How a former MTV producer who lost her job went from freelance to a 6-figure business in less than a year

  • Melissa Ruiz is a yoga teacher and business coach who uses social media, online courses, and retreats.
  • Her passion to help others came after losing her job as a TV producer, getting a divorce, and traveling to Morocco to learn yoga and meditation. 
  • Her business reached six-figure sales seven months in and made $500,000 in sales within the first 16 months. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

At the age of 35, Melissa Ruiz had everything she thought proved she was “killin’ it” in life: a successful career as a television producer for MTV and VH1, six-figure salary, husband, BMW, and a house in Fanwood, New Jersey. 

But if she was honest with herself, somewhere between the 12-hour days on set and partying every weekend, she was struggling to be happy. There was a void she desperately wanted to fill with purpose. 

“I was smoking cigarettes. I was burnt out,” Ruiz told Insider. She felt a constant pressure to prove herself and had barely used her vacation time, for fear of losing her job. “The word ‘relax’ didn’t even exist to me. I didn’t know how people did that.”

That was until a friend invited her to a month-long yoga retreat in Morocco. She took the risk and requested time off from work. “I just reached a point in my life where I was like, I’m going to do this one thing for myself,” she said. 

Each day of the retreat started with meditation at five in the morning, then six hours practicing yoga. She remembers sitting on top of a mountain one day, soaking in her surroundings, and thinking, “What am I doing here? This is insane. I should be working.”

For the first time, she felt peace instead of stress. “I don’t want to go back to work,” she thought. “I wish I could do this forever.”

The last day of her vacation ended up manifesting those very thoughts. A sandstorm delayed her flight home. She emailed her boss that she wouldn’t be back at work until the next day. Her palms were sweating as she walked through the airport reading her boss’ reply. 

Just like that, she was fired. 

“I’ve never been without a job,” she said. “It was a huge ego death for me.” She vowed never to work for someone else again. 

In hindsight, Ruiz said the company did her a favor. That moment pushed her to make a lot of changes in her life. She got a divorce, became a yoga teacher, and started her own business coaching entrepreneurs.

“I couldn’t have done that by myself because I was so accustomed to the rat race,” she said. “These things have to happen in order for us to get to the next level.” 

Ruiz’s company made $500,000 in sales within the first 16 months, which Insider confirmed through documentation. She broke down what led to that rapid growth, more than 10,000 Instagram followers, and the valuable lessons she learned along the way. 

1. Simplify your cost of living

After losing her job, Ruiz took a year to question everything she knew and heal from the pressures she’d placed on herself.

“I was such an overachiever,” she said. “Show me how to play ping-pong, and I’ll be the best person that plays ping-pong in town. My brain and my body really work like that.” 

She traveled to India, Thailand, and again to Morocco, while studying yoga, meditation, and philosophy, then moved into a roughly 400-square-feet tiny house in New York, became vegan, and gave up alcohol. She learned there was a lot more to life than picking up $2,000 checks for her friends at dinner.

Ruiz said she was making $125,000 a year in her producing job, yet was still living paycheck to paycheck, with no savings. “I was a broke six-figure earner,” she said. “I used to only spend money, and although I was making it, I never really had it.”

Starting her own company in 2019 changed her perspective and taught her the importance of saving money and investing to grow her business. “It’s a different type of work. You work differently when you work for yourself than when you work for other people,” she said.  

2. Diversify your revenue from the very beginning 

Ruiz didn’t set out to start a business. After losing her job, former clients called her to offer freelance production and business consulting projects, and she agreed to take them on as long as she could work from home. 

On the side, she taught yoga, starting at $12 to $15 per class, treating it as an experiment to build her skills, network, and comfort level. She taught at her home gym, a homeless shelter, a Tibetan museum, and a CrossFit gym, all while sharing her discoveries about mental health and wellness. 

“I was by no means getting rich or making money, but I was happy,” she said. 

As she honed her teaching skills, her classes filled up, and people started approaching her for healing. “Even people in my own industry, they were like, ‘what are you doing? I’ve never seen you happier,'” she said. 

Some of her students cried on their mats for the same reasons she’d struggled for so long — they were overworked, stressed, and unhappy. Her classes got so big she had to stop taking students. But she still wanted to reach more people, so she used her production and branding skills to create an online six-week course on how to “step into harmony,” through yoga, meditation, and conversation. She said that first offer in June 2019 got eight clients and made her $2,000.

“That’s how my business actually started. It came from a need of wanting to help more people,” she said.  

3. Set boundaries in your business

Courtesy of Melissa Ruiz

Ruiz set an important rule that she’d always charge for her services — something she’s seen many spiritual entrepreneurs afraid of doing. “They were taught that yoga’s free, meditation’s free. It belongs to everybody and that you’re maybe a bad person if you do,” she said.

But it’s a disservice not to charge the people you’re helping, she said. Ruiz compares it to an imbalanced relationship, in which one person is doing all the work and eventually resents the other who isn’t contributing fairly.

Ruiz said 90% of her sales come from personal enrollments and referrals.

She also wants her services to be accessible to those who can’t afford them at the full price, so she offers flexible payment plans.

“You shouldn’t have to give anybody a discount,” she said. “But I do see the benefit of helping our communities and giving them the chance to step up to the plate, to empower themselves, to have this knowledge.”

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