We’re shining a spotlight on Align Creative Minds, an online small business originated in Toronto, ON, founded by Vitina Blumenthal and Lesley Nimmo. We chat with Vitina and Lesley, who share their journey on how two creative freelancers partnered and launched a business during the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges they faced, as well as the positive impacts that remind them why they started this journey.
Tell me about your business. What is Align Creative Minds and why did you start it?
Lesley: “Vitina actually founded Align Creative Minds a while ago, but we launched during the pandemic. We’ve been working together over the past couple of years and developed an online course called the Online Yoga Biz Blueprint, which starts on March 29, 2022. It helps yoga teachers create thriving and stable online businesses so that they can have more impact on their students while having location and schedule freedom.
We have both run our own individual businesses for several years so we were freelancing and had our own kind of business models. We were at a point in our careers where we were both doing really well and enjoying it, but we found ourselves kind of hitting a bit of a ceiling, doing it all on our own. Also, as freelancers, you’re often exchanging your direct time for money, so it was really hard to scale and imagine a life where we could take time off of work, have a family or anything like that. It felt like you needed to be at your computer all the time. However, we really wanted to expand and take our entrepreneurship to the next level. So our motivation for joining forces – aside from getting to work with one of my best friends – was to increase our positive impact in the world while empowering soul-led and heart-forward businesses, and to have a scalable business model for ourselves, too.”
What was the journey like at the beginning when you joined forces and officially kicked things off? What were some of the first steps you took? How did you feel?
Vitina: “Lesley and I were going to join forces a few years earlier but life and different opportunities got in the way. Finally, we had the chance to sit down and revisit our ideas. We’d go to coffee shops for meetings and we knew that we really wanted to have more of an impact and really change how we did business.
We both attended the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). When I graduated back in 2012, I went to India and did my first yoga teacher training. That shaped and changed my life in many ways. I taught yoga, ran a retreat business, and worked with luxury hotels helping them create a new revenue stream for their hotel in the wellness space.
I discussed with Lesley how yoga teachers were giving up on their dream because they couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Lesley and I have been working in the advertising, marketing, design, branding world for over a decade so we decided to focus on supporting yoga teachers because of the positive impact that yoga creates by helping people heal themselves.”
What specific skills, business processes and business administrative abilities have you learned transitioning from freelancer to business owner?
Vitina: “‘What didn’t we learn?’ is the question! During the transition from being a freelancer, we still had our expenses and overheads, which was a difficult part of the journey. The biggest thing we had to learn was looking at the numbers as creative people. I’ve really enjoyed learning about the financials of running a business – seeing how to reduce costs and where to focus your attention. These are skills that we both did not really have prior to becoming business owners. We knew our skills as designers, but finances and numbers were not our strong suit.”
Lesley: “I would say as a freelancer you can really run around like a chicken with your head cut off until tax season – you just figure it out because you’re one person. However, now we’re a partnership and we’ve got our expenses and investments, so we really need to keep track of the numbers. We started by investing in our business development, hiring mentors and an accountant. At first, we were trying to keep track of our business expenses between both our personal bank accounts as well as our joint bank accounts. It was a challenge to keep track of all the different moving parts of the business, so we needed the right tools to help support us. It was important for us to have a platform that allowed us as visual people to see and understand what was actually going on because now we can’t just deal with it at the end of the year like we used to. Vitina and I both need to stay on top of our finances constantly so I definitely learned to be more organized and proactive rather than reactive towards the end of the year.”
How did you find out about Xero?
Vitina: “Before Xero was in Canada, we used [a different accounting software] and it was my accountant, Mark from FirstCFO, who introduced me to Xero. They showed me the additional value that Xero offers.”
Lesley: “On top of that, we let all of our students know about the great tools that we use, including Xero and how awesome it is to work with. Yogis are very creative people and don’t really want to spend a lot of time on their finances, so we’re really grateful that Xero helps to give us time back in our day.”
How was the transition to Xero?
Vitina: “Moving our accounts over to Xero was a super easy, seamless experience. When we incorporated Align Creative Minds, we just wanted it all to be on one platform. I knew the basics of navigating the Xero platform for what I need so initially we told our accountant what we required for our business. We are based in Canada but we have a lot of US customers so we charge in both Canadian and US dollars, which gets very confusing, so we needed a platform that really supported us with that specifically. For us as an online business dealing with multi currencies, it was a big deal that we could manage both currencies in Xero.”
How are you currently using Xero, and what are the top business tasks that you could not imagine doing without Xero?
Vitina: “I would say tracking expenses is key. It’s super helpful to go through all our expenses each month making life so much easier at the end of the financial year. I would also say invoicing is a great feature in Xero – it’s super seamless. At the end of the day, Xero makes doing taxes painless.”
Do you see a connection between Xero and how you understand your business success?
Lesley: “Vitina sends us our profit and loss statement every month, which really keeps us motivated and clear on how the business is doing. As a freelancer, I knew how much money I was making generally, but now that we’re more in tune with our finances, it informs us on how many sales calls we’re going to need to make this month. Xero gives us more metrics that we’re building forward with.
I was actually avoidant with money before working with Vitina, so learning to be more connected to the business finances has helped me to see the bigger picture and being able to share through Xero allows us to understand the real numbers.”
Vitina: “When it comes to learning any new technology, it can sometimes be frustrating. However, I find that the interface and the ease of use of Xero has turned something that I’m not naturally drawn to doing into a habit I actually enjoy. Having a platform like Xero where we simply have to categorize the transactions coming in makes our life so much easier, and it allows us to focus on making money. Being on top of your finances is really helpful because the bill from the accountant at the end of the year can add up if you haven’t been organized.”
How do you feel about your business prospects in 2022, and beyond? What are you most excited about?
Vitina: “Even though we launched during the pandemic, our gross profits have increased by 600% from 2020 to 2021, which is amazing. When you’re in the first few years of business, you can sometimes see large jumps in gross profits but we’re super proud of what we’ve achieved to date. The initial success of our business allows us to set bigger goals – such as tripling or quadrupling our gross profits this year.
Additionally, the pandemic has caused so many studios to shut down so there is a dire need to pandemic-proof yoga teachers’ livelihood.”
Lesley: “Futurewise for our business, we’ve had the honor of mentoring a great group of Yogis through the Online Yoga Blueprint. We’re onboarding new students at the end of the month and it’s been really cool to see their growth from contractor to yoga entrepreneur providing a deeper impact in their students’ lives. With the world starting to open back up, we’re really excited for these remote business models to thrive from wherever they want to in the world and not deal with client drop-off as people get back to their lives and start traveling again.”
The Small Business Spotlight series helps us understand the mindset of self-made business owners and is a reminder of why Xero is in business – to support and help make life better for those owners so they have more time to focus on their business.