We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah M. Chappell and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sarah M., can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I didn’t have one! My business emerged from a time of crisis: I had left my corporate marketing and brand management job due to health issues and was, well, broke. Unemployment in NYC doesn’t go so far! I couldn’t imagine going back to a traditional office environment, so I started reading tarot, making herbal medicine, and freelancing as a marketing consultant. About a year into it I got serious, realized that I had some real skills that could help people, and committed fully to my business. But it was mostly desperation that got me started. In my experience supporting hundreds of small businesses, many people are driven to entrepreneurship by the lack of accommodations in a work environment, a need for flexible hours due to disability or caregiving responsibilities, and discriminatory hiring and operation practices. Businesses don’t have to be started because you have a brilliant idea, a lot of funding, or are ready to “disrupt” a market. They can be started because you need to get paid.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I am the founder of an online business education platform called the Holistic Business Academy. We help healers, coaches, teachers, mystics, and other weirdos who don’t quite fit the mold to grow sustainable and supportive online businesses, with a focus on online courses, memberships, and group coaching programs. HBA recognizes that small business is in many ways a bandaid in a system where people are not properly paid for their labor in many traditional environments. Unlike most business strategists and coaches, I’m extremely critical of business, capitalism, and the online marketplace. My company specializes in the nuance of trying to survive and do good work in a time where every decision is fraught and running a business aligned with your values may be impossible. We live in that space. We embrace the liminal. We help our clients to do the best they can, and to discover the areas where they do have the power to run their business differently.

I’m most proud of how many people we’ve been able to help. I spent the last three years focused on a low-cost membership designed to support founders in the first few years of business. We’ve had nearly 1,000 clients in that program, which is remarkable. The idea of that many people having been able to really consider what kind of business they run, and to learn to market and sell their work in alignment with their values while still being properly compensated makes me overjoyed.

Now, I’m turning my focus specifically towards online education. As I wrote recently in an article for the business newsletter Every [link: https://every.to/p/the-problem-and-promise-of-online-courses ], the consumer online education industry encourages a profound misalignment between the goals of the creators making courses and the needs of the customers buying them by having a narrow focus on sales rather than pedagogy and program design. I’ve been teaching online for five years, and have seen all of the scams, the over-promises, and the accidental course failures, and I know that we can create robust and powerful online education that helps customers whether they want to develop new professional skills or learn something for fun. Online education is a powerful business model for creators, coaches, and healers to help more people without being burned out and overbooked with private sessions, but there’s a lot of work to be done to ensure that course and membership creators can develop effective programs in addition to selling them. I’m extremely excited to be working on this and know that the ripple effect of transformational online education programs will be massive.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My partner has been a critical support as I’ve grown my business. Entrepreneurship can be lonely, and it’s important to have people around you who will support you and point out when your reality distortion field has become detrimental. My partner is fantastic at noticing and calling out my bullshit, but is also completely behind me and believes fully in my success.

I am continuously inspired by fiction; novelists spend their time inventing worlds and I can’t think of anyone better to look to as an entrepreneur whose job it is to make new things. I learn a lot from how novelists create believability, break through assumptions, and communicate the unknown. I could wax on about how much can be learned about writing sales copy from novelists, but mostly what I appreciate is the ability to create vibes, which is all marketing is. Brandon Taylor (his newsletter is also a must-read), Ling Ma, Elif Batuman, Donna Tartt, and Leo Tolstoy (have you read Anna Karenina? Now that is a book!) are my go-tos at the moment. Great novels and stories also create hope of a kind—not to be confused with compulsive positivity, but a novel is inherently a kind of testament to the human project, even when it is a critique of that project. Hope is a requirement for a business owner, and a great novel will remind you of your own humanity, the humanity of others, and what becomes possible when we operate from that place.

I’ll throw in some nonfiction as well: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism should be required reading for business owners. The entrepreneurial imagination is held hostage by a winner takes all, give me individualism or give me death culture, and Max Weber’s exploration of how Protestantism created the water we swim in with respect to work is more valuable than any productivity hack.

Website: holisticbusinessacademy.com

Instagram: instagram.com/holisticbusinessacademy

Twitter: twitter.com/sarahmchappell

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVRJpnFEMLhsW2H5wudTaGw

Image Credits
Chelsea Lane Photography

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