Audre Gutierrez talks about her career as an aromatherapist.  You can find Audre and her business at www.shiningsunaromatherapy.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview. 

What do you do for a living?

I am a medicinal aromatherapist with my own practice (Shining Sun Aromatherapy in Santa Fe, NM) and own an essential oils company with my business partner (Wisdom of the Earth in Cornville, AZ)

How would you describe what you do?

Basically, I contribute to the management and operation of the essential oils company via performing administrative functions in marketing (produce the quarterly newsletter, produce a quarterly E-news, produce a periodic email called “Essential Thought” on a single topic, participate in Wellness/Wholistic Health & Metaphysical expos), management (mentor our distributors and teachers; plan for/attend staff and planning meetings) and finance (responsible for the monthly sales tax calculation, responsible for our three-tiered pricing system), as well as sales (work in the office a week a month to handle face-to-face and telephone inquiries, and work out of my Santa Fe office the other three weeks), and, in my own practice, I perform all of the above, in addition to teaching classes in medicinal aromatherapy, doing consultations in medicinal aromatherapy and providing an outlet (physical) for our entire line of 250 essential oils. I also have to do inventory management in my practice (of the 250 oils we carry, plus other products I have developed).

What does your work entail?

I do the bookkeeping for my personal business via QuickBooks, I work with social media (my website – Shining Sun Aromatherapy, MeetUp.com, Facebook, IContact, MBono, LinkedIn, Twitter and Skype at the moment…considering Pinterest and services like Go to Meeting, as well) to get the word out about our essential oils and my practice, I am involved in networking locally (a weekly networking meeting), and I work with people to find one or more essential oils that will address needs either they have identified (e.g., depression, digestive problems, etc.) or that I have worked with them to identify via personal consultation. I do this primarily via email, phone or Skype, or in person.

What’s a typical work week like?

I spend about 8-9 hours in my office each day, doing paperwork, answering and returning phone calls or emails about our products or a particular health situation someone needs help with, managing my FB accounts, updating my website, updating quotes re natural health, aromatherapy, sustainability & living authentically that appear in my FB and Twitter accounts. I fill essential oil orders on a daily basis…if local, I usually deliver them, if not local, I package them and mail them. Sometimes there could be one order, other times, four or five orders.

I usually have several consultations a week…either a personal training session or a consultation on a particular issue or problem. I usually schedule at least one networking meeting a week, but could have two or three in addition, as follow up with people I have met in the larger networking group. These meetings are to explore/become familiar with each other’s products/services and to see how we might collaborate, if our businesses lend themselves to that. I hold monthly MeetUp meetings, as I host an Aromatherapy MeetUp in the Santa Fe Area. This is for community service purposes as well as marketing.

How did you get started?

I was experiencing pretty serious emotional and physical problems related to the stress of my job as a Vice President of Human Resources for a large drug development company. I was out of town for a meeting and was getting a treatment for a shoulder problem, and the massage therapist recommended using essential oils as part of the treatment. I had never heard of essential oils! I asked him if I could smell a couple…and I was turned off by the strong, medicinal smell of the ones he chose (Frankincense and Galbanum).

So…I said NO. I was concerned about smelling like them when I went back down to my executive group meeting, and I was also not terribly drawn to them. He persisted, so finally I said yes…but that he had to use something that was more pleasing…something “people have heard of”, like lavender or peppermint. Well, he did, and the rest is history. Along with really helping to relieve the pain in my shoulder (anyone who has had a separated shoulder can identify with how painful it is!), what I found was they they lifted my spirits in an incredible way…unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Hours after the treatment, I was singing in my car on the way home through rush hour traffic! The euphoria I felt, 10 hours or so after the treatment, was astounding to me. I had to learn more, experience more…so I called the massage therapist who had treated me, and began to use the essential oils via him. He was also relatively local (about an hour away…but he already had clients in my area), so I started using him as a massage therapist, as well.

Through that experience, I discovered how powerful the essences were for physical healing, as well as emotional stress and depression. As I used the essences more and more, I started making changes in my life to align it more with my values, and what I had discovered to be my purpose in life…helping people be more healthy and happy via the plant and tree medicines (in the form of pure, therapeutic-grade, essential oils).

