Umm Sakeenah (Kate Hepburn) is a certified nutrition consultant and an event organizer. She is the founder of Healthy Muslimah, a blog about health and wellness and holistic living. She is dedicated to helping others live with purpose, focus and find clarity in a world full of distractions. Kate is aiming to pursue a master’s in psychology.
I was honored to interview her last year about holistic living, and today, I’m truly happy to have the opportunity to interview her about her entrepreneurship journey.
– Assalaam ‘alaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh Sister Kate. Thank you for the opportunity for yet another interview. How are you doing sis?
Waleikum as salaam wa rahmatullah wa barrakhatu sister, thank YOU for inviting me to do another interview. It’s an honour to have the opportunity again. Alhamdullilah, I’m well and looking forward to the next few weeks as I’ll be visiting family and getting some quality time and much needed rest and relaxation. In shaa Allah. How are you doing sis?
– Alhamdulillah. I’m doing very well. Thanks for asking.
For those who may not know you, please tell us a little more about yourself.
Hmm, ok, a little about me … So, some of you may know me as Kate, others may have seen me use Umm Sakeenah (Umm Sakeenah is my pen name for my book Then and Now, Food in the Time of the Prophet and Food Now, and the name I have started using with Healthy Muslimah). For those who aren’t familiar with me at all, I’m the founder of the Healthy Muslimah platform which includes Healthy Muslimah, The Healthy Muslimah Summit, the Then and Now Project, Get Ready for Ramadan and my newest project Finding Sakeenah.
I’m a qualified nutrition consultant, as you said, but above all else, I am a Muslimah with a deep love of SIMPLIFYING – everything! The world we are living in is becoming increasingly busy and distracting and I believe that simplifying, cutting back the noise, getting back to basics and the example we have in our Prophet is the key to ease, tranquility and our ultimate success. It is this simplification that is the common thread between all Healthy Muslimah’s projects – from food and nutrition, to lifestyle, the environment, how we think, preparing for Ramadan, how we work and do business and everything in between.
– What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
I have to be honest, I don’t really think of myself as an entrepreneur – more a solopreneur with an eye to automating and outsourcing, developing a team and embracing the role of entrepreneurship in 2020. I am very much still on the journey but what that means to me with the work I am doing is to be able to take something I love, something I care about, that I believe in (and that I believe has beneficial social impact). It is also about turning that passion and cause into something that is financially viable – enabling me to live the life I promote, to be able to share more, give back more, and ultimately be of greater service to others, without burning out because I am doing everything myself (which yes, has been an issue in the past).
– What inspired you to pursue entrepreneurship?
It’s funny. I never really planned to turn Healthy Muslimah into a business as such. When I started out, I saw Healthy Muslimah as a cause; not a business. A change in life circumstances as well as realizing that blogs cost a lot to run, in time, money and resources, propelled me into shifting Healthy Muslimah in a business direction.
– What inspired you to pursue health and wellness; especially holistic living?
I have always been interested in natural living. I grew up in Africa, bare foot, climbing trees, playing in mud, fishing and basically living a very outdoorsy natural lifestyle. So this way of living is very much in my blood. My decision to pursue health and nutrition was sparked off when I discovered just how corrupt our food system was and how it was affecting our health. This almost exactly coincided with my conversion to Islam and realizing that so many others, just like me, had no idea what was going on with our food.
Alhamdullilah, Allah put the desire to share what I had learned with others, all praise is to Him. So I came up with the idea to start Healthy Muslimah, charged ahead and then my plans came to a grinding halt as I realized I didn’t have the knowledge I needed to be able to tell accurate from inaccurate and share information responsibly (and you know how much misinformation there is out there when it comes to health and nutrition). I put everything on pause while I enrolled in a holistic nutrition course, studied for 2 years, and once I was qualified, I kicked Healthy Muslimah into full gear, then the rest is history.
– Holistic living … Please elaborate on this. And how is that translated from an Islamic perspective?
