Nikki Butler

Nikki Butler of Nikki Butler Skin Clinic and The Autistic Joyologist tells us about what it was like getting diagnosed as autistic and ADHD in her mid-40s, how she’s repeatedly pivoted her business and her life, and why she wants to smash outdated stereotypes for future generations.

How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?

I am autistic and ADHD, diagnosed in my mid-forties. This affects me in multiple ways. I need to work in a quiet and calm environment, and to be able to manage my time and work around my own needs. Although I ran large teams during my time in corporate legal management, I choose not to employ people now, as this is too overwhelming for me. I have a virtual support team around me that I communicate with over Zoom and emails, and this support and level of interaction works really well for me and my businesses.

I need to have routine and structure in my life, and like things to be done a certain way. However, my ADHD can present challenges as I can’t process certain types of information. Sensory overwhelm is one of my biggest challenges: I am overwhelmed in environments where there’s a lot of noise, bright lights, and/or people.

With my ADHD, I waver between immense hyperfocus on areas that interest to me, and struggle to complete tasks that I find difficult or that I’m not interested in. This is where having a virtual team around me has been invaluable.

I am very literal, and I can get confused by instructions if they are open to interpretation. I must be mindful with my communication to make sure that I understand what I need to do. This previously caused me a lot of anxiety and confusion in my corporate career, but as an entrepreneur (especially since diagnosis), I have built in different processes and ways of working, that ensure I always know what I need to do and how.

Tell us a little about your business.

I have two businesses. The Autistic Joyologist offers coaching and support services for other autistic and ADHD women, to help them to build fulfilling and happy lives. I help women to create businesses that work for them, not against them, and to define success on their terms, letting go of the societal expectations of what success looks like.

The ultimate vision of The Autistic Joyologist is to smash outdated stereotypes, so that future generations don’t have to experience the same challenges that many of us with late diagnoses had. It’s about setting up the younger generation to be incredible leaders and entrepreneurs who feel empowered to show up as their true and authentic selves from the outset, without trying to squash themselves into a society that wasn’t designed for them.

By supporting, collaborating, and walking alongside other female autistic and ADHD entrepreneurs, my hope is that we will transform the perception of what autism and ADHD look like, and be a beacon of success and inspiration for future generations, empowering them to be confident in their abilities and selves from the outset.

My services include coaching programmes and motivational talks, and I will shortly be launching courses, with my RADIATE methodology at the heart of them. I am also currently writing a book for autistic and ADHD female entrepreneurs and leaders, to support them in aligning their lives, again using my RADIATE model.

I also own The Nikki Butler Skin Clinic, which is a multi-award-winning aesthetics clinic. I am a skin and scar specialist, and specialise in treating self-injury scars and advanced collagen boosting treatments for ageing skin.

I have previously been a finalist for the Great British Entrepreneur Awards in 2020, in the Pivot category and again in 2023, for Service Entrepreneur of The Year.

Why did you start the business? Share your story so far.

I worked in corporate legal management for more than a decade. After leaving corporate life in 2012 and suffering what I now realise was a year-long autistic burnout, I was lost. I was undiagnosed at that point, and deeply ashamed that the corporate world had all been too much for me. I spent three years setting up and closing small businesses that I either lost interest in very quickly or that weren’t making any money. I felt like I was good for nothing.

In 2016, after a year of running an eyelash extensions business, a friend who had breast cancer inspired me to train as a medical tattooist. From there, I quickly discovered scar treatments, and this became a primary focus for me. I was hit by a car at the age of 11 and suffered significant facial scarring, so I knew how it felt to be judged and rejected due to physical injury. I wanted to help other women feel confident in their skins and give them the freedom to live their lives free from worrying about their scars.

As my business evolved, I began to attract a high number of clients with self-injury scars. I realised this was a much-needed service, so this was what I focused on. Then, as I moved into perimenopause, I started to offer advanced collagen induction treatments for ageing skin. I love being able to support my clients in feeling confident in their skin and giving them the freedom to enjoy their lives.

Nikki Butler is sitting cross-legged and holding a sign saying 'what does success mean to you'

In the summer of 2022, I had major spinal surgery. Unfortunately, I sustained permanent nerve damage following a rare reaction to an injection, which has left me living in chronic pain and making my clinical work very difficult. I am no longer able to sit down without immense pain, so I had to stop some treatments altogether, and adapt other treatments to work standing up. I can also only work part-time as a result.

Not wanting to let my clients down, I created a strong cross referral team around me, and launched My Little Black Book, which is full of other experts that can support in areas I no longer can. I have also launched my Skinblissology Skin School, with the first online course going live in September 2023, and I continue to share videos and blogs on my YouTube channel and website. After the impact of the pandemic, I have learnt that there is always a way to adapt and pivot!

As I processed my autism and ADHD diagnosis, I realised that the resources available to me were predominantly checklists, rules, and a surplus of relatable anecdotes. None of these materials facilitated a genuine connection with my true self.

