What it’s like to be a public health consultant, with Stephanie Hodges from Nourished Principles

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Show Notes

To continue with our theme of public health consulting, we speak with Stephanie Hodges of Nourished Principles – a US-based consultative service that empowers individuals to make healthy, nutritious choices, and help communities, organizations, businesses, and schools to create healthier environments.

Stephanie’s journey is different from that of Leah Roman’s (last episode guest) in that Stephanie decided to quit her full-time job to pursue consulting, while Leah took a different approach.

Stephanie has been consulting since 2015, and on the podcast speaks to us about her journey, the opportunity that consulting provides to work across different sectors and organizations, and tips for aspiring consultants.

You’ll Learn

  • About Stephanie’s abrupt transition into consulting, after being miserable at work
  • How consultants leverage their networks
  • How Stephanie first reached out to prospective clients (by using postcards)
  • Types of clients you can have in your business (including the importance of an “anchor client”)
  • How to build relationships with clients
  • Common courtesies to follow when reaching out to prospective clients via LinkedIN
  • How she named her business “Nourished Principles” and what she would have done differently
  • The importance of a support system for a consultant
  • Different expenses to expect as a consultant
  • Different revenue streams consultants have

Today’s Guest

Stephanie Hodges

If you would have asked Stephanie’s family what she would become when she “grew up,” a Dietitian would have been pretty far down the list. She was probably one of the pickiest eaters you could ever imagine and rejected every vegetable she was offered until she was about 20 years old. She found her niche in dietetics when she stumbled into her first nutrition course in college as part of her science major. Not only did she find the subject interesting, but the energy and passion for the field from professors and classmates was contagious and inspiring. From that experience, she knew she had found her calling and could not wait to become a Registered Dietitian to share her love of nutrition and public health with others!


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Episode Transcript

Stephanie 0:00
Especially if they’re coming from where I was coming from: A free well paying state government job and I said, you know, in two years, I would like to be making the same amount with consulting.

Sujani 0:11
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here, too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Hey, what’s up everyone, thank you for joining me on another episode of PH SPOTlight a space for you and me and everyone else in public health, to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. So in the last episode, we started talking about Public Health Consulting, because it’s been a topic that has gotten a lot of interest amongst the PH SPOT community. So I decided I would finally gather some resources, some tools and some very cool individuals and package that all together to deliver some amazing value to you all. And so in last week’s episode, we heard from Leah Roman, a Roman Public Health Consulting, and she brought us a ton of value. And if you haven’t had a chance to listen to that episode, you should probably check it out because she not only shares her journey into consulting, we talk about a lot of different questions that a lot of aspiring consultants come to her with. Leah not only does consulting work, she also mentors and coaches and provide services to aspiring public health professionals. In addition to releasing that episode last week, we also held a live webinar a few days after that episode went live, to talk about pricing for profit. And so if you’re interested in seeing those resources, you can head over to pH spot.ca/consulting. And you should be able to find all these things that I’m talking about. And so in today’s episode, we’re going to continue the conversation around Public Health Consulting, and we’re going to talk to another consultant whose journey is slightly different from Leah’s. And so this week, we are joined by Stephanie from nourished principles, and Stephanie is a dietitian, and she remembers herself as one of the most pickiest eaters that someone could ever imagine. She rejected every vegetable she was offered until she was about 20 years old. And so she stumbled into this niche when she took a nutrition course in university. So she not only found this subject, very interesting, but there was a sort of energy and passion that she felt from her professors and classmates that she found very contagious and inspiring. And so from that experience, she knew that she wanted to become a registered dietician and share her love of nutrition, and public health with others. And so she’s very passionate about public health, food policy and child nutrition. And so you probably guessed that her company, the Nourished Principles, is to provide tools and services that empower individuals to make healthy, nutritious choices, and also help communities and organizations, including businesses and schools to create healthier environment. And so without further ado, here’s Stephanie.

Yeah, I mean, I’m so excited, because, you know, Public Health Consulting is an area that our PH SPOT community members are very interested in getting into. And I think I can actually safely say that not many of them are familiar with it, and what it means to be a consultant in public health. So bringing someone like you on the podcast is going to be so valuable, because they’ll get to hear firsthand from your experience, and then also get your perspective on what it means to be a consultant in public health. So that’s why I’m very excited to speak to you about Nourished Principles, which by the way, I thought was an amazing name.

Stephanie 4:24
Thank you.

Sujani 4:26
Yeah. So I thought you know, you’ve been, you were working for a number of years before you got into consulting. Were you kind of thinking about it all along as you kind of graduated and were working or did you one day just decide do you want to be a consultant and jump in?

