps me realize things don’t need to be as stressful or complicated as I’m making them.  It also allows me to add value by helping them with the same.

What are some of the biggest digital marketing challenges you have faced to date? How have you overcome them?

By far, the biggest challenge I’ve faced is getting out of my own head about Instagram.  I started taking courses about how to market better on Instagram, researching hashtags, creating posts, creating content to link to…SO. MUCH. STUFF.  It was a huge time-suck, and I was getting in my head because I felt like I should be getting more followers faster or having more engagement with my posts.  I was comparing myself to other people in my field who seemed to be super successful, wondering why I wasn’t there yet (It’s because I just started my business and they’re a few years ahead of me on their journey!) . 

To overcome this hurdle, I stepped back and asked myself why I was devoting so much time and energy to Instagram when that wasn’t where my clients were coming from, and instead turned my energy and efforts to where my clients were actually coming from.  First and foremost, I worked on making any changes I felt were necessary to give my clients the best experience possible, since all clients are potential referral sources (and I care about my clients and want to do a good job). I also kicked up my involvement in my networking groups, taking leadership roles and connecting with people one-on-one to build solid business relationships.  Digitally, I turned my attention to Facebook, and specifically to Facebook groups.  I am in a lot of Facebook groups that are community-related and mom-related, and about a third of my clients have come from my involvement in those groups.

Here is my process for Facebook groups:

-Most groups don’t allow businesses to post advertisements, so I wait for someone to post asking for information or help with weight loss, OR specifically asking for a service provider for weight loss.

-If they’re asking for information, I comment with the information and mention that I’m a weight loss coach.  This allows me to build credibility in the group and also gives people the space to follow up with me.  For example, I would start with something like “As a weight loss coach who has worked with several clients with this issue, it seems like XYZ might help…”

-If they’re asking for recommendations for a provider, I post a comment introducing myself and the business, with a short explanation of my unique approach and a link to my Facebook page and website.

-I enlist friends and clients to comment as well to recommend me, and always respond quickly to say thank you.

I know my approach isn’t for everyone, so sometimes the person who put up the original post reaches out to me, and sometimes not, but I’ve had several clients who found me because they read someone else’s post and the comments and liked what I was about.

 Please tell us what led you to the path of entrepreneurship. 

I started my practice in 2019 after several years working in the fitness industry to address two different needs.  First, the women I see are often experiencing shame about their bodies coming from two sides.  Although there are many voices out there advocating for healthy bodies instead of thin bodies, society at large, and fitness culture in particular still push the ideal of the thin, super lean body.  On the other side are the voices that say “you shouldn’t want to lose weight” or “it shouldn’t be about weight loss.”  While those voices are well-intentioned, and I believe mean to be empowering for women in larger bodies, what I’ve been seeing is women who are now feeling ashamed of the fact they want to lose weight, on top of feeling ashamed of being in a larger body.  The approach that I take is that a woman can want whatever she wants for her body, and although they come to me with the initial goal of weight loss, they find empowerment from noticing how healthy habits make their bodies feel.  They have more energy, can move more easily in exercise and in the functional movements of daily life, and find health issues diminished or gone altogether.  They also gain confidence from mastering small steps and small habit changes and learning how to think about themselves and treat themselves with integrity and love.  

What are the three most important things every woman entrepreneur should do, when first thinking about starting a business?

Know your “why.”  Why do you want to start the business? (It needs to run deeper than “I want to help people.”) What is the need you want to fill? What gets you fired up about the work you want to do? Understanding your “why” is going to drive every decision you make in your business because your “why” is your value system and your central message to the people you serve.  I didn’t really anchor down my “why” until I had been in business for a year, and when I took a step back and figured out my “why,” it triggered a complete rebranding of my business, and really helped me focus in on who my ideal client is and change my marketing accordingly.  A month after that rebranding took place, my client load tripled, and I’m now fully booked with clients who all fit into my conception of what an ideal client is for my business.  Your “why” is also a reference point for every decision you make in your business including marketing, partnerships, community involvement, etc.

Talk to successful business owners in your field.  Learn what has worked for them and what hasn’t.  Ask about the challenges involved in running that type of business so you can have them on your radar and mentally prepare for them.  Learning from the mistakes of others is a wonderful gift – it helps you be successful without having to make that particular mistake for yourself.  If you don’t have anyone you can connect with who fits that description, find a business coach or a mentor so you’re not flying blind.

Just get started.  Don’t wait until everything is “perfect” to launch your business.  If you do that, you’ll never get going. Most of the decisions you make are reversible (even big ones), so don’t get hung up on what is the perfect decision. Often, there won’t be a clear answer on what the right decision is, so do the best you can with the information you have at the time.  If the decision ends up not working out, use it as an opportunity to learn, and let that inform your decisions moving forward.

I have to add a fourth because I feel this is extremely important as well: Get out of the comparison trap. Your business is your business. Don’t compare yourself to that Instagram influencer that seems to be killing it.  If  you find yourself feeling crappy every time you go on Instagram and see what everyone else is doing, stop following them.  Focus on doing what is right for you and your business.  The pie is big enough for everyone. Let them enjoy their success. Yours is just around the corner.

Are there actionable steps a woman in business should take to ensure that her company is successful in two years?

Know your ideal customer and direct your messaging ONLY to them.  This seems counter-intuitive because you’re drastically narrowing the number of potential customers you can work with.  When you only work with your ideal customer, you do your best work, your message is clear, and you grow faster.  When you’re talking to everybody, you’re talking to nobody.  When you give your customers your best, they will be excited to bring more people to you.

Automate as much as possible.  Instead of spending days swapping emails trying to schedule a meeting, get a software system that lets people schedule meetings with you within your availability.  Instead of writing a new email each time you onboard a new client, save a template.  Automate payments so you don’t have to chase people down for money if that makes sense for your business.  Pay attention to processes you have that are annoying, troublesome, or just taking up a lot of time, and see if you can automate them to save yourself time and mental energy.

Network like crazy. It takes time and energy for sure, but by taking the time to build a strong business network for myself, I’ve gained the following: my lawyer, my accountant, my financial adviser, other professionals I have been able to work with to refine my processes and help my business grow, new ideas, great friends, wonderful partnerships, new clients, and new opportunities for growth.  

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