Lisa Howell

IIP 017: The Little White Lie That Created A $500,000 Business

Inspiring Innovation Podcast
Inspiring Innovation Podcast episode 017 Get it on iTunes

For Lisa Howell, founder of ‘Perfect Form Physio’ and ‘The Ballet Blog’, her $500,000 business all started with some lucky circumstances, and a little white lie.

But Lisa’s story and interview is much more than a “normal” inspiring-entrepreneurial-story of seizing an opportunity and putting hours over hours into building a successful business.

Lisa was willing to share with us, in the most honest and sincere way, a part of an entrepreneur’s life that is rarely discussed in the open. If you often find yourself reading about all these success stories, thinking, “this guy/girl was born for this, but I wasn’t”, and wonder if you have what it takes to see similar success – today’s episode is for you.

Lisa shares the “dark side” of entrepreneurship; fighting fears and doubts, self sabotaging your own success, countless nights of no sleep, and how it all affects you, your close ones, your health, relationships and happiness. And most importantly – how to deal with it, making the required changes to let you really enjoy your journey, and your success.

Lisa Howell
Lisa Howell

The Beginning

“I’ve been a healer for my entire life”, she tells me.
Growing up in New Zealand, she started massaging when she was 8 years old. She used to take her cousin, who has Downs Syndrome, into the pool and try to teach her how to move, because she saw she didn’t move like the other kids.
As a young child she dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer, and she was dancing from a young age. Around the age of thirteen she was told that she was going to be too big to become a professional dancer. Although she never became a professional ballerina, Lisa already acquired many of the characteristics of a dancer; perfectionism, the need to always be in control, and the appreciation of how things are done and look.

When it was time for her to go to college, her father, an art teacher, encouraged her to study something more “scientific” and keep her love of art as a hobby. So Lisa who had, “a burning passion for beautiful things, especially for design”, ended up studying physiotherapy.

Lisa felt that there had to be so much more than what she was seeing in the mainstream system, and despite doing well with her studies struggled to find inspiration in what she was doing. After Graduating she took off to Australia, with no specific plans, except for secretly planning to return to NZ to pursue what she thought was her real dream; design.

Lisa Howell treating a young ballerina

Finding Your Calling And Your Passion

In 2001 Lisa arrived to Australia and was sharing a flat with a friend, a fellow Physiotherapist. This is where “chance” started creating her path to what later became her business and life goal. Her flatmate rang a local clinic about doing their Pilates course, but they had no openings for her. The owner did mention that she was actually looking for a new physiotherapist, but they need to have  a love and passion for dance. Considering her background, Lisa was the perfect candidate. And indeed, she got the job on the spot.

Within six months, Lisa realized that in the combination of the dance arts and physiotherapy (healing), she had found her passion and was finally loving what she was doing.

Working in that clinic Lisa saw many common and recurring ballet injuries. She was doing assessments for young dancers to see if they were ready to move to Pointe Shoes on a daily basis – and kept finding the same issues, problems, and injuries, again, and again, and again. Finally, she asked her boss if she could create a workshop for dance teachers. Lisa figured that by teaching the teachers, they would be better equipped to handle these commons problems. Her boss thought that it was bad idea — her reason being that if teachers were able to do assessments on their own – why would they send in any clients?

So, the idea was set aside, but not for long.

Pointe Shoes
Pointe Shoes. Photo by: ©Rotem Zarfati

Congratulations, You’re Unemployed!

After a couple of years, over-expansion and under-utilization was driving the clinic out of business. When Lisa asked for a pay raise she was turned down. She made a decision to start phasing out of the clinic, and set a goal of working 3 days a week from home treating friends and family by the end of the year.
Returning from a family visit in New Zealand, she came back and after just a week back at work, was devastated when the clinic was suddenly shut down. Although she knew things were not going well, Lisa was surprised, and understandably – freaked out.

