This interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Grace Holloway.
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview hosted by Maisaa Sarkis, we meet Ali, the founder of Ali Oliver coaching, Life Coach, in Barcelona. Ali combines the most effective coaching techniques with her personal first-hand experience as an expat in Barcelona, to provide personalized programming to individuals in Europe and the United States. During the COVID 19-induced lockdown, Ali started her life coaching business, targeting a small niche. Organically it expanded, and now she is helping individuals from different backgrounds. Part of her mission is transforming people’s mindset about their current environment, helping them tide through difficult times, and helping them accept what is happening around them to take necessary action for a better future. She faced some challenges in the beginning, such as social media presence, an essential tool Ali needed to get familiar with, as well as the balance between free and packaged services. The collaborations with a community of females in Barcelona was helpful along the way and offered various workshops. It played a massive role in her journey for growth and learning as an entrepreneur. The coronavirus global crisis has impacted all small businesses, entrepreneurs, students, professionals, etc. and having a life coach will help us cope better with the vast changes that the pandemic has triggered.
We talked about your journey as a professional and entrepreneur. Can you tell us what you do as a business?
Ali: I’m a personal life coach. I work with individuals who come to me in a period of transition, or with any challenges, they’re facing, and dive into the blocks and barriers, and what it would be like for them to truly live and create the life that they want and deserve.
How long have you been doing this?
Ali: I started off working in mental health at a very young age of 16. I was volunteering and working in a lot of different centres and charities. However, I only started working for myself since the pandemic hit. I was let go from my old job, and had that moment of “this is something I’ve wanted to do, it’s now or never, now is the time.”
You’ve started during the pandemic. How did you reach out to customers and who are they?
Ali: I was a “closet coach”. Most people didn’t know about the work I was doing. The first thing for me was setting up the basics of the business: your own website, announcing it on social media, and consistent branding. I have to admit, I’m not necessarily the Instagram girl who would post about my life, so there was some resistance to creating my business. However, I realized it is the way for me to reach out to people that need help. It actually wasn’t about me, it was about my message and communicating, and there are so many people that are suffering right now that need help. Sometimes they just need a little reminder or somewhere to be there.
On the business side, a lot of people are told to create a very small niche and find a very small target audience, because if you speak to everyone, you speak to no one. So I started off as a coach for people in Barcelona that had moved abroad and were not feeling at home. However, very organically I’ve ended up coaching 20-year-old students to single moms to new entrepreneurs to 65-year-old grandmas. My niche has expanded, and the beautiful thing about it being online is that I work across countries in Europe, and America as well. My audience is very broad, but there’s always an underlying common thread amongst them, which tends to be that there are some barriers getting in the way of the life that they really want. That’s why they come to me.
As you mentioned, it might start with a niche, but everyone at some point may need to talk and will face stresses.
Ali: I agree, especially now. There are a lot more job losses, people are experiencing more anxiety and depression. It’s also a time, because of the pandemic, that a lot of people think that their suffering isn’t enough to receive help. They think because there are people in worse situations, their problems aren’t big enough. Part of my mission is to change that. This small level of suffering becomes that big suffering. All of us deserve to have support before it gets to the big breakdown, where it’s too late.
People might feel guilty for thinking of their own challenges. Going a step back to when the lockdown started, which affected the wellbeing of many. How did this affect your business?
Ali: This is when I first launched my business, so it was only going to grow. I think it was an incredible time. It’s tough and it’s challenging, but it’s also a time for people to take a moment to reflect on the life they’ve been living. Was it a life they had chosen consciously or was it one in which they followed a path of expectations, and what they thought they should do? It’s so interesting that a lot of people have stayed in a job for security, a comfortable lifestyle, and finances. The pandemic has taught us that security is, to a degree, an illusion. We might as well be doing a job we love, and risk losing that one, than just doing one because it feels comfortable.
For my business, it’s gone really well. A lot of people are in those moments of transitioning. It’s a choice to either accept the circumstances that are around them or to make that change that they really want.
What have been the key challenges for your business, and how did you solve them?
Ali: I mentioned briefly the use of social media. Before, I was someone who would post maybe once a year. I hardly used Instagram, so it was difficult for me to make that transition, especially as my own boss. In the work that I do, I am my product. You have to get used to being more visible. That was definitely a process for me, but once I connected to my purpose, and the purpose of my business, being to serve others, it allowed me to get out of my own way. It was no longer about my ego or saying the right words, it was speaking my truth and connecting to people who needed it. That was the big challenge at the beginning, but I was able to find my passion and meaning in it.
The other challenge that a lot of new entrepreneurs face is the balance between doing things for free, and pricing. That is always a journey. For example, recently I’ve been doing free workshops online. In the beginning, you don’t know how that’s going to work out, but I’ve gained new clients from it. It’s a way for people who are unsure about coaching, and have never been exposed, to be introduced to it, even if otherwise they would not have paid for an event. That was a challenge, but I think I’ve found the balance, and that this balance is continuous.
Were these workshops effective? Did you find any new ways or models that worked best?
