Do you dream of making enough money from food writing online to quit your day job? Do you want more income as a self-employed writer and educator?
Jennifer McGruther started down a path to lucrative self-employment in 2006, when she switched to a traditional foods diet. She defines this style of eating as “the foods that your ancestors ate prior to the industrial revolution in the 19th Century and the green revolution in the mid-20th Century.” The focus is on raw dairy, cultured and fermented foods, broth, offal, and grains and beans that have been soaked, fermented or sprouted. Protein sources must be grass fed, pastured or wild-caught.
She had trouble finding enough information about traditional foods (Sally Fallon’s Weston A. Price Foundation and her book, Nourishing Traditions, are pioneers). So in 2007, McGruther started a blog as a way to track the recipes she developed.
Based on the amount of interest in her blog and her newsletter (begun in 2009), she launched an online business of teaching people to cook traditional foods. She charges by the month and by the class for her online cooking classes and healthy meal plans. Hundreds of people sign up. Last year, she quit her day job as a Colorado office manager to work full time at her business, Nourished Kitchen.
Today, her newsletter has more than 21,000 subscribers. (Her Facebook fan page has more than 22,000 Likes.) Now she has a full website that sells two kinds of products: meal plans and recipes ($10 per month/ $85 per year) and video cooking classes ($149 for 13 installments), all aimed at an audience interested in pursuing the traditional foods diet.
We spoke recently about how her online business evolved and how it works:
Q. What’s interesting is that your readers are willing to pay for recipes, even though the web — and your blog — offer so many recipes for free.
A. When you develop a relationship with your readers, they are wiling to pay something more. I have solid, well-tested recipes that can be reproduced easily, and people value that.
When I decided to branch into premium content, I had about 2000 newsletter subscribers, and about 80 ended up making purchases. Their feedback was excellent and it gave me the confidence to continue providing premium content in addition to the free content offered on the site.
Q. That’s a good number, as a start. What came next?
A. In February, 2010 I launched free daily emails based on giving up processed food for a month. I increased my newsletter subscriptions by 1500 subscribers and was featured on CNN. That taught me people were interested in getting more involved. They kept emailing me with questions. I realized they didn’t know how to cook unprocessed food.
The daily emails were my pilot program for unveiling cooking classes. I worked with several other bloggers to create online cooking classes. We work together to cross-promote each other’s premium content, which helps us all to reach a broader audience. We also share suggestions, tips and technical advice with one another.
In May 2010, I launched a 12-week video cooking class on preparing traditional foods. There were 24 videos on things like how to truss a chicken, make sauerkraut, and make kombucha. My husband and I shot the videos together.
The new cooking classes are on making cultured and fermented foods. For $149, each class offers between eight and 13 installments, and each installment covers a particular topic, with 3 to 6 videos, print materials, and recipes, which usually amount to about 20 pages of content.
(To see an example of a video, watch this one on How to Ferment Anything.)
Q. How many people will buy these cooking class series?
A. Typically, each cooking class sells to several hundred people.
Q. How did the first one go?
A. There were lots of learning curves. I offered lifetime access to the site. People kept coming back and asking for help, asking if I was offering more classes. They were struggling with time management and kitchen management issues, such as remembering to soak oatmeal for breakfast 12 hours in advance.
That’s what led to the meal plan program. I also felt I needed a range of price points, so I allowed people to subscribe to the program for only $10 per month.I found that people couldn’t commit to traditional food seven days a week, so I gave them plans for three days a week.
(For the meal plan program, customers receive three full dinner menus each week: For each menu, there’s one dessert, one ferment recipe, one soup, a to do-list, a shopping list, cooking tips, and make-ahead lists. There’s one slow-cooker meal. See this sample of a meal plan.)
I’ve found that some people stick with the program for six months, and then they have enough recipes. Others make every single recipe every single week. And some use it to access new recipes.
Q. How many subscribers do you have for your meal plan?
A. Several hundred per month.
Q. I can see why. I’m amazed by the amount of information you provide, not just recipes but a lot of handholding and explaining so people can understand exactly what they’re getting. How did you know to create all that material?
A. I determined what I would like to see before I purchase something. With a physical product, you can see it. With digital information, it’s a little more challenging. I did my best to make sure it was very clear to see exactly what people were getting. That helps me create informed buyers who are not confused about the product.
Q. Why do you think your programs are successful?
A. They provide info on what people need, and they know exactly what they’re getting. The price points are effective, between $50 and $200, and work for most people. Plus, I was fortunate to be one of the first people to tap into this particular niche, so my site is more prominent. People get that one-on-one information and attention from a trusted source, and that’s enormously valuable. Also, I’m accessible. If a subscriber called me about cookware recommendations, I am happy to provide one-on-one information.
Q. What is challenging about this new business for you?
A. I get hundreds of emails and it’s really challenging for me to go through all of them. And when I go through them, that’s time I don’t spend developing new recipes for my blog and time I don’t spend with my family. It’s exhausting! I got an assistant for customer service, but an assistant can’t help with specialized expertise. I try to answer emails in two business days. Now I’m looking into an assistant who has specialized knowledge in traditional foods.
When I do a launch, I’m working an 80-hour week. I launch the cooking classes about three times each year with large promotions, though they’re open for enrollment at any time. I haven’t done a large promotion or launch for the meal plans yet, but I promote them periodically by social media or in blog posts.
Q. So what are the lessons for people who are still trying to figure out how to make a living from food writing?
A. They need to build a devoted audience based on their specialized knowledge. Once they have a way to convey that knowledge to their readers, they need to make it very clear about what the product will do for their readers. If they outline it directly and hit a price point that provides substantial value, they’ll be in a good position.
(Disclosure: I met McGruther when she contacted me about working together, and she is a client.)
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