Sarah Bushell was working full time for the National Health Service in the United Kingdom as a child nutritionist while also being a full time mom to two kids. She’d always done nutrition advising on the side and when she began to feel like her 9-5 was taking away from her ability to be a present mother to her children she made her side hustle her full time gig. Bushell runs The Children’s Nutritionist from her home in Eastbourne, England where she specializes in feeding baby and toddlers to reduce stress around feeding children at mealtimes. She also has a blog where she offers recipes, e-guides, courses and of course memberships and 1:1 coaching services.
Bushell’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
For twenty-two years of my career I worked for the NHS but I was insanely frustrated with the rules around who I was allowed and not allowed to help. Essentially children had to have a medical diagnosis to access my service. So I started a blog four years ago, followed by Facebook and Instagram accounts to get this information out to the general public.
The advice I give is not only about food and nutrition, but parenting and how to be appropriately responsive, so that children grow up to have a healthy relationship with food, have a healthy body and grow well. No-one teaches that part to parents. I also have two children and the older they became the more I felt I needed to be there for them, supporting their budding independence. When they were young after school clubs and child minders were how I managed full time NHS work, but as pre-teens they wanted to go out with their friends after school and it felt wrong to be letting them roam the streets while I was in a hospital office and unavailable for them if they needed me.
The pivotal moment for me came when one dark autumnal afternoon, I had a phone call from my 11-year-old daughter to say, “don’t worry, mummy, we’re fine, our lift hasn’t arrived and so we’re going to walk home.” My kids go to school in a different town and get off a train at a tiny station in the middle of the Sussex countryside, and it’s not an easy walk. No footpaths, no street lighting and it’s a 60mph country road…. And I was five miles away at the hospital with a full clinic full of patients. I felt dreadful, like a failure, the mum guilt was overwhelming and so I fled. I ran out of the clinic, shouting my apologies to the families sitting in the waiting room waiting to see me, and I drove like a bat-out-of-hell, across the countryside to go and pick them up safely. That was the moment when I knew I needed to make a change. And I decided I was going to take my ‘nutrition business on the side’ more seriously and turn it into something epic.
How do you define success?
Success to me means recognition, I want my name and my methods to be known and recognized as the gold standard for feeding children completely.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
My blog. I started this four years ago as a way to help parents navigate food and feeding their babies and toddlers, to answer common questions, cut through the minefield of nonsense and misinformation and help them feel empowered parents. It now receives around 45,000 page views per month and I am extremely proud to be helping so many mums and dads.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
My services sell to a completely cold audience but not so well to those who know me. I wonder whether I give too much advice and support for free and so my warm audience have no desire to buy. Business is a lot about experimenting to find out what works and try and overcome challenges and so I’m currently experimenting with facebook ads to reach new audiences, I’m experimenting with refining my email nurture sequences and social media posts. I’m trying not to offer too much individual support in my facebook group. I’m also working with a PR agency to raise my profile.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
As my children grew older, I found they needed me more and working 9-5.30 in the NHS wasn’t helpful when they finished school at 3pm and needed their mum. In the pre-teen and early teen years my children wanted to go out with friends after school but when they wanted to come home they wanted to come home now, and that wasn’t easy in rural East Sussex. The NHS is wonderful but not at all flexible and although they would let me reduce my hours to work part time, that still included full 9-5.30 days. It wasn’t flexible enough for me and my family.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Actually, something I haven’t mentioned is that I now mentor other nutrition entrepreneurs – Registered Dieitians and Nutritionists and I do this because I made a lot of mistakes in the early days of my business that they don’t need to make with theirs. I’ve also gained a lot of knowledge and skills form the thousands of pounds i’ve invested in my own development and I want to pass this on.
My biggest tip is to nurture your audience, really get to know them and let them know you. That way you’ll find out how you can help them best.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I walk in nature. I live on the South coast of England and am surrounded by the beach and sea on one side and the beautify green countryside of the South Downs on the other, so I walk and mediate in nature whenever I need it.
Who is your most important role model?