Change can be scary, big change scarier still. Listen to my conversation with guest, Bonnie Wisener, as we untangle what prompted the big changes in her professional life and how she managed the risk every step of the way.
Bonnie is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Founder of Shift Nutrition and Wellness.
This is the inaugural episode of Get in the Driver’s Seat! We’re telling stories about leadership moments in small to mid size professional practices. I’m your host, Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach at Bekhor Management.
To learn more about gut health from Bonnie Wisener, our guest and well-known digestive health expert, go to:
To learn more about Sandra Bekhor's practice management coaching programs for lawyers, architects, consultants and other professionals:
You're listening to Get in the Driver’s Seat! We’re telling stories about leadership moments in small to mid-sized professional practices. I’m your host, Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach for lawyers, architects, consultants and other professionals at Bekhor Management.
This is the inaugural episode of Get in the driver's seat! We're telling stories about leadership moments in small to mid-sized professional practices. I'm your host, Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach at Bekhor Management. I'm excited to introduce our, brave, first guest Bonnie Wisener, a registered holistic nutritionist and the founder of Shift Nutrition and Wellness. Bonnie helps people get to the bottom of chronic digestive issues so they can live their lives without the discomfort embarrassment and inconvenience of persistent symptoms like chronic constipation gas bloating and heartburn. Health care professionals they just tell it like it is! Bonnie is generous with her online tips, recipes and ideas. She has 2,000 followers on Instagram to prove it, 1.2 thousand followers on Facebook, enviable engagement in Facebook groups, community awards year after year, consistent referrals and fantastic programs with complementary professionals. She's too humble to tell you all of that but I I dug it up! Welcome Bonnie!
Hi Sandra. Nice to see you and thank you for having me.
It is so exciting. You are in an interesting field. Nutrition is trendy nowadays. People talk about superfoods. I mean that didn't even used to be a word! And now you can buy kombucha at Costco, come on! So we can laugh at ourselves a little bit. But we are wellness curious. So tell us. I know you have lots of recipes on your site. What has aroused the most interest from your market and is it because it was disgusting or it was delicious?
The most popular recipe that I shared this year was something called an inside out egg roll or egg roll in a bowl actually is what it's called. Imagine all the contents of an egg roll but without the fried wrapping. It's absolutely delicious and it takes exactly 10 minutes to make, which I actually think is another reason why it's so popular.
So Bonnie, you have had quite the ride in your career. You've gone from corporate advertising executive to registered holistic nutritionist. I bet you didn't expect to be giving people advice about gut health when you were working on big ad campaigns.
Nope, I definitely didn't. My trajectory is particularly humorous since the businesses that I ran on the ad side were actually mostly fast food. So I definitely didn't anticipate this. However I always did have a personal interest. Actually I would recommend what I did for anybody who's tenuous about needing to pursue additional education in order to take the next step. I actually decided to just dip my toe in at the beginning, course by course, because in my case that meant going back and doing a lot of science courses that I never really saw myself as being that strong at. So I literally did that. I sort of said to myself, I'll take it course by course and see if I can manage the setting and the whatever. I loved it from the second I started pretty much. That was two years and then from there I went into practice on my own. Just to continue that thought pattern, the reason that was again a bit of an interesting decision is... I don't know if you're aware of this but I would say most people who do what I do as a registered holistic nutritionist... you're not really employable. There aren't really jobs. It's a different designation than a registered dietitian. So most people who do what I do, who pursue the holistic or natural nutrition root, you can practice. I mean I have a very thriving practice now, but it would involve building it yourself, definitely. So that's that's a decision that I had to make and I chose to do that on my own. Some people will work for or with a naturopath perhaps.
