Ali Kochtanek is a certified sleep specialist and certified postpartum doula based in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the owner and founder of Thriving Mamas Sleep Consulting. With three children of her own, Ali’s personal experience has fueled her dedication to helping new moms and babies thrive. She specializes in maternal and newborn care, nonverbal communication, and infant sleep shaping and conditioning. Whether you’re a first-time mom or an experienced parent, Ali’s expertise can help you and your family get the rest and support you need to thrive.
Book a free discovery call to learn how you can become a Certified Sleep Consultant here.
On this podcast, I’ll be discussing the business side of sleep consulting. You’ll have an insider’s view on launching, growing, and even scaling a sleep consulting business. This is not a podcast about sleep training. This is a podcast about business building and entrepreneurship.
Ali is a certified sleep specialist and certified postpartum doula based in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the owner and founder of Thriving Mamas Sleep Consulting. With three children of her own, Ali’s personal experience has fueled her dedication to helping new moms and babies thrive. She specializes in maternal and newborn care, non-verbal communication, and infant sleep shaping and conditioning. Whether you’re a first-time mom or an experienced parent, Ali’s expertise can help you and your family get the rest and support you need to thrive.
Jayne Havens: Ali, welcome to the Becoming a Sleep Consultant Podcast. I am very excited to have this conversation with you today.
Ali Kochtanek: Me, too. Thanks for having me.
Jayne Havens: Before we get started, tell us about Survive and Thrive Mama. This is your business, but it’s also your brand. How did this whole thing come about?
Ali Kochtanek: Yes, so Survive and Thrive Mama was created basically out of a need of moms who had just their babies and just felt either alone or under supported and just needed someone to be there to see things from all sides.
Survive and Thrive Mama really came out of a need for after COVID. It was COVID times. People just were so isolated and alone. And so I created Survive and Thrive as like, “Hey, I can be like your older sister. I can be someone that you can ask questions to or commiserate with.”
Because at the time, I was actually going through it as well. And so it has turned into something that I started as a side, like passion pet project, into this business. Because there was such a need for a tribe. Because, as we know, we don’t really have that anymore. So yeah, Survive and Thrive Mama started as a passion project to help and then has turned into a business to help. It’s just been a lot of fun to do.
Jayne Havens: And for those who don’t know, it started off as just an Instagram account, right?
Ali Kochtanek: Yeah.
Jayne Havens: That’s where you launched this whole thing. It was sort of a brand, a community, and a resource, right?
Ali Kochtanek: It’s so funny because it wasn’t a brand at first. It really was — I had babysitters from when Olivia was a baby. So this was like six, seven years later. They were like, “I remember coming over to your house to babysit, and you had pages of notes of what she liked, what she didn’t like, what she was going through, what her routine was. It was so helpful to us. Olivia was so well adjusted. Tell me what you were doing then to make this easier for us.” I was like, oh my gosh. You’re right. People really don’t talk about that. How do you get through your days with an infant? They’re asking me all of these questions.
Finally, I’m like, girls, you know what I’m going to do? I’m just going to create an Instagram page. Like, I’m here sitting under my eight-week-old baby. I laugh now because I was like, I’ve got time on my hands. But I was like, let me just answer these questions, and I’ll put it on an Instagram account. Because I think other people could use this too. And let’s just go for it. That’s where it started. Yes, it’s funny because people will say you have a brand or you have a look. I think it just went off of me. You know what I mean? I just wanted it to feel like me. That’s how that all got going.
Jayne Havens: And so now you have over 35,000 followers on Instagram, which is crazy impressive by the way. What do you think attributed to the account’s growth and success?
Ali Kochtanek: Well, first, I want to say, one, the number is cool and impressive. But it’s also not everything. You know what I mean?
Jayne Havens: Sure.