Stephanie 4:42
Yeah, so that’s a great question. And I think everyone’s path to consulting is a little bit different. For me, as you mentioned, I worked for a number of years in kind of the nonprofit space and then also in state government. And really, my background in those positions was child nutrition programs and policies. So it was this intersection of food and security and how can we nourish children and families so that they are as healthy as they can through access to healthy food and for children access to healthy food, in schools and out of schools. So I did that for a couple of years. And I had kind of always thought about starting my own business, doing some consulting, because I loved all of the opportunities that came with it. So you weren’t tied down to just one client or one job, that you really had this opportunity to work across sectors and with multiple organizations to really make an impact. So my path to consulting was a little more abrupt than I thought it would probably be, I actually left a work situation that just wasn’t great anymore, to be completely honest. And that was kind of my push into consulting, it was kind of like, stay here and continue to be miserable in my everyday life because of this work environment, or just take a leap of faith. And so I did, and I had a lot of support from other people had gone into consulting, my husband, my family. So I was really fortunate to have that support, and have been doing consulting full time since August 2018.

Sujani 6:21
So you basically left your job, but didn’t really have, like, clients lined up or anything. It sounds like.

Stephanie 6:28
Yeah, so I- that was very scary. As you can imagine, I think where I was really fortunate is I had built out this really great network through the positions that I had. So right off the bat, I was sending emails saying, “Hey, just letting you know that I’m doing consulting now, let me know if you’d like to set up a call.” I remember, I’m sending out postcards to every single school district in the state of Virginia, talking about my consulting services. And so I felt like, you know, no, I didn’t have one big project, the day I started consulting, but I felt like I had a really good network to start to build that workout. And that’s actually exactly what happened. So about two months after I started consulting, I landed a really big, what I call our anchor client. So they’ve been my clients since I started, they’ve kept me busy with a lot of different work. But that was basically through just reaching back out and saying, “Hey, I’m doing consulting. Now, let me know if you’d like to set up a call.” And they were just happen to be the right timing, they were looking for someone to come in and help with a big project that they had just gotten a grant for. So I was really fortunate in that aspect to have that really great network, have people who believed in me and believed in my abilities to be able to start doing consulting and have really consistent work pretty much since I started.

Sujani 7:47
So it sounds like you kind of knew the path that you wanted to take because you left your job. And then you sort of had a plan of attack at seeds, you know, sending out those postcards, emailing people, or did you have a period of time where you were kind of trying to figure out what services you are going to offer?

Stephanie 8:07
I think I’m still trying to figure that out. Yeah, that’s a great question. So I started out thinking, you know, I’m going to consult largely with Child Nutrition Programs with school districts, nonprofits, we’re operating these things with, you know, the whole idea of promoting public health. But I have a really strong background in food policy as well. So the regulation piece of it has always been really interesting to me. So a lot of people will say, “Well, are you a generalist or a specialist?” And so I think I definitely fall into that generalist category of I have a lot of different projects going on that are a wide range of public health interventions. So yeah, I mean, I think we’re all as part consulting, it’s kind of all in all, still figuring it out. Even people who have been in business for years and years and years, but it’s a- it’s a good challenge, and most days are good days. So,

Sujani 9:07
This is very interesting, because as you- You and I both know, Leah, and we talked a bit about stepping into consulting versus leaping in and the conversation we both had was around, you know, planning it out, and then kind of gradually stepping into it, whether you start off by doing some part time work or working for another consultant and then going in full time, but then it sounds like you did the opposite of what we were talking about, which was kind of just sleep in and see where that took you.

Stephanie 9:37
Yeah, so it’s- it’s interesting, because so I worked in state government, so it was a little tricky to be able to do things on the side. Just because of the balance of state government, I would have had to have permission from my boss and there was just a lot of red tape. So I knew that really doing consulting on the side while still working, there wasn’t really an option. I actually did have an opportunity with nonprofit to work fair a couple of days a week, and then do consulting the other day. So I was like, well, that’s a good idea, because then I’ll have, you know, a pretty, at least a somewhat stable income for those couple of days a week, but that just didn’t really end up working out. And that is probably the best thing that happened for my business, because I was able to focus on it full time. Scary, yes, but probably looking back, one of the best things that could have happened because I had all five days of the workweek to dedicate to my business, and I wasn’t spending time and energy, you know, working for someone else. So I know, for a lot of people, you know, they start off as kind of a side thing and part time and you know, sometimes that works for people. That’s great. But for me, I did kind of just take that leap, and I’m so glad I did.

Sujani 10:48
So how much of- of I guess my question is around, you know, people say I would like consulting for all of the flexibility it offers, but I’m not someone who’s business minded, or I wouldn’t even know where to go find clients. And that’s not something I’m interested in. What would you offer to those individuals as sort of advice?

Stephanie 11:11
Yeah. So I mean, some people know that they’re cut out for consulting, and some people know that they’re not. So I know, Leah has her really great course contemplating consulting. I mean, I think that would be my first recommendation, as a first step is, you know, check that out, see in all the things that she walks through, see if this sounds like something that you would be able to do. And I know a lot of people who do consulting for a few years, and then they go back and work for someone else. And that works for them, too. So there is a lot of flexibility. But with that, there also comes a lot of demand, you have to kind of put those boundaries in place of, I’m only going to work during work hours, I’m not going to check my email on the weekends. You know, when you work for yourself, you don’t have paid vacation, you don’t have a 401 K match. So there are a lot of nuances and, definitely pros and cons that you have to balance and it really is just an individual case by case basis. But I would definitely recommend, you know, checking out Leah’s course, if you can talk to someone who is doing consulting. And just keep in mind that there’s a lot of ups and downs. So it’s definitely a mental piece of it, too. So if you think that you can kind of handle all of those things, then maybe go for it. But you know, definitely take the time to think it through because it’s a it’s a- big commitment. It’s a big decision.