Some people will work in some sort of a retail environment maybe. But that wasn't for me. I knew that I wanted to do this on my own. I took step by step. I remember at the time I was I thinking I had just turned 50 when I graduated and this woman who I in the place where I rented space at, another holistic nutritionist, she was older than me by a bit and she said yeah it'll take about five years until you start to feel some traction. I was like 50! I was like oh no! Anyway a few things happen from there that actually helped. But at the beginning, it was very much putting one foot in front of another. You have to build awareness of what you're doing, who you are, what type of work you do, do you specialize right? All of those things sort of step by step. So it was very part time to start with. I always sort of found ways right. So rather than, for example, investing in a rental space right off the get-go, I opted to work actually in a holistic clinic in exchange for hours. Where I could use their office space for consultation time. That was amazing because I had never even spent any time in an alternative health clinic. So it was nice to see that the naturopaths there, the massage therapists, the acupuncturists, all had more than thriving businesses. They were doing very well which I found inspiring. This other holistic nutritionist also had a very robust practice. It was nice to be around people who were doing what I was looking to do. Sort of modeling what they were doing because they were doing it successfully and a in a good environment. So that's what I chose to do until such point that I had enough of a practice that I just actually stayed in that same space. But I rented space from them properly and away we go from there.
It's great. I love how you, at every stage, you took out the risk from your decision making. We think about change as big and scary. But if you treat it as a smaller step and you remove some of the risk... you said instead of embarking on the whole program you took a few courses. That's a smaller decision. Instead of opening your own office you joined a group of successful people in your field. Not only did you remove the risk from owning the office, but you also had people to learn from.
Yeah, that's a great point actually. I hadn't thought of it like that. But as you were speaking about it, it occurred to me that that's how I run my practice too, with people... in terms of the coaching part of the practice. Because change is a bit scary, even if you're just talking about changing your diet, which isn't just. It's actually a big deal. Or aspects of your lifestyle, in pursuit of improved health. I think that it is smart.
I've learned actually through coaching that it's reinforced that it's smart to actually bring people through change in you know an inviting what you can chew sort of way versus going all in. I'm not going to say this is a blanket statement because obviously some people, I can't think of an example off the top of my head, but I'm sure there are areas of life where you can go all in and take a risk and be successful. But generally speaking just even in the type of work I do when someone does that it's usually extreme and not sustainable, right? So I guess that's how I approached it. But I do that professionally as well.
Or it can freeze you from making a decision.
Correct! Yes, definitely. I've run into situations like that in the last two years, where it was sort of time for the next step to grow. You know, do you hire someone to help get rid of some work that I didn't want to be doing for example, right? That's not an uncommon issue for solopreneurs. All of a sudden you have to decide if I want to grow. I can't be doing X, Y and Z. It's taking up too much of my time. I do a lot of consultations and preparing clients plans and strategies. That's the 'working in my business' part. But there's probably an equal amount of time I spend working on my business. So I did choose to hire somebody a year ago this past August. That was a smart decision. That was a really good decision.
Yeah and hiring somebody when you're not sure that you're ready, that's such a common milestone for professionals. You know the debate is typically well should I go and get more clients? I feel like I can't even handle the work I have. But I'm scared that I don't have the revenue to bring on another full-time employee or my first full-time employee. What you did is you turned it into a part-time. I've had this discussion with clients where we've discussed the merits of turning that job into something else, so it's not full-time, so that you can get the help at least temporarily or try somebody out so that you get a little bit comfortable with is this the right person... before you make a big commitment.
Now I'm really perfectly imperfect! I get a lot more done being perfectly imperfect and I love it. It's so much less stressful. I was very nervous about coming out and being very clear about a digestive health practice because I was worried that I would lose people who wanted some other services from me because I was small and I was growing. So I think that's also a spot most people find themselves in. I also had a partnership or an affiliation rather with like a group of family doctors, which I do to this day. So they were a great referral source, mostly for blood sugar management. I was very nervous about that. But I gotta say, almost to the minute of declaring that, just on my Instagram profile or starting to talk about it in a much more regular manner in communication in my Facebook group or in my newsletters, I I felt like right away that people knew what I did. I felt like my practice exploded from that point forward. So I think that it is really important to tell people what your niche area is, if you're in the type of service industry. That seemed to have really been helpful.
Oh Bonnie, I am thrilled that you shared that story. Honestly, I am thrilled. The reason I say that is, I started this business over 15 years ago and I can't tell you how many times I have had this conversation with lawyers, architects, engineers, dentists, you name it, whatever type of professional... The the conversation goes the same with every one of them. What do you do that's different? We're not that different. Eeveryone in our business is the same. I'm like no come on think about it. What do people tell you when they write a testimonial, why are they loyal and dig into it and oh okay now we found something. How would you like to declare that as difference? Oh no, we're gonna lose our other business. But is that other business significant? Well no. But still. Here, the way you described your experience, you said it exploded.