Ali Kochtanek: The growth is fun to watch. You feel like people might think that you’re accredited or something is different if you have more followers. But I will say that even I had to start from zero. And starting at zero, you just cultivate the people who are there. You know what I mean? When you cultivate those relationships with the people who are in your little community or tribe, then that’s how it starts to grow.
For me, at that time, I had no business in my brain. I just wanted to help. And so the passion and that authenticity came forward. I think that’s what people really liked. It’s some vulnerability, like truly being you. That’s how I think people can feel comfortable with you, ask you questions and then maybe even say to their friend like, “Hey, you should be following her too,” and get some tips and tricks that way. I think that was part of it.
At that time, stories had become a thing. They weren’t a thing before. Instagram was just the pictures. Stories had come on, and stories are my favorite. Not that I don’t like status static posts. I think they’re necessary. But being able to show your face and talk through things, I just find that people connect better and are more willing to be invested in you and your message when your face is there. They get to see you. I did that a lot, and so I think that was part of it as well.
Also, Instagram is an interesting beast. Because I’m going to say it’s not for everybody, and I don’t think that it’s necessary for growth of your business. But I think if it’s something that you want to do and a tool in your tool belt that you want to utilize, I think that there is some sort of content strategy, a little bit of content strategy, too, that I’m willing to share. But it’s not like it’s rocket science or anything like that.
Jayne Havens: Yeah, I’d love to hear you share a little bit more about the strategy behind it. I personally don’t really use Instagram to grow my business. I do have a general social media strategy. But I always tell sleep consultants that the best way to use either Facebook, or Instagram, or maybe TikTok — I’m not on there — is to use these platforms the way that they were originally intended to be used, which is to make social connections.
I’m wondering if you would agree with this, if it’s really ultimately largely about focusing on connecting with people and just using Instagram as the platform to make that happen.
Ali Kochtanek: 100%. It’s about connecting to other people and how you can connect to them. I think when you can become your own storyteller, either if you have experience of your own or you’ve heard of others, and being able to just share those stories with people. Because that’s how they connect.
Personally, there was some education part of it that I wanted to include in static posts like actually teaching or giving like a snippet. But the thing about Instagram is you only get this little. It’s almost like skimming the surface. You don’t really get that deep dive, like really helping people until you’re talking to them one on one.
Giving them that snippet of your knowledge like what you wish that they would know maybe but then, also, when they send you a message within DMS, DM them back. Like their stuff too. Connect with them. Because that’s where the magic truly does happen. It’s in connections with people. If you’re only talking about yourself, you know what I mean, things that don’t really apply to them, that’s not going to ever, ever help.
One of the things that I think really helped me — I’ll bring up reels in a little bit — is more asking the question like, what are you going through? Instagram gives you the ability to ask your audience, what are your pain points? What was your experience? So then, you actually know who’s following you. People, especially moms, love to share their stories and their experiences. So allowing them a platform to say, did you go through this? Tell me about it? Do you mind if I share it on my page? Because that is when they feel validated, heard, seen. Isn’t that what all moms just kind of want?
Jayne Havens: I think that that’s so amazing that you’re landing there, that you’re helping moms to express their emotions, to feel what they’re feeling. Via your online platform or community, moms can come together and be open and honest about what motherhood looks like, and realize that they’re not the only ones going through what they’re going through.
The fact that you’ve given a voice to your followers is really — I think that that’s really, really special. What do you say to someone who says, “But I don’t like to put myself out there, or I feel awkward on video”? How do you respond to that?
Ali Kochtanek: Yeah, I think that it’s, again, your personal choice of how much you want to show and be and put out there. But I think that no matter what you do, consistency is going to be your key. So if you don’t want to put your face on everyday, you don’t have to. Sometimes you might need to if you are wanting to grow in a substantial way. But if you are consistent in your messaging and you are providing value, I don’t think that it’s always necessary. You know what I mean?
Jayne Havens: It doesn’t need to be your face. As long as you’re providing really helpful and valuable information and content, it doesn’t need to be your face plastered everywhere. You don’t need to be dancing cute dances on reels?