She called her boyfriend, an entrepreneur who was on a business trip to Santorini at the time, and told him she lost her job. His reply:


Lisa already had all the insurance, tax work, and other papers ready and set for her extra-room “home clinic”. So she contacted all the dance schools she was working with, updated them about the situation and offered her services. She also took a side-job to make ends meet, but within weeks she was fully booked at home. Then “lucky” circumstances found her again: When a friend of hers heard that she had lost her job, she gave her a surprising offer. The friend, a doctor, owned a clinic with another partner who has just recently passed away. She offered Lisa her partner’s room within the practice. Lisa took that offer, and suddenly – she had her own clinic.

Lisa howell treating young dancer

The Little White Lie

As time passed, the new clinic was doing well. Lisa had more patients than she could ever take care of, but still she was frustrated at seeing the same problems over and over again. Her idea of creating something — a guide, or even just a leaflet to give away to dancers to help them learn more — awoke. She wanted to teach all the dances she couldn’t treat how to take care of their own body to prevent these common issues. So, she began writing, jotting down notes, sketching, and planning how she could do this.

When she told her boyfriend about her idea, he (having experience in Internet marketing) told her she should make an ‘e-book’ out of it. Lisa, who only recently got her first laptop (secondhand), had no idea what he was talking about!
When he explained that’s it’s a PDF file that people will buy on her website – she didn’t believe him. “Why would anyone pay for a PDF document?!”, she kept asking. But he insisted. He sent her to the 30 Day Challenge; an online course that teaches how to start and market your first online business. There, Lisa learned about keyword research and decided to check if there was a market for her e-book. There was none.

It was a dead-end.

No one in the world was searching for such product.

She called her boyfriend and told him about her research. He said to her, “Lisa, you must have done the research wrong. I already checked it out and it’s looking great.” (Only years later did Lisa find that this was a ‘tiny white lie’; her boyfriend never bothered with checking!) Him being the professional, she agreed, and started working diligently on the book. Being a perfectionist she took her time, trying to make everything “beautiful and right”. Finally, he gave her an ultimatum: finish the book and publish it – or we’re done!

Days later, with an ugly website that was more appropriate for “the latest diet pill” than a self-respecting physiotherapist, and a digital book that still had a few spelling mistakes – Lisa launched. Her book sold 9 copies at $47 a piece on her first day.
This was a crucial lesson – sometimes, you just have to SHIP. (This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, by Guy Kawasaki: “Entrepreneurship is entrepreneur + ship. Without shipping, you’re not an entrepreneur”). Even though she cringes when she thinks about that ugly sales page, it was the first step to a prospering online business. That book carries on selling steadily till this day.

Handling Competition

While preparing to launch, Lisa was doing some market research, and stumbled upon an American lady that had similar products. She was about to give up, declaring that, “someone else is already doing this!”, when her boyfriend told her: “Lisa, make friends with her. Buy all of her products. Learn more about her. She’s your ally!”.
She did, and that lady, Deborah Vogel, ended up becoming a dear friend and sharing Lisa’s book with her entire mailing list. A snowball effect started. Suddenly, people were talking and asking about the book in forums all around the Internet.

Her boyfriend was right: there was a huge hunger and need for her book.

Ballet Dancer Photo

Growing The Business

Although the book was giving the knowledge needed to get dancers ready for pointe shoes quicker and safer, it still stated that a professional assessment was needed before the dancer could be considered ready. Teachers were contacting Lisa all the time, telling her that there were no local physiotherapists or professionals that knew anything about ballet to do the assessments. This was the cue to finally create the product she wanted to create years ago, when she was working at the old clinic: a system for teachers that would empower them to do 95% of the assessments needed — on their own. This was the beginning of her best-selling product, “The Perfect Pointe System“.

Over the next few years the business grew; Lisa developed more online products, helping thousands of dancers and teachers all around the world. She opened up another clinic, and now has nine local staff members, five of them physiotherapists. Her team now runs workshops all around the world; New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, United Kingdom, Spain, United States, and more.