Sujani 12:40
I’m so glad that you mentioned that there’s both ups and downs and didn’t romanticize it. That’s wonderful. I want to go back to something that you mentioned around anchor clients. So I guess I knew that term in sort of a conceptual kind of thought, but I think it’s the first time I’m hearing it kind of termed as anchor client. Could you speak about what those clients look like and why that’s important for sort of a consultant?

Stephanie 13:08
Yeah, so an anchor client, in my point of view, is someone who has been with you since the beginning, you’ve been doing really stable work with them all throughout your consulting time, they come to you when they have new projects, you go to them with project ideas. And essentially, they’re like the ones that you always can count on. So I have this really fantastic anchor client that I’ve worked with on the first project I worked with him on was about 18 months long. And then now they’re looking at other projects. And so they come to me, and they want my opinions. They want my feedback. They want to brainstorm with me about what projects and programs can look like. They have me look overkruin applications. And it’s just been a really wonderful relationship, because they view me as the expert, which is great. And I view them as a really fantastic organization that has their national nonprofit. So they have an incredible reach. They’re making a huge impact on health and wellness, with children and with families. And so it’s- it’s essentially why I started my business to begin with. So I could work with clients like this, who just had such a huge impact, and really value this work.

Sujani 14:22
And so you work with nonprofits. And then I think you also mentioned that you worked with school boards. Are there other clients that you have as part of your, I guess, client base?

Stephanie 14:33
There are, so being a generalist, I work with a few different client areas. One is national nonprofits, two our schools, and then three are actually food brands and companies and I’ve been kind of ramping up this part of my business over the last few months. And that’s really around the policy side of things. So right now, in the US, we have the dietary guidelines going on and happens once every five years. So I’ve happened, helping some food brands and companies track those understand their role in those and how they might impact their business. And then also helping them understand labeling regulations, helping them get in front of legislators. So really putting that policy background that I have into place, but still, while also working with national nonprofits and and other nonprofits and school districts as well.

Sujani 15:22
And so for these kind of, I guess, clients, where you wouldn’t have, I guess, pre existing relationships, how are you going about making contacts with them and making sure that you can land a project with them?

Stephanie 15:38
Yeah. So it’s funny that you ask that if you don’t have that relationship, it’s kind of just a shot in the dark, which, you know, oftentimes just ends with a non read email. But I think just trying to identify who is that right person within the company, so, so many people will reach out to someone on marketing, whereas maybe the contact and marketing isn’t the right person. So if you know that you want to do writing for a client, I do some freelance writing for several different clients. But if I’m going to do writing, then I’m not going to reach out to, you know, a specific contact, I’m going to look for someone in communications, or maybe they even have an editor. So trying to find that right contact, and usually you can find that, but also just not putting all of your eggs in one basket. So reaching out to multiple people. And then I’m actually to the point in my business right now, where I’m getting a lot of referrals just from word of mouth. So from people I’ve worked with, which has been great, and people just connecting and saying, “Hey, you know, Stephanie offers the service, I think it’d be great for you to talk to her.” So while the first probably year, a lot of it was spent, reaching out, just introducing myself, getting on calls, I would say the last little bit has actually just been through connections, through word of mouth, through the networking system that I’ve made, which has been great, because doing a lot of that cold outreach is just exhausting. Just, you know, thinking about sending 5075 emails, and maybe getting one or two responses is, it’s a little daunting. So I’m really fortunate that I’ve been able to build a really great network, through other consultants and through clients as well.

Sujani 17:21
Have you ever landed a client through just kind of cold calling or cold emailing?

Stephanie 17:27
I have, a few actually. So it’s not that it doesn’t happen, it’s just that you might have to reach out to a lot of people before it actually does happen. You know, just reach out to a couple people and think that both of them are going to respond and want to hire you. And I kind of do it as I go along. So a lot of people will spend maybe one day a week or one day a month, and they’ll just send a ton of emails, and they’ll just wait for responses. But I kind of do it as I go along. So if I see a company doing really great work that I think it would be awesome to work with them, I find the right contact and reach out. So I’m not spending, you know, a whole day dedicated to reaching out to them. I’m just I’m kind of doing it as I go along.

Sujani 18:10
And is the reaching out happening through LinkedIn? Are you able to actually find people’s email addresses or phone numbers?