Ali Kochtanek: No, you don’t. You really, really don’t. And it’s funny because now I connect everything to sleep training. I’m like, pick a lane and go for it with consistency. When you pick a lane and that feels right to you, when that is in your heart, then you’re going to be more willing to do that over time.
And your business, like you said, we think of this as a marathon not a sprint. You don’t have to have 10,000 followers in order for you to feel successful. It’s a marathon, one foot in front of the next. And as long as you’re taking that path, you’re doing what feels right to you, your business will grow. And if Instagram isn’t the right thing for you, that’s okay. Find that path. It could be putting your business card in Starbucks. But do that consistently. Get your name out there. That’s where the growth and the beauty will happen.
Jayne Havens: Talk to us about time. How much time are you putting into this? Are you on Instagram all day long? Give us an accurate picture of what it looks like for you to maintain this online presence.
Ali Kochtanek: What’s funny is that now, three years into this, I put probably less time in now. Again, I have three little kids who I want to be present for. This is a whole other topic. But social media is tough. Because we need to be putting limits on it. It’s not good for mom or for developing brains to be scrolling Instagram, or TikTok, or social media. Is it good for education and for connecting? Sure. But we want to put limits on it. And so I have a limit on my Instagram. I cannot be on it longer than an hour.
And so I think when you can be focused in on what you want to do and what your goals are, that’s going to be really important. It’s almost like, let’s go back to sleep training, your boundaries, your limits. Figure out what that is, and hold on to it. Because you could. You could very potentially be on Instagram all day long. But there’s really no reason to when you can come up with like, alright. Let’s just say every other day, I want to throw a post out there. Have a goal for yourself.
Every day, I personally want to show up on my Instagram and stories. But to me, that’s not hard. Because if I’m looking at recipes and I’m just sitting there doing that, I might as well talk to my community about something I know that maybe they could use. I don’t think there’s a magic number that one either makes someone successful or not. But I think that just having your limits and boundaries that are healthy for you is how you’re going to be able to maintain something like a social media presence or not. It will burn you out quite frankly. And yeah, being able to show up consistently, because I think consistency is the key to anything. But yeah, doing that when it feels good to you.
Jayne Havens: When did your Instagram account morph into a business? Talk me through that.
Ali Kochtanek: That’s a good question. Because like I said, it was really just a passion project and just throwing out this information that I thought would be valuable. It started turning when it was probably six months into just the Instagram parked and getting feedback. Like I said, I asked a lot of questions. What was your birthing experience? Did you have support afterwards?
And so I’m a certified postpartum doula now, but I wasn’t at the time. I had started the page. I decided I need to be a postpartum doula. I got certified that winter and then decided like, oh, my gosh. I’m getting this feedback of moms, of course, not supported when they get home but also beyond. And so I was hearing a lot of people struggling at the four- to six-month mark of their baby being born.
Of course, we know as sleep specialists, there’s a ton of changes happening in their brains in terms of sleep. But also, a lot of people are being told they can start purees and solids around that time. Their relationships are maybe feeling a little bit on the rocks. They might be feeling some postpartum anxiety and depression.
A lot of things are happening both with the mom and with the baby at that time. So I was like, what helps me was one mom friend, just one, who was had a baby the same time as me. I could text her and call her at all hours and be like, “What in the world is happening? Like, is this happening to you?” It helped me so much feel validated in my experience.
My mom would always say to me, “Ali, we used to have play groups. We had play groups, and we talked about things. You all don’t have that regular groups that would get together.” I was like, I’m going to create a virtual playgroup. Let’s do this. And so I created a 10-day support group for moms basically through an app like Telegram. Every day, I had a different topic that we would discuss — from sharing their birth stories, to their baby’s development, to sleep.
