ENCORE: 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.
● 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
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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.
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
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
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
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 content there because there's just...