It tripled. For real, it tripled. I do attribute it to that. I definitely do attribute it mostly to that. Surprisingly, it didn't really diminish. First of all, it didn't diminish because I was getting referrals from other clients I worked with for blood sugar, for example. I'm not sure if it diminished other calls or not. I don't think so. But the truth is, I guess this is a position that I'm lucky to be in and anybody who makes the choice is lucky to be in. But I only want to work with certain types of clients. There are certain things I know I can best service them with. I'm not um I've been known to refer out things that I don't necessarily either have a great interest in doing or more importantly whether I could provide the best service for that person who's calling. I really believe in seeing specialists for different areas you know whatever you need.
That's a perfect setup because you're doing the work that you love. You're going to do better work because of it. You're going to know the area better. You're going to create a referral system because you're referring out. They're going to refer back.
I've found that one of the most wonderful things that happened through the pandemic, because people were spending so much time online, were the partnerships and collaborations that I actually was fortunate to sort of find or develop, just because people were so connected in a different way and everybody was sort of at the beginning. Like what do I do now? So it was kind of neat.
So, those collaborations, because I've noticed them on your on your social media feed, and I can see that it sort of created an opportunity for you to expand your reach.
Yes exactly that's a strategy of mine.
So did you pursue that or did you stumble into it? How did that sort of take off?
it's been a little bit of both honestly. Behind the scenes, there's a lot of connections that I've made with people, who do exactly what I do, even or who niche slightly differently. We've developed nice, kind of relationships and respect for each other. We learn from each other. I'm part of a nutritionist collaboration behind the scenes. We just practice share, sort of really like learn from each other, some of them are even gut health specialists themselves. None of us are particularly concerned about that because the bigger or the better we all are, the better it is for the people we service and the better it is for us as a result, as well. So that's been really fun because you know what it's like when you are in business for yourself, on your own. You kind of spend meetings going... is that a good idea? Yeah, sounds good to me. So that gets tired after a while.
You're lonely at the top.
Yeah. But some of the collaborations have been things that I have sought out. So strategically, I admire somebody or someone who has a really good following on social media, who has an audience that might crossover with mine. So I'll approach people. I'm not shy that way at all. They don't often say no. But sometimes they say yes. Then there's been other areas where for podcasts or there's a lot of people who put together health summits. So I've been asked to be an expert speaker at digestive health summits, which are all distributed online as well and that's been an amazing way of growing my audience... which is really my biggest challenge. It's very confusing, beyond referrals, to generate growth among an audience, if you don't have a huge budget. Even if you do have a huge budget, to be honest, I'm not convinced a few years in that that's actually even necessarily a guarantee. So my strategy has been to actually really approach people who I genuinely respect what they're doing and there has to be some sort of connection. Early next year I have a speaking engagement with somebody who kind of approached me. She is an influencer. Her program isn't that big, the one that I'm going to be speaking at. But the second we got onto zoom and started talking we knew that our missions were aligned and we could really provide for people together in an authentic way. So that's what I really like. But from the audience growth perspective, you mentioned that I have a pretty loyal audience and I do. But my biggest challenge is that you sometimes do feel like you're talking to the same people over and over again. What I'm providing is complicated, in a way, right? The communication of it isn't that straightforward. I've learned also that in terms of that type of messaging, anything that's non-referral based, that people probably need to hear from me, hear me speak, really watch me for quite some time before they pick up the phone and decide that I'm somebody that they might want to work with. I'm talking outside referrals.
Oh yes. I mean there's the element of trust and it's so personal this service. There's also an educational aspect of it. Not just in terms of your approach, but in terms of people understanding that there is a service that actually can help.
My target group predominantly are people who have struggled for quite some time with either pain or bloating or chronic constipation. I'm sure that they do feel like they've tried everything. The difference, I'm sure you can attest to this and the type of work that you do, the difference is really in the personalized coaching, in helping somebody customize solutions, to figure out how to optimize their digestive function for them. This relationship I have with these family doctors that I mentioned has been helpful because, without getting into all the details of digestive health issues, it's not something that, unless you have an organic disease like inflammatory bowel disease or something like that something really diagnosable, it's not something that is being well serviced in family practice these days. It's just because it's really very specific. It's a lifestyle oriented service and we don't really provide lifestyle medicine in our traditional, conventional environments. So there's a few steps. People have to understand all the steps.
