Heather and I met on zoom after a busy Monday, after Heather had seen all her clients. I could tell right off the bat that even after doing a full day of work, she still had a ton of energy and a very positive attitude. We started out by talking about what her business is and how she came into her current career.
Heather’s business is called Main Wellness Works, which she started in 2002. She just hit the 20 year mark of being self-employed, but has been in her field for over 30 years. Main Wellness Works has a few different branches of work but it boils down into the following categories: workplace wellness, health education, personal fitness training, and health coaching.
Two things that stuck with me after the interview were that 1) You can tell that Heather loves what she does and is deeply committed to helping people. Her original background was in mental health and that shines through in her current work. She helps people have a better quality of life and improve their mood by helping them through fitness. 2) Heather is a woman of deep conviction. She believes in what she does and she helps people find that conviction. Sometimes people come in and say, “I don’t like exercise,” and she understands that and can empathize with them. However, she helps them realize that the results of physical activity make the efforts worthwhile.
Heather’s Professional Journey
Heather graduated college with a degree in psychology, and immediately started working in non-profit health education. She began by working for the American Lung Association for 6-7 years, focusing on tobacco use prevention and helping people quit smoking. After that she worked for UVM’s Center for Health and Wellbeing department teaching Health Education courses and helping students with a range of issues including stress management, body acceptance, sexual assault prevention.
During much of this time, Heather was also working in gyms and teaching fitness classes after her 9-5 jobs. The reason for this is that fitness was extremely important to her. “I grew up overweight, food oriented, and exercise phobic. When a kid would ask me to go out running, I’d lie and say that I was busy. I had little interest in physical activity.” She grew up with the perception that everyone saw her as “a fat kid,” but realized in college that the weight was never just going to fall off. She worked hard adopting a lifestyle that included a lot of physical activity, and this passion led to teaching the after-hours fitness classes down the road.
The defining moment
At the point Heather decided to open Main Wellness Works, she’d been teaching fitness and working in health education for fourteen years, and had gotten a Master’s Degree in Health Education.However, working in the non-profit sphere, she was dependent on grants and was then restricted to the priorities of the grants.
“I really wanted to focus on the things that people wanted to learn about, and to have the freedom to do things the way they should be done.” That desire was the first factor in creating Main Wellness Works.
The second factor was the financial piece. When she started she had two small children and the cost of daycare was beginning to eclipse her salary from UVM. By opening the business, she was able to spend more time with her children while also earning an income. That being said, the choice wasn’t
about chasing money down. Heather’s background was in non-profits, and being affordable was extremely important to her. She also did not have much support from her friends at the time. Most of them thought she was crazy for leaving a job with benefits, but her passion to change the wellness space kept her going.
She started by making house calls to help people with their personal issues regarding fitness in their homes. Over time she found that people wanted to come to her, so she cleaned a space in the family basement. In 2007 she built a fitness and yoga studio at her home. The studio focuses on equipment many people have in their homes, and is completely private with beautiful views of the Green Mountains. Fitness programs that clients learn in Heather’s studio can be done anywhere.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your business?
The most challenging part of owning a business for Heather, is that she misses having colleagues. “I miss having a conversation with 2 or 3 people that becomes really exciting as a synergy of ideas develops to pull a bigger program together… bringing together different minds, different skill sets and ending up with something that is bigger than the sum of its parts.” By going out solo, Heather lost that.
The most rewarding aspect is that day after day, week after week she gets to see people getting excited about taking care of themselves and reaping the benefits of physical activity and making healthy choices around what they’re eating. She loves seeing their excitement grow as they start to feel better. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone in their 30’s or their 70’s.
I asked Heather if there was one story that came to mind…one client that she thinks of often. There was a female client she had who was 64, retired, and an empty nester. She wasn’t married but had a significant other and for the first time in her life she was able to prioritize her health. (She had been active while working and raising her kids, but it was never a priority). After meeting Heather, they started an exercise program and strength training. About 3-4 weeks into the program, Heather asked, “how’s it’s going?” and the client lifted her hands up into the air – her face lit up, she pumped her first and said, “I feel” – but couldn’t find the words. Instead, she let out a huge “ROAARR”. Seeing someone so changed and so empowered by improving their health is a treasured memory.
Who’s your average client?
Heather sees a wide range of people, her youngest client is 20 and her oldest is 85. She also sees both men and women. Her typical client though is a middle-aged woman who wants to be fit, have good bone density, have a healthy weight, and wants the accountability and support of having
someone to help her stay on track. Some clients quickly learn what they should do, but they like having the check in once a week or every two weeks. They learn more by doing that as well as push themselves harder than if they were on their own.
She especially likes working with people who do not have an extensive athletic past, or who carry extra weight and want support getting, and staying, on track with healthy behaviors. She understands that activity and healthy eating is not an easy choice, but the benefits are fantastic as people start to feel better than they’ve felt in years.
How did you grow your business?