Holistic living is about viewing ourselves as a whole that is made up of different elements: physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. This is the very essence of what Islam teaches us: to take care of ourselves from all of these levels. Alhamdullilah, the Creator knows what the creation needs and Allah has not left us to wander blindly trying to figure out how to live a holistically healthy life – we have all the guidance we need in the Quan and the sunnah: How to eat, sleep, how to create rest in our hearts, the importance of family and community connections, the importance of sisterhood, the importance of knowledge and practice of our deen and everything in between.
Holistic living and holistic self-care is about doing those things that keep us healthy in all of these areas and trying to keep them in balance. We are extremely out of balance in one area, it tends to throw balance out in other areas as well. Of course, perfect balance is not our goal as our lives are constantly shifting just as our eeman does, and that’s ok. To live holistically is to be aware of those shifts, to monitor anything that is being neglected or done excessively and to try and bring them back into greater balance.
Holistic living is key in entrepreneurship because what can easily happen if we aren’t careful (and I have experienced this personally) is that work can take over and your life can end up seriously out of balance. This is especially a risk if your work is something that you are passionate and care deeply about. We have to be constantly vigilant about maintaining boundaries and balance – everything must have its time, place and limitations. If work is taking us away from or causing us to neglect responsibilities that Allah has placed upon us (like delaying prayer for example, or not calling your parents because you’re ‘too busy’), we have to reassess, adjust and realign ourselves, placing pleasing Allah as our priority. Everything else follows that.
– You’re a nutrition consultant. How did you go from talking about nutrition to holistic living? What’s the difference?
I actually opened and ran a health spa in my early 20s and I think that’s when I first became aware of just how much people, especially women, are struggling and the importance of holistic health. The nutrition course that I did was also holistically based – it was primarily about food and therapeutic nutrition, but also incorporated lifestyle and mindset. It didn’t take me long once I started speaking to clients to realise that when it came to health and wellness, food and nutrition were just the tip of the iceberg. There was a whole lot going on under the surface. Without addressing the drivers and lifestyle elements that were contributing to food behavior, disease, and a lack of overall health and wellness.
The ‘everything else’ was made up of so many things – emotional struggles, trauma, lack of self-worth, challenging relationships, a difficult home environment, stress, overwhelm and much more.
What I quickly realized is that, while food and nutrition are important, these factors such as stress, social disconnection, spiritual disconnection and many others things are just as important as what we eat. To embrace a life of health and wellness means to take care of ourselves and nourish ourselves in all of these areas, one small and simple step at a time. And to facilitate change, healing and growth, we need to look at people as a whole rather than focusing on just one small part of that whole.
– When you started your journey, what did you want to achieve?
When I started Healthy Muslimah, I really just wanted to share health and nutrition information for the sake of Allah. I wanted to also help people around the world get better, feel better and avoid the corruption of the food system and unnecessarily developing entirely preventable food-related illnesses. When I shifted to a more business mindset, my original goal stayed the same while expanding into holistic health.
From a business perspective, my goal was and is simple: in a nutshell, to create a sustainable business that allows me to share essential knowledge with others, to benefit our ummah, while creating income and facilitating financial and time freedom for me personally.
– Did you face any challenges at the beginning? If so, how did you overcome them?
Many, many, many challenges and there are still challenges that pop up all the time.
How to overcome them – well for the number one thing I believe you need when facing challenges (aside from tawaqqal) is … resilience.
Things will go wrong and when they do, you have a choice to make. Do you give up or pick yourself up, dust off and try again? You’ll make mistakes. Learn from them. Every time you fall, you learn and you get a little better each time. Make dua and keep trying. Many people give up at the first hurdle and I wonder how many amazing potential initiatives have fizzled out because people gave up, when success might have been just around the corner. That’s not to say that you have to grind and drive yourself into the ground ‘trying.’ Work smart, learn from those who know, adapt, pray …
There were also financial challenges which I think many entrepreneurs face. For those on a shoestring budget, get creative. It’s amazing what you can achieve with a big dose of determination, creativity and Allah’s help. When it comes to money, I would also say don’t be shy to charge for your services. I was like that, and that mindset is a collision course of income and expenditure that doesn’t end well. You are providing a valuable service, so it’s OK to charge and OK to charge what that service is worth.
