Interview with medical herbalist Pamela Spence

Find out how stressed film and TV producer Pamela Spence went back to university to qualify as a medical herbalist. And how this hasn’t just given her back her quality of life, but enabled her to help others – and landed her an online mini-series on BBC, an article in Hello and a role as herbalist advisor to Twinings.

What’s your career background?

My previous career was in film and television production. I loved it and it was certainly a fast paced lifestyle but I realised it was just about impossible to keep up and have any quality of life. I felt stressed and exhausted all the time and so I had a complete turnaround, went back to university and trained to be a medical herbalist.

I now see patients in the clinic I run with my husband, I teach, write about herbs and have launched a new business as a herbal ingredients expert for industry. My biggest client at the moment is Twinings tea and I work across their international markets helping to develop new herbal products.

How did your career change after having children?

Well, since I am my own boss now it is much easier to run my business around my family’s needs. My little boy is about to start school and I can be there a bit more for him with some tweaks to my schedule.

I used to travel abroad a lot, particularly going to Uganda to teach once a year and I’ve stopped that since he came along. I still travel for work but short stays away only and I think it will stay that way until he is a lot older. 

Where did the idea for your business come from?

When I worked in film and television we worked such long hours that we never managed to see a doctor (unless it was very urgent). So I realised that I, and my colleagues, were really starting to pick up lists of problems we just had to put up with. Most were stress-related.

I started to get interested in natural health and before I knew it I’d have people popping along to my desk to ask for a remedy for this or that. I loved the feeling of being able to help and eventually realised that was what I wanted to do.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I met a really inspiring teacher on a visit to Germany who really fired me up with what natural medicine could achieve. I came home, quit my film and TV job and started to study.

Within a few months I’d enrolled on the Herbal Medicine degree course. The course is very clinically focussed and so at the end of it, having spent all that time and all that money there is really no question that the next step is to start seeing patients.

In time I felt like I wanted to share my knowledge further than one to one sessions, so I started teaching on two professional training courses and in time I was asked to comment in the media too. I also got to make an online mini-series for the BBC which was a lot of fun!

With Plant Potential, my B2B business, I got a call out of the blue from Twinings asking me to come and talk to them about herbal teas. That has grown into an important relationship and launched my new business.

What’s your USP?

That’s different depending on whether I’m speaking to patients or businesses. For patients, I’m very down to earth. My website says I don’t knit my own yoghurt and I eat chips sometimes.

And it’s true. I don’t expect everyone to be eating a perfect diet and exercising daily. I meet them where they are, help them plan a realistic way forward and hold their hand while they get there.

I’m also not against pharmaceutical medicine – but importantly I am trained to work safely alongside it. I don’t  have any premade remedies, everything is made for the individual sitting in front of them. They get time to talk through their health issues and I listen.

For business, the thing that makes me the most useful herbal ingredients expert is that I can advise across all mediums from food to beverages to beauty.

I have a background in copywriting and an understanding of what we can and cannot say on pack. I understand the markets and I know what herbs can really help to deliver functionality in wellness products. But basically I love herbs and I want them to become part of our everyday conversation about health.

Who’s your target audience?

When I see patients in clinic it’s my local area and it’s really any condition that you would go to see a doctor about.

However I am also writing a book specifically for women in their 30s and 40s who are stressed out, reaching burn out and know that they need to change but don’t have the time to figure out what to do about it. Those women make up a large number of my patients.

For businesses it’s companies who are ready to include herbs in their plans to start delivering authentically functional products. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

It’s really mainly word of mouth. Treating one person successfully results in recommendations. Working with one major business means others reach out. 

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

I have honestly never employed one! I have a facebook page where I share my thoughts and articles of interest. But really, doing the work, getting good results and having people recommend me has been the way that my business has built to date.

I think there’s nothing like a personal recommendation – those are gold dust, but you have to be patient because they take time to come through. However, they are also a wonderful validation of the work you are doing so it spurs me on to do the best for every patient I have and every business I work with. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Myself! In the beginning wondering who I was to be speaking from an expert position. One day my husband was so fed up he looked me straight in the eye and said ‘You are no longer the apprentice. Go do it!’ And, as usual, he was right. I stepped up to share what I had learned over the years and so far so good!

And your proudest moment so far?

Can I have two? One would definitely be a piece in Hello Magazine – which was my first in a major publication. My second would be seeing the Twinings Superblends on the supermarket shelves – those are my babies!

Why is work so important to you?

It upsets me when I see people struggling with their health but they don’t know what to do. They aren’t even aware that herbs can help. They feel like there’s nothing can help, or they buy lots of poor quality or badly thought through products that promise the world and deliver nothing.

But herbs can do so much when they are used correctly and I want to stand on the rooftops and shout that out!

Who inspires you?

Other women who are running businesses and managing life. People who are reaching a lot of different communities with their message and helping people improve their situations – not necessarily in terms of health although of course that is my key area.

Folk who use their talents to help, who create a comfortable life for themselves and who do it in an ethical way.

How do you balance your work with your family?

It’s hard sometimes, there’s no denying that and I am always looking for new ways to manage, to remember to take time out and to do some self-care. However I’m getting better at setting boundaries, at saying no to things and prioritising. It’s a journey!

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

My first would be that if it makes your heart sing or sets your soul on fire then just do it! Commit and start.

My second would be that it is really useful to have a job alongside while you start your business if you are like me and you are financially cautious. I worked in a part time salaried job for several years while my business became established and that certainly reduced my stress levels – although it may have been the longer path to take it was right for me.

And my third would be to look into business coaching. It is all very well being a great therapist but you also need to be a business person and that has been something I have only been learning about recently. I can see that if I had known more at the start I would have expanded more quickly and had more systems in place to support me to do the herbal work that I love. 

You can find out more about Pamela Spence on her website.