Stephanie 18:17
Both. Yeah, so I’ve done a fair amount of connecting on LinkedIn, and also through email. And the one thing I will say, I’m gonna put a piece of advice in with this. And I know Leah also feels very strongly about this. If you’re reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, and you do not know them at all, please include a note of why you’re connecting. I feel like this happens all the time. People just connect with me. And sure we work in the same space. And maybe we have the same credentials. But why are you reaching out to me? You know, Are you also a consultant and you just want to say, you know, connected and follow what each other are doing? Are you interested in having a call because you want to hire me? I think it’s just really helpful to add in a note, and I always do that when I connect with someone on LinkedIn, as I say, you know, “Hi, I’m Stephanie.” If it’s a potential client, I say, you know, offer consulting services, for organizations like yours would love to connect and see if there are any consulting opportunities that you have available. Sometimes people just connect and not respond, and that’s fine. Sometimes people send a message. So I think putting in that personal touch is really key if you are using LinkedIn.

Sujani 19:32
That’s a wonderful advice. I think even with individuals who are connecting with people on LinkedIn, even if it’s not for consulting, and if it’s just to build your network, I think even putting that down in the message really helps the other person on the receiving end.

Stephanie 19:47
Yeah, absolutely. And if there’s someone who is completely outside of your sector, I mean, that’s also fine, but it’s just so important to have that little note saying you know, who are you, why are you asking me to connect? And you know, how can we stay connected? So yeah, I think that’s really important.

Sujani 20:07
I guess going back to something I mentioned in the introduction, which was- your the name of your business Nourished Principles. Again, amazing name like I couldn’t get over that. What- What did the naming process look like for your business? And like how important has having a good name being for your business?

Stephanie 20:27
So it’s funny that you asked this because I have now learned that no one can spell nourished or principle. In my email is Stephanie@thenourishedprinciples.com, which is perhaps one of the longest email addresses in history. So it’s funny, because when I was naming my business, I was thinking, you know, I really want to name my business on these four founding principles about how we can make nourishment and health at the cornerstone of all of these sectors. So I was really talking about nourished individuals, nourished schools, nourished policies and nourished communities. So I wanted to put nutrition and public health at the forefront of all four of those things. And I do feel like that that is 100% what my business does. So working in schools and communities, and drug policies, and then that’s impacting individuals. But I think if I had to do it over again, I would probably pick easier to spell words and a shorter business name.

Sujani 21:29
I guess you mentioned that you were still trying to figure out the services you offer. But now that you kind of explained the different principles, or the pillars that your business sits on, it sounds like you know, exactly sort of the angle that you’re taking, but the type of service that you might be offering within that space is what you’re trying to refine. Is that what you meant?

Stephanie 21:50
Yeah, that’s exactly right. So I feel very confident in the services that are offered to the clients that are offered. Just sometimes clients come to you. And they say, you know, we really want to work in the nutrition policy space. But we don’t need help with dietary guidelines. And we don’t really need help with labeling. But we really want to learn how that we can collaborate with other organizations on a national policy level, to promote our, our purpose, our cause, our product, whatever it is. So helping with that. So all of my services, I’m able to kind of refine and make work for the client, which is great. But I’m, I’m getting to a point where I feel very confident in what I’m offering into who I’m offering, but just making them very specific within those sectors.

Sujani 22:35
I think that’s also something we talked about on the previous podcast with Leah was kind of niching down, both in the services offered, but also maybe in the content area. And I guess, would you- would you recommend that people niche down in both of those kind of parts of your business and not just one?

Stephanie 22:55
I think it’s hard to give that advice. I think what works for one person might not work for other people. I know, a lot of people have niched down. And they’ve been really successful with that I’ve been able to kind of stay a generalist and work across sectors and work with different clients. And that’s worked for me. So I think what works for me might not work for someone else, and vice versa. But I- trust me, I hear all the time, like you should niche down, you should just work with, you know, a certain client, you should just work within a certain area. And for now, my business is growing, and it’s thriving. And so I don’t find the need to do that. But in a couple of years, maybe I will be a little more niche down. So I think just really figuring out what works for you and your business. And there’s just a lot of advice out there. And figuring out how to take that in a constructive way. And then also doing what’s best for you and your business while also keeping in mind that if something’s not working, you should probably figure it out what that is and make changes.

Sujani 24:01
And I think a large part of niching down is so that you can be discovered or your top of mind when someone thinks about meeting a consultant. So I’m guessing for any of your past clients when they’re thinking about nutrition related projects, your name will come to mind even if your services are not niched down.

Stephanie 24:20

Sujani 24:21
Okay, awesome. What does a day like- day look like for you, Stephanie?

