Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in mental wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Olivia Pelts, Owner of Sunshine City Counseling, located in Saint Petersburg, FL, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Sunshine City Counseling is a multi-disciplinary counseling practice based in St. Petersburg, Fl. We have a team of over 10 counselors and coaches that specialize in working with kids, teens, adults, and couples. For us, it is incredibly important for folks to feel connected and aligned with their counselor or coach, so each one of our clinicians specializes in a variety of things, from behavior issues, marital issues, codependency, spiritual abuse, and entrepreneurs, to name a few. While our offices are located in St. Petersburg, FL, we serve the entire state of Florida via online counseling.
Tell us about yourself
I am a licensed mental health counselor by trade and a group practice owner and marketing specialist by choice. I did not get into the world of therapy intentionally. In fact, I always say that I did not choose therapy, that therapy really chose me, as cliche as it sounds. During my junior year of college, my mentor at the time blindsided me and set me up on a breakfast date with a local counselor instead of having breakfast with her – super cool, Emily :) During this breakfast, this local counselor dispelled all my fears and concerns around becoming a therapist. To be totally frank, being a therapist seemed wildly scary and intimidating. The work of therapy is really the work of oneself. It is so intimately tied to your spirituality and your own journey that if I'm not doing my own work, if I'm not staying attuned to who I am and how I'm showing up in the world, then I'm not going to be that helpful as a therapist. At the time, it felt like too much pressure, and also…who was I?
I eventually gave in and got my Masters in Mental Health Counselor in Denver, CO and through a series of events, eventually found my way to St. Petersburg, FL. For those who know me, they would likely identify me as an "extrovert," and prior to having kids, I was always out and about taking various leaders to coffee and breakfast and asking them – how can I best serve you and your community as a therapist? It was through that I eventually became known, in the community, as working with kids and teens, specifically around issues of adoption and attachment and behavioral struggles, in addition to being one of the head coaches and head of marketing at Burg CrossFit. Currently, I specialize in working with adults around codependency issues and how to have significance and meaning in relationships. In a lot of ways, it is the same work I did with kids and teens; we just now focus on the individual's story and how they are showing up in the world.
While I currently see clients on an individual basis, I am actually working on a program where we will do week-long therapeutic experiences, which will allow us to deep dive into your story in conjunction with experiential experiences like paddleboarding, being out in nature, silence, retreats and those types of things. I'm really passionate about finding ways that will help folks not only in the here and now but also doing the deep work on their story, so they don't keep repeating the same things (or get in the same types of relationships) over the course of their life. The week-long therapeutic intensive is a way that will help jumpstart people who maybe have been in traditional therapy before and haven't made much progress to people who maybe have never been in therapy but just want to jump in with both feet and do the thing and find some relief. Doing individual therapy on a weekly or monthly basis is fantastic, but it can take a while for meaningful change to occur, so this is being created as a way to meet that need.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Honestly, it is the fact that we have an incredible team of clinicians (some of the best in St. Pete IMO) that are being taken care of (culture-wise, financially, etc.) so they can be freed up to take care of others in the most effective and healing way possible. It was never my intention to have such a large group practice. Really, I had asked a friend to come work with me because I hate solo-anything (I was a team sports kind of lady growing up), and I wanted to pay her well (it is a huge disparity in our industry, unfortunately). That is how Sunshine City got started -- a couple of friends banded together so they could create more change and have a solid flow of income. Wild to see where we are now and where we are going!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Geez, there are so many. The first thing that comes to mind is the ability to change, pivot, and adapt in ways that perhaps you weren't anticipating but that the company needs. For us, this was during the pandemic (obvious, I know). In January 2020, I had just quit my job at a local CrossFit gym as their Chief Marketing Officer simply because I felt like it was time for me to focus 100% on my own business and felt like big things were coming for Sunshine City Counseling. Of course, in March of 2022, the world kind of imploded a bit, and therapy suddenly became a very big need.
In shifting to 100% online therapy, I remember not only did our business grow by like 40% during those first few months of the pandemic, but we also were trying to provide as much support for folks who weren't in direct care with us through a variety of different avenues (courses, zoom groups, podcast). People needed us more than ever, and many people lost their jobs, so they couldn't afford mental health care, which didn't feel good to us. One of the programs we created was called Therapy After Hours. It was on Sunday nights, we'd get together on zoom, I'd read a poem from Morgan Harper Nichols, and we would talk about different topics that were a reality for so many. This was also the time when we launched our podcast, A Safe Place to Land.
We also started to build out and explore affordable mental health courses for folks who couldn't afford an individual session. The idea behind it was simply that folks could purchase a mental health course on a variety of topics for less than half of a typical therapy session. The pandemic helped us to get really creative and explore how we can take what we've traditionally only done in person and take it online. What are the different ways that we can spin out our different services? So, again, the podcast, different community events that we did online that we're now shifting to in person. Currently, we are creating the first-ever retreat led by mental health professionals in Central Florida, and we are so excited about it. It is going to be held at ChoZEN Retreat Center the first weekend of March 2023, where we will be exploring our stories and equipping folks with tools on how to not only understand their story but also where to go from here. In-person, curated events are something we are so excited to continue to explore.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
The first 3 that come to mind are value, systems, and culture. What kind of value are you bringing with your company? How are you giving away your best assets so folks will work with you without a doubt in their mind? How are you going above and beyond in customer service? Value, value, value.
What systems are in place? How can you automate things that are taking too much time and bogging the system down? What can be done more efficiently? How are you preventing your company from growing?
Culture is so huge, and it starts with the leader. How are you showing up for yourself so you can show up for your people? What kind of culture do you have, and are they consistent with your company's values? What does it look like for you to lead well and to share the power -- can you delegate? These huge things come up A LOT when I do business coaching with folks.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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