Lisa notices that every time she released a new product to the world, she would personally grow to “the next level” in her own understanding and knowledge. The more “secrets” she was sharing with the world via her blog, workshops, and books – the more understanding she gained. Each new product, blog post, and session, got her closer to her ultimate goal of serving as a healer.

During the interview, she mentions a young teenager from Sweden, who was born with an issue that prevented her from walking normally. Her mother put her in ballet lessons, hoping it would help. The ballet teacher gave the teenager Lisa’s book. Within months the girl was walking normally for the first time in her life. Those kinds of stories are the ultimate goal for Lisa in her business, and are the reason she is sharing so much information that others keep for themselves.

“While some teachers try to only take care of their own group of students, to make sure that they rise to the top — I don’t have one group of students. I have students and teachers that need this knowledge all around the world, and I want to help all of them”.

The Dark Side Of Entrepreneur’s Life Style

Though considered to be a very successful business owner / entrepreneur, one thing hasn’t changed: Lisa was still a control freak, and a perfectionist. While the book was generating a steady income of over $30,000 annually, and the combination of the web part of the business and the two clinics was bringing in together over $500,000 annually, Lisa was crashing. She was never able to enjoy, or even realize, her success. The endless amounts of to do’s, administrative support, customer complaints, shipments lost, employee vacations, forms, taxes, insurances… Everything was too overwhelming.

When I met Lisa in August 2012, she couldn’t take it anymore.

We met at Ed Dale’s mastermind group, in Melbourne, Australia. I still remember how amazed I was when I saw the dissonance between her achievements, and the words she was using to describe them. I was shocked that someone so successful, could not see her own success. That someone who makes that amount of money could be miserable.
I looked at her, and saw so much of my own behavior – the perfectionism, being a control freak. It was the first time in my life that I realized that those traits were not benefiting me, but rather setting me on the same path to despair.

Lisa Howell Perfect Form Physio

Lessons Learned

Lisa and I talked a lot after that day, and I told her I want this lesson to be shared with you, my readers. This is why the major part of today’s interview is a conversation about this beast: What happens when stress is unmanaged? When self-doubts, fear of success, and self sabotage aren’t addressed? How can you change that?
For Lisa, every layer of her life was suffering. Relationships, family, health – were all being affected.

First of all, Lisa learned that she had to let go. She has to let others do the work. She had to delegate and trust others to follow through. That was the biggest change for her, and seeing her going through this has inspired me to go through the same process myself.

Lisa re-learned an old forgotten lesson – the importance of systems and of being organized. Systems are the enablers of delegation. They allow you to let go of the control while knowing exactly what results you will get – every single time. They make results reliable while freeing you from running the process.

Other lessons Lisa wanted to share include making time and space to be thankful to people around you; Your family, friends, and close ones, who support you through your journey. Your employees, accountants, graphic designers, VA’s, etc. – The people who put their life out to help you build yours. It’s easy, she says, especially when times are hard, to forget how much of a role they have in your success, and they deserve hearing, ESPECIALLY in those hard times – your gratitude.

She emphasizes the importance of getting enough sleep (counter intuitive to most aspiring entrepreneurs — let’s admit that!) and of taking care of your body; paying attention to your nutrition, fitness and health.

The Future

When asked what her ultimate goal is, Lisa says she wants to see people empowered in their own bodies. People becoming responsible and capable of their own healing. It mostly takes getting the right information to people, she explains. There’s no reason for the “common back pain”, or recurring injuries. “The body is constantly regenerating, and you have a total capacity to change your body completely, depending on the messages you feed it with”.

I can only hope that Lisa’s message will reach as many people possible, and inspires others to share their life-changing knowledge with the world.
Evidently, it’s also a terrific business model! 😉

In this episode you will learn:

  • How Lisa built her $500,000 business.
  • Lisa’s lessons and tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.
  • How the success affected Lisa, and how she got over her fear of it.
  • The hardships, fears, doubts and self sabotage that every entrepreneur faces.
  • Why sometimes keyword research and market research is not the right validation.
  • How a white lie, told by Lisa’s boyfriend, led her to this amazing success.

