Interview with mindfulness coach Anna Wille

Find out how single mum of three Anna Wille built a successful career as a mindfulness coach.

What’s your career background?

I have had a very diverse career over the last 25 years, spanning Training and Development, Interior Design, Primary Teaching and Mindfulness Coaching.

Having been raised in the world of restaurants and hotels, after completing my degree in French and German at Bristol Uni, initially I dreamt of being a hotel general manager, so I completed a Hotel Management Postgrad Diploma and started working at the Four Seasons in Hyde Park Corner.

Sadly my role in reservations felt claustrophobic and limiting, as my contact with people was over the phone and I craved face to face interactions.

Inspired by an earlier placement in HR, I took a role in Training at an Inter.Continental Hotel, and which allowed me to help others grow and progress towards their goals.

By the time I was 26 I was Training Manager on the Hotel’s Executive Committee and had guided the hotel successfully through the Investors in People Award, as well as organising the first ever team development event for all 400 staff. 

In 1998 I moved to Arthur Andersen to manage Training for the 700 UK consulting staff. Thanks to speaking five languages, I was soon promoted to a European role, working with HR teams across 10 countries to create development initiatives for over 3500 staff. Until becoming a Mindfulness coach, this was the role I most enjoyed in my career.

Shortly after our wedding, my husband was moved to Argentina, where aged 30 I worked for Arthur Andersen HR in Buenos Aires, Santiago and Sao Paulo, developing cohesion in teams across the three countries.

Sadly due to the collapse of the Argentine government we had to return to the UK with our 11 week old baby girl. Keen to learn a new skill during my maternity leave, I completed an Interior Design course, which allowed me to express my creativity.

I returned to HR for a short while, working at Rabo Bank for a year managing learning and development for 700 staff, but the desire to be my own boss now that I had a child, was strong, so I left to start my own design and project management business. This new career allowed me the flexibility to work around my daughter’s needs.

I went on to have my son, who made many a site visit with me so that I could continue to breastfeed him, and then my second daughter, who was just 10 weeks old when I resumed interiors projects while being a mother to three children under six.

An opportunity to move to Portugal (where my mother is from) arose, so my family and I lived there for three years, during which time I opened a reclaimed teak furniture shop, while managing interiors projects helping expats set up and decorate their homes.

We bought a house of our own and carried out significant work there too. It was a hard three years financially and relationship-wise, which ended with me returning alone to the UK with my three children, partly due to the global recession.

At that point I was in a bit of a career lull. Keen for some security as a single mother I took on a role in learning and development at Selfridges, which sadly didn’t match my previous exciting roles in HR in Rabo, AA or Inter.Con.

So, while tutoring my eldest for her 11+, I decided to retrain as a teacher. I wanted to teach English at secondary but wasn’t able to as I didn’t have a degree in English (a degree in foreign literature wasn’t deemed enough!) so I trained to teach 7-11 years olds instead at Roehampton Uni, which was thoroughly enjoyable although required huge amounts of help from my mother and husband because of the time commitments of the full-time PGCE and teaching placements.

I used my previous love for art and design by majoring in teaching the curriculum through art. Regrettably I was bullied by my headteacher during my first year as a teacher, and that year my now ex moved on with someone else after three years of trying to rekindle our marriage, which resulted in me quitting my job and becoming depressed for tearful four months. 

It was then that I discovered Mindfulness, which became career part four and my second business. Two weeks into an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course I stopped crying and by Christmas I was depression free.

Given my recent work in education and aware of the stresses that children face with entrance exams and modern life in general, I decided to train as a primary mindfulness teacher with the Mindfulness In Schools Project and my new business was born.

I went on quickly to train as a secondary mindfulness teacher (the course for which I also teach to parents and teachers) and eventually as a teacher of the eight-week course that had got me back on track.