Stephanie 24:27
Great question. So every day is a little different. And actually this year, I’m trying to streamline days a little bit better. And I know Leah has done a really good job about this as well of dedicating like a certain day to calls and dedicating certain days to other things. So I’m trying to make it to where I’m not having calls every single day of the week and meetings every single day of the week because I just find that it’s a little distracting if I’m in the group and I’m working on client work. And then I have to pause to take a call completely unrelated to the project I’m working on, it takes a while to get back on track. So right now is what I’m trying to do is really streamline those days have calls in meetings on maybe just a couple days of the week. And then that way, I’m letting the other days of the week be completely related to client work. And I’m trying to schedule so for media out for hope for weeks. I do that on Friday. So trying to have my days look a little bit more scheduled and planned out, I would say. So for instance, today, I have this podcast interview, and then I have a couple of other meetings, which is what I’m thinking Tuesday seems to be a good day for that. And then tomorrow, I have nothing. So I’m going to work on client work all day. So it’s kind of a balance of those. And I always like to carve some time out in there to go for a walk, do some type of exercise, because I find that it really just helps with my mental clarity. But everyday does look just a little bit different. And I’m working on streamlining those to make them be most efficient for productivity.

Sujani 26:10
And then do you also integrate networking and maybe going out to events to kind of just keep in touch with others in the same field within a week? Or does that just happen ad hoc?

Stephanie 26:22
Yeah, it kind of happens, you know, just as those events come up, it’s interesting where I live, I don’t actually have a ton of my client network here. Most all of my work is remote. So I’ll go to some events that maybe aren’t necessarily related to work. But this past Friday, for example, I went to, there’s a women entrepreneurs group here, and they have a lot of really fantastic events. So I’ll go to those. But I do find them that’s really helpful to be with people, as I work for myself from home. So a lot of times it can be really isolating. So finding that, that network, finding those people that you can just kind of call on or just grab a cup of coffee with is really important in this work, because it can be really lonely and really isolating. And I think that’s something that every consultant talks about, we have a lot of conversations about that, and some of the consulting networking groups that we have. And we really just try to support one another, provide resources, just lend an ear to talk, which I really appreciate. Because I think that’s one thing I didn’t expect when I was coming into consulting was just truly how isolating it can be.

Sujani 27:28
Yeah, absolutely. And I was telling Leah, that was one of the things that I really enjoyed about that Facebook group that she has is that it lets you connect with like minded people and kind of discuss business issues that we may all be facing, regardless of the area that we’re working in.

Stephanie 27:44
Absolutely, yeah. And it’s funny, I’ve actually been able to now meet a couple of those folks from that group, and from our mastermind group in person, which was really exciting. So yeah, I feel like I’ve really been able to utilize all of the expertise in that group, and then also just kind of habit to just talk about life and business and fun things. So it’s been really great.

Sujani 28:08
Yeah, absolutely. And then you say you did a bit of writing as well. Is that more for kind of like as a service that you offer? Or does it integrate into your overall kind of business plan of doing more PR for your brand?

Stephanie 28:23
Yeah, so it’s a lot more of just a service that I offer, a lot of people will want articles on public health nutrition. And then one client that I have is actually my anchor client. So I kind of just rolled that in with the services that are offered them, they needed some communication work around public health on a certain topic. So it kind of depends, it can be a service that are offered to a client that I’m doing other work with and say, “Hey, I think we could do a really great communications plan around this, let’s put some articles out.” Or it can be for a client who comes and says, “Look, we really need to push out some online articles or blogs or whatever it is about a certain topic. Can you help us with that?” So I have a couple clients that I’m doing that for right now. I really enjoy it, I find that it’s kind of lets me have a little bit of fun with things. And it lets me have time to research new topics and old topics. And so it’s been really great way to stay on top of research and just have another outlet to get information out there.

Sujani 29:27
Absolutely. And I think like communication, even for your own brand is very important. Do you have that also built into your business? Like how you go about doing PR?

Stephanie 29:40
That’s a great question. I mean, I have social media, I have my website. I’m going to be doing some speaking engagements. So that’ll be really important, but I think that’s something that I really struggle with. That’s not my background at all. I don’t think that anyone has connected the Nourished Principles does this. So that’s something that I definitely need to work on a little bit this year. But I do find that people come to me as a subject matter expert on certain topics, which is great. Whether or not they’re relating me and my business altogether is I’m not sure but yeah, I think that’s something that- that I struggle with, because it just wasn’t really my my background.

Sujani 30:28
Would you say that you’re someone who’s, like business savvy or business minded prior to getting into consulting? Or is it something that you were kind of learning as you were building up your brand?

Stephanie 30:40
I think I came into it thinking, you know, our, I know how to do finances, I know all of the marketing things that I need to do. But I think until you get in the space, you don’t really know what you need to know, and need to do. So that’s been something that I’ve kind of figured out along the way, I felt like, I would be successful at it. I’m very good at networking. I’m very, like, I’m fine sending an email and never getting a response. Or I know some people that would crush though. So I get kind of had that thick skin of okay, I know that I’m going to get turned down for some things, I know that I’m probably going to send some emails that don’t I don’t get a response to and that’s okay. So I think I had all of that in mind. But I think until you get in the consulting world, and you’re doing it full time, that’s when you really start to learn some of the, the lessons of how do I sustain a really successful business for a long time.

Sujani 31:37
Absolutely. Are there some key things that people should keep in mind when they’re getting in? You mentioned kind of like finances and networking? Are there other things that are not necessarily like public health related, but more on the business side?