I also overextended myself in the beginning, thinking I could do more than I could and some of those mistakes have taken over 2 years to put right. So know your limitations and don’t over commit yourself. Focus on what matters first and what you are sure you CAN do.
– You emphasize a lot on focus, staying away from distraction and living one’s true purpose. How do you achieve that when your business is internet-based, where social media distraction is rampant?
Absolutely and this is one of the areas that I am currently working on which ties directly in with my new project for 2019 -2020, Finding Sakeenah (finding calm and tranquility in a world that is increasingly busy and designed to overwhelm and distract us).
I looked at the Healthy Muslimah set up with this very question in mind this year and realized I needed to make some big changes for my own personal wellbeing. This is an issue I have been grappling with for some time. The irony of having an online business about health and wellness is that you can end up spending a lot of time in front of a computer which is absolutely not healthy.
So I am actively working on deep diving into further simplification in my own life and implementing systems that allow for simplification across the entire Healthy Muslimah platform, big shifts to simplify, streamline, outsource elements that I don’t need to be doing myself, create systems and processes and really whittle down what needs to be done to the most essential elements that bring the most benefit. My personal goal is to cut back my screen time and work hours to just a few hours a day by the end of the year while maintaining (and upscaling) the platform in a way that is sustainable. In shaa Allah. I’ll let you know how it goes.
– In shaa Allah. How do you maintain a balance between work and personal life? Do you have any time-management tricks?
This has been an issue for me in the past and is one of the catalysts to the new project, Finding Sakeenah, and finding a healthy balance between all areas of life. In terms of time management tips that I use or am planning to implement:
- Outsource (you don’t have to do everything yourself and a qualified, English speaking VA can be hired for a few dollars an hour).
- You can’t do everything, so do what counts. Don’t get distracted by allowing your time to get eaten up by things that essentially have little benefit or impact (oh boy, have I done this in the past). Use the 80/20 rule (Pareto’s principle) and focus on the 20% that is important and will bring about 80% of the results first. Then work on other things (a lot of what we think is important really isn’t and brings little to no results. Do you know the rocks, pebbles and sand analogy? It’s worth looking up. I know in the past, I was completely bogged down by the sand’ and neglected the ‘rocks’. Now, I focus on key elements first).
- Limit your time and set goals. Eg: I have 1 hour of focused time and I am going to do Y and complete it. Focus, work hard and complete it. Then, celebrate that achievement as a success, take a break and then look to the next thing. If you don’t do that, you can kind of waffle your way through bits and pieces here and there without a lot of focus or much progress.
- Work on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking does not work. A bit of this, a bit of that and your day and time broken down into a gazillion little chunks will take you all over the place. I have tried this many, many times. It doesn’t work. For example: doing 30 minutes of X, then 15 mins of Y, then 30 mins of Z. Shifting gears between completely different tasks is hard for our brains to do. It’s better to say, Monday I will do X, Tuesday, Y and Wednesday Z for projects that can be chunked like that. That way, you get to build momentum and flow, really get into something and make real noticeable progress. This goes a long way to building motivation too.
- For the things to be done daily, like social media posting if you are doing it yourself, create a routine. Set a time and a time limit (imagine you only have electricity or internet for 15 minutes). Get online, get focused, do what you need to do then CLOSE it … constantly checking social media throughout the day is a distraction and time waster.
– Amazing tips, maa shaa Allah! Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed? If so, how do you deal with that?
Yes, but less so these days as I am implementing my own techniques to simplify Healthy Muslimah; the way it runs and the amount of time it takes out of my day. When I do feel overwhelmed, I go back to the advice that a dear friend gave me pre-Islam and advice that I use in all of my courses … learn how to eat an elephant.
Years ago, pre-Islam, I was the project manager of a 6500sqm, 3-day exhibition – also the only person in my company organizing this event from the ground up, single handed. I was in a state of complete overwhelm and meltdown and I called up a friend and work colleague – she was involved in the event and knew just how much work there was to be done.
