Nani Waddoups has a long and remarkably varied history as an entrepreneur. Although she went to college intending to become a psychologist, after graduation, Nani instead ended up working for herself in the design industry. For more than 20 years, she worked as a self-employed florist, importer, specialty contractor, interior designer, garden designer and house stager -- the list goes on. In 2008, however, Nani realized she’d never forgotten her dream of becoming a professional counselor. At 47, she left her design company partnership to attend graduate school and earn an M.A. in counseling. Nani was ready to start a brand new business – her own private practice -- and help clients through times of transition.
We caught up with Nani to find out about the particular challenge of offering care-based services while also managing her business’s bottom line. We find out about her favorite time-saving solution and hear about the “Red Dot Syndrome” that’s negatively impacting us all.
Nani, you’ve been self-employed for decades, yet you don’t have a degree in business. How did you figure out how to run your own business?
Quite unexpectedly, I spent twenty-plus years as an entrepreneur finding my way into more and more sophisticated interior design niches. Turns out I was good at design, but I knew nothing about business, so I took lots of business and management classes and hired Vera, a tutor in old-school general ledger accounting. My love of paper and order made me fall in love with all those columns, and I embraced the creativity that comes with knowing my numbers.
You’re #1 professional goal is helping people. But like all entrepreneurs, you also have to run a financially sound business. How do you balance care-based services with cash flow and ROI?
My counseling work is the venue where I can compassionately and creatively support individuals, ease their pain and know themselves well so they can live their lives with intention and purpose. I especially focus on healing from grief, redefining identity and finding the right livelihood.
As a counselor with a business background, I feel lucky. I really enjoy the logistics of running a business and keeping books, doing marketing and so on. Studying my P&L for guidance does not stress me out. I’m currently working on a training for other therapists to help them learn some business fundamentals so that they, too, can have the business part of counseling not be a stressor.
There is a lot of creativity in counseling. People are complicated and have fascinating stories.
To be of help, counselors need to be attuned to the nuance of each client and conceptualize strategies to support growth and change. This creativity is stymied by stress. If business logistics creates stress, then running a business undermines the helper.
Speaking of creativity, you offer “walking therapy” sessions. Tell us more.
Being in the woods and moving and breathing deeply is just so good for us. The Japanese call it “Forest Bathing.” Some clients feel more relaxed in that setting and do their best thinking on a walk. I do need to get to know clients a bit before I offer this service. If we’re walking or hiking, we don’t have face-to-face contact, so I can’t see subtle emotions. I need to learn the cadence of a client’s voice and be well-attuned before hitting the trail.
What have you found most challenging about running a private practice?
In the therapy business, I was VERY surprised that scheduling would be so time-consuming. Once I began using an online scheduling service (plug for Full Slate!), my life was much, much easier.
I was also surprised by the impact of sitting so much. Not good.
What do you find particularly satisfying about running your business?
I love being able to change aspects of my business all the time. I think of it as a growing entity that I nurture and tend to like a garden. I like introducing new programs and new revenue streams and dumping old ones that aren’t satisfying anymore. I like the freedom to make changes to my schedule or space that are in alignment with changes in me and what I’m interested in.
The highlight of my counseling career was the moment I felt a deep acceptance that I am actually really good at what I do. Like many life-long learners, I’ve always been aware of all that I don’t yet know, which can create a deficit-driven striving for more knowledge, more experience and a sense of never being good “enough.” Often, I felt sorta-good at a lot of things, but not “expert” at anything.
Then, one day, I was with a career-counseling client talking business and strategic planning. I observed how her personal narrative was getting in her way. I realized I was not only describing myself but also that I was using so many different areas of my expertise to help her with her struggle. This was a game changer in my identity as a professional counselor.
Nani, tell us about the “Red Dot Syndrome” and how busy entrepreneurs can combat it.
I believe that so much of what is challenging for people these days is over-connectedness. I’ve taken to calling it the Red Dot Syndrome, referring to the red notification dots on our devices that indicate some new piece of data is requiring our attention. We can become compelled – addicted if you will – to instantly responding to these red dots. We stop what we are doing, stop what we are thinking about, stop being, in order to respond.
I advise clients to take very seriously the need for uninterruptible time: tech-free hours, off the grid days, whatever you want to call them. I think this is the single most important piece of self-care to incorporate into our daily – not weekly -- life. We need to care for the Self, and we can only do that if we spend time with the Self to see what she needs, what she wants, what she’s dreaming about. This is true Self-care.
I’ve been self-employed for most of my career as content specialist, so I know how much discipline and determination it takes to run your own business. As QB Community Content Chief, I love sharing the stories of people committed to doing things their way. I hope you’ll join our community and share your inspiring story!