Stephanie 31:55
Yeah, I mean, I think one of the best decisions I made was I hired an accountant this year. So they’re taking care of all of my tax savings. If I have, that’s the biggest thing I think I have questions about in my business, our finances, tax related, and then also contracts. So the legal side of things. So I think if you can kind of have resources for those questions, it’s really helpful. And the legal resource I have is just a one off whenever I have a contract question or something I can reach out to her. And my accountant, I have him for the whole year. So if questions come up, I reach out, which has been really great, because I think those are two things that I’m just not comfortable dealing with myself. And I know that other people have kind of tried to do that. And it’s not in a dump, excuse me, in the greatest spaces. So I’m all about outsourcing when I can, especially topics that I’m not an expert in. And then also, I think, just finding that network of support. So whether that be other consultants, whether that be a family member, a friend, whoever that is that you can go to when you’ve had that tough day when you submitted that RFP, and you find out that you didn’t get it, like whoever you can call on and say, I’m just feeling a little bummed out. I submitted this, and I thought that I would definitely get it and I did it. But I know, you know, tomorrow’s a new day. So having that network has been really fantastic. And then I think also, when people start out, there are a lot, I’ve noticed this a lot in the last year, and I think this is only going to continue to grow. But there’s a ton of like business coaches and people who want to make you these really grand promises that you’re going to make $10,000 a day. And I think that it’s hard to say, you know, I’m just not sure that I’m ready to pay you 1000s of dollars to coach me and my business yet. So I think you know, some people have used business coaches, it’s worked really well, some people, they’ve just kind of ran with their money. So I think being able to weed through that is really important and identifying like, who is there to help you and who is there to almost take advantage of you. So encourage people to really think about when they get approached by these business coaches on LinkedIn or wherever it may be to just think about, you know, what is the investment? And do you think that’s going to be worth it? Because there are so many people out there that are- are pitching the services, and maybe it’s great, but maybe you’re just going to sink a few $1,000 And that’s not going to be so great. So having that in mind too, I think is really helpful.

Sujani 34:34
Yeah, and kind of like checking out what their track record is as well, right? Have they been in your space? Have they achieved what their- what they say they’re going to help you achieve is also a good way of going about it.

Stephanie 34:45

Sujani 34:46
Yeah. Money. I’m glad you brought it up. I think that’s also one of the reasons a lot of people are a bit nervous to fully leap into consulting. I thought maybe we could take the last few minutes to chat a bit about how one would go about setting up their business model for their consulting, like business. Could you talk a bit about how you went about, I guess either like planning out your finances, for your business and where some of your income streams are coming from?

Stephanie 35:21
Yeah, so this is a really important topic. And I feel like I did everything pretty right from the start in terms of the finances, so a lot of people will just kind of blend their personal and business accounts. And from, you know, starting in August 2018, I went and opened a separate business checking savings account. And with that came a credit card. And as offering services, you really don’t need to buy products and go into a ton of debt right up front, which I really like about consulting. So haven’t touched that credit card, haven’t needed to. And that’s just kind of a personal choice. For me, I would much rather pay for things upfront, and then go into $10,000-$20,000 in debt for my business, because I don’t really need to do that, just because I’m offering services, not products. But right off the bat, I went and set up those accounts, I actually became an LLC. So I did that to protect myself, also filed with the state corporation commission, and did all of those things. Because I think that that’s really important. So many people act as sole proprietors, and maybe that works for them. But just know that you could potentially be taking a risk. So maybe you’re wanting to sit down with an attorney about that. But so I started my LLC, I went and set up all the different accounts that I needed, so that my personal and my business finances were completely separate. And I think that that’s something that everyone should do. And then from there, you know, I have the self employment version of QuickBooks. But in addition to that, I also keep a spreadsheet of all expenses and income as well, because as much as QuickBooks is usually 100%, right, there have been a couple of things that I’ve caught that it categorized them incorrectly. So I think being able to track your finances in a couple of different ways is really important. So having QuickBooks and you know, I think I pay $10 a month, it’s so worth it. And then also my spreadsheets. So when I get ready to do tax time, I will send my accountant already has access to my QuickBooks, and I’ll send him a spreadsheet as well. And, you know, keeping in mind the tax piece. So so many people will do consulting, and they don’t realize they have to take taxes out while you’re getting paid. And so I have quarterly payments set up. So every, you know, few months, I submit those quarterly payments to the IRS. So at the end of the year, I’m not getting this huge tax bill. So I think that’s one thing that’s really important to keep in mind. I just recently set up an individual 401K, through Charles Schwab, so that I can contribute to that. So I’m still kind of figuring out those few last pieces. But in terms of finances, I think what works for someone might be a little bit different from someone else. But I do feel like I’ve done a good job of being sure that was all set up at the beginning doing those quarterly payments, holding back a large portion for taxes just because you never know what’s going to happen. And then now setting up my individual 401k so that I can contribute to that either at the end of the year or regularly. Because that is something that you miss when you’re working for yourself.

