Oct 252011

Jenny McGruther quit her job as an office manager last year to devote herself to her online cooking business, Nourished Kitchen. (Photo by Kevin McGruther)

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.

Strawberry, rhubarb, eggs and homemade cream. (Photos by Jenny McGruther.)

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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Selling Recipes Online for $2.49 Each

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  33 Responses to “Blogger Quits Day Job, Creates Successful Online Business”

  1. I adore Jenny’s recipes and whole site concept. I’m so glad to hear this paid content model is working for her :)

  2. Thank you for connecting me with this wonderful woman. What in inspiration!

  3. fascinating how many different “business models” are flourishing out the love of food…
    I always admire who takes it to the next level, out of sheer passion, and drive, and persistence… oh yes…and talent!

    • Actually I haven’t found very many when it comes to writing, Amelia, so all the more reason to feature Jenny’s business model.

  4. Jenny’s site is incredible, and I’m really amazed at all the valuable information she’s put into it. Thank you for thepeak into what it takes to achieve all of this. Definitely an inspiration.

  5. Wow, success story! Would love to know how she built the infrastructure for all of this! Did it require an expensive web developer, or did she do it herself? Did she have a video background?

    • I know she and her husband did the videos themselves, not sure about the infrastructure.

    • I did hire someone to do the initial installation of the membership software which was a little complicated – and which I didn’t have a lot of free time to handle since I was working on the landing pages and course materials.

  6. I wasn’t familiar with Jenny, really like her traditional foods approach. As Amelia said above, so interesting how people take an idea, or simply just what they’re doing/how they’re eating and turn it into a captivating business. Kudos to her! I’m inspired!

  7. Love her message about specialized knowledge….that’s the missing ingredient in so much of today’s food writing: actual content! Thanks for showcasing her approach.

    • My pleasure, Celeste. It helps to have a niche. I am not sure her approach would work for general cooking lessons.

      • This approach absolutely works in general cooking lessons. Google Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu from One Roast Vegetable. She has a membership site on eating more veggies, ‘Back to Basics Cooking Class” teaching cooking to beginners (which homeschoolers love and use for home economics credit) and video / autoresponder / weekly teleconfrence classes on topics from freezing food to French desserts to decluttering your kitchen.

        It’s less about the content – youtube has plenty of cooking videos. it’s about the relationship with someone who’s willing to share what they know, it’s much more about teaching helping people to actually use the content in their daily life than just sharing how to do something. Like the example in this post where Jennifer’s clients couldn’t remember to soak oatmeal 12 hours in advance so she made meal plans including make-ahead lists.

        • Yes, good points, Michelle. I will have to look up Shelley. I chose Jennifer because she figured out how to write content for her readers, in addition to offering video. Her clients need a lot of guidance because of the diet they’ve chosen, so she is perfectly positioned. I figure there is much less competition in her field than for general cooking classes.

  8. I’m very impressed with the amount of information she provides in her meal plans – it really does seem idiot-proof and so easy for novice cooks or those not used to cooking without processed products. Clearly, putting the effort in to provide a great product with excellent content will sell.

  9. Thank you for sharing this! It’s really helpful to gain insight into another facet of food writing and the world of “premium content.” I love Jenny’s idea and you are so right that a specific niche is really crucial for something like this to work. She also managed to get in at the right time – when interest in the subject of traditional, unprocessed foods was growing but there were few resources available. Kudos to her!

    • Agreed. Plus she has become a strong marketer of her products and masterful at putting together programs that speak to her potential audience.

  10. Sounds like another wacky diet. That stuff always appeals to the fringe: raw dairy, cultured and fermented foods, broth, offal, and grains and beans that have been soaked, fermented or sprouted. Puleeze.

    • It may sound fringe to you, but there’s a huge display of kombocha in Whole Foods, Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions has sold like crazy for many years, and there’s increasing evidence that fermented and cultured foods ward off cancer.

  11. And then there is the cottage cheese and flax cure. The eat broccoli, sweet potatoes (Dr Oz) and a lot of other nonscientific, never been through a double blind study gobbly-gook.
    If you think anyone should get their health info from Whole paycheck, well….
    Steve Jobs delayed medical care for 9 months because of this stupid non-scientific crap. Steve McQueen went to Mexico for coffee enemas. Guess where these guys are now?
    I am not AGAINST alternative approaches, but to choose them over proven scientific treatment is just plain stupid.

  12. Thank you for bridging this connection! I’m excited to visit Jennifer’s site and learn more about her food journey and recipes.

    My food philosophy is somewhat like Jennifer’s in that we try and stick to food in its most natural form. It doesn’t always mean sprouted grains, but it does mean choosing real, identifiable food over the pre-packaged variety.

    I’m glad to know that people like her have realized their dreams by providing a needed, insightful and accessible resource.

    • You’re welcome, Yasmeen. I think the traditional foods diet is fascinating too. Jenny has figured out how to make a good living as a food writer — kind of rare in our industry. P.S. I just printed out your blog post on moussaka.

  13. I’m so glad you featured Jenny and Nurished Kitchen! I wasn’t familiar with her website and now, am a big fan. Thanks Dianne!

  14. Thank you so much! A wonderful writing success role model! Timely too. I think this is the next big emerging trend (may take awhile to reach mainstream, though!). Personally, I’ve been eating this way for about three years. It’s lonely. Dedication required! But I have seen amazing improvement in my overall heath. Deeply appreciate this post!

  15. Have to add: If you’ve never made oatmeal soaked overnight in homemade yogurt, you are missing a taste of divinity. Who woulda thunk?

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