Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in health and wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Lauren Sepe, owner of Vita Sana Nutrition, Inc., located in Windermere, FL, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I am the owner of Vita Sana Nutrition. Vita Sana literally means “healthy life,” as I want all my clients to be able to live their healthiest lives. Most of us spend a considerable amount of time (and money) decorating and maintaining our homes, but many forget that our most important “home” is our body, and we only get one in this lifetime!
We all lead hectic lives, which means taking care of ourselves often comes last, particularly when juggling jobs, kids, and a thousand other things. It is important to ensure that caring for yourself is included. What would happen if you put the wrong gas in your car? It would not run very well… and ultimately, it would break down. Our bodies work much the same way. They are amazingly resilient, but over time and also with age, if we do not “fuel” our body with the right nutrients, we will begin to break down, and it can make us susceptible to health issues.
Although I do work with a wide variety of clients, I primarily work with adults. I have a keen interest in helping my clients address their medical conditions by providing adjunct nutrition and lifestyle changes, which are complementary to any medical treatments they are undergoing. Specific focus areas include autoimmune conditions, gastrointestinal dysfunction, food allergies/sensitivities, and hypothyroidism/hormone imbalances. My training is functional medicine based, which means I focus on looking for the root cause of my client’s health concerns rather than just the symptoms. Then I work with each client on an individualized plan designed to address their specific needs and help them achieve optimal health and wellness. I also consider my client’s current lifestyle and any limitations, as it is important to me that the plan is not only effective but also doable.
In addition to my private practice, I am the in-house nutritionist for the Kellman Wellness Center in NYC, which is a premier functional and conventional medical practice.
Tell us about yourself
Becoming a nutritionist and opening Vita Sana Nutrition was a major career change for me after spending 18+ years in the corporate world. I spent several years working for a large consulting firm in Washington D.C. before moving back to NY to work in the investment banking industry. It was during this time that I experienced health issues of my own. I spent years trying to find the right doctor to address the symptoms I was dealing with when I finally found a functional medicine doctor who got to the root of the problem.
Although the medical intervention did help to resolve much of my condition, I still suffered from a number of symptoms that affected me both physically as well as emotionally. Determined to feel better, I focused on changing my diet and lifestyle and was able to fully resolve all of my symptoms. It was a life-changing moment that inspired me to go back to school and start a whole new career in the hopes of helping others restore their health.
Returning to school and walking away from a long and lucrative career to start over in an entirely new business was a huge leap of faith. It has been a tremendous amount of work, with some setbacks, including starting a business just as the COVID pandemic started and then relocating for husband’s job in Florida. However, I truly wake up every day and love what I do. Working with my clients and seeing them feel better and reach their health goals is a huge motivator for me. It is why I do what I do!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Coming out of school as a nutritionist and a new business owner, you want to help everyone who comes along. Part of it is, as a business owner, not wanting to turn paying customers away. However, it is also that you start this new venture with so much excitement that you just want to help everyone that comes along.
Nutrition is a packed industry. Just do a simple google search, and you will find hundreds of nutritionists, dieticians, health coaches, food gurus… you name it. And to the average person, they all seem the same. Finding your niche and figuring out how to differentiate yourself is crucial to success. This was really hard for me, and I struggled to find my niche for a while. It is nice to want to help everyone, but the reality is that no one is an expert in everything, no matter what your field is. You have to concentrate on what you are most interested in and what you are best at. You also have to recognize that although it is hard to turn away a client, referring that person to someone who truly specializes in what they are dealing with is the best thing for that client. Become an expert in one area and focus your client base on that.
The first day that I actually turned away a client and referred them to someone else was a huge step in the right direction for me! It also allowed me to focus my marketing and business developments on a particular area, which is much more efficient and effective.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Starting and running a business is always hard, but for me, being the owner and sole employee means that I do it all. I had always worked for someone and had zero experience building and running my own business. There is no playbook that tells you what to do, what will work, and what will not. It is a lot of trial and error and missteps, which can be very frustrating. Working for yourself means no set schedule, no regular hours – it is all about self-motivation and being a self-starter. You have to get up daily with a plan of what you will accomplish that day, regardless of whether you have any appointments on the calendar or not. Even if you have a bad day – you get up the next day and get at it again.
Running your own business, particularly after leaving the corporate world, seemed like a dream. Do what I love, work for myself, and make my own hours. However, as awesome as it is (and I do feel that way), I do not think you are ever fully prepared for how much work is actually involved. There are times I sometimes miss my regular paycheck and being able to clock out at the end of the day, leaving work at work. Staying motivated, working at it every day, putting yourself out there, and getting out of your comfort zone is really hard, but it’s the only way to really build your business.
For me, working primarily with just myself, networking with complementary practitioners, building relationships with other people in my field, and finding ways to collaborate on projects and clients with other practitioners has been the most successful way I have grown my business. It also keeps you motivated!
Also, taking advantage of working with others who have built their own business in your space, so you can learn from their experience and get their advice is key. Don’t be afraid to ask others for their advice, they are usually happy to provide it. Be confident in what you are doing (even on days where maybe you don’t feel so confident) and sell it – know your worth and be able to articulate it. Not everyone will say yes or buy into it, but practicing this skill, although hard, is also really valuable. If you can’t sell yourself and what you are offering, why would anyone want to work with you?
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Find your niche – particularly with the advent of social media and the vast amount of information available online, regardless of your particular industry or type of business, you need to find ways to stand out from the masses. Be an expert in your space. Know who else is in that space and find a way to differentiate yourself from the competition.
- Don’t sell yourself short – when starting a business and looking for new customers/clients, it is easy to get sucked into the idea of taking any business at any cost. I had a lot of people who wanted things for free or wanted discounts and people who said to offer complimentary sessions to get people in the door. This did not work for me. In my business, people are not just paying for the hour they spend with me, they are paying for my expertise.
And as a practitioner, I spend a lot of time outside sessions developing plans and sending clients educational materials – my work goes beyond just that hour I spend with them. Also, people who get things for free tend to not really be committed to the process. I wasted a lot of time on people who really were just looking for some free advice. Know your value, be able to articulate that to your client/customer, and be able to walk away from someone who maybe is not quite the right fit. You should believe in whatever you are selling – the key is finding the right customer base, which sometimes takes time.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice – we often think busy, successful people won’t want to take the time to speak to us or won’t want to talk to someone who is a potential competitor in their business space. However, everyone was once a new business owner, and they were once where you are. In my experience, most people I have reached out to collaborate with or just to pick their brains have been more than willing to make the time.
And in some cases, like my role as the in-house nutritionist at the Kellman Wellness Center, it has resulted in a great business opportunity. Not everyone will be willing, but don’t let that discourage you. Learning from others is a great way to grow your business, but it's also a great networking opportunity, which could lead to referrals. In my experience, more than anything else, word of mouth from clients or referrals from other practitioners has been where most clients have come from.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Starting a new business is hard, but it is also incredibly rewarding. The saying is true "If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” My business is still growing, and I am not yet where I ultimately want to be, but I celebrate every small victory, I learn from the things that didn't work out, and even on the hard days, I feel incredibly grateful to be able to do something I truly love!
Where can people find you and your business?
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