Published on:

25th Feb 2021

268: Moving From An Online Course To A Membership Model with Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CEDRD-S

Today’s show takes on a very niched perspective, but the information and wisdom are useful in many aspects of our work as clinicians and business owners. We are specifically discussing how to move from an online course to a membership model. Maybe you’ve wondered about these components of your practice and how to make the transition. Join us for expert advice!

Our Featured Guest

Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CEDRD-S

Jennifer McGurk is a registered dietitian in NY whose specialty is helping clients with eating disorders. She made the transition from an online course to a membership model, so she is sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of such a move. I hope our discussion will be helpful to you if you’re considering a similar transition.


You’ll Learn:

●     How membership sites can help a clinician accomplish career goals

●     Details of Jennifer’s journey in private practice from an online course to a membership model

●     The benefits to therapist and client of a membership model over a one-time course model

●     How imposter syndrome can crop up when creating a membership site

●     How it’s helpful to see others reaching their goals in transitioning from an online course to a membership site

●     Common mistakes in this transition

●     What the business gurus DON’T tell you about your online course as a passive income stream

●     The components of Jennifer’s membership site: Dietitian Business School

●     Jennifer’s advice to a clinician either launching an online course or making the transition to a membership site

Today's Podcast Sponsor:

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Please visit https://sellingthecouch.com/hushmail and please let them know Mel sent you =).



Hi Jennifer,

welcome back to Selling the Couch.


Hi, Melvin; thank

you for having me. I'm so excited to talk to you.


I really enjoyed

our last conversation. I'm so grateful that you reached out, you are doing just

so many neat things in the world, so many out of the box things. And I'm just

grateful when you reached out and then two, just to hear about the journey and

share all the lessons and all those things that you've learned.


Yeah, thank you so

much. I'm so grateful for your work, too. We were talking before we hit record

about how mental health is so needed right now and therapists are doing such an

awesome job. So anyone out there listening, thank you for your work too. It's a

time where people really need mental health services.


Yeah, absolutely;

I do feel so grateful to be part of this profession. I don't know who could

have imagined something like this. But I think one of the things that's really

been on my mind, especially through this pandemic, I think it was there before

but it's kind of accelerated it is this question of like, what do I want my

career to look like? And where do I want to focus my energy?

And one of the

things that I've kind of realized is, I actually want to eventually just

completely pull back on one on one work or if I have to it's kind of more

higher-priced and it's very limited. And I think one of the ways that you can

do that is through online courses and membership sites. I think there's like a

lot of information online about how to do these, all of that kind of stuff. But

I wanted to hear from you, because you had an online course, you transitioned

into a membership site, you're actually doing it and yeah, I'm just so

grateful, I think for this conversation.


Yeah, thank you so much for letting me to share my story. Yes, I did have a course and I was in

the same situation that you have just said, I was seeing clients and I had been

seeing clients at that point for probably seven years or so in private practice

and even more before that, before I started my private practice, and I did get

to the point where- I was going to say burnout, but I just wanted to do

something different because I specialize in eating disorders.

I felt like

everyone's story is very different in a way. But I was seeing the same thing

over and over again and I just thought to myself; I really want to work with Dietitians,

as well to teach them all of the knowledge that I've learned over the years, from

working with clients and my own supervision and just everything that I've

learned about business.

So that's when I

started my second company pursuing private practice. And pursuing private

practice really was for Dietitians to start and grow a business. So long story

short, it started out as a book series, it turned into a DIY course, and then

it kind of morphed itself into a group program/business coaching, hot seat,

stuff Facebook group, and it just got way too big for a one time purchase and I

felt like I was coaching forever.

So I turned it

into a membership and that membership Dietician Business School has really done

awesome in the past six months since it's been open, and I've been able to

bring on team members and really help Dietitians in a way that feels so good,

because I'm giving them so much support. And I'm not burnout, because it's a

membership versus a one-time course payment. So I'm happy to talk and elaborate

on that process, because it was a journey to transfer it from a course to an

actual membership.


Yeah, I know. It

is quite a bit of a journey. So for those of you guys are listening, I had a

very similar process, I guess back in like 2018, where I had my health casters

podcasting course and then it was a single payment. And then I got to this

point where for me I hated doing these launches, and I hated the like you said

the one off kind of payments. And then I just began to think about how I think

the question that you just or the statement that you said, of thinking about your

own personal health and how do you sort of scale this while preserving that

aspect, right?


Yes, definitely. I

think courses are great, and for anyone out there interested in even doing a

course I think courses are really great for information, and really awesome to

start someone on a journey. But let's face it; a lot of times the business

gurus out there that are teaching people how to sell courses are basically

saying, “Oh, it's passive income, create once and sit on the beach and watch

your money roll in.” Which I absolutely hate; I feel like it's diet culture in what

I do, I'm an eating disorders dietician.