Heather tried a variety of different strategies, especially in the beginning. She ran an ad for a bit, but didn’t see any solid results from that. For the most part, the business has grown through word of mouth and by connecting with people in her community. She did this in part by writing a regular newspaper column for 12 years on health and fitness. The column ran in several papers including The Other Paper, The Shelburne News, and the Charlotte Citizen.
She’d find inspiration for those columns based on interesting things that would come up with her clients over the course of the week. She’d change their names and identifying details but found that there was always a common theme that resonated with people. She’d turn the conversation she’d had with the client into something lighthearted and humorous, while lovingly approaching the fitness or health-based issue with backing from science and sound ideas.
Heather also has a passion for continuing education. She loves learning and has used that to grow her degrees and qualifications, and leveraging that in her business. Right now her health coaching business is growing because she just became a nationally board certified health coach after three semesters of course work in UVM’s Integrative Health Coaching program. . (A pandemic project of hers to complete). ¶
Fitness is a fickle practice. Some people learn everything they think they need in ten sessions and leave. There’s always going to be some turnover, and there is always going to be some growth and change. That being said, after 20 years, Heather’s practice is largely full but there is still room for a few more people. What she does keep top of mind though, is to limit her practice enough to not over-stretch herself. She typically sees only five to seven clients a day, because she doesn’t want the eighth client to get a tired version of herself, and a less beneficial experience.
What is the benefit of WBON membership to you?
For Heather, WBON is her home base. Whenever she needs something such as a web designer, she wants it to be someone in WBON. WBON is a wonderful resource to have in your back pocket, a great networking tool, and a great skill builder. “As an independent business woman, you might be really good at what you do but not have much business background,” WBON helps with that. For example, sales and marketing is not Heather’s forte – just thinking of it creates anxiety. Through WBON though she has been able to learn more, and helped sharpen certain skills such as elevator pitches — Her recommendation for new WBON members? Get involved as much
as possible. Go to the monthly meetings: talk, rub elbows, socialize, and learn more about the amazing community of women around you.
Who has inspired you?
Heather is most inspired by women who speak truth to power. By women who stand up for what they know to be right. For her it’s not a political thing, though some of her female heroes have been in political circles. One that stands out is Anita Hill. When Clarence Thomas was being sworn in and all the hearings took place, Heather was in her mid-to late 20s and watched the proceedings and later read Anita Hill’s book. “She made an enormous impression on me as someone who stood up for what is right. That inspires me. To speak the truth with calm intelligence.”
How does your business align with your values?
The beauty of being self-employed for Heather is that her business is entirely about what she believes in — morally, intellectually, and emotionally — her work focuses on self-care and helping people to be the best version of themselves. This is true for both her individual clients and her organizational clients (offices) who experience a decrease in depression and anxiety, as their quality of life improves. If a person feels good about who they are, they are more likely to be a positive part of the community and family.
Heather also delivers all her content and programming with an energized sense of humor. She tries to make things fun and lighthearted. People are more attentive that way and realize that meeting with her isn’t going to be about someone just lecturing about lowering cholesterol. She tries to be a positive influence and sees that spread throughout the community. It boils down to eliciting positive reinforces positive.
How do you see your business changing and where would you like to take it in the future – and have you “arrived”?
“In my gut, I feel I have arrived. I feel good about telling people about what I do, charging what I do, and I feel confident that I’m providing a valuable service to people.” That being said, she never takes a single piece of business for granted and is and always has been grateful for the business that she has.
In regard to changes down the road, Heather sees herself doing more work with people on the Health Coaching dialogue side of behavioral health. She’s in her 50’s now, and although she loves doing push-ups with people, she’d like to eventually spend less time demonstrating fitness techniques. Her aim still will always be to help people feel good about themselves and start a comprehensive health and wellness plan.
What is your favorite thing about being a business owner in Vermont or just living in Vermont?
Heather was born in Vermont and grew up here and loves it with one big exception – the duration of the winters. Overall though, she loves the social political climate, having the university nearby, as well as both the resources that Burlington has in its arts community and the natural environment including the lake and mountains.
She also really values that Vermont seems to support a culture of wellness. By and large, if Vermonters have 9-5 jobs, they are actually leaving at 5:00 and putting their work behind that. They are more prone to caring about their well-being than others in different states may be.
Where do you find inspiration?
“I find inspiration in my clients who are doing the hard work and making the disciplined choices that get them to their goals.” For example, she’s currently working with a 35-year old mother of 2 young kids, who is also a schoolteacher. She works very hard at work and at home but is finding time to put her health first and that is so inspiring. She also has another client, who walks 3-4 miles to her appointments. She has a car, but opts to get that extra bit of exercise in. It’s small things like that really motivate her.
Any final piece of advice?
“Take some time to visualize how you want your life to be, and then go get it.”
WBON members represent a diversity of industries, perspectives, and experiences. Be inspired by our Member Spotlight posts, an intimate look at one member, written by another WBON member. This month’s Member Spotlight was written by WBON member Mary Capparuccini, self-employed insurance agent for New York Life.