Absolutely, and I I mean your marketing does a great job of that Bonnie. I think this is a good segue for a story about somebody who made a shift. So your business is called Shift Nutrition. Can you tell us a story about somebody who got it and then they felt better afterwards? They recognized your value?
Sure, I'll make you a deal. I'll tell one, if you tell one. But I want to hear one from you. So this isn't my typical target group. But I found that this was one of the most remarkable clients I worked with all year. I got a call through a referral, from her doctor, by a woman who was at the time 89 years old. This woman called me because she was fairly incontinent, she had really bad diarrhea and was pretty much existing on one of these supplements that helped you not have diarrhea. Anyways, I don't remember what it was called right now. It doesn't matter. But that's not the way she wanted to live. This woman was in generally good health. Actually it was funny because when she first called me she was shouting into the message machine into my voicemail when I picked up the message. I really thought to myself, I don't think I want to work with this woman and then when I called her back I realized she was shouting because she wears hearing aids. Anyways, so good idea to always give someone a chance. So we connected and this 89 year old woman was receiving service through Zoom, lives on her own, makes her own meals and the amazing thing, the reason I'm using her as an example obviously, there are other examples, this one in terms of a shift was amazing because we did we took it in full steps. It wasn't just the food she was eating, it had to do with her daily movement, like body movement. It had to do with, actually in her case we learned might be a little diagnostic but we learned that there was some pelvic floor issues involved. So I referred her to another specialist. There were a whole bunch of pieces. But she was remarkable to me because she was first of all so engaged in the educational part. She used to be a nurse. She was so on top of the educational part. she was drinking everything in. I mean I know this is aegist, but you wouldn't necessarily expect someone at that stage of their life to be prepared to change the way they're eating or to change even much about their day-to-day. She was all in. We developed the most beautiful relationship. She ended up going from having to rely on the supplement three or four times a day to only having to take it one time a day, which we were going to take as a win 100 %. She no longer was worried about leaving her house because when somebody has that kind of an issue urgency around diarrhea they're very worried about leaving their house. Imagine the beauty of somebody her age again wanting to go out and live her life. When she actually came to my house, she lived locally so she was dropping off her intake forms at my house, this woman drove herself up to my house.Just the most inspiring.At the end of the day, again, the two things I found the most incredible about her transition was obviously the fact that she was successful. The fact that what she did garnered results that she was looking for. But beyond that, the fact that she was ready to learn. This wasn't a temporary thing. She is now doing things differently. Brilliant.
That is such a great story.
I loved it. Obviously that's not my set. It's not like all my clients are. We celebrated her 90th birthday while I was working with her. But it was a good story.
You gave her her life back.
Right, so that's how she actually described it, because she really enjoyed going to visit her family locally. When she had family from out of town visiting she wanted to be able to take them to restaurants and things like that. That is how she kind of looked at things. But I'm telling you right from the daily stretching exercises I recommended to... I mean really this woman Sandra went gluten free for a little while at her you know stage of life. It was remarkable.
Yeah, I can see your passion coming out as you describe the story. It's clearly why you do what you do. How did she find you, could considering that she checked some of those boxes of Ideal clients, how did she find you?
Yeah, that's a good question. So she's not on social media at all. She was referred by her family doctor.
In that case, how did her family doctor know of you?
because I have a great referral source in a group of seven family doctors in my neighborhood and that starteda long time ago now, probably six or seven years ago. They hired me to come into their practice to do blood sugar management counseling for their pre-diabetic and diabetic patients. So that used to be an in-person thing, no longer doing that in person for obvious reasons from their point of view. These are really small examination rooms. This was group counseling, like two or three people at a time, but they've been very generous about referring their patients to me which is really interesting, for again any doctors working in conventional practice because most my services are not covered. They're private and insurable.