When I couldn’t find the resources or help I needed, I decided to draw on my 20 years of management, coaching and mentoring experience, and create my own way forward. I created my RADIATE model, which is simple, effective, and repeatable model to help me align and remain aligned to my true self. Essentially, I became my first real time client – and coached myself through my RADIATE programme, a tool I use daily.

I embarked on Daniel Priestly’s KPI Programme to help me maximise my clinical practice and expand my services beyond the hands-on service-led offerings I had. I threw myself whole heartedly into the programme, but deep down felt torn and pulled in the direction of my passion project: I knew I desperately wanted to launch a new venture to support autistic and ADHD women, following my own diagnosis and realigning my life, but I still felt trapped by the success of my clinical business, and was listening to the noise of what others thought I should be doing.

I then attended a KPI workshop with Mark Leruste, about the power of your story and how you can use it to find your purpose and create powerful transformations in both your own life and the lives of others. By the end of that two hours, I knew I was not on the right path. I knew I was supposed to be a catalyst for change for autistic and ADHD women. I read Mark’s book, Glow in The Dark, and signed up to his coaching programme.

I also read F the Shoulds and Do the Wants by Tricia Huffman. She is the original joyologist, and the inspiration for my business name, The Autistic Joyologist. I loved that her role was the bringer of joy, and I felt that this was a title I could fully embrace for autistic and ADHD women.

The funny thing was that as soon as I made the decision to focus on The Autistic Joyologist, everything I had been struggling to figure out with the skin and scar clinic fell into place. It was as though I had created this immense space and freedom, and everything aligned.

Whilst I love my skin and scar services, and I love being able to bring confidence and freedom to live without fear into the lives of my clients, I know that my impact is limited, due to the one on one nature of my business. My plan is to mentor other skin specialists to take on scar services, and to create online courses for professionals, to help them create successful practices and introduce niche services, so that there is more availability and access to treatment services. I see my role in this field as becoming a spotlight for raising awareness of services and support and supporting other practitioners. This means I can still have an impact in this area but focus my energy on supporting autistic and ADHD women and making a radical positive change for the future.

I’ve adapted my life post diagnosis to bring me to the calmest and happiest place I have ever been. I can now say, that for the first time ever, I am living in alignment with my true self. I am showing up exactly as I want to, unapologetically. And I am sharing my experiences, knowledge, and expertise for good.

What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?

With The Autistic Joyologist, the main challenges are raising awareness and visibility of my mission and my services. This business is in its infancy, and raising the profile and awareness is key.

Another big challenge is the outdated stereotypes of how autism and ADHD present, especially for women. Having experienced rejection of my own diagnosis, I believe we have a huge mountain to climb, not only to smash apart outdated stereotypes, but also to change the diagnostic tools and support for autistic and ADHD women.

A significant challenge in this field is also empowering other autistic and ADHD women to create lives where they thrive on their own terms, and not trying to live up to societal definitions of success.

I feel it is going to be slow and difficult road ahead, but I am prepared to be as persistent and noisy as I can be to make significant changes for our younger generations!

Nikki Butler sitting on a sign saying 'you don't look autistic'

Another challenge is the different support needs and considerations for autistic and ADHD entrepreneurs. Most of the start-up business courses, business training and associated tools are designed for neurotypicals, but I have also tried tools designed for neurodivergent folk and still found them frustrating and overly complicated. I struggled unnecessarily as an entrepreneur for years, forcing myself to try and do things the way that all the coaches and mentors told me I should be doing them. It wasn’t until I stopped listening to the external noise and started listening internally that things shifted.

For the Nikki Butler Skin Clinic, my main challenge is being time poor, and the demand for my services far outweighing my availability. I currently have a waiting list, and I’m fully booked over 6 months in advance.

To help counter this, I have launched an online skin school called Skinblissology. I am currently offering courses to consumers where they can learn about their skin health and make informed choices. However, I will also be launching courses for practitioners to help them build a successful salon/clinic, and to specialise in scar work. This will then create more practitioners who are able to support clients.

What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?

For many people with whom I have spoken, the challenges come with not knowing where to start with a business, and the additional considerations that need to be taken into account for disabled/neurodivergent entrepreneurs. It may be that different resources, different support functions, a different way of working, or a unique business structure or operation is needed. It’s hard enough to figure out for anyone starting a new business, but for a disabled/neurodivergent entrepreneur, there are other layers that need to be taken into consideration.

Societal issues can also play into this too: the added pressure of what others will think, or how will they respond. For example, I know female neurodivergent entrepreneurs who won’t share their diagnosis with organisations they work with, for fear that their contracts will be cancelled, or they will not be valued as much. This is why so much must be done to raise awareness of the unique talents, strengths and gifts that we have to offer.

Often, it can be isolating and lonely, and feel overwhelming. The advice, tools, and resources available for start ups are usually directed towards neurotypical/abled entrepreneurs, and those tools aren’t necessarily the right ones for us. Many people feel embarrassed when the tools that seem to be working for others don’t work for us. It can make us feel flawed or not good enough.