Items mentioned in this episode include:

If you enjoyed this episode

If you enjoyed today’s episode, please show Lisa your gratitude by leaving her a comment on this post. Right here. Thanks! 🙂

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[spoiler title=”Episode 017″]Still in progress, please come back later![/spoiler]

23 thoughts on “IIP 017: The Little White Lie That Created A $500,000 Business”

  1. Thanks so much Lisa for sharing your story. Love your ideas and products but also to learn of some of your struggles was very uplifting and that you are now learninng to enjoy your successing is fabulous. Learning that we cant always do everything ourselves and “perfectly” is a big one for those of us who have been brought up with a ballet background and one which Im personally still working on. Keep your vision Lisa 😀

    1. Thanks Shona! It’s been a long and trying path, but the vision and the commitment are stronger than the trials. It was easy talking to Meron, but actually letting him post it online for everyone to hear was challenging! But I though it would be good for the young ones to know that it’s not always fun and games, and it’s the challenges along the way that shape who we are as beings on this earth. Glad to be able to share a little more of me with the world. Have a beautiful week, and thanks for listening all the way through and commenting! xx

  2. Thanks for such a humble and honest glimpse into your life & work Lisa. I’m just starting out in a similar stream working with dancers as a counsellor, and passionate about getting the word out to the dance-world that there is a better way, how your mental & emotional health can really impact your performance ability – perfectionism is HUGE! (Me too! I’m struggling just to get a blogpost out without spending weeks on it! Haha) 😉 So your insights are a real gift. Thank you! Hope to meet you one day. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Philippa! I would love to have more info on what you are starting to do as it is a HUGE area. One that I am personally very aware of, and one that we often feel we have to overstep our professional training to do to support our clients, as there is so little professional support for them, from someone who “gets it”. The dance world is very, very challenging, even at an amateur level, and as students push towards a professional career it gets more and more intense. However I find very, very few students actually seek out any psychological help. Coming to a Physiotherapist seems to be much easier than going to a Psychologist, which is why we often end up dealing with the deeper emotional layers of injury, stress and mental health issues (before referring them on when an issue is fiunally acknowleged). I also encourage all of my students who are planning on going overseas to see a performance Psychologist before they go, to get practical tools and techniques to help them cope with the intense demands of a competative environment, especially in a foreign country. Thanks for your support, and glad to hear that you liked the podcast! xx

      1. Hi Lisa, thanks for your interest. It’s true that most dancers don’t seek psychological help, although its very important! (I actually wrote a blog on this last month:
        I’m hoping to use the online platform to make it easier for dancers to access support and learn to help themselves, through online workbooks and talks etc. I’ll PM you to let you know more. 🙂 Philippa

        1. Hey Phillipa – Thanks! Just had a quick look at your site and everything sounds great! Would you mind if I shared that post with my readers?

          Thanks so much for what you are doing – its so badly needed and I’m excited to see that someone so intimately aware of the needs of dancers is providing it.

          xx Lisa

  3. Hi Meron and Lisa .

    That was one of the best podcasts I’ve heard for quite a while . Many times we tend to focus on the success and forget about the hardships and the struggles.

    Glad to see you figured it out , in the end .

    Be healthy and smile !

    1. Hey Ilias!
      Thanks so much. Lisa had doubts over sharing her story and whether it’d be of interest to others – so thanks for proving her that it has MASSIVE VALUE!!!!

      We need to catch up on Skype my friend!

      Be awesome!

    2. Thanks so much Ilias!

      Its still definitely a work in progress, but I am enjoying the challenges again, and really appreciate my team, and all of the wonderful people who helped me through such a difficuilt time.

