You know how they say hindsight is 20/20?
I've always found that it's really easy to learn from other people's mistakes. Sometimes, I think knowing what not to do is more valuable than knowing what to do. That's why today I'm opening up about my first experience with running a group nutrition program.
For context, here are some details about the program:
- Length: 6 weeks
- Cost: $180 per person
- Sign-ups: 36
- Topic: General Healthy Eating
Even though I would consider my first group program a success in terms of sign-ups, there were definitely things I’d go back and change if I could. So here are the seven biggest mistakes I made during my first group nutrition program.
1. The Program Didn’t Solve a Specific Problem
The goal of my first group program was essentially to help people "eat healthy for six weeks,” which didn’t really do much to attract my preferred type of client or to showcase my knowledge of my niche. Luckily I had a highly engaged email list to market to, but if I didn't, I doubt I would have had many sign-ups.
While the program was running, it was hard to focus on what kind of content to share with the participants because there was really no specific lesson to learn, or no specific problem to solve. Because of this, I had a hard time keeping people engaged and a lot of the people who signed-up ended up falling off.
What I would do instead: Choose a specific topic that relates to my niche and ideal client. For me, this would mean targeting individuals with IBS-C.
2. I Allowed Unlimited Email Support
Now I’m not saying I don’t think you should offer support via email to your program participants – because I do. However, advertising “unlimited email support” as a feature of my program was unnecessary and lead to an annoying problem: Every time someone had a question they would email me directly and with 36 participants, I would end up answering the same question 10 times.
Even though I set-up a private Facebook group for those participating in my program, because I was offering individual support, my inbox was constantly clogged up and I missed the opportunity to foster a sense of community amongst my participants. They were talking to me instead of each other.
What I would do instead: Instead of advertising unlimited email support, I would highlight the online community as a feature and encourage people to post their questions in the group. This would free up my inbox for the sensitive questions that my participants didn't feel comfortable asking in the group.
3. The Meal Plan Was Too Complicated
In my first group nutrition program, I provided a meal plan to help guide my clients. This was a terrific resource to provide, but I made it way too complicated. I created the meal plan with myself in mind, instead of my clients.
The participants who dropped off said they “didn’t have time” to continue with the program, because it required too much time in the kitchen. This sucks because healthy eating does not have to be complicated!
What I would do instead: Fill the meal pan with one-pan meals and recipes that take 30 minutes or less. A menu like the Real Food, Real Quick Program tends to be more realistic for people who are trying to eat healthier without spending all of their time in the kitchen.
4. I Didn’t Use Leftovers Properly
As a passionate health foodie with culinary training, I forgot that most people are not used to cooking three meals every day.
I had my group program participants prep their lunches in the evening before, but they didn't always have the time for it. For those who were used to stopping off at a salad bar or a fast food restaurant for lunch, suddenly cooking three different meals per day was a bit much.
What I would do instead: Strategically use leftovers to limit the time participants spend in the kitchen. Design the meal plan so that participants use dinner leftovers for the next day's lunch, so they don't have to cook twice.
5. I Didn’t Charge Enough
Maybe this will be controversial, but in my opinion, $180 for a six week program was way too little. Going back to my first point, it would have been much easier to charge more if my program was solving a specific problem.
In hindsight, the amount of time I was spending managing participants each week, plus the time spent creating and the quality of the materials set an annoying precedent that my group programs were only worth $30 per week.
Perhaps the low cost contributed to more sign-ups. However, so many people signed up just to “try it” and then never fully committed. This was good for a short-term financial gain for me, but it was not good for converting participants into long-term successful raving clients.
What I would do instead: Increase the price to attract more quality clients who will commit to the program and see real changes. Then I could use their success stories as testimonials or client stories
6. I Didn't Have a Follow-up Plan
Once my program was over, I sent out one email to let participants know that they could receive 20% off of a one-on-one consultation to continue on with more personalized nutrition support.
... and then that was it, I didn't follow-up again.
This was a huge mistake because customers almost never buy the first time they're presented with an offer! I did have a few interested clients who took the step to work with me one-on-one, but not nearly as many as I could have if I would have taken the time to follow-up with the offer.
What I would do instead: Send a follow-up email immediately when the program wraps up to present an offer, and then send several reminders of the offer after that. I might also consider making the offer available for a short, limited-time to create a sense of urgency and encourage people to take action now.
7. I Only Ran the Program Once
When I launched my second group program, it was filled with entirely new content. The first group program basically got archived and I never went back to it. All the time and hard work that went into the program materials sat around collecting dust.
Even though I ran many subsequent group programs, they always had new meal plans and recipes. This, of course, required a lot of work upfront.
What I would do instead: Refine the original program and repeat. Instead of building a whole new program from the ground up, I would make tweaks to my content based on feedback and re-launch it to attract new clients.
So in summary, if I could go back in time, here is the advice I would give myself leading into my first group nutrition program:
- Niche down and solve a specific problem with the program.
- Create a community instead of trying to offer personal support to every participant.
- Keep the meal plan and recipes fun and simple.
- Use leftovers so participants can cook once and eat multiple times.
- It's better to sign up a few people at a higher price point than a lot of people at a lower price point.
- Follow-up at least three times with an offer to work one-on-one.
- Make changes to the program based on feedback, but don't re-create a whole new program for the next round.
No one gets it right the first time. The biggest step you'll take is the first one, and our mistakes are often our greatest lessons. If you've been waiting for the perfect time, the perfect program, or the perfect platform, know that regardless of how long you wait, the first iteration will probably be embarrassing to look back on, and that's completely normal.
In the famous words of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman: "If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late."
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