Helping others get healthier from the inside out is how Sara, from Strong Balanced Solutions trains.
I first met Sara almost 10 years ago when we worked together at the Utah State Department of Health. Since then, Sara has grown a thriving business, providing personal training and other services as a wellness coach and exercise physiologist. I interviewed her for this Entrepreneurial business series to shine the light on people in our industry who are truly inspiring healthy change in others.
SARA: My goal and focus at Strong Balanced Solutions is to work with the positive psychology of behavior change, regarding exercise nutrition and stress management for the purpose of the active aging. By doing this, I think of wellness from the inside out.
AMY: Great to have you here today Sara. Let’s start at the very beginning. Have you always being interested in health and wellness?
SARA: I have always been interested in health and wellness, I think I called it, “being an athlete,” when I was growing up.
AMY: You decided to pursue higher education in health and wellness. What did you get your degree in?
SARA: After spending my childhood as a competitive gymnast, I turned to yoga in college. I realized that my body was not balanced. My strength was really imbalanced from the years of gymnastics. Some muscles were not flexible and some muscles weren’t strong. I had dealt with a lot of gymnastics injuries.
I also fell in love with rock climbing. And because I like to do things to the extreme, I was climbing every day. Soon though, I developed tendinitis in my hands. I knew I wanted to be a rock climber when I was 72 years old. So I did research on how to train more effectively, with less injuries, and still improve in the sport.
I found a combination between Yoga and physical therapy to be really helpful at getting me to the next stage of my life.
AMY: I actually think it’s hard to want to crosstrain. I love running and I only want to run. But I know I need to do some strength training to get better at running, without injury.
SARA: My goal with runners and athletes is to decide how we can make your time in the gym effective and efficient. Even if you don’t love training, it’s a small necessity to be able to continue doing the things you love. I help them develop a program that they can do twice a week, for 45 minutes, and do some preventative strength training . That way you can continue running 4 days a week and doing that at different intervals on different days.
AMY: Let’s just jump right into your business? When did you decide that you were going to be an entrepreneur, find your own clients, and not work for somebody?
SARA: That was a really big decision. My problem with my work at the health department was I only got to talk to people once a year for 10 minutes. I knew I wanted to have a bigger impact on the day to day lives of people. I recognized through my own struggle with balance, that health and wellness exists on a continuum. Suddenly, the general public became much more exciting to work with for me than just athletes.
AMY: I actually didn’t realize you can get a master’s degree in Wellness Coaching, which is awesome because there are so many certifications, which probably teach valuable things, but studies in higher education for coaching really prepares you for that industry.
SARA: If you look on the International Consortium of Health and Wellness Coaches, you can find different programs for coaching. Some of them are master’s programs, some of them are coaching certificates, but are on the highly qualified side. The National Consortium of Health and Wellness coaches teamed up with the medical board of examiners and created a certification for coaching programs.
AMY: This is great. So, If you are looking to work with a health coach, can you go to this website to find a local coach?
SARA: You can. There are a few thousand coaches in the directory now. A big benefit to have coaching programs certified by the board, is to start the process of having services covered by insurance.
Selecting a niche
AMY: So in your education and with the people you work with now, what are you finding is critical to behavior changes.
SARA: On your Instagram today, I saw your quote, “when there is a WHY, the HOW is possible.” I think within our culture we’re so stuck on health fads and diet fads. I first like to get my clients to looks past the desire to lose weight, and instead see what makes them passionate about life. What do they value? Is it playing with their grandkids, being able to pick up their grand kids, play outside? Personally, I am going to do my physical therapy every day for the rest of my life because I want to play outside. I like to work with aging athletes that like to play outside so I can I be outside as well. I have to take care of my body to do it.
AMY: When did you decide you wanted to work for yourself? Did you quit your job and dive right in, or did you started taking clientele on the side?
SARA: During grad school, I had the opportunity to work as a personal trainer at the SLC Sports complex and that was when I realized I had the ability to generate clientele. I was also in grad school, and I was getting the education to start my own business which was my goal in choosing to go to grad school first place.
AMY: So then you had to develop a program to offer your clients. How did you put a program together and what does that look like today?
SARA: That was one my biggest challenges. For core stability, I work with everyone from 17 year old girls to 82 year old men. Wellness starts from the inside out. Strong Balanced Solutions is the idea that we can have this relationship between acquiring needed fitness and also respecting the rejuvenating process that our bodies need to be healthy. Finding balance without judgment of our health. It’s not all about fitness all the time and it’s not all spirituality all the time. Core stability is where it starts.
AMY: If somebody signs up to work with you, what does that look like do they all go on the same journey or you have different programs for different people?
SARA: I have different programs for different people and right now I am developing a few courses. One of them is for women who would like to get pregnant. Another course is for chronic pain management. All of them will revolve around core stability and active aging.
Where do you train?
AMY: So, a couple of more questions about your business, where do you meet with your clients?
SARA: Depending on the clients, we have some online tools that people can access from my website and then I have a contract with the county at the SLC Sports Complex to work with clients there.
AMY: So you pay the complex and they in turn give you access to train there?