How we are treated by others can really affect our confidence and self-belief. Some people feel that being disabled or neurodivergent makes us less able and assume we won’t do as good a job – when the reality is, the opposite is often true!

I think that the way to encourage more disabled and neurodivergent entrepreneurs to start businesses is through a supportive community, with resources and guidance that is geared towards us. A space where we can be honest and open and support each other through challenging times. As we support each other in rising, we increase in confidence and raise awareness of the amazing skills and talents of the community, shifting perspectives and limiting beliefs that others may have.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?

My greatest achievement and proudest moment so far has been launching The Autistic Joyologist, which I first put into the public arena in my application for Service Entrepreneur of The Year in The Great British Entrepreneur Awards. It was the first time I had committed to what I was going to do, and it was a contributing factor for being a Finalist for 2023!

I am a hugely private person, and I would love nothing more than to fly under the radar. But the experiences I had when I shared my diagnosis with others in my life, coupled with the difficulties in accessing the right kind of information and support, set me on a mission that was stronger and more important than my desire to stay quiet.

I created The Autistic Joyologist with the ultimate mission of smashing outdated stereotypes of what autism and ADHD look like, particularly in women. I want to walk alongside other incredible autistic and ADHD female entrepreneurs and leaders, so we can show what neurodivergent women are truly capable of. To showcase the incredible talents and skills that we have, and to create a brighter future for the next generations of autistic and ADHD girls.

The reason that this is my greatest achievement is that it required a level of bravery and strength that I didn’t know that I possessed! I am proud of myself for setting my own discomfort to one side to ensure that our younger generations don’t have to relive the experiences that I, and many women like me, have had to live through.

I am also proud of my ability constantly to pivot and to turn challenging situations into something positive. From losing everything during COVID and relaunching, to adapting after permanent nerve damage from major spinal surgery in 2022, and even down to this weekend, when I discovered I would have to leave my beautiful clinic in the next few weeks, due to major construction works leaving it unsafe. I have found another, even more perfect place to work, created a new opportunity, and will lean into the new direction, knowing it will always turn out for the best.

If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability, what would it be and why?

That having a disability doesn’t mean you are less. It simply means that you experience life differently, but you are equally as valuable and capable of greatness (arguably more so, in some cases!).

I am not a fan of the word disabled, because I believe that every human being has something valuable to offer. I prefer the term ‘differently abled’ I know many entrepreneurs who are incredibly talented and gifted. And you’ll usually find that their businesses are focused on supporting and bringing about positive change for others, not just about bringing in money. These are passionate and capable individuals who are being overlooked and held back by a narrow-minded society.

As a society, I believe there needs to be shift in judgemental, dangerous and divisive stereotypes. There is evidence in research of a higher rate of self-injury and suicide amongst neurodivergent women, which stems from struggling to fit into a society not designed for them, coupled with poor diagnostics and a lack of understanding, awareness and support. This breaks my heart, having been in a place where I considered suicide, when the enormity of the pandemic hit, and I lost everything. This type of statistic simply isn’t something I am willing to accept as OK. I feel I MUST do something to change this.

Things have to change: we have to start to open our minds and listen to people’s lived experiences. We have to believe what they are saying to be their truth and embrace the fact we all have value that we add to the world.

Who or what inspires you?

I am always inspired by the tenacity that some people have, to go after their dreams and to make great change in the world. I find Fearne Cotton inspiring for her honesty and rawness, and the way she’s adapted her life to suit her needs, as well as giving back to as many people as possible. She’s hard working, gracious and kind. But she also knows how to protect her energy and honour her needs. She leads by example, whilst inspiring and helping other.

I am inspired by people that suffer great trauma and adversity and use it for a catalyst for change in their lives and are usually shining a spotlight on worthy causes that need attention. Where they focus on something bigger than them, and are not just focused on financial gain.

I am inspired to make a difference to as many lives as possible. What drives me and keeps me going, even when things get really tough, is knowing I have the ability to make a positive contribution to something that matters deeply to me and will effect change for the lives of future generations of autistic and ADHD women.

Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?

I listen and read a lot! One of my favourite podcasts is Steven Bartlett, Diary of A CEO, because the range of guests and topics is so vast.

The book that changed my life from a mindset perspective was The Obstacle is the Way, which I read during the pandemic. It helped me to turn the pandemic into my greatest business success to date, by shifting my mindset and actions. It’s a mindset I regularly turn to when things are challenging, I immediately think about how I can turn the obstacle or challenge into my way forward – and see it as a little nudge from the Universe that it’s time for a change!

Glow in the Dark by Mark Leruste was the book that helped me find my voice and mission for The Autistic Joyologist. I would go as far as to say that this book, and Mark, changed my life! It stopped me in my tracks and I knew that I needed to be doing something positive to effect change for autistic and ADHD women, and ensure our future generations had a more positive experience, and to connect with and support other women like me.