Meet Michelle Pfennighaus — Health Coach, Business Coach, podcast host and a member of Practice Better Inner Circle. Like many of us, Michelle’s path to health and wellness was a little unexpected. Find out how she transitioned from an advertising career to being a successful health and wellness entrepreneur with lots of great gold nuggets that you can apply to your own practice!
What led you to health and wellness? Did you always know this would be your path?
I was 24 years old and getting carried out of a restaurant by two of my advertising agency co-workers. That was about the time that I realized that my dizzy spells and fainting episodes had crossed the line from “inconvenient” to “major problem.” I’d been to doctors many times but no one could explain what was wrong with me. And I never even told them about my IBS-like symptoms — I thought it was normal to feel that way.
A nurse finally suggested I see a therapist. The therapist suggested anti-anxiety medication. Instead, I took my very conventional, mainstream self to the local yoga studio and signed up for a monthly unlimited pass. I figured that’s what people did for anxiety — or so I’d heard. Might as well try it.
Through yoga, I learned about how food affects the body and within months changed everything about how I was eating. I had no more dizzy spells, no more fainting, my digestion cleared up and I had this one day where I stopped, noticed the sun streaming in the window and thought, “Huh. Is this what ‘happy’ feels like?” It was a remarkable shift and I became an evangelist, telling everyone I knew about the benefits of flaxseed and dangers of dairy. I was pretty annoying! Especially at work, where I no longer wanted to help advertise clients, I didn’t believe in — McDonald’s for example. So I started researching careers in nutrition and ended up attending the Institute for Integrative Nutrition when it was still a live program held in New York City. The rest is history.
Now I better understand what was going on with my body back in my early 20’s. As a health coach, I work with women experiencing similar problems — their chronic stress is showing up as weight gain, digestive issues, anxiety, insomnia and often thyroid issues. One of my recent clients lost a dress size in just a few months, was able to get entirely off medication for GERD and had her thyroid meds reduced. Due to an eating disordered background, she’s thrilled she was able to do this without counting calories or even stepping foot in a gym.
These days, I actually see only a handful of private health coaching clients but spend a lot of time combining my advertising background with entrepreneurial experience to help my fellow health coaches create sustainable businesses. I never could have imagined what was in store for me that day that I almost passed out in the restaurant — but it’s been a remarkable 10+ year career that, even still, makes me look forward to Monday mornings.
As you mentioned, addition to working with clients, you’re also a business coach for other health coaches. What inspired you to coach health coaches?
Since I was a student at IIN my peers had been asking for my help. They saw me blogging and they wanted to blog. They saw me using social media and, back then, most people had no idea how to use it. So I started very early offering free trainings for groups of health coaches, mostly to save myself the time of explaining these things to each person individually.
Things got more interesting when I had my first baby. He was the kind of baby who only slept in a stroller so I would push the stroller for hours each day around the neighborhood. That’s when my friend, a fellow health coach, reached out asking for help with her business. I told her I flat out couldn’t. I didn’t even have time to shower. She offered to pay for my time. but I said I couldn’t possibly do it unless it was an email relationship — I could email back and forth from my phone while pushing the stroller. That’s what we ended up doing, and as more coaches reached out to me I offered the same arrangement. It was the beginning of a new income stream, born out of necessity — theirs and mine. I found that I loved working with coaches — they are, as one might imagine, extremely coachable.
Only in more recent years have I formally offered myself as a mentor for health coaches with my course Healthy Profit University, now with members around the globe.
Having left a career in advertising to become a health coach (and business coach). How has your former career helped you in your current one? What pearls of wisdom have you been able to draw upon from your time in advertising to help in your current one?
One thing I learned working in advertising is that every successful business has a plan. It drives their budget, their marketing, and their product development. But health coaches, by and large, do not have a plan. It’s the big fault line in the profession. We think clients are going to show up if we hang our shingle and then 99% of us don’t get enough clients and quit. You need a plan.
What were some of the biggest challenges when you changed careers? And, what advice would you give to someone making a similar career change?
On the outside, it was all ok. My husband and I made the very smart decision to buy a condo that we could afford on his salary alone. Keeping living expenses to a minimum is the best advice I can give. Those fixed expenses each month can make or break your ability to start a business!
My biggest challenges were actually within myself. A lifelong perfectionist, I spent every waking moment striving to get clients, earn more, do more. Within a year I suffered a health crisis due to burnout — a different manifestation of chronic stress. Back then there were only a couple resources for health coaches building a business — and I did not resonate with the salesy approach they took. If I could go back in time, I would have found some kind of better support system for sure.
What are one or two strategies that you can share with our community to be able to find balance in their own lives while building successful businesses?
Set your work hours. As solopreneurs, we are often squeezing work into the cracks of our lives. It’s stressful and it doesn’t allow us to manage our time efficiently. Know what days and times you are available and stick to them. If a client wants to meet at 9 pm but you’re only available until 6 pm — do not schedule 9 pm appointments. If a project is going to take 20 hours/week but you only work 8 hours/week, don’t take on that project.
And if you have children, get dedicated childcare during those work hours. No question.
I don’t know how you do it all, but you also host The Healthy View with Andrea Beaman and Lisa Lewtan. What do you love most about hosting a podcast?
I actually have 2 podcasts and a 3rd set to launch very soon! It’s a blast getting to collaborate with Andrea and Lisa for The Healthy View. I miss having co-workers sometimes and they are the best. My other show is the Health Coach Power Community podcast, which has been growing by leaps and bounds. And hopefully, within the next couple of months, my new show will launch — think: health and wellness with a feminist spin.
What advice would you give to other coaches and practitioners looking to start a radio show or podcast?
Ok, two things. First, you do not need fancy equipment. A basic microphone for $60 is sufficient. No need to shell out a ton of cash. Second, podcasting requires a lot of ongoing work. Most shows start out strong but lose steam because producing a show every week is a huge commitment. Work out a schedule, give yourself weeks off, and hire someone to do the editing and production for you or you’ll want to quit by episode #3.
Where can our community find out more about what you do and how can they connect with you?
My brand and website is currently getting a complete overhaul — much needed after 10 years! In the meantime, please join my free Facebook group for health coaches at HealthCoachPowerCommunity.com. We spend a lot of time curating the group so that it’s a collaborative, safe space free of spammers and weirdos. (No small task on the world’s largest social media platform!) I also have a free training available to help health coaches earn a full-time salary — go to HealthCoachPower.com/earn
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Michelle.
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