Basically, that’s when it turned into a business. I would run these groups every month, and they were super successful. The most amazing thing came out of it. It was that moms had other moms that had babies the same ages, and they still talk to this day. So those babies that were four to six months olds are now two and three. And they’re having conversations about what’s happening now. And so it has just really turned magical.
Jayne Havens: That’s really incredible. I love that. I actually was in a — we didn’t call it a playgroup. But I was in actually an in-person version of what you did virtually when I had my first child 11 years ago. It was so special. It was exactly as you described. I think it was 8 weeks instead of 10. It was like the first week, we shared our birth stories. The second week, we talked about eating, sleeping, pooping. Then the third week was relationship with your spouse. The fourth week was, I don’t remember. Every single week, we would have an hour or two group-led discussion by a mental health professional, which was amazing. Then we’d all go out to lunch afterwards. It was so nice.
We all did it sort of on maternity leave, or some of us were stay-at-home moms at the time. Just as you said, 11 years later, I’m still in touch with these moms. We have a group email chain. When it was time to potty train, we were all in touch. More recently, when it was time to talk about sleepaway camp, we were all in touch. It’s so nice, because all of our babies are literally — I mean, they’re not babies anymore. They’re 11. But they’re all within a couple of months of each other. We’re all experiencing the same things.
We’re not super close friends anymore, because we’re all living in other — we’ve all moved away, and we’re living in other cities. We have new things going on. But we still have that email chain. If you have to ask a question, we still have that. It’s really, really special. So that’s amazing that you created that.
Let’s talk about getting into sleep training. Why did you decide to enroll in CPSM? What did you think the course was going to do for you and your ability to grow your business even further?
Ali Kochtanek: Like I said at the beginning, I was always into routines and schedules and then knowing, just reading a lot. I would want to know the ins and outs of how things worked. And so I always had an interest in sleep. My kids were always pretty good sleepers. I thought that I knew a lot about sleep, okay?
When I started Survive and Thrive, I wanted to make sure that I had an expert at my hands. I had actually met someone in that virtual space on Instagram. She was a sleep specialist. And so I hired her in to come to Survive and Thrive Mama, Thriving Mamas group, and do a sleep seminar. I was paying her to do that. I was like, but I feel like I know these things pretty well. I just need this certification, and I need to make it official. You know what I mean?
I don’t even know, Jayne, where I saw CPSM. But immediately, after looking at your website and seeing it, I was like, “I’m in. This is perfect. This is what I need. This is what I need to do.” And that’s where the decision was made. I’m going to expand from being a postpartum doula to also getting the sleep specialty. Because most, if not all, of the clients that I work with asked about sleep.
When you have that under your belt, just when you have that knowledge — I learned so much more through the process of getting certified that it kind of makes me laugh now that I thought that I was okay telling people what to do with their children in terms of sleep. But I feel so much more confident now. And now Thriving Mamas is starting again in January, and I am doing the sleep portion. And so it just made a lot of sense.
Since getting certified, it has actually blown up my business because I have this other thing that I can offer moms. Because it’s all about helping, right? So it’s like, where can I help most? I really have been blessed by CPSM and then this knowledge in being able to expand my business to include sleep shaping, sleep training. Wherever the parent is, I just want to meet them where they are.
Jayne Havens: Yeah, I love that. Actually, you telling this story reminds me of our Zoom meeting that we had before.
Ali Kochtanek: Do you remember?
Jayne Havens: Now I do. Yeah, now I do. I didn’t until you just started sharing that. But I remember you saying to me you did feel so confident. You’re like, “I’ve sleep trained my kids. I’m good at this. I know how to get them onto a routine. I’m not even really sure why I need to get certified.” I remember you saying that. I’m so glad to hear that you feel even more confident and more prepared to support families.
I really resonated with your thoughts. Because when I was getting into this field, I also felt the same way. I had gotten my own kids into a really good groove. I didn’t have formal training. I just figured it out. I read a lot of books. I was reading blogs. I was reading message boards, whatever it was. I figured it out, and I thought I knew it all.