Well there's that thread about the collaboration and development and nurturing these relationships with complementary professionals. I always say that the key to getting a marketing plan right in professional practice is to pick something that you're good at and stick to it. Not to feel the pressure of trying to copy what all your peers are doing because it's going to look different every day you know. There's a social site, there's a new event, there's someone calling you with a deadline on a press advertising opportunity. There's always going to be something. If you know yourself, you know what you're good at, you know what your interests are and you just keep getting better at that. That's what you've done. You've created alliances that really is the cornerstone of your marketing plan.
Yeah it feels like it is. It definitely does. I really appreciate these relationships, obviously. I'm also proud of them because they're not going to continue to send people they care about to me whether there are doctors or other types of professionals, unless they're getting decent results.
So you made a deal with me and now I have to cough up a story! So this is very short. I've got a consulting client who, she's a consultant, wants to have her clients perceive her value and not try and nickel and dime her, not hesitate when she tries to sell them something new. So we talked about, well what is the value and who are the ideal clients and what are the services she really wants to focus on. She says, well you know it's all clear. It's already there, all the messages are there. So we look at her marketing materials and I tell her actually it's not, because if you look at what you've written here, you're directing them towards price, over and over and over. If you're doing that well you can't say that you want them to respect your time and then put their attention on money. Talk to them about the value. Talk to them about how will their life change as a result of working with you, how will their business get better? Talk to them about how you understand their problems. If you really focus on the ideal client you can do a better job of that. If you start going in broad terms about oh this is what I do they're never really gonna get it. So if you want someone to respect your time, you have to start by respecting it yourself.
That's awesome. It's true. So many of us, including myself, I put myself squarely in that category, we do. Sometimes we get so into our little world. We talk about something that our client's not thinking about. They're thinking about themselves and their problem. You're right. They just want us to be able to solve them and demonstrate that that's what we could do. But the best way to do that is by understanding what their problem is. Right? Showing that we understand that, which is tricky. So what you're saying is spend our efforts doing that rather than selling our services in a way right?
Right, exactly, because then you won't even need to sell your services.
It's great advice.
So we've had a wonderful discussion about how you have faced change, bravely and you continue to make change. So I read about your program. You've got this new shift gut therapy method, a 12-week program that combines a personalized approach to gut health with group support. Tell us a little bit about it. What made you start this new program after you've already been doing well with the services you already had?
Okay that's a great question. So to be honest, the idea of providing one-to-many service which is what this, is evolved from, the fact that my schedule was just getting really full. I tell people who I work with the same thing. I was without even realizing it developing my own kind of signature way of approaching gut health issues and so needless to say, even though the level of service was customized by individual, a lot of the materials that I was using to support the work we were doing together was the same. I set out in 2021, the end of 2020 actually, to figure out. It's not like for the weak of heart, creating these types of programs. I set out to figure out how I could deliver the information in an educational format. So the first go around with a test group. I developed all the materials, the support materials properly and I have to really clearly communicate when you're doing it this way. So that took some time. Then I pushed out the weekly information. I held a beta program, a test group. I pushed out the information via emails to them every week and we got online once a week as a group. I did an individual intake with everybody. I knew what everybody's specific issues were. Clearly there was a lot of crossover. We got onto Zoom once a week for a virtual clinic, which is like a Q&A discussion of the week's topic and really got into helping in a community environment. The one thing I hadn't anticipated it, I really didn't, I told you I'm honest, it was completely selfishly driven... I wanted to square away some time where I could do what I'm doing but in a small group. The feedback from that beta test group was they loved being in community with people over this issue because in their private lives they can barely talk about it most of the time. So it was such a win for them and it was such beautiful feedback. For the beta test there were eight people and seven out of eight people had their digestive issues nearly fully resolved by the 12 weeks, which is amazing. Really amazing.
Wow that's really actually very fast for natural care.
Yeah and supplement free. This was just diet and lifestyle. It was quite tremendous. The point of the program is to help people where possible to sort of discover what the root cause is. You can have two people with the same issue, let's say constipation, but have very different reasons why they're having that issue. So that's the customized element, you need to really have some good oversight and guidance for that. But generally speaking, it's really to help people, the participants, acquire education and information that enables them to make a shift, changes in their diet and lifestyle that bring them to the point where, I mean someone with IBS is probably always going to have IBS right, but helping them understand what their triggers are or what they need to do to keep their symptoms in check. That's a skill. That's a life skill. So the goal for the end of the program, more than anything, is to have people have reduced or resolved symptoms. But more importantly, if these things arise they have the toolbox to help them get right back into it, which a lot of people have told me finishing, because I check in with them, that's what happens. That they have come across places or times like this and now they feel like they're empowered to take care of it themselves which is my ultimate goal. But just going back to the practice management aspect of this, it got to the point where I had a choice. I either could literally be busting nine to five Monday to Friday seeing people individually. I had to try something else. I didn't want it that way particularly. So I'm grateful that this became another option. I think people would call that in a sense scaling, but different than what you would normally expect.