What do you like about what you do?

I like the autonomy of running my own business; I love the plants and trees and working with people who honor the medicine they produce…the farmers, distillers of medicinal plants. I love sharing a natural healing remedy with people…and seeing the powerful, positive results it has on their health and happiness. I love to teach about the essential oils…their properties, the effect they have on your life, when you integrate them fully into your life and not just “dabble” in them. I also like the fact that what I do is so singular, so unique, such an anathema to so many people, that it draws to me people who are like-minded (i.e., they honor the earth and their own bodies), and actually pushes away people who are involved in exploiting the earth, other people, their own bodies, etc.

What do you dislike?

I dislike the schism in my own field….on the one hand, you have people taught in more of the “old way”…apprenticing with more experienced aromatherapists (I ended up being mentored by the massage therapist who introduced me to the oils…and we eventually became business partners in Wisdom of the Earth); learning from the plants and trees, themselves; understanding and appreciating that the plants and trees provide the original medicine of the planet…that has worked effectively for thousands of years and works, to this day, in the parts of the world as yet uninfluenced by “Western medicine.”

On the other hand, you have people involved in the science of plant and tree substances…flavorings, perfumes, essential oils. They are so focused on the chemistry, they miss the perfection of the harmony of nature…an essential oil that is perfectly balanced and constituted. From many of those people you get the synthetic or adulterated essential oils…that are often (but not always) cheaper…but do not have the powerful healing properties of pure, unadulterated essential oils. Many humans feel that they can improve upon nature. We do not…thus the name of our essential oils company…Wisdom of the Earth.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

As a partner in Wisdom of the Earth, I am paid via a compensation formula we have developed that recognizes my share in the business; it is my primary means of compensation. As our sales grow, our compensation has the opportunity to grow (unless we are investing in infrastructure, product, etc.). I am also paid by the hour for my consultations. I also offer several products (AromaKits that I have developed, as well as pendulums that I source) apart from Wisdom of the Earth, and I retain the sales income from those. We have chosen not to have our essences in stores unless the owner and/or manager take our certification class. That has definitely limited our income opoportunity, but we did not want to dilute the potency of the oils we offer, so we have limited representation of them to those who have been certified by us.

How much money do Aromatherapists make?

My business partner always tells our students that he believes it is difficult to support oneself on income from aromatherapy alone. So, unless you have your own aromatherapy company, it is usually an “adjunct” to a primary role such as massage therapist, psychologist, chiropractor, yoga instructor, reflexologist, medical intuitive, physical therapist, etc. In that case, we have seen sales from the oils greatly enhance the income of the individual, as using the oils sets them apart from others in their field of practice.

Our company is NOT network-marketing company, but there are several out there that offer essential oils as their primary product. Their compensation structure is different, as “uplines” and “downlines” are involved. Our certified (by us) students make from 20-35% of their retail sales; our advanced students have the opportunity to become teachers of our foundational certification class, which enables them financially be rewarded via the tuition for the class, as well as a percentage of the sales from their students, going forward.

I would say that, in general, you can make between $10k and $15K a year when you have aromatherapy as an adjunct to another modality. So, if you are a chiropractor, and make $75k, with the oils as part of your offering, you could raise that to $85-90k. When you own your own company, it depends on whether you own it yourself, or with a partner, how extensive your portfolio of oils is, whether you offer training as a product, etc. Many, many variables. But, on average, I would think you could make between $30k and $75k. That is a large range, but so much depends upon your overhead, business acumen, years in business, whether you offer your essences in stores, etc. For those people who get very commercial (i.e., have their oils in stores, have huge internet stores), you could make well over $100k.

How much money did/do you make starting out as a Aromatherapist?

I started out as the owner of a business that imports and sells medicinal aromatherapy, unlike most aromatherapists, who work in holistic health clinics or wellness centers for other people. At the beginning, we pretty much just covered our monthly living/business expenses with the income we generated via individual sales, shows & expos, and classes, with anything left over going to investment in the business (probably made approx. $50k a year for two people). If you are working for someone else, starting income would probably be approx. $20k. I have a student who works in hospice for the Veteran’s administration…she likely does better than that, but, again, the aromatherapy is an adjunct to the counseling work that she is qualified to do.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to become an Aromatherapist?