      Meeting Meron at the conference, and him pulling me aside to talk was really a powerful catalyst to change. I didnt realise how obvious it was to the outside world that I was struggling… I thought I was doing a really good job of keeping it all inside! His compassion and support made it easy to admit that no, I was not ok, but also that I had all of the skills needed to make it different. He is now an amazing friend who always manages to make me thankful for what is here and excited for the future 🙂

  4. Lisa,
    this was a phenomenal episode!
    To be quite frank, I’m getting a bit tired of hearing and reading about all the successful people who achieve so much – I always ask myself “what’s next?”. It can’t be that the only hard part of getting to the top is the climb up – isn’t staring down from the top of the mountain is even more frightening?
    Your story inspired me, not JUST because you made a business out of helping heal the world, bust also because you make a point out of doing it with full awareness and responsibility to do it right – both for your clients and yourself.
    Thank you for being such an inspiration – you ROCK!:)

    1. Thanks Julie!

      I was the same – which is why I was initially nervous about talking about my struggles. I thought taht I was the dud one, having a hard time when everyone else found it so easy. I figured that I must be doing something wrong, and had to fix that before I told my story…

      And yes… Standing at the top of a hill (I wouldnt call it a mountain just yet..!) Is scary! As the business grows, so do the bills, and the base level of income needed to keep the whole hamster wheel turning gets scarily large… Especially when you have a business that is as labour intense as mine.

      Im glad to hear that my sense of responsibility is also heard and valued! Sometimes I do wish that I could just “be businesslike” and not worry about so many things, but I have learnt that it is simply par-for-the-course for me… I must do it in a nice way or else I feel actually physically sick! hahaha

      Glad to be of service!


  5. Great session once again. I’m an hour behind on my work now Meron, I blame you!!! 🙂 No seriously loving the podcast. Keep up the good work.

    1. THANK YOU NICK 🙂 I’ll happily take the blame for that! Didn’t the national anthem totally improve the show? Should I keep it?

  6. Great episode, Meron and Lisa. Thanks, Meron, for giving Lisa the opportunity to tell her story, and thanks, Lisa, for sharing your story with us. I think it’s a very inspiring story because you talk about how starting a business isn’t necessarily always a bed of roses but that if you persevere you can get to where you want to be and be very happy. The biggest take away for me was what you said about learning how to not do everything yourself and letting go of being a perfectionist. This is something that I struggle with and need to work on myself 🙂 So thank you for the insight you provided.

    1. Melissa, thank your so much for your comment. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you for letting me know of the technical troubles that you had with commenting, and spending the time to help iron it out. You are great. Thank you!

      Being a perfectionist myself – I agree it’s one of the hardest things to let go of. Especially when early events and circumstances in life shape you that way – at least that’s the case for me, for all sorts of reasons all starting in my early years. It’s tough. Really is. But deciding to face the beast is a great start! 🙂

      Lisa, when you read this, I want you to know that Melissa wrote this comment 3 times on 3 different days due to technical problems that my blog was giving her. That’s how much your story means to the world. I hope you’ll never stop sharing it. Thanks again for being on the show!

    2. Thanks so much Melissa! And thank you for persevering with the post! It was hard for me to let Meron post this, because again I was admitting that I was not perfect, and was letting the world into a very personal struggle, but somehow he made it all ok…

      The initial letting go was like dumping a huge sack of bricks that I had been dragging for ages, but the follow on process has been a more gradual and elegant letting go. Things I never realised I was holding onto are gently slipping away as I become more comfortable and confident in just being as I am. It’s a beautiful feeling.

      All I can recommend is to try letting go of the little things. See what is really important to you and what you want to hold, and what things are just things that you would like, rather than need… When we are in the performance world, and everything is always a dramatic buiild up to a ‘perfect’ performance we can try do do this in our life. Realistically, I had to acknowledge that no, it dosent really matter if that email gets sent out on friday rather than thursday, and no, the world is not going to stop if I have a typo in a free report… While I would love for every ‘i’ to be dotted, and every ‘t’ to be crossed, the ROI of every action needs to be assessed, and sometimes its just not enough.

      Funnily enough, when I started letting go of all of these things… They started happening naturally, or people apeared to do them for me, so now the process is much more effortless.

