What I've Learned In Three Months of Self-Employment

Today is special because it marks three months since I took the leap from corporate office job into full-time entrepreneurship. I remember feeling so energized, and also slightly terrified, when I left work on that last day. My income potential was completely in my own hands. Also, my income potential was now completely in my own hands 😬

I have to say that the idea of coming up with an idea, then working your tail off to bring it to fruition is insanely rewarding. There’s also some not-so-great things that come with owning a business and I would be remiss if I hid the fact that I experience challenges on an almost daily basis. I wanted to write this post for anyone who is either considering making a similar move in their career, or someone who already has and feels lost and hopeless with where they are.

Here are six things I’ve learned since starting this crazy self-employment adventure.

Leanne Ray | Denver Registered Dietitian

Sometimes you have to pivot, and be okay with it.

If you know me well, you know that I’m someone who always has a plan. I find immense satisfaction in looking ahead weeks, months and years and dreaming about where I could be by that point in time. I’m extremely detail-oriented (total walking dietitian stereotype) and I make lists about lists. Actually, I just recently took a personality test and my results indicated that these are a few ways to get along well with me:

  • Leave me alone when I’m doing my work.

  • Help me keep my environment harmonious and peaceful.

  • Tell me when you're proud of me or my accomplishments.

I swear I’m not a totally mean, stand-off-ish person! But these are surprisingly true. Imagine my dismay when what I originally set out to accomplish doesn’t actually work. I quickly learned that sometimes it’s necessary to switch directions and try something new without spending too much time dwelling that the “million-dollar idea” I had didn’t land. One thing that I didn’t have in my original business plan: the Healthy Buzz podcast which is turning out to be one of my favorite projects to date!

In-person connection is more important than an online presence.

Social media is fun and a great way to connect with other like-minded people. I also love it as a tool to showcase my personality and nutrition approach, portray my business mission and educate people in playful and creative way. One thing that social media isn’t: a catchall marketing tool.

There’s a difference between interacting and engaging and actually generating revenue. While I knew this probably wouldn’t be my biggest client referral source, I was surprised at just how few people came to me this way.

I also want to say that I thought I knew a lot about various social media platforms but there is always SO much more to learn. It’s one thing to use Facebook and Instagram regularly - it’s completely different to actually understand the strategy behind turning it into an effective business tool.

focus on serving first.

This one comes straight from one of my biggest sources of inspiration in the online business world - Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income. His mission is largely focused on providing value and serving customers above all else and he is extremely generous to his fans.

Now, of course every business owner is providing something of value because otherwise, um, it wouldn’t be a business. HOWEVER, I think a lot of entrepreneurs are primarily focused on making money as fast as possible, instead of providing great customer service and building genuine relationships for long-term partnerships.

Real talk: I do have bills to pay and I can’t just be giving away my time for free. But I do subscribe to the theory that if you focus on solving a problem and showing compassion first, ideas on how to make it mutually beneficial will come.

Staying On Task Can be hard.

I get daily business tips in my inbox by an entrepreneur named Larry Jansky and I would highly recommend it to others. He provides short and powerful tidbits of knowledge that start my day on a positive (and motivating!) note. One of the most recent emails he sent said, “You can get ahead by simply controlling your attention - because most people don't do a good job of it”. How true is this?!

Working from home by yourself without anyone looking over your shoulder is a tricky dynamic to get used to. If you go down a black hole on You Tube for a half hour, no one will know, but your productive will suffer because of it. Here are some things I’ve personally changed to improve my focus during the day:

  • Turned off mobile notifications on Facebook. I just counted, and I’m in 27 different groups on Facebook (mostly business-related, some just for fun). TWENTY SEVEN. I get a lot of value out of these, but it’s a way more efficient use of time to designate specific blocks throughout the day to check-in and spend 10 or so minutes catching up and contributing to the conversation, rather than staying constantly connected.

  • Started using Todoist. This might be my favorite new tool of 2018. It seems so simple, but it’s basically a glorified to-do list with drag and drop capability and a color-coding system to help with prioritization. I still love my paper lists, but it’s nice to have access to this at all times (via computer or app). I start every day prioritizing this list.

  • Learned to batch tasks. If you were to ask me what a normal day looks like, it would be really hard to answer. On any given day I could be working with clients (or creating new materials for them), writing blog posts and social media content, networking, creating new recipes, or giving a presentation at a workplace. Just like in cooking, I’ve found it helpful to batch similar tasks together instead of flying by the seat of my pants. If I want to photograph a recipe, it makes more sense to do two or three while I have everything out. If I’m in writing mode, I may as well knock out a couple of pieces of content.

Efficiency is a key indicator of success.

Also known as, “work smarter, not harder”. It took awhile for this to sink in with me. I could easily work on my business late into the night, early in the morning and all afternoon on weekends if I didn’t set boundaries. I think deep down I felt like if I was always busy, that would equate to more business and the perception that I was killing it (so dumb - but so true). The reality is, not only is this totally unnecessary, it’s an implosion waiting to happen.

After being left to my own devices every day, I quickly learned that if this whole thing was going to work, I’d have to come up with a model that adds tremendous value to my customers but also makes sense for my own emotional well-being. This is why I’m constantly making changes to my offerings based on client feedback and my own learning experiences. p.s. I’ve got some big changes coming to my coaching services in 2019 and I can’t wait to share them!

Persistence is everything.

These things take time to build, and there are so many hard decisions to be made along the way. I’m a big believer that persistence is HUGE because sometimes it would be way easier to quit when things get hard.

