Everyone who comes to the UK to work has a different story, one shaped by circumstance as well as professional choices. The pandemic pushed Hannah Sweetman, sports nutritionist and lifestyle coach, into developing a thriving online business offering personalised diet planning and nutrition advice. ‘Hannah Sweetman Nutrition’ today allows Hannah to combine her established life in the UK with extended periods back home in New Zealand. Living and working across these lines would not have seemed feasible when Hannah, 34, made the choice to leave Auckland more than a decade ago.
It was Christmas 2011 when Hannah left New Zealand for the UK without a return ticket. Travelling on her UK passport, she planned her travel with the aim of arriving in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Hannah worked initially as a rowing coach at the King’s School Canterbury in Kent, a job which provided her with accommodation and plenty of school holidays for travel. She continued sports coaching in Oxfordshire and later Staines, before branching out at a nutrition company and as a personal gym trainer. Now based in Eton, Windsor, Hannah runs her own nutrition consultancy and is a freelance personal trainer.
In 2020, the pandemic immediately made working in physical gyms impossible. As the personal training sector went into “survival” mode, Hannah reoriented her business towards nutrition and diet planning. “Personal training, and even nutrition coaching, is a luxury service, and times were tough for our clients”, she acknowledges. However, healthy living became an urgent lifestyle priority for many people - particularly as being overweight is a known COVID risk factor - so the nutrition counselling side of Hannah’s business boomed during the lockdowns.
Hannah also invested in her own home kit and continued personal training from home and online. “Obviously, pre-pandemic, I used to coach a lot more in person. But I’ve actually found now it’s a lot easier to coach people via video call, because you can have a spreadsheet up for both of you, and work closely with the personal data.” Hannah still enjoys the social element of her work, and today also works regularly with groups in an external studio in Berkshire as part of a team of self-employed trainers. Nonetheless, many of her local clients still prefer to book in an online slot, to save travel time. “My whole journey has adapted to the opportunities presented,” she says.
The pandemic was also the driver for Hannah becoming involved with the New Zealand Business Women’s Network in London, volunteering and attending the Business Start-Up Club with Claire Kavanagh. “I definitely identify as a New Zealander, although I don’t overly-sell the point in my business,” she says. She encourages the Kiwi outdoor, casually-sporty approach to life with her UK clients, who often have a more compartmentalised understanding of how sport and healthy activity can fit in their lives. ”It’s also a difference in attitude - in New Zealand you’ve got space, the environment, everything’s just a little bit slower pace - whereas here, it’s cold and grey, and you’ve got the commute into London at rush hour!” Her clientele is predominantly UK-based, though she also works online with people wherever they find themselves, whether in the Middle East, America or New Zealand: “you just have to line-up the time-zones”.
Since the pandemic, Hannah has set up her UK business to accommodate working from New Zealand for months at a time. “Being locked out of the country really rattled me. I actually had my tickets booked before everything went down in 2020, so that entire time I definitely struggled without the perspective of being able to go home.” Since the borders reopened, her short annual visits back have lengthened to between two and four months. “Nothing changes from a work perspective with my online business, except the timing of calls!” This year, she is adapting the mix in her business model again. “Running your own business always looks super-glamorous and flexible, particularly when you can keep working from New Zealand,” she laughs, but you also have to live with considerable month-on-month risk and paycheck fluctuations, and keep an eye on the longer trends.
Although she doesn’t have contracted hours at the training studio in Windsor, Hannah feels the pull to be more physically present for her business in the UK. While now spending Christmas and the summer downunder, she wonders whether “if this time I’ll feel less desperate about going back, less worried about getting shut down and having your home taken away from you again”. Hannah is open to constantly adjusting the balance in her working life - between online and in-person, nutrition and personal training, and between the UK and NZ - while remaining firmly connected and drawing on the strengths of all them.