Healing Springs Wellness Center Founder Shawniel Chamanlal spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about building and growing her mental health and holistic wellness center.

NAN PRICE: Did you always know you wanted to be a business owner? When and why did you launch your company?

SHAWNIEL CHAMANLAL: Yes. We launched in 2018. I’m a clinical social worker, so I started on my own and I had a vision of growing this company to have other therapists work under me with the goal of creating a bigger impact.

I worked for about a year and a half by myself and then I made the decision—the intention—that it was time to hire. I signed a lease on a space in February 2020, just before the world shut down in March.

NAN: Like everyone else, you had to pivot. So, how did you transition?

SHAWNIEL: I decided to keep the space but had to learn how to do counseling online and set up all the technology. There was an increased demand for counseling because everyone was so stressed out when it came to mental health. So, I realized it was time to hire because I couldn’t see all these clients myself.

In October 2020, I hired my first therapist, Alexandria Khoobani, who was one of my peers from Fordham University. At school, when everyone was saying they wanted to work in agency or at a hospital, I was saying I wanted to own my own business. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, even my professors, but Alex always believed in me. When I posted for the job, she decided to come work for me.

We grew fast. By March, I had 10 therapists. I had to learn how to pivot and how to have employees.

NAN: Tell us more about that growth.

SHAWNIEL: Marketing the practice for both therapists and clients was important and intentional. During the pandemic, a lot of therapists were leaving group practices and starting their own business, so, there was a hiring drought. But it didn’t happen for me because I’m always creating my vision and I was in alignment.

I understood the pain points of therapists who were burned out and had worked in agencies. I wanted to create a safe haven for them to put their needs first, improve their self-care, and have autonomy within the practice. That helped people gravitate toward my practice.

My hiring was diverse, including Asian American therapists, Black female therapists, and a Black male therapist, which isn’t that common. When other therapists saw my website, that also helped them gravitate toward the practice and made it easier to hire.

It helps with the clients, too. They want to find therapists who look like them, especially within the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) minority population. One of my taglines is that this is a safe space for people of color to heal and focus on mind, body, and spirit.

NAN: How did you prepare to launch a business? Did you have any experience?

SHAWNIEL: I’m a visionary, so I foresaw that I would have this company. I worked with some coaches and consultants to prepare. I knew I had to pull all the pieces together because in social work school they teach you the theory, but not how to run a business.

NAN: Did you utilize any local resources?

SHAWNIEL: I’m all about resources and being connected. I worked with the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center (EC-WBC) at the University of Hartford and the KNOWNpreneurs Growth Lab in New Haven, which provides mentorship and training for BIPOC-owned businesses in Connecticut.

I also worked with Gina Johnson who’s a holistic business coach. She helped me with branding, marketing, and creating the vision. Dr. Lisa Lovelace, who is out of state, founded Synergy eTherapy, a primarily online therapy practice. I worked with her on that side of the business.

NAN: You’ve been in business for four years. Aside from the pandemic, what have been some of your biggest challenges?

SHAWNIEL: The pandemic was one of those things that makes you question how you grow and thrive in adversity. The world was so stressed out I knew I had to keep going, because mental health was shifting and I knew the work I was doing was important, so with support and love I continued.

I lost my mom in August 2020, and the business started to blow up October 2020. I always go back to my why. I’ve always had this undeniable knowing that I wanted to create an impact and have this practice. So, I anchored myself into that when there were times of challenge and relied on the support of my therapist community and my coaches to help me.

Those were the most major challenges—the pandemic, the loss of my mom, and having a nine-month-old-son. It was the birth of a business and a baby.

As far as the business side, one challenge has been being a minority-owned, woman-owned business and trying to access resources and help clients who may not have the means to pay. That financial resource piece was difficult at times but working with the EC-WBC I got some help with grant writing. I also won the Connecticut Women’s Business Development Council Equity Match Grant, which was helpful.

NAN: Any advice for others who are starting a business?

SHAWNIEL: Always know your why because you’re going to have to anchor into the reason why you’re starting a business—especially when it comes to adversity or challenges, because they’re going to happen. Especially when you’re the CEO of your company.

The other thing is that community is so important. You don’t have to do this alone and you don’t have to wear all the hats. Outsource work, reach out to coaches and consultants who can help you navigate some of these challenges, and have like-minded individuals who you can look to when those challenges happen. Because you may question, why am I doing this? And seeing other people who are doing it will motivate you.

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