Sujani 38:38
Absolutely. You mentioned sort of like couple of expenses people could expect, which are, you know, accountants or legal and some of these softwares to help you plan your finances. What other types of expenses can people expect when they get into consulting?

Stephanie 38:54
I think that’s a large portion of my expenses are kind of these web based services. So I use the monthly version of Canva, which is 12.95. I have QuickBooks, which is $10. I have my website hosting, which is $28. So if you’re doing consulting and you’re offering services, you’ll probably find that the majority of your expenses are kind of these like web based services. And they can end up adding up. So I encourage people to like think about what you need and what you don’t need. Because you can totally fall into that, well, it’s only eight or $9 a month. But if you have 10 services that are only eight or $9 a month, that really adds up. So for me, most of my expenses are web based services, and then travel as well. And sometimes clients pay for that upfront, which is great. Or sometimes you have to book it and pay for it and you have to wait to be reimbursed. So just knowing that sometimes expenses like that can come up is really important.

Sujani 39:52
Absolutely. Then I guess the opposite of expenses is revenue. So with your client work is that the only way that you’re bringing in revenue into your business.

Stephanie 40:03
Yeah. So right now it is. I did a digital product last year, and it had varying degrees of success. So I know that we’re in a huge space of digital products and online courses and things like that. And I haven’t done that yet other than this one resource that I created. But I definitely am interested in doing more of that, because I know that that’s where a lot of people are getting their- their income streams for. And I identified a couple of needs from that. But I think I learned a lot of lessons from the product that I did launch. And so I think I’ll go about, if I do another product like that a digital product, I’ll go about that very differently, just to make sure that it’s not a huge waste of my time, and that it’s also successful. But yeah, the majority right now of my income is coming in from clients, whether that be long term or short term, sometimes people ask me to come out and just do a presentation for an hour, or writing. So mostly everything right now is coming from client work. But I’m hoping to do a little bit more with digital products, maybe this year.

Sujani 41:18
Okay. I don’t know if you’re able to speak to this or have the numbers off the top of your head, but just to get give our listeners a sense of how much someone could earn on some of these client projects, are you able to speak to that a bit?

Stephanie 41:32
You know, I, I can speak to my experience. Okay, I think it’s all very different. And I just started out about a year and a half ago. So my rate based on my experience is very different than someone probably like Leah, who has been working for, you know, a longer time. But I always tell people, like do not sell yourself short with your rates. This is a conversation I have with a lot of different consultants. My rate is sometimes I mean, I’ve been told that it’s too high, I personally don’t think it’s too high. And this doesn’t happen with all clients, this has happened with like one call. But you know, kind of get what you pay for, you’re looking for an expert, you’re looking for a consultant, I pretty much take 40% right off the top of my rate to hold out for taxes to hold out for retirement. And so when you look at that, you know, if you’re only charging someone 20 or $30 an hour, you’re really making pennies at the end of the day. So I encourage people to think about, especially if they’re coming from where I was coming from a pretty well paying state government job. And I said, you know, in two years, I would like to be making the same amount with consulting. So looking at what my rate would need to be to make that amount. So kind of knowing what you want your goal to be and not selling yourself short, you can always aim high. And then you can always kind of land where you and your client think is fair. But I’ve definitely turned down plenty of work that they want to pay you, you know, five cents a word to write an article, or they want you to come speak for free. And I think one of my biggest pet peeves is when these companies approach and they say, you know, you’re gonna get tons of exposure, well, I can’t pay my bills with exposure. I wish I could, and a lot of food brands and companies are notorious for product. So they’ll say, you know, we’re gonna send you a bunch of coffee. Well, that’s great, you know, in exchange for a social media post or a blog post or an exchange for 10 hours of consulting. But you know, I can’t pay Verizon with coffee. So just thinking about how you want because once you do that once, they kind of know that they have you there. So knowing what precedent you want to set when you’re starting these conversations with these companies and knowing that if you do that, it kind of makes it suck for the rest of us. Because they’re expecting everyone to work for for a year everyone to work for coffee. So just thinking of your fellow consultants.

Sujani 44:12

Stephanie 44:12
And I do that a lot too. And I’ve told a bunch of fellow consultants, I’m like, “Stop doing that.” Or “You need to raise your rates.”, just because I know that they have the potential to do really great work, and I know that they’re worth it. And so just encouraging other people to, to know their worth and to not be willing to work for free, or to work for exposure or to work for a product. Because that’s just not this is not the way the world works. I mean, we can’t go to the grocery store and pay with you know, coffee that we got from a food brand. So

Sujani 44:43

Stephanie 44:44
That’s kind of my biggest piece of advice.

Sujani 44:46
Absolutely. And I’m glad you also sort of said the same thing that Leah was saying because she was also kind of commenting on you know, each individual person situation is very different and each individual’s sort of like risk and tolerance is also very different. So it really depends on your situation as to the type of rates that you want to set. So I’m happy to hear that the advice remains the same.

