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Selling the Couch - Melvin Varghese, PhD 25th February 2021
268: Moving From An Online Course To A Membership Model with Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CEDRD-S

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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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 content there because there's just so much information

with business. 

I wanted to also expand away from

helping people just in one on one, to helping people especially Dietitians that

are in the non-diet space run group programs and maybe even for themselves

launch an online course. I have like amazing dietitians that are -- even it's

so interesting because intuitive eating and weight inclusive approach is a

niche in and of itself. But then I have some dietitians that are even sub

niching within that niche. So they have potential for amazing courses because

they're so specialized, like running an intuitive eating course is a great

idea, but there's so many of them out there. 

If you can take it a step further,

either intuitive eating for moms or intuitive eating for people that want to

live a vegan lifestyle or intuitive eating for athletes, inclusive approach for

body liberation and fat positivity and even things like that, you have a better

course because you're so specific and you're very, very niched.


Yeah. This is like a Pat Flynn or I

don't think Pat Flynn's original person, but I think it's money quotes, “Riches

are in the niches.” And I think that's so true. I see that sometimes with

colleagues, like for example, they'll be like, I want to create a meditation

course. But then the question I always ask is like, why would someone purchase

your general course when there's like so much one free information available



Yeah. So point being I wanted to help

my Dietitians go into more of those areas. So basically with personal private

practice, it changed over from a onetime course just on like one on one

counