While experiencing the tragedy of losing her husband to colon cancer, Susan witnessed the power of diet, exercise and holistic practices. She now dedicates herself to helping others battling cancer and chronic disease through her certified cancer rehab facility, Integrative Experience. Her interview inspires us to become focus list makers and to be patient with our businesses and ourselves.
What inspired you to become a holistic entrepreneur?
In 2006, my husband was 47 and an exercise and strength coach and was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. In December of 2010, he passed away. During his treatment, we saw how diet, exercise and holistic practices made such a difference in his day to day journey. I had already worked as a case manager for over 10 years and I knew that I wanted to expand my knowledge and incorporate our family’s personal experience to help other cancer survivors. My son became a certified personal trainer and I furthered my education with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. We have combined our skills to create one of the only certified cancer rehab facilities in our area.
Tell us about your business or practice.
Integrative Experience is S.T.A.R. (Survivorship, Training and Rehab) clinically certified. We work with cancer and chronic disease clients and allow them to regain physical strength, educate them nutritionally and make recommendation for supplementation. Either during treatment, following treatment or surgery.
What is your current business model?
One of the aspects that set us apart is that all of our appointments are one on one. When you have no hair, can only walk for 10 minutes and your immune system is down, being able to be the focus of our attention is something we pride ourselves as being able to offer. We do offer family training for up to (3) members and utilize nutraceuticals where we see fit based on client and physician agreement.
What has been one of your favorite moments as a business owner thus far?
We are the home to the 15k Boilermaker Road Race. Having one of our clients be able to run again after major cancer surgery has been one of my proudest moments.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in running your business or practice?
Challenges are faced with regards to holistic practices not being covered or recognized by health insurance companies. We could service many more clients if our services were covered by health insurance. Clients have not worked many of them for some time, or are limited in the hours they can work due to illness and this treatment many can not afford. Also, educating cancer and chronic disease clients on the assistance that is available to manage long term side effects. Physical exercise geared toward the client as well as a specific nutritional plan can help in so many ways.
How have you overcome those challenges?
We have partnered with our local oncology social worker to find funding for some, especially breast cancer patients. We have also structured our pay schedule very closely to that of a co-payment so that patients that were being treated with physical therapy would still be able to take advantage of our services. We also do pro-bono work and have never turned a client away for not being able to pay. We take payment plans and work with clients to make the treatment available to all.
How do you find new clients?
Our biggest referral source is our client base. We also work with our local oncology doctors. I blog for our local newspaper and speak at support groups and various local events in our area. We also offer a weekly pool exercise class at one of our largest retirement homes in the area.
What have you found to be most effective in securing new clients to sign up for your services?
We offer (2) complimentary sessions, we have found that once the clients really get a feel for a session, they believe in the services.
What do you do to keep your existing clients engaged in the long term?
Being able to offer one on one appointments, we can be very specific in care planning for that client. They can each progress at their own pace and not be holding up a group. We meet their goals.
As your own boss, what is your best strategy for staying focused and productive during your workday?
I am a focused list maker! I also prioritize the early morning hours that don’t interfere with family time to getting work done as well as spending time spiritually each morning. This helps put the days events all into perspective for me.
If you could start your business over again from the beginning, what would you do differently?
Realize that advertising is not always the best way to showcase your business. I spent money that did not reach our market in the best way.
What were some of the first mistakes you made that you would tell a new holistic entrepreneur to avoid?
Building a business takes time. Physicians and other clients want to see success stories and know that you will be there tomorrow. Be patient, and prioritize your goals. It’s ok if my house is a little dusty and my ironing is behind if I’m taking time for myself and my clients and family are well cared for.
What are the top three business tools or resources you couldn’t live without?
Networking with other like minded professionals in our area. Continually reading and learning about your area of interest and giving back to others.
What has been your most effective method for growing your business?
Client referrals by far.
In building your business, was there any specific mistake you made, “oops!” moment, or “I can’t believe I did that!” time that you look back and laugh at now?
Trying to attend too many functions that didn’t produce any clients just caused me stress and a lot of give aways.
What is your favorite indulgence?
Dark chocolate covered strawberries
Most exotic thing you’ve ever eaten?
Fruit specific to Central America
Most memorable place you’ve ever visited?
Last book you read?
Think and Grow Rich
If you could only have one kind of food for the rest of your life, it would be…
What is your go-to breakfast?
Plain yogurt with my own variety of add ins
What do you find most fascinating about the human body?
The ability to heal itself when given education, love and support
What do you love most about being an entrepreneur?
The ability to say how I treat a client by my standards. Emotional, spiritual and physically we all need the whole package.
Susan Castilla is a Certified Integrative Health Coach, B.S. based out of Utica, NY. You can find out more about Susan and her business, Integrative Experience LLC, by visiting www.integrativeexperience.com.