Shae Sterrett saw the stress and anxiety brought on in the early days of the pandemic, and she thought she could help. Sterrett had been working for herself for four years in sales and marketing, but she was interested in launching a business focused exclusively on yoga therapy and wellness.
The pandemic, Sterrett believed, showed just how critical the need was for services like the ones she could offer.
“In the midst of COVID, there’s this mental health crisis going on,” she said.
Last May, at a time when many businesses were just struggling for survival, Sterrett decided to expand hers, renaming the business Shae Yoga Therapy and Wellness. She found a studio space in Keene and set herself up to take in-person yoga therapy appointments. Yoga therapy uses teachings from yoga, like breathing exercises and postures, to help heal physical, mental and emotional pain. Sterrett thought that physical closeness would be especially important during the pandemic.
“I felt like I was really primed to open this therapy practice and have it take off,” she said.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go that way.
“There were a lot of crickets,” Sterrett said.
She tried various ways of marketing, from radio ads to social media posts. She realized that her problem was two-fold: People didn’t know that her business existed, and if they did, they weren’t quite sure what yoga therapy was.
“I felt disappointed because I feel I have a really valuable service to offer people at this critical time, but they don’t know I’m here,” Sterrett said.
To address that, she dedicated her time to networking with local businesses, including therapists and massage therapists. She also started building up her social media presence, creating educational and informative content that helped people understand her business.
“Yoga therapy is similar to what you’d expect from a talk therapist,” Sterrett said. “But you get out of the mind and into the body. You start to become aware that where my physical body hurts, there is emotional and energy pain as well.”
With the education piece being addressed, Sterrett realized there was another hurdle: People simply weren’t comfortable with in-person sessions, no matter what precautions were in place. Even for people who might be open to in-person sessions, getting away from kids or family could be tricky.
Sterrett started offering online sessions. While putting her hands on someone is the first-line option for healing, she found ways to connect remotely. For example, she might place her hand on someone’s heart during an in-person session, but remotely, she can tell someone to place their own hand on their heart and notice what they feel.
“That might be even more meaningful, to have someone put their own hand on their heart,” Sterrett said.
Online therapy sessions allowed Sterrett to reach more people. She started working with a mother who could attend a weekly appointment only at night, after the kids were in bed. Now, half of Sterrett’s sessions take place remotely.
Over the summer, Sterrett attracted some new clients, but she realized that she was working very hard on customer acquisition. To reduce the time and financial cost of attracting new customers, Sterrett re-evaluated her business model. She encouraged customers to sign up for three months at a time, rather than session by session.
“You’re not going to experience the biggest benefit from just one session,” Sterrett said.
She also began offering 10-week group sessions. This allows Sterrett to generate more income per hour, while also addressing some of the impact of the pandemic.
“The absence of community and connection that COVID has created really inspired that,” she said.
Launching the business during a pandemic, and trying to find a way to make it work, has been taxing.
“I’m working harder than I ever worked when I worked at a corporate job,” Sterrett said. “You’re working so hard, and you have to practice your own self care or else you get burned out.”
Still, Sterrett is hopeful that the pandemic will make more people realize the importance of protecting their mental health, and that a larger conversation about wellbeing will reduce the stigma of getting mental health care.
“Now is the time to take care of that,” she said. “Before we fall back into our bubbles and our distractions, we can address our physical and emotional health.”
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.