She listened to my meltdown then asked me, “Kate, how do you eat an elephant?”. I was thinking, I’m having a meltdown and you’re talking about eating elephants. She replied along the lines of, “Piece by piece. Break the whole down into bite sized mouthfuls – work on them one by one. The first one, then the next, then the next – take it 5 minutes at a time if you have to and only focus on the next 5 minutes. Forget about the whole.”
This simple principle can be applied to everything in our lives because quite simply, sometimes, when we look at the whole, it’s completely overwhelming and seems impossible. But that same task, broken down into manageable portions suddenly becomes possible. Breaking things down into a size you can manage relieves all the pressure. When we don’t feel that mental pressure, we can breathe again and we’re better able to think, make clear decisions, and place clear intentions behind out actions.
This is our sunnah. Apply it in your life and in your business and I promise you, you’ll be amazed at what gets done when you do things step by step – without all the stress and overwhelm.
– What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far as an entrepreneur?
Learn from those who know and have become experts in what they do rather than trying to figure out everything yourself while you try to reinvent the wheel. I was a bit late in implementing this and if there is one thing I could go back and tell myself at the start of my journey, it’s this!
– What advice do you have for other Muslimah entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs?
There are many things I would say but I’ll share just a few today.
- Learn from those who know. Look at those who have achieved success and look at what they are doing, what’s working for them. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Learn what works, model and apply it to your business and always remember to filter anything you learn through the lens of Islam. It is especially important in the entrepreneurial world to pick and choose what aligns with our deen and leave what doesn’t.
- Keep Allah and Islam as your benchmark. It’s easy to get caught up with the entrepreneurial and marketing hype and follow ‘trends’ that may not be entirely beneficial to us in this life or the Hereafter, or may be beneficial in this life but not so much in the Hereafter. A very simple litmus test I try to use, especially with online content (and especially on social media) is: can I imagine the best of women doing this (and I don’t mean using the technology, I mean the content, the vibe, the manners etc). Khadija, Maryam (ra) and all of the other beautiful examples we have. I have certainly made mistakes in the past and the thing about social media is that once it’s out there, it’s out there forever so I really try to exercise caution now. I believe we have a beautiful opportunity as Muslim women to provide valuable services to our ummah, to define our market place and do business on our own terms. We don’t have to follow everyone else’s ‘trends’; we can carve our own way out in whatever way aligns with our deen. Healthy Muslimah, among many other initiatives in the Muslimah space, is proof of this, alhamdullilah.
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with making money and earning money provided you do it in a way that is ethical and halal. You have the right to charge for your services and time, unapologetically and without shame. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
– Amazing advice once again! Where do you find inspiration?
I think I find my greatest inspiration is nature. That probably sounds bizarre as we are talking about business, but the entire goal of my business is to promote simplicity, getting back to basics, removing the ‘noise’, the excess, the mental, physical and electronic clutter. It is to create calmness and to nourish ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. There could be no greater inspiration than Allah’s beautiful creation. To me, nature is the ultimate reminder of Allah. It is so calming because, in nature, everything is in a natural state of submission to Allah. We too, when we are more aligned with our fitra, a simple life with less worldly distraction, aligned with what Allah has guided us to, and in a state of submission to Allah, are calmer and more focused. This realignment is the goal of Healthy Muslimah. And for me, being in a calm natural environment is a reminder of this and the ultimate inspiration for me.
– Subhanallah. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just to thank you for the opportunity to share a bit about my journey with your readers. I hope that it’ll be beneficial to those starting out, thinking about or already on the entrepreneurial journey.
– I’m sure it will! Where can you be reached?
The best place to reach me is on the Healthy Muslimah Facebook page. If you’re an audio lover, Finding Sakeenah, the latest Healthy Muslimah project, has a weekly podcast and you can sign up for that at www.findingsakeenah.com
– Thank you very much for your time. Assalaam ‘alaikum.
Waleikum as salaam wa rahmatullah wa barrakhatu.