Many entrepreneurs talk about having an epiphany before starting their businesses. For Reshaunda Thornton, she had an epiphany when she was working in research genetics. She stopped to ask herself, “Can I see myself doing this for the rest of my life?” The answer was no, so she started exploring other options, knowing that she wanted to stay in science and work with people. That’s when she discovered dietetics.
Reshaunda went back to school and got a second degree, and knowing that she didn’t want to work in traditional dietitian roles in hospitals or food service, she started her own private practice. As she was building her practice, she got the opportunity to be on the local news in St. Louis, an opportunity which has now led to 80+ TV appearances, a TEDx talk, podcasting, events, speaking engagements and a book, among many other accomplishments.
Along the way, Reshaunda has found that she enjoys speaking with, inspiring and encouraging people. She certainly inspired me after our conversation: I left feeling refreshed, energized and like I could conquer the world. We chatted about her journey and her successes, and here’s her advice for new entrepreneurs:
When I first started, I did the footwork. I literally went to small businesses and told them about what I do. I created a package and I literally drove there, I went to like six or seven gyms, because I was new. I created packages and brochures, and did the work to get my name out there. The practical thing to do is literally working on your network, and building relationships to start having conversations.
I did a female entrepreneur mentorship program here in St. Louis, and I found programs that are dedicated to helping women with their businesses. Everyone had different services or products, but actually we learned from each other, gave ideas and talked about things we had struggled with.
My advice is, if you have an idea you're passionate about, give it 110%. Don't expect it to turn around the first year, it may take a while. But be smarter: have your job that's paying the bills, don't give up or just think it's too hard. Because if you truly want to do it, you’ll find a way to get the ball rolling.
Once you get the ball rolling, everything is natural. Watch it grow and keep finding ways and growing. Go back to school, get more education, go get a specialty, go get a certification, do all these things in the background, so you can continue to give a better service.
Even though I went back to school and completed my master’s three years ago, I still had my business while I was in grad school. You know, the work is not done. And so when you're able to do that, it lets the people that know you know that you're not just stagnant. You're trying to be better, so you can be of better service to those people you're serving. And I have a son, so I’m a single mother as well, and it’s all possible.
Well, I always tell people, they see all these different things. But it didn't start off that way.
For the first half of my career, it was just me in a private practice working, and just working my skill set. Having a private practice gave me insight into so many different individual struggles, and that gave me a depth of knowledge. It helped me understand: what is the true need, and how can I package that to work?
I'm not just helping one person at a time now, I'm able to help multiple people at one time. Taking your time and doing your work, doing the grunt work, is really what creates the platform to be able to do other things and help more people. That’s really kind of how it started. From there, you build, you build, you build, and things naturally start to gravitate to you.
When it comes to messaging, your messaging also has to be consistent. It doesn't have to be the same exact thing, because then it gets boring. People want to know who you are holistically, not just that you're a dietitian. So when it comes to my branding, I was able to recognize: nutrition can be fun, and sometimes it's not about nutrition, it's about mindset, wellness, or connecting with other healthcare professionals.
Everyone wants to stand out, everyone wants to be different. One thing I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that in order for people to know who you are, you have to be relatable.
So if I look like an everyday person, and I'm not walking around with a lab coat on, people are like, “she’s not a cookie cutter version of a dietitian”. This allows me to really illustrate my personality. I'm a regular person, just like you are. If we connect at that level, I know that people feel more comfortable and more inspired. I can use that avenue of my personality to help people start thinking a little bit differently about how they approach nutrition. I just use my personality for people to get to know me.
At first I was representing myself as a brand called Better Vessel, and then people got confused. People want Reshaunda, not Better Vessel. I think when people know who the person is, they like the person, they trust the person and they follow the person, not just the company name.
Let's define what networking is, it's developing relationships. You develop relationships and get to know a person. It doesn’t have to be about business, you may have things in common. Learn about that person, take months and years to get to know them and just develop relationships.
And when you develop a relationship, where a person trusts you, and you trust that person, ask how are you able to help that person? Once you get to know people and they get to know you, then the business naturally comes. From there, that's really how my network developed.
Everything is word of mouth. Clients and new people add me by word of mouth. That’s how businesses organically grow, because the people that are supporting you see the genius in you and your conversations. You're solid and you're consistent in what you're doing. They see the passion. And then they say, “You know what? She's really solid. She's always talking about life decisions and things we talked about. She was an interesting girl, I want to connect her with this, or I want to connect her with that.” To me, that's how you expand your network.
March is National Nutrition Month. So, I pulled together a group of myself and six other companies to do a campaign called March Meets Nutrition this year. When we came together, every day for the month of March, we created topical content. And it was different types of content, because I don't pigeonhole myself to where I can only talk about something with food.
We created a creative project that helped more people, and we had seven people shooting out content. We used our networks and helped each other, pushed out content for each other, and that attaches you to them, but also helps introduce you to their network. If they trust you, and you trust them, then that's something someone's going to follow. That was a product I was pretty proud of. We had thousands and thousands of likes, and when you can combine them all together, that makes a big impact.
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