Stephanie 45:11
It does. Yeah. And I mean, a lot of times people hear, “Oh, I work with schools and nonprofit, you probably charge them very little.”, that’s not true. I have the same rates across- across industry. So a lot of people will hear things like nonprofit and will go, they probably don’t have a huge budget, I’m going to work for $25 an hour. And that’s just like not really, it’s not really setting yourself up for success in your business. And you’re not really showing that you can have a lot of quality in your product. So charging accordingly, and knowing what your expenses are, I think is really important.

Sujani 45:45
And then I would assume, kind of the country that you work in would also maybe differ in terms of the rate because I remember speaking to someone out in Australia, and she was telling me that her rates are almost half when she comes over to Canada, because they’re just not willing to pay as high as the people that she would charge out in Australia. So that was very interesting for me to hear.

Stephanie 46:06
Oh, wow, yeah, I’ve only worked with US based clients. And one of the reasons of that is because of the complications with taxes, and things like that. So. But yeah, I could imagine. And I mean, even within the same country, even in the US working with a food brand might be very different than working with a nonprofit. But I keep my rates very much kind of the same across the board, just because I like to keep my business fair. And I like everyone to feel like they’re all getting the same quality of my work. They’re all getting the same value. So that’s how I’ve found that. But I do know plenty of people who have said, you know, I’m going to take this work, because it’s going to lead to other work, or it is in fact going to be great exposure. And I’m not knocking that at all. I think that there are a time and a place for that. But I think that just can’t be the majority of work that people do.

Sujani 47:01
Absolutely. Well, yeah, I was going to wrap this out by asking you what your sort of future dreams and goals are related to your consulting business?

Stephanie 47:12
Oh, that’s a good question. So I’m really interested right now in the consumer education piece of things. And this is where a lot of my work with food brands has come in. One of my biggest pet peeves right now are the like over labeling of foods. And seeing all of these kinds of crazy label, for example, I saw a plant based label on gummy bears at the grocery store a couple days ago. So I really like to do a lot of consumer education around misinformation on foods, but then also just still continuing to work in public health nutrition programs and policies. Because that’s like the really fun stuff, being able to go to nonprofits or schools or communities and making that impact and seeing kids faces light up when they get to try a really delicious fruit or vegetable. So still continuing with that work, but also incorporating a little bit more consumer education and getting to work with a lot of food brands to make our labeling and make what we’re selling just a little bit more truthful and take some of the scare factor out of it. I think a lot of consumers are scared about what’s in food and making sure that they know that, you know, it’s safe and helping them understand what they’re reading when they’re picking up that package in the grocery store. But that’s kind of that’s like my passion. And I also very much enjoyed the public health nutrition side of things. So I love that consulting allows me to do both.

Sujani 48:40
Absolutely. And such an important space. I think the consumer education and there’s an individual I don’t know if you follow him on social media, Jesse Itzler, have you-

Stephanie 48:50
Okay, I have not-

Sujani 48:52
Sara Blakely’s husband. And he’s very much about calling out the cereal companies and making them stop labeling their products as like extremely healthy breakfast for kids. And it’s all full of sugar. So I’m assuming that’s the kind of angle that you’re kind of going for just to make sure that consumers are educated when they do pick up a box of food.

Stephanie 49:16
Yeah, when more so to the fact of, you know, some of the claims that they’re using aren’t regulated. So for instance, I’ll speak to kind of that training example. There was a big cereal company, a couple months back, they were in a pretty big lawsuit and they’re gonna have to pay millions of dollars because they were marketing, some sugary cereal as healthy. But I think also helping consumers understand, you know, if we know how to read a food label, then we can kind of come to our own conclusion, what nutrition that is or is not providing and then also encouraging these food companies to only use either regulated claims or claims that are truthful about their product. So you know the term plant based is huge right now. And everybody is wanting to call everything plant based. But what does that mean? It’s not a regulated term, or we’re seeing the non GMO label on every single product. Well, there are only 10 commercially available genetically modified products in the US. So why are we seeing non GMO on a container of blueberries when there’s no genetically modified blueberry, so kind of working at the angle from food brands, and then also consumers to just really make sure that these labels are truthful. And these claims are truthful, because it’s so important. And there’s so much misinformation out there. He’s helping people understand that.

Sujani 50:37
I hope you enjoyed listening to Stephanie’s journey and all of the value that she shared with us. And as I mentioned in the beginning of today’s show, we’ve been covering Public Health Consulting since last week. And this has been a set of resources that you all have been asking us for, for a number of years now. So we are thrilled to be bringing you all of this in one spot. And so if you head over to pH spot.ca/consulting. You are going to find not only Stephanie and Leah’s podcast episodes, you will find additional resources and tools for you to take the next step in consulting. And if you’re listening to this episode, when it goes live, we have some bonuses for the PH SPOT community that’s ending in a couple of days. So do check out our website for more detail. So that’s ph spot.ca/consulting. All of the details are there. Until next week, public health heroes keep rocking the world because this world truly needs the work you are doing. Thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you’re doing in this world.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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