The Health Coach Who Only Works Remote

By Kurt Birkenhagen · August 15, 2017

After Julia Sarver transitioned from the nonprofit world to health coaching, she wasn’t enjoying coaching as much as she thought she would. Sarver had a full client list, but her schedule was all wrong.

Sarver had 9-to-5 hours in a rented office. She’d have a flurry of meetings one day and a handful of sessions that were several hours apart on the next. Cancellations were frequent, and scheduling was a hassle for her and clients. Everyone jockeyed for the same time.

“When I first started, I saw people more in person,” Sarver tells me from her Portland, Oregon, home. “That was the more traditional model at that time. I thought that was what people wanted.”

It was only after meeting with a client from Newberg, Oregon—a small town about an hour away from Portland—that Sarver had her eureka moment.

“She didn’t want to drive, and I didn’t want to drive,” says Sarver. “But we wanted to work together. So we just worked it out. We started by phone at first, and it worked great. She loved it because she’s pretty introverted, but she wanted to make a change with her health. It was a great way for her to have a dedicated time without all the hassle.”

Sarver came to realize that her clients didn’t prefer to meet with her in person. Now, she meets with all of her clients via video conference or over the phone. Sarver loves the flexibility.

“I work from 9 to 3 most days. It is not bad at all,” she says with a laugh. “I have so much of an easier time batching my schedule so that I’m seeing all my clients on the same two days per week. I have more flexibility on the other days of the week.”

Now, Sarver only meets with her clients midweek. The rest of the week, she handles all the other parts of a busy health coaching business—correspondence, scheduling, billing, and research. She can spend as much time as she wants on each client’s plan because on her planning days there’s not another session to get ready for.

Thanks to teleconferencing, Sarver’s client base spreads across the globe—she has clients in Iceland and Australia.

According to Sarver, going remote has broadened the services she can offer. For example, she now helps clients clean out their fridge. The client sets up the computer in the kitchen, then Sarver tells them about the ingredients in everything in their pantry, and how they can replace bad products with healthy ones. Sarver even gives virtual cooking lessons.

Sarver has incorporated webinar work into her practice as well. She runs free group sessions via videoconference which helps her find new clients. And every year she teaches a nine-month, weekly class with a group of clients.

Since Sarver is remote-only, she can still be flexible despite ongoing commitments to her clients. That’s how she wound up teaching one of her group classes from Maui.

“Because of web conferencing, even when I have those long commitments to clients, I can travel and still do a little bit of work,” Sarver says. “I had this commitment to this group, but I knew if I just had WiFi I could work. My husband could take my son to the beach for a few hours, and I could keep my commitment.”

Sarver even says that her clients get more out of their web sessions than in-person meetings. “People definitely prefer it,” Sarver says. “I was surprised at first that people would want this.”

In fact, Sarver says, remote client work has allowed her to help clients more than before. “Sometimes the conversations about weight, food, and health can be really emotional. I’ve actually found that people open up more if we’re having a [remote] conversation. It creates a little bit of distance between them and me.”

“We’re not sitting together in the same room, and I’m not staring them in the eyes. They have a little bit of space to have that emotional experience. I’ve had people tell me that they’re really surprised that they are able to open up so much because they’ve never opened up so much before. And I really think that’s because of the way in which we’re communicating.”

Sarver swears by remote meetings, and she doesn’t plan to switch back. She gives it plenty of credit for the success of her business which also includes mentorship and consulting for other coaches.

“If you’re going to work for yourself, it’s a lot of work,” Sarver says. “You’re the one who is creating a life for yourself. Web conferencing gives you so many more options.”


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