What are some of the most effective ways to be a successful entrepreneur? The answer: listen and learn from other successful entrepreneurs who are making things happen, and emulate what they’re doing.
One of the reasons that I started to interview successful entrepreneurs is that I wanted to share valuable content with you — all of my loyal readers and subscribers — so that you can learn from others who are thriving as business owners.
Today’s topic is my interview with CEO Sohaila Handelsman of Sohaila International, “the umbrella to help women in business find their passion and grow.”
I connected with Sohaila months ago through Business Strategist Shaun Aaron Cassidy who we both had the pleasure of working with.
I’ve never met such a diversified entrepreneur. Sohaila not only helps women – and men – to grow their business, but she’s a professional Middle Eastern dancer with over 40 years of experience dancing and teaching all over the world. Within Sohaila International she provides instructional DVDs, online courses, mentoring/business coaching, a clothing line, speaking engagements, live performances, and so much more.
Sohaila has been featured in Time Magazine, Cosmopolitan, NBC San Diego, among countless other publications and media outlets.
This female entrepreneur who is taking on the business world with zeal has traveled around the world performing for presidents, ambassadors, and dignitaries in such countries as Mexico, Germany, Egypt, France, Israel, Guatemala, Syria, Greece, El Salvador, Jordan, Dubai, and of course, nationwide right here in the United States.
Let’s learn from a thriving entrepreneur who refuses to take “no” for an answer.
Nitara O: You’ve been a dancer for over 40 years. What was the defining moment when you were ready to make that transition to teach others how to dance?
Sohaila H: Well, I started dancing with my mom when I was 12 years old. I was just doing it for fun. For exercise. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be a dancer. I wanted to be a cop all of my life.
Nitara O: What – really? There’s a story. What drew you to wanting to be a cop?
Sohaila H: Ever since I was in eighth grade, I wanted to protect and serve. I wanted to be a police officer. I was a sheriff explorer. I was a Redmond police explorer when we moved up to Seattle, Washington, which was when I really started getting into belly dancing up there. I had a teacher for six months and then I started training with my teacher’s teacher. I officially started dancing professionally at age 17. When we moved back to San Diego, I continued to dance and put myself through college at Palomar. I was working as a campus police patrol there. One of my teachers said I should apply for the LAPD. And I was like, “No way.” Then they suggested I apply for the sheriff position. So, I agreed, but when I went down to take the test at the port of San Diego, I couldn’t find the building. I get back home two hours later, my mom asked me how it went, and I told her that I couldn’t find the building. She was confused and said, “What do you mean you couldn’t find the building? It’s pink. How can you not see a pink building?” Apparently, I turned right instead of left where the pink building was.
Nitara O: So, it was fate.
Sohaila H: It was fate. Two weeks later I got my first phone call to go to Mexico City to be the first dancer there. It was for a grand opening of a restaurant. I pioneered belly dancing in Mexico. I made sure that the deal was legit. My mom called to make sure I would be safe. They treated me just like a daughter. So, yeah, I pioneered belly dancing in Mexico back in 1984. It was my big break. So I had to ask myself if I wanted to go back to finish my degree so that I could become a police officer or do I want to dance? That’s when I started traveling the world dancing.
Nitara O: Wow – that’s amazing!
Sohaila H: By the time I was 24 years-old, I saw half of the world just because I traveled as a dancer. As a matter-of-fact, it was my dream to dance in Egypt. And in 1989, I got that opportunity. I went back in 1990 and was the main dancer for a well-known singer called Sabah. I was there for three years with her. From there I went to Greece for five years and I then worked on the original Love Boat for three seasons.
Nitara O: What an exciting and fulfilling life!
Sohaila H: It absolutely has been! So, to answer your original question, I came back to the United States in 1997 and started teaching and never looked back. I started teaching adult education at Poway. About 25 years now. Just part time. I’m now an adjunct faculty at Palomar College. I’ve been there for about 10 years.
Nitara O: And you’re enjoying that?
Sohaila H: Oh, yeah. I love it… when I have a class. (chuckles)
Nitara O: I understand that – from personal experience in teaching at the college level. So, what was the motivation behind wanting to start an international business to empower women and to help small businesses in general?
Sohaila H: I believe if you can empower a woman to succeed in anything that she does, then the sky is the limit for her. She can keep moving up the ladder or take her business to another level. Women need to keep feeling empowered. They need to keep feeling strong and beautiful at the same time. People tend to say that in order to move up the ladder, especially in business, you always need to be “macho” and feel that manly presence. Well, no you don’t. You can be sensual and beautiful. That’s what I do through my Sense-ual Woman Program – I am empowering women through their own bodies and their five senses. When I do retreats, they come in feeling okay, but by the time they leave, they feel so empowered. I always get these emails from women saying that I’ve really transformed them. These women have gone on to start their own business and do different things. It makes me feel so good.