I was taught by my mentor, Barry Kapp, as well as by many nationally and internationally recognized aromatherapists, among them, Malte Hozzel and Kurt Schnaubelt. I received foundational and advanced training, and continue to develop my knowledge base and skill set by reading professional material and networking with my peers in the aromatherapy field via LinkedIn and other means. I also have attended professional trade shows in the US and France, where cutting edge information is shared.

Finally, last but not least, Barry and I have, over the years, invested greatly in going to visit our farmers & distillers personally…both of us to Canada, France, Corsica; Barry to Morocco, Nepal, South America. The education and perspective they give us is invaluable…many are the second and third generation of their families to be involved in essential oil production. We are pretty unusual in this commitment…most of our farmers had never met an American aromatherapist…and in some cases…ANY aromatherapist. They have been thrilled with our involvement and we are honored to have been educated by them. We offer a certification program…level 1 and level 2…via Wisdom of the Earth. There are other organizations which offer training, as well.

Skills/attitudes needed are good organization, a love/respect for the natural world, compassion, good/effective listening skills, a knowledge base of the healing properties of the oils, strong work ethic, awareness of your limitations as well as your strengths, and a “thick skin” (this field does not have the respect, unfortunately, that herbalism has…primarily because many of the essences available have been watered down, adulterated, and are considered only a “nice smell’. In my opinion, there has been a reluctance to honor the medicinal value of essential oils…because of the litigious nature of our culture and the pressure on natural remedies from the established medical system. We do not have an established “lineage” or “history” in aromatherapy such as they do in some European countries, and as I think herbalists have attained for themselves via hard work and perseverance.)
What is most challenging about what you do?

Constantly facing the skepticism about the ability of the essential oils to heal. I decided long ago that I was not here to convince anyone of anything…I was here as a resource for those who were seeking. However, though that helps a lot, there is still the skepticism that those you work with face from their families, friends and colleagues. It is a constant battle. And, when they DO work in a very visible, positive way…there are still those who say….”How do I know it was the OIL that helped?? Maybe it was something else! Maybe it just healed on its own.” I am learning to “let that go”, but it is hard!

What is most rewarding?

Seeing the incredible change in people once they start using the oils on a regular basis. They are healthier, they are happier, they have a joy and a positive glow to them. And they say…”my life has changed for the better because of the oils.” That is incredibly rewarding. Watching someone put Eucalyptus lemon on their child to ward off mosquitos instead of DEET….that is rewarding. Having a young man walk up to me at a holistic expo…no eye contact, kind of “disconnected looking”…asking me to suggest an oil, watching him put some on his heart and the top of his head…and seeing him come back an hour later…engaged, smiling, energized…to tell me THANK YOU. That memory still brings tears to my eyes. Hearing stories of people who were able to avoid going to the emergency room because they knew how to use their oils to effectively address a situation…that is rewarding. Watching people TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR OWN HEALTH is hugely rewarding. So, yes, this field certainly has its share of rewards!
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

If you feel that the plants and trees are calling you….if this is honestly your heart-felt calling in life…say “Yes” and find a teacher you trust to begin your study. Begin using pure, medicinal-grade oils yourself on a regular basis…begin experiencing them personally, not just reading about them.

How much time off do you get/take?

I take off about 3-4 weeks a year.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That medicinal aromatherapy is something they could never learn…it is too difficult, and there is so much to remember. In fact, once you start using the oils, and studying them, you start integrating them and their information into your life and it becomes second nature. Also, in most cases, you can look something up…so learn who the key authors are who share your philosophy of health and well being….study with them, refer to their books…allow them to be direct or indirect mentors to you.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I would love to develop my Santa Fe practice to the extent that it can support me in my retirement; I would also like to have more opportunities to speak and teach about the oils. Finally, I would like to finish the book I am writing on meditation (and the use of the oils to enhance meditation), and begin my next book on how aromatherapy has affected my life.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

Aromatherapy is growing in acceptance and importance; pure essential oils have little or no side effects, so they are very different from Western medicine/pharmaceuticals. People are increasingly aware of the natural options that are available with regard to their health…and my job in helping others to enhance their health and well-being via the essences is part of this very positive trend.