So I feel like

it's this false message of hope. But yet, the reality of it is that your people

are going to have questions, they are going to need to process and the

information, and they are going to want to bounce ideas off of somebody, and you

can provide more than just the information as a course. But if you do that

you're probably creating a Facebook group or you're having people come to group

calls. And that in my opinion, I have learned kind of the hard way like, that's

a membership, that's not a course.

So I was doing

this one time course all the way up until I probably knew I needed to change

January 2020, before the pandemic, but once March hit, what happened to me was

just, “Oh my Gosh, my people need help.” So I added extra group calls to my

course, I added more prompts in my Facebook group. I added so many different

workshops and things like that. And I saw that my Dietitians were getting so

many results from it, they were actually doing better.

And this was where

COVID was really starting to hit our at least in the United States, like in

March was starting to hit our country and people with eating disorders were

really struggling. So the Dietitians are really struggling and no one really

knew what was going on. So I felt like all the support that I gave my Dietitians

in my course, was so helpful and I could see the results happening I could see

people making better connections and I almost created a little bit of a mock

membership in that Facebook group and group calls. And then I decided like

okay, this is working, but I need to really officially change my business



Yeah, that's cool.

So a lot of really great information, I want to like break it down here. So

practical kind of tools; the group was on what? Was it on Facebook? Or was it

on? Where was the group on?


The course started

out as information in teachable. I use teachable and I really like teachable

although you can use whatever platform you want. I did information in teachable

and then we had a Facebook group and we had zoom group calls once a month just

as a quick QA and it was great. It was awesome to connect with people.

But I personally

don't feel like that's enough of a connection for a lot of people like people

need constant reminders, people need to feel supported, people need to process.

So once COVID hit, I really stepped up to the plate and I said my people need

me. And granted meanwhile, Melvin I know you know what it's like to have

children at home. My two kids were home. We lost our babysitting for a couple

months. But looking back, I don't even know how I did that. But I did it. But

yeah, we were meeting over zoom with a group call. So you would see in my old

course site, it was literally like 15 group calls just one after the other.

That's not a course that's a membership.


Yeah, it's such a

good way. So you notice, like you looked at the practical schedule, and you

were like, “Oh my Gosh, this isn't sustainable.” You said it so clearly,

though. But like, this is not a course this is a membership; was it as clear

cut in your mind? Or was this like, “Oh my Gosh, I'm going to betrayed my

members, or like all of that?


It was clear cut

in my mind. But how do I say this, it was not clear cut in my heart, maybe in

my soul. My brain knew that I needed to switch. But my heart had a really hard

time with it. Because I felt like I was going betray the Dietitians that had

signed up for my course and I had a little bit of imposter syndrome, like “Who

am I to run a membership program for Dietitians in business?” Because I feel

like everyone has imposter syndrome when they start something new.

I really just felt

like, “Oh my Gosh, what if people don't like it,” that scary type of feeling.

But then I thought to myself, and there are so many parallels, in my opinion

with running a business and eating disorder recovery, which is what I focus on

in my practice. My clients do hard things all the time, they really battle

eating disorder thoughts, and behaviours and feelings every single day, like

sometimes even every single hour, and to think about all the clients that I have

helped and I've said to them, “You can do hard things.”

I kind of said to

myself, I can do hard things and I can make decisions from a place of where I

want to be, and almost by making that decision, I hope to inspire other people

and other business owners that they can make those hard decisions too. And not

everyone is going to like your decision and that just goes without saying even

if you were to stay in the same exact model, some people are not going to like

that decision. So you have to almost make a decision based on what's best for

you as an act of self-care.


How do you deal

with that part? Because that's the part I often struggle with, which is knowing

there's going to be a percentage of people that will be upset by this.


Yes. Oh, my Gosh

yeah. And honestly, I don't know if I have a great answer with that, because I

feel like some people are more sensitive than others. Some people are more

empathetic than others. Some people just feel other people's energy. But I

think what I said to myself is, you are going to have some people that are not going

to like this decision, but you have to think about what's best for you because

if you burn out, there's going to be no online business. And you really want to

do this; this is your passion. This is your calling, I almost felt like I know

that it's a little Woo but I love it. Like this is my calling and his is what I

want to do. And I think also to seeing other people's memberships, and not in

like a comparison type of way. But seeing other people's memberships really

work and being a part of other people's memberships. It helps casters included

because I was a part of health casters for a long time; I saw that people were

doing it and I saw that other people are turning their models into memberships too.

So that was really helpful to see other people reaching goals that I wanted to

do as well.