SARA: The client would actually pay for their training through the sports complex. Then the Sports Complex gives me 75% of that. As a personal trainer if that is something that you are interested in doing, you can watch for a window and submit a bid to the county for a training spot.
AMY: So do they check your credentials and make sure that you’re certified as that trainer?
SARA: Yes, basically the bid comes out for a contract. The reason the county does that is they can’t pay the going rate for personal trainers. If you are a personal trainer and you have your business down the street and you are charging the average $75 to $125 an hour then the county is going to charge what they are going to pay a personal trainer $35, so there is not equal competition. They don’t want to monopolize the industry. So they have sub-contractors. There are multiple gyms that you can get contracts to work within and you always have to give a percentage of that to the gym.
AMY: So anywhere you are in the country, is this something you just had to hop on the phone and start calling around gyms and asking if they, like what contractors come in?
SARA: I was lucky when I left my contract with the county building. They saw a gap and the need for a new contract and put the bid out and a lot of qualified trainers applied. The reason I got the contract is because I had a reputation within the facility already and all the industry things that I have done.
AMY: Have you been able to get some of your training packages covered by insurance.
SARA: I have struggled with personal training in the independent market. Wellness coaching is kind of arbitrary term. Anyone can tell you they are a wellness coach and it doesn’t matter what my education or credentials are. Because of that, it is important that we start to have different types of certifications that allow us to have a differentiation; the differentiation is what’s going to make it billable.
There is a lot of money in corporate wellness because a CEO can understand very easily, keeping employees healthy is going to help the business. I am going to look at some different opportunities mostly to learn how to better use resources and bill insurance through corporate wellness or through the hospital systems.
AMY: How are you finding your clients today?
SARA: I am finding clients in different ways. My main goal currently and seems to work really well is public peaking, talking to doctors offices, and just getting the word out there. I love the idea of being a wellness coach that’s held at the quality that a doctor is going to refer their patients to me. This month I am going to go talk to some mid wives about my services, because again I really like it to come from that.
I also work hand in hand with a physical therapist. Physical therapist are definitely one of my best referrals because they focus on injury then I focus on how we are going to prevent it from happening again.
AMY: It sounds scary to talk to doctors and therapists. Was it scary for you?
SARA: Yes! I think a lot of coaches have the problem with putting themselves out there. Many wellness coaches have also struggled with our health, and that is really what makes you worth going to and inspires you to get out there and help others. No one is going to come knock on your door and ask if they can give you $3000 for four months of your time. You definitely have to put it out there, and you have to be clear in your message, live it, and express it.
AMY: How did you decided how to price your services?
SARA: I charge $75-150 an hour depending on the needs. I also created a VIP (all inclusive package) for $1000 for 12 sessions. Raising prices is a difficult thing to do sometimes, but it’s important to value your work so that your potential and current clients also value the unique specialty offered.
AMY: And we are in Utah, for reference. In other states it may be a lot more. Do you have a hard time billing or you do have a system to send out an invoice, and how do they pay you?
SARA: They can pay any way! Venmo, paypal, square. If they are coming to me through the gym, they pay the gym.
AMY: Can you share a story from any clients who you’ve worked with?
SARA: I worked with a woman who every time she had gone to the gym she was irritated and in pain. She also has a lot of food allergies and a lot of different things going on. So I said, “let’s do this in a different way. Let’s talk at your house once a week and let’s see if we can get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Your pain at the gym may not have anything to do with working out.”
One of the first days that we were talking about her goals she said to me, “How much time do I have to spend doing this?” and I said, “All of your time!” Her eye’s got big and she looked at me and said, “that’s a lot of time!” And I said, “When I say you have to work on this all the time, it’s not about how many minutes you are spending at the gym, but it is a state of being. All the things you do are either feeding my health, or not”.
“If it’s a doughnut, is this going to help your health now? At least taking the time to think about it, and to make those choices and to notice when thoughts come into your head and to notice that you have the opportunity right then and there to kind of change that and this is happening all the time.”
Two years later I am talking to the same woman. We met once a week, and then we met every other week, and then once a month, and then I didn’t see her for five months. I saw her at the gym recently and she was doing tai chi. She found exercise doesn’t hurt anymore. She has lost over a 100 pounds, looks like a different person and just living her best self. I asked her what keeps her motivated, and she said, “It goes back to our first conversation. Doing the work all the time I am no longer judging myself constantly. I no longer find resistance to simple healthy habits”.
How to reach Sara
AMY: I have loved this conversation Sara. It’s so exciting for me because I just love to hear how people are getting out there, how people are spreading this message. When I think of health and wellness, I just think how much better my life is because I feel good and I just want people to have that as well. I love what you’re doing. How they everyone find you, how they can work with you, how they can get a hold of you and all that?
SARA: You can work with me at SLCSC or Shape Pilates in Sugarhouse. We can also meet from the comfort of your own home, through a personal visit, zoom, or Skype. Call me directly at 970-231-2668, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with me at my site, Strong Balanced Solutions, Instagram or Facebook, or the SLC Sports Complex.
AMY: This has been awesome. Sara is a great resource to anybody looking to start a career in health coaching and to work with if you have pelvic floor issues and if you soon postnatal, prenatal wellness programs so that’s it for today, stay tuned next time and we will catch you later.