Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in wellness, but not sure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Heather Cairns-Mills, founder and president of Walk It Off Spinal Cord Wellness Centre Inc. based in Ontario, Canada.

What's your business and who are your customers?

WALK IT OFF Spinal Cord Wellness Centre Inc is a Non-Profit organization that provides Activity-Based-Therapy (ABT), education, and support to those living with neurological disorders; specializing in spinal cord injuries (SCI). We aim to assist our clientele in taking control of their recovery; helping to improve quality of life, increasing independence, health, and wellness.

Tell us about yourself

While celebrating a family wedding on the beach in Cuba, February 2009, my husband Kevin Mills, age 28 at the time, was driven headfirst into the sand by a wave. Luckily, his new brother-in-law was able to pull him out of the water and to safety. Kevin broke his neck, sustaining a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), was diagnosed a C4 ASIA A, tetraplegics (quadriplegic) with no feeling or movement below the shoulders. Kevin and I were both Advanced Care Paramedics in Toronto and now have experienced the medical system as both providers and patients. We have learned through our experiences that you must seek out and strive to provide the best care possible for your loved ones.

We found that care at an SCI Recovery Centre in the United States. My initial motivation was the recovery of my husband, but as we started to meet so many in need with similar stories, we felt this specialized program style should be available to our community and so began the process of building our unique not-for-profit SCI recovery center, serving all of Ontario and beyond. As a result of the hard work of family, friends, and the community, we raise the funds and opened the doors to Walk It Off Spinal Cord Wellness Centre Inc. on January 21, 2012. We are approaching our 10th anniversary and every progression made by our clients helps to motivate us every day.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Activity Based Training (ABT) was a little know type of therapy in Canada. We were one of 3 facilities practicing ABT across Canada. When we first opened, there were skeptics in our professional circles. Our main way of attracting individual was through word of mouth. Now we are involved in a grant study of ABT with the University Health Network and University of Toronto. The goal is to develop an ABT assessment tool for people living with SCI and then develop programs that can be used by organizations and within the communities across Canada.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

Developing the organization was the hardest part of being a business founder. Walk It Off is an NFP so I am not the owner. It is its entity. I cannot profit from the business. I am an employee whose salary is determined by a board of directors. There are sacrifices and risks when taking on the responsibility of starting an NFP. On a personal note, I had resigned from a stable, well-paying job, I was raising an 18-month-old and now had the responsibility of being a caregiver for my husband all while raising money for our NFP in 2010-12.

It was very difficult to raise money for a vision and for a type of therapy that no one had heard of. On top of that, we had the financial risk of using our assets as collateral to lease a space and obtain loans. I volunteered for the first 2 years of operations until I was able to be added to the payroll. Presently, I will say that adjusting to business growth is very difficult. With growth comes the need for more resources, whether it is staff, technical support, marketing, or fundraising. Your responsibilities become overwhelming where you required an increased support staff and you have to start to relinquish responsibilities that you had control over. It can be very difficult.

What are the top 3 tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Choose a business idea that you are passionate about
  2. Write a business plan
  3. Don't think of yourself as the top of the hierarchy but step down and be the Coordinator, That makes sure your team has what they need. Your staff will feel valued and put in the effort and energy to provide the best experience for your clientele.

If there was one thing you could do repeatedly to help grow your business, what would it be?

Ask for help. My weakness is trying to do everything myself and fear of rejection. I working every day to overcome my weakness.

What are some of the things you put in place to maintain a healthy work/life balance?

I have great staff who are capable of daily operation without my constant intervention, allowing me to work part days at home. This provides me with more time with my family where we enjoy bike riding and home renovation projects. Before COVID, we organized many after-hours gatherings, to create an organic way for peer support amongst both our clientele and for staff. I am quite liberal with staff time-off requests for both continuing education and vacation.

Where can people find you and your business?

Website: https://walkitoffrecovery.org/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WalkItOffSpinalCordRecovery
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/walkitoffspinalcordrecovery/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCH94TMvh9ob06IfLCmMrXwQ


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share then email community@subkit.com, we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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