However, you used what has been a tried and true process for you because it started with a test as opposed to launching this big service and making this big announcement. You did a small test. You took away the risk from launching this new service. I see the pattern and it's such a great way of stepping up for these changes.
You're right. I hadn't realized that. But you pointed it out to me today. Well maybe I'm not as brave as I thought I was.
You're smart. You're not just brave. You're smart.
It's true what you're saying is true. That is probably the best way to do things like this right? It's so funny because the name of my business, Shift Nutrition and Wellness, actually I give a lot of thought. You know me, like you know I would have given a lot of thought to what I should call this. It was literally just taking recipes and shifting the ingredients to make them a little healthier. I've always sort of believed in the small shift kind of approach. So I guess that is how I function through this. Funny enough.
Like the egg rolls you talked about at the beginning, the unwrapped egg rolls. So a lot of our listeners or maybe some of our listeners will also be thinking about their own changes. You know starting their own practice, if maybe they're working for someone else, or growing their firm, or going off in a completely different direction to chase dreams or to fake retire! Do you know anyone who's doing this? I do! Right! I'm gonna retire! I'm starting a business!
Yeah I've heard that a lot, yes, definitely. It's wonderful.
What would you say to them? Do you have any advice for these brave souls?
Oh my goodness, I don't know that I'm in the position to give that advice. But I think I would say definitely from my perspective, definitely try and do something that you're passionate about, if you can. That's, I know, that's a really lucky thing and a very fortunate thing. But if there is something that particularly interests you. The other thing is don't feel like you have to go from A to Z overnight, like really take the small risks. I guess as we're talking about and just go inch by inch, think like just a few steps ahead of yourself. Sort of what you think you want to do next and make it happen. That's the other thing I will say. Don't even think about it not working. It's gonna work. If you want it to work, it will work.
That's amazing! What's next for you Bonnie?
I'm just in the process of thinking through that actually. So I know there's a few things that I have to do. I'm actually currently involved in some coaching as well to see about what the scalability is in terms of next steps. So my greatest interest really is in how many people I can make aware of the group model service because I can service more people there. That's what I'm trying to work on next. So it's a bit of lead generation, figuring out what the best approach for that is, which I find very difficult. So I would say in the immediate future again just looking at a little at a time that's sort of my next step.
wonderful wishing you lots of luck with it and I have great confidence you will be successful! Thank you so much. To our listeners, if you are interested in learning more about gut health from Bonnie our guest and well-known digestive health expert go to bonniewisener.com and before we sign off Bonnie can you give our listeners one of your terrific wellness tips as we get ready for the maybe not so relaxing holidays?
Absolutely. So for all of us, but particularly if you're somebody who either chronically or just based on holiday stress has tummy troubles or undependable digestive system, meaning you know problems arise, I would say start preparing yourself and your system even before you get to the event. So really start with stress reduction, deep breathing exercises. If you're somebody who really is struggling around the food piece make a plan for yourself before you even leave your house. So you know if that means you're going to eat most of what you need to feel comfortable at home before you go out to your gathering do that and just pick from what you're most comfortable with at the gathering. But in my experience and we talk about this an awful lot in the Shift Gut Therapy Program, really a lot of the issues that arise have very little to do with the food that you're being confronted with. They actually have to do with the anxiety and worry around things like travel or around things like being around certain family members or whatever. Actually if you're interested, I know you directed people to my website which is great, but I think it would also be good to find me on Instagram. If you'd like to send me a DM, I'm happy to send you a video of some tips that will help you over the holiday season.
Wonderful, thank you so much Bonnie, for your time and your honest sharing of stories that will help our listeners.
I've really enjoyed talking with you today thank you so much for listening.
This has been fun. You've been listening to Get in the driver's seat!