Persistence is my word of the year because I wanted to prepare myself for the times when I had these self-doubting thoughts or second-guessed my decision to go solo. If there is one thing to take away from this article, it’s to remember that you are unique and have something special to offer the world (as said by Marie Forleo). Sometimes it just takes time to figure out how to deliver the message in a way that resonates with a large group of people.

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About the 'Non-Diet' Approach & Why I Don't specialize in helping you lose weight

In case you missed it, last week I shared a short video clip from Denver7 news where I was fortunate enough to come to their studio and answer some questions about the non-diet approach (if you're new here, this is a huge part of my blog and nutrition approach in general). I wanted to do a little "behind-the-scenes" of how that whole process went down, and also share some more details on what exactly the non-diet approach means because I've had some questions since.

The last week of December is always interesting from a dietitian's perspective. There's a lot of diet talk, chatter about resolutions and cutting out {insert "evil" food of the moment here} in January. On one hand I see the value in a fresh start. I personally love the first few weeks of a New Year because it's inspiring to set fresh goals and feel all the buzz surrounding it. Of course I want to provide something of value to people at this time too, because the whole reason I chose my career is to help people live healthier/happier lives.

On the other hand, I don't want to perpetuate this on-going issue of people going on restrictive eating plans and setting un-realistic and impossible to maintain food rules only to feel hopeless or like a failure one week in. Health is so often “all or nothing”, wouldn't you agree? Because of this I just try to stay positive, give gentle reminders that restriction isn't the only option, and try to increase excitement around food and cooking in general.

I was thrilled to be invited to chat about the non-diet approach during this notoriously diet-obsessed time of year, so even though it was scary, I said yes and we shot the segment on January 2nd (it aired on January 5th). Did you miss it? Check it out below:

Don't ask me why this intro photo has a bunch of raw meat nestled next to fresh fruits and vegetables - interesting stock photo!

Overall I was really happy with how it turned out. Since this was my first time talking to a reporter, I had this weird, unfounded fear that she was going to twist my words and put some sort of diet spin on the story, but rest assured she never did. 

We had a long conversation and a small portion of the interview was actually included on the final cut. I could feel her skepticism at certain times (because hey aren't dietitians supposed to put you on a diet). She was really kind and just kept asking more questions which I was so happy to answer.

Overall I find that most people who hear about the 'non-diet' approach like the concept, but aren't really sure how it translates to real life. Here are some of the most common questions I get.

If you don't restrict certain foods or actively try to lose weight, doesn't that mean you're just giving up on your health?

I would argue that it allows you to take better care of yourself because you aren't spending so much time and energy stressing about food/body size, and instead make eating decisions from a place of self-care.

Rachael Hartley is a total BA in the world of non-diet RDNs and she had this great quote that I shared on Instagram recently: “Letting go of the number on the scale frees up the energy to focus on the things you can control, like discovering enjoyable ways to move your body or finding tasty ways to eat more produce and whole grains”.

There is also so much more that dictates our health than our eating pattern including our genes, stress levels, sleep habits, how active our lifestyle is and the quality of our relationships. It's important to find a balance between eating nutritious food with all of these other variables.

Rachael Hartley Quote.png

As a dietitian, how do you advocate for the non-diet approach while still talking about nutrition?

This is a great question! Others might answer this differently, but here’s my take.

Nutrition is important when it comes to our health, disease prevention/management along with other things like physical performance and energy levels. As a dietitian, I try to help clients maximize these areas while keeping nutrition and cooking fun and interesting instead of stressful or restrictive.

It’s not my style to give out prescriptive meal plans, but I do help clients figure out what works for them as an individual and then provide education on how to make that practical based on various lifestyle factors. This might include tips for cooking more at home, how to include more fiber or protein in the diet, nailing cravings head-on and understanding food labels.

What if I "need" to lose weight because my BMI is considered too high? 

I totally understand why this is a concern since BMI is so engrained in the healthcare system, but I don’t put much emphasis on it. Here's why:

The BMI (or the Body Mass Index) is a tool that's been used for years as a method for measuring body fat through using an equation that calculates a weight:height ratio, but it's been shown repeatedly that it's not really effective or accurate. In fact, a 2016 review found that using this tool, between 2005 and 2012 alone, nearly 75,000,000 people in the United States were misclassified as being "healthy" or "unhealthy" based on their number. This isn’t surprising to me as I’ve met many individuals in smaller bodies who don’t take great care of themselves, along with people in larger bodies who do.

Weight isn't the end-all be-all for health, we just all come in different shapes and sizes. Why does it make sense for someone who is naturally in a larger frame to try to be the same size as someone who has always been petite? 

I’ve also found in all of my years working with clients (both as a dietitian and a personal trainer) that weight goals are such a distraction to improving health. I remember feeling so proud of clients who made certain behavior changes, then feeling defeated because they would ditch said behaviors because the scale wasn't moving in the direction they wanted.  

How do you measure progress with clients if you don't focus on the number on the scale? 

My goal in working with clients is to measure progress based on what the individual ultimately wants to achieve and there are so many non weight-related options whether that be feeling more energized during the workday, sleeping better, running a 5k for the first time, finding food freedom, or incorporating more cooking into their lives. 

I understand that not everyone jives with this approach and I totally respect that. This is just an example of how my approach has evolved over the years and I love being able to share it with those who may otherwise have never even been exposed to a non-traditional option. 

Wondering if nutrition coaching is a good fit for you? Schedule your free discovery call today to learn more.

This post was originally published January 15, 2018 and updated March 13, 2019.

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