Ali: It was definitely very useful. I paired up with another community, which was also very helpful. Gone are the days when we need to do all this alone, it’s a time for collaboration. It was a community of female entrepreneurs who were paired together. This brought two audiences together, doubling the amount of visibility. In hosting those group workshops, the audience gets a flavour of you as a coach and your work, which leads them to paid sessions. For me, it was very effective.
Do you know how your customers are doing now, eight months after the beginning of the lockdown?
Ali: My clients are doing very well. There are some that I’ve started with that I no longer have, but that’s because it’s been successful. Unfortunately with my work, the better coach that I am, the more quickly I lose clients. It’s an interesting job in that sense. Some of them have reached the place that they wanted to, such as setting up their own business or building their self-esteem. At the same time, I have new clients coming in. As a part of my work, we have consistent feedback about how the sessions are going, and what they need from me. It’s always constant feedback between us both.
So you’ve created an exchange where your clients share with you any concerns if they need.
Ali: Absolutely. For example, after every workshop, I have a feedback survey to see what they got from it, how they felt, if there was anything that could improve. With my clients one on one, we do that in sessions as well.
How is your competition? You mentioned that you had collaborated with female entrepreneurs. Are they also competition?
Ali: They are a community with lots of different entrepreneurs, from artists to marketing to specialists, and also other coaches. There are some that maybe you would consider my competition, there’s always competition around. But I have changed the word competition to inspiration or collaboration. I no longer look at other coaches as it being either me that will be successful or them. If it’s someone I admire or see that they’re doing wonderful work, I look to them as my point of growth. If I see they are doing things that I’m not, I ask them about the journey and watch the things that they’re doing, rather than it being something to fight against.
So you’ve eliminated the word competition because it is no longer present in what you do.
Ali: Yes. The other thing is accepting that there is a different coach for everyone. I believe we are individual people, and we have connections to real people. There will be some clients who feel more connected to me as a coach, and there will be others who are more connected to someone else. This is not a thing I take personally, I think it’s a beautiful thing that we should welcome. We also have different coaches for different parts of our lives, depending on what we need. I recognize and accept that, and look to the people that I can serve and who need me now.
Now that the holidays are here, people automatically become more joyful and giving I hope. How’s your business going, and what are you planning for the coming months?
Ali: I think it’s an interesting thing that you mentioned this coming to the holiday season, and people feeling more joyful. It’s also been a difficult time for a lot of clients I’ve worked with. Some are abroad and can’t go back home due to limits from the pandemic. Working together and accepting that this is a different year, and looking at the things that they can do has really helped. In terms of the future and next year, I’m excited to grow my community. I want to have in-person coaching and community groups together here in Barcelona. I want to continue expanding with one on ones, and workshops. Hopefully, I can reach more people who may need support right now, and help them on their journey.
What are three things you might need help with as a personal coach?
Ali: One of them is the more digital, technology side to the business. For example, the search engine, and how to code your website so specific words come up. That’s not my forte or where my knowledge is, so I definitely receive help with the technology side, and where I’ll be looking next year to expand. The other one is Instagram. I have gotten clients just from looking at one post that resonates with them, but a lot of it has grown through people I know sharing posts. I need help with social media training, in terms of gaining new audiences and attracting people who have never seen you before. This is an entire job role in itself.
The world is facing a new situation which requires us to construct a new normal. Do you have any final notes to share?
Ali: I think the first thing is accepting whatever you’re feeling. If you lose a job, if there is difficulty with the family, if there is a health situation, the first thing to do is acknowledge your feelings. Even if it is not the highest level of suffering, you are allowed to feel that emotion. A lot of the time, people try to resist what they’re feeling, but resistance leads to persistence, and it carries on. If we don’t have a healthy way for it to be released, it stays within us. The first thing for me is finding support, whether that’s with your friends, a community, or a coach. Any safe place for you to have that one-on-one support.
The second thing I would say is consciously choosing the environment you are in, the conversations you are having, and the people you are surrounded by. They say you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. It’s also very easy right now to be listening and engaging in the news and the negative conversations about people losing their jobs. That is one truth, but there’s a whole other truth exactly like you’re showing with this initiative. So many people are making that change to create their own business, or are launching projects they are passionate about and never had the opportunity to. When it happened for me and I lost my job, I put myself in a coaching course with one of my favourite coaches, surrounded by people who were feeling inspired, and were there with the same goal. Be aware of your surroundings, because it has a huge effect on your mental wellbeing.
About the Guest
Alessandra Olivier, known as Ali Olivier, was born and lived in London, England until the age of 25. During what she called her “quarter-life crisis”, she decided to go on a one-year adventure to Spain and never went back. She is a personal Life coach dedicated to accompanying individuals on their journey to reconnect with their inner power and let go of what is holding them back so they can live a truly fulfilled and joyful life from the inside out. Ali has worked in mental health since the age of 16 and she followed her passion as a Life Coach enabling other individuals to do the same. Her training includes Science Degree in Psychology, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Yoga, Meditation, and Creative Arts therapy.