Actually, continuing education is always a good thing. There’s always more to learn. I think that when you can humble yourself and say there’s always more out there, that’s when you position yourself to truly grow, which it sounds like that’s what you did. That’s what I did, too. So I really connected with that when you felt that way. I love that you feel that it has really benefited you. It just makes me so happy. You’re supporting families one to one, the way a lot of us are, right?
Ali Kochtanek: Totally. So we’re doing both in all, being able to help parents one-on-one. I’ve decided to do a tier system. Because with my community, I’m finding that there’s budget constraints. There’re time constraints. Also, mom is at different levels of their knowledge — some parents will want this two-week intensive while others just want a plan and a call. Being able to then level and offer things that are best for your community, your clients, you start to see that. Then yeah, it’s wonderful.
It’s funny because I’ve always loved supporting moms. But there’s something really cool about putting puzzle pieces together for people in terms of their child’s sleep and having that magically get better. It feels like magic, doesn’t it? It just makes me feel good.
Jayne Havens: I always say I think sleep consulting is — I think the reason for why it’s so rewarding is because it’s so results-driven. We can change somebody’s life in five to seven days.
Ali Kochtanek: Wild. It’s wild and so much hinges on. I hate to say it like this, but so many moms are miserable when they’re not sleeping. It’s a form of torture. When you are not sleeping, it is awful. Just to be able to change, like you said, their entire existence, helping them, it’s amazing.
Jayne Havens: Yeah, it never gets old, right?
Ali Kochtanek: No.
Jayne Havens: So what are your goals? Do you have any business goals for the coming year? We’re wrapping up on 2023 as we’re having this conversation wild. Do you have big goals for next year, or do you just sort of fly by the seat of your pants and life happens, and you just keep on going?
Ali Kochtanek: Can you tell that I fly by the seat of my pants? I do.
Jayne Havens: I do too, so I totally get it.
Ali Kochtanek: This is how I thrive. It’s just by going. And so, yes. I actually just revamped my website 100%, so my offerings are more clear. Thriving Mamas, which I took a break from actually while I got certified, is starting up in January — these groups for moms with babies ages four to six months. It’s very specific. We’ll be starting each month this year, 10 days together formally. Then they have this text chain forever.
I’m excited to expand to more Zoom webinars and group trainings. I like to be the support piece in group settings. I don’t know what that is, if it’s like let’s get these people together so that maybe they can see that they’re not alone. Of course, we’ll continue one-on-one, helping people one-on-one. But yeah, I wish that I was one of those people on New Year’s Day that had a list of things that are going to happen this year. But we’re just going with it.
Jayne Havens: I think you lead with your heart and then you run. That’s sort of what I do too, so I really connect with it. I get it.
Ali Kochtanek: Yeah, Jayne, you’re wonderful and your business is wonderful. I love you so much.
Jayne Havens: Thank you. Well, the feeling is mutual. Before we wrap up, tell everybody where they can find you, follow you, connect with you.
Ali Kochtanek: Sure. Easy enough. www.surviveandthrivemama.com. Of course, I’m on Instagram. The handle is @surviveandthrivemama. Please reach out and say hi. Send me a DM. Tell me where you heard of me from, and I would love to connect with you.
Jayne Havens: Ali, thank you so much. This was fabulous. I can’t wait for everybody to hear our conversation.
Ali Kochtanek: Thanks for having me, Jayne.
Outro: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Becoming a Sleep Consultant Podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, it would mean so much to me if you would rate, review, and subscribe. When you rate, review, and subscribe, this helps the podcast reach a greater audience. I am so grateful for your support.
If you would like to learn more about how you can become a certified sleep consultant, head over to my Facebook Group, Becoming a Sleep Consultant or to my website thecpsm.com. Thanks so much, and I hope you will tune in for the next episode.