      I hope this helps you find your own path to that same flow state 😉


      1. Thanks so much for your response, Lisa, and for the pointers. They are much appreciated! Best of luck in your future success.

  7. In the words of the recently passed-on ballet master David Howard, “Life is not about winning, its about giving. When you give, you win.”
    Lisa lives this way and she is has become a huge source of inspiration for me. Having had my own physical and mental melt-down after 25 years of teaching ballet and managing a studio, I can identify with her struggles with perfectionism, the perceived need to control everything constantly and the desire to do more and more for others while unwittingly neglecting one’s own health and close relationships.
    I am so grateful to Lisa for her courage to be candid about these struggles. I came across her blog a few years back and used her videos often with my own students, all the time assuming that she was completely confident of her every move and bulletproof. This podcast shows her as very human. Her journey and her willingness to share it with others are a powerful lesson.
    In large part because of Lisa’s example, I have recently started my own ballet blog, eager to share some of what I’ve learned about ballet with others. Life is short and I don’t want to die without having given to others what I have to give, just like Lisa is doing. Many thanks to you both.

    1. Hi Colleen! Thank you so much for your post – and for letting me know about your new site! Please share the link so that I can check it out.

      I completely agree with David, and I’m so sad I never got to meet him in person before he passed. An extraordinary man who have so much right to the end.

      Please share your wisdom with the world. So many in the dance world hold their secrets do close to their chest, and there is a wealth of information that could help so many others that is held back. When I first started doing what I do, people were shocked that I would give away all of my knowledge. And I was terrified about putting it out there because of the reaction that I might get, or that I would be judged by other health professionals, or say something wrong.

      The funny thing is, as I have shared, my learning always takes a giant leap forward. It’s like by releasing some piece of information, a space is created for a deeper, richer understanding to develop. I continue to learn every day, and sometimes cringe when I read what I wrote in 2005! But it’s all a big learning curve and I am so grateful to all of the people who made it possible for me to do what I do.

      Believe me – I am far from bullet proof! I constantly question myself and wonder sometimes if it is all worth it. I have this weird way of actually being able to shut out all of the successes and achievements and seem to only see the hard things. With the help of some amazing and supportive friends I am now able to see this, and am actually making a little book with visual reminders of what I have achieved, and comments from others, to turn to when I feel down. It’s those times that are the hardest – when sites are crashing, people are complaining and staff are sick. But that’s also when you find your true strength.

      Thanks again for sharing – and please post the link to your blog!!

      Warmest regards


  8. Oops! Typo! David Howard GAVE so much!!! Silly predictive text!! But in saying that, because he gave, he also received, so technically “he have so much”!!


  9. Dear Meron and Lisa,

    thank you so much for this episode! I know my comment is late but I am so grateful I had to reply. Lisa your story has given me inspiration at a time when I am feeling lost. We (my husband and I) have recently embarked on a journey to start a physiotherapy business in Perth. I know in my head that it is early days but the anxiety and stress of it not working is making me feel like we should give up. Getting the word out there and gaining clients are seeming impossible, I expected it to be slow but not quite so stagnant. We have four young children so the financial stress feels like a time bomb. The accumulation of these negative feelings is slowly drifting us away for our original dream and we are starting to make desperate decisions. I feel like our vision is worth fighting for, I can see it coming together one day.

    Thank you for sharing your story, it will carry me through for a little longer. If you have any further advice about starting out I am so very appreciative!

    Kindest regards, Mia

    1. Thank you for this comment, Mia!

      I feel your pain. It is not easy, especially not with 4 children! Power to you for making this change. You are, yourself, quite inspiring!

      I don’t know what tips Lisa will offer – but your message made me think of a recent interview I had – IIP031: How To Grow Your Own Giant Pumpkin, And Become A Successful Entrepreneur — which is all about growing a business when very short on time and income, while making it something that’s truly unique and different than the competition. I hope you will check it out – and please let me know your thoughts.

      Keep us posted on how the business is going – and don’t give up!!


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