Over the last five years I have worked in 20 schools as well as running courses from home, at Virgin Active, and hosting retreats in Cornwall, Portugal and Zanzibar and have now taught over 4000 people aged 3 to 75. My main aim is to provide people with the self-esteem, presence and self-motivation skills to allow them to be happy and driven towards their dream life.

How did you get your business off the ground?

The business grew initially by simply using old school methods of writing to 100 schools in a five mile radius of my house. Two schools replied immediately and asked me to teach there then shared my details with other schools. Schools also ‘found’ me via the MiSP website map of qualified teachers.

Other schools came to hear about my work when I visited them to teach the six-week Parentgym course that I became accredited in four years ago. 

What’s your USP?

My USP is to teach people to use their breath, so that they can accept and love themselves free of self-judgment, so that they can live with awareness of each moment and consequently can lead a life that their heart desires, unapologetically, especially for those who have been knocked down or deflated by life’s challenges.

Clients tell me that I make them feel safe and heard and valuable. The find a new appreciation of their worth and are energised by this.

Who is your target audience?

My focus is now moving away a little from schools (which should have in-house teachers really) to coaching adults who need reminding that they are amazing either 1:1, on eight-week courses, on day workshops and my retreats, so that they can grow in all areas of their lives.

I have also written a book about my journey and transformation and am looking for a publisher.

How have you spread the word about your business?

As mentioned I sent letters off to start with and did that on a yearly basis until last year but now I am invited to present at Head Teachers’ conferences in SW London so will drop the letter-based marketing.

I have recently had my site redesigned and use instagram, a newsletter to 400 subscribers, LinkedIn and Facebook to market my services.

I have also presented at the Mindful Living Show 2018 and 2019, where I was marketing my ‘Mindfulness Shuffle – 50 fun activities for teachers and families’ which I was asked to write by LDA Findel publishers.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

My most successful marketing strategy has been to market my various offerings in all the settings I am asked to work in – when I am asked to teach a class I offer to teach the parents and teachers too.

Most of my 1:1 and retreat clients started off on a five-week mindful parenting course.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in building your business?

My biggest obstacle has been juggling being a single mum of three, while caring for a mum with dementia and trying to double my income so that I can pursue MY dreams.

Also some people don’t have a clear understanding of what mindfulness is and how it is beneficial (too many colouring books causing confusion!), so sometimes the obstacle to gaining new clients is clarifying how I can help.

And your proudest moment to date?

My proudest moments are:-receiving my first copy of Mindfulness Shuffle in my hand and knowing I had been published-reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro last week, which I climbed to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Society (£3k) and test my mindfulness/resilience.

Why is work so important to you?

My work is really important to me for a variety of reasons. Working with the young is essential because too many are depressed by 13 (or even self-harming).

Working with adults is important because I meet too many people who have been knocked down or back by life, who lack the self-love, peace of mind and self-motivation to get back on track to the life they dream of. I am grateful that I found my feet again in 2014 and want to help others do the same. 

I am also really keen to help other dementia carers, and so am running courses for Alzheimer’s Society members as well as head office. Finally I dream of finding a collaborator to help make affordable mindfulness courses accessible to every uni student in the UK, to combat the number of student suicides each year.

Who inspires you?

I am generally inspired by people who use past pain to help others, such as Louise Hay and Oprah Winfrey, and by spiritual guides such as Eckart Tolle and Gabby Bernstein. And my book was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert.

How do you balance work and family?

I balance work with my family by working hard term time and trying to take most of the holidays off. I work from 6.30am and after family dinner as well as during the weekends when they are with friends or their dad, to stay on top of things.

And finally, what are your top three tips for ambitious women?

My three top tips would be:

  1. Don’t feel you have to justify following your urges and dreams, just do it, it’s your life.
  2. Don’t be scared to leave something old to start something new – humans crave newness.
  3. If you have a story to share share it – it is likely to help someone else struggling with what you have got through.

You can find out more about Anna’s work on her website.