Nitara O: So, what do you enjoy most about what you do and what do you like least about what you do as an entrepreneur?
Sohaila H: What I enjoy most is accomplishing what I set out to do – which is… I love empowering women. I love empowering both men and women actually. If I can bring them value and they can implement it into their business immediately, then I did something right. I want people to get value out of what it is that I say, and to do something with it. What I like least about being a business owner is that it’s hard. (chuckles) It’s challenging doing it all alone. There are some days when I question getting up in the morning because I feel like I’m not going anywhere. Then I stop myself and say if I don’t get up, I won’t be getting anywhere. (laughs) That makes me get up and ask myself, “Let’s see what we can accomplish today.” In the end, I always get out of bed with a smile on my face.
Nitara O: In your experience, what is the difference between persistence and insanity? And how do up-and-coming entrepreneurs know the difference as they face challenges within their business?
Sohaila H: I’m going to tackle the persistence first. Being an entrepreneur – being a solopreneur – you have to have the persistence to keep on going. If you don’t keep moving forward, your dreams aren’t going to come to fruition. Staying sane in that world, well, if you’re not persistent in what you’re doing, then you’re going to go “insane” because nothing is going to get done. You’ll start to roll back instead of rolling forward.
Nitara O: If you can change anything about your career path, what would that change be and why?
Sohaila H: I leave it up to Him (pointing up). I never know what’s going to happen on any given day. To me, what is, is what is. I believe everything happens for a reason. People come into your life for a reason. And it’s to move forward.
Nitara O: Short. Sweet. And to the point. Sohaila International has received international attention. You’ve been featured in major publications and on major networks. How have you been able to transition from an entrepreneur who is “trying” to “make it” as opposed to one who is truly making it and living as a full time business owner?
Sohaila H: It goes back to the idea that you just don’t stop. It’s called persistence. You just keep moving forward. Every day, I would sit on that computer, and even if I just got one thing done… even if there were challenges… maybe one task would take me 12 hours to figure out, but I would do it. It’s simply persistence. Moving forward. Nobody is going to do it, except you. And you have to take “try” out of the equation. You’re not “trying,” you’re “doing.”
Nitara O: What were two or three major turning points in your career that brought you to another level?
Sohaila H: Seeing my classes dwindle. I had to change some things. That’s why I started NewVo Fitness. I was thinking about how I can retain these students. I thought that maybe they want more of a fitness aspect. I knew I needed to find something “new,” but make it like an “en vogue” type of a thing. I was like, “Oh my god. That’s it. NewVo!” I took “new” and “vogue” and put them together. NewVo is a multicultural inspired workout that takes you around the world with dance genres and music from around the world adding belly dancing movements for an overall workout.
Nitara O: Were there any other turning points in your career?
Sohaila H: Getting the right coaches and believing in them.
Nitara O: Other than persistence and having faith, what advice would you provide to up-and-coming entrepreneurs who have been building for a year or longer, and are feeling discouraged because they aren’t seeing the results that they want?
Sohaila H: Been there, done that. I know the feeling. I would suggest making a phone call to a friend. This is why I like to have strategy sessions with other business owners. Sometimes it’s having another person’s input that helps you get out of your “rut.” Secondly, find a coach that you trust and believe in.
Nitara O: Thank you so much for doing this interview, Sohaila! It was an absolute pleasure to learn from you and gain so much value from your experience.
Sohaila H: You’re more than welcome, Nitara. It was a pleasure to do this.
Sohaila Handelsman is a no-nonsense entrepreneur who is out in the proverbial trenches building her business and providing value to all of her amazing clients and students. We can all definitely learn from her expertise, talent, and wisdom that she brings to the table.
Today’s LESSON is be persistent in the face of adversity.
FUN ASSIGNMENT: Examine your business and the tasks that you do. Choose one or two tasks that you are inconsistent with that you feel, if you were to be consistent in taking action on them, would move your business forward more effectively. Commit to being consistent with each of those tasks with a plan that is realistic for you, but pushes you outside the boundaries of where you’ve been comfortable before.
Sohaila Handelsman is the CEO of Sohaila International. She provides business coaching, dance classes, does speaking engagements, and has an amazing clothing line all with the purpose of inspiring, empowering, and helping others to succeed. Her monthly business event – The Escondido Small Business Network Summit holds productive and exceptional meetings, and is a great way to connect with entrepreneurs and to learn valuable information from the guest speaker. The next summit is coming up, register here! To get in touch with Sohaila, please reach out to her @ (760) 519-9615 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nitara Osbourne owns The Infinite Writer Agency, LLC, which provides content to producers, publishers, and entrepreneurs seeking help with developing their life stories into nonfiction books and movie scripts. Ghostwriting and blogging services are provided for clients as well. If you’re an accomplished entrepreneur, and are looking to tell your story, contact Nitara Osbourne.InfiniteWriterAgency@gmail.com.