I think that's a

really good point. And I would say for those of you guys are listening, one

thing that was really helpful for me, I don't know that I thought about it, and

it but I feel like there's a common overlap between our two courses in that I

think there's some wisdom, even if you want to start with an online course.

Initially, I think

there's some wisdom in just thinking like, is the content of this online

course? Is it possible to move it or scale it into a membership model? Like,

can you add things like, I don't know, I can't think of a tangible example of

him where that wouldn't be beneficial. But I don't know. Just asking that

simple question, I think was really helpful for me.


Yeah, definitely, I

think it also depends on your content and your mission too. And for me, I teach

Dietitians, especially non-diet dietitians, which is like anti-diet, eating

disorder recovery, intuitive eating, and weight inclusive dietitians like I'm

in a very special, specific niche.


I teach dietitians how to run a

business from that lens. Diet Culture is everywhere. There are mixed messages

with marketing everywhere my people need to process, they need to experiment,

they need to try, they have questions on not just business stuff, but clinical

cases. We all need a lot of support, especially my dietitians; we need a

community and a lot of support sometimes, because we're battling against diet

culture, which is so normal, especially if we're recording in January,

especially this time of year. 

So it's important for them to feel

supported. And I just felt like I couldn't give the amount of support that I

wanted to give in a onetime course. I almost needed to hold their hand with

more group calls and more accountability, more team members, more people other

than me, which I couldn't really afford to do when it was a onetime thing. Now

I can bring on a lot more people, which is really awesome.


That is really awesome. What are the

components now? What were the components when it was just a one off course?

Like it was the course the community and then a monthly coaching? What is it



Okay, so I'll tell you my mistake

with the course, which for anyone listening, you can totally learn from my

mistake. The mistake with the course was that it was just a course and people

were paying for a course. And then I added Facebook group, I added the group

calls. So they didn't expect it almost at first. And again, my course started

in 2017. Once it grew, and I was launching over and over again, I would talk to

you about these things, but that was my mistake to kind of just do that just,

here you go, which I love doing. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret anything

I've done. 

Now a Dietitian Business School is,

well, first of all, when I decided to revamp the course, I should say this is

important. I decided it was time for an update because that's another thing

that a lot of the business gurus don't tell you. They say make a course and

record once, and then you're going to be making money in your sleep and you can

go on vacation all the time, you don't have to work. And that's like totally

not true. So you have to really record your information in a course. I don't

know what you would say, Melvin every two, three years, maybe like things are

different, things are updated.


Yeah, it's a great point. So for me,

at least with health casters, and just being completely transparent, I don't

think I have done as good of a job as I could. Partly was related to having the

baby and just having such limited time. But now what I've started to do is

actually check in with the community twice a year, like January July ish,

saying, “Hey guys, what things need updating?” 

I think the general parameter that

I've been following, if it's like a course that's related to something that's

rapidly evolving, something like podcasting, you probably need to do it more

frequently. Whereas if it's like topics that have, I guess, some evergreen

potential, I think you can go through and tweak as needed.


Yeah, it's a really good point that

there's obviously no right answer. But thinking about your niche and who you're

serving and the updated information and things like that is such a good point.

So I felt like it was time for an update from me for Dietitian Business School.

So I re-recorded all of the lessons. So basically, there's three parts, it's

the business education part. So it went from 10 to 20 lessons. I actually

added, I doubled the...

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About the Podcast

Selling the Couch
Impact + Income Beyond The Therapy Room
With over 1.5 million downloads, Selling the Couch is a top podcast for mental health private practitioners who think differently.

Psychologist Melvin Varghese interviews successful therapists, top entrepreneurs, business/marketing, productivity, and social media experts.

You'll learn how therapists get referrals, make money, work through fears, and how they've stopped "trading time for income."

Melvin also shares the lessons as he grows his impact + income beyond the therapy room (podcasting, video, online courses, masterminds, investing, etc) and the tips, tools, and tech he uses to grow STC from a single-person business to the CEO of a 5-person 100% remote team.

You get bite-sized and highly actionable tips to guide your private practice and entrepreneurial journey.

About your host

Profile picture for Melvin Varghese, PhD

Melvin Varghese, PhD

Hi. I'm Melvin. I'm a psychologist, girl dad, and online creator living in Philadelphia, PA.

In 2014, I began to think about how to use our therapist skillset in different realms besides clinical work (e.g., podcasting, consulting, online course creation, writing, etc).

This allows us to serve others on larger scales while diversifying our income beyond 1 to 1 work.

I make podcasts and videos about business, tech, productivity, and lessons I'm learning from becoming the CEO of a lean, mean 5 person 100% remote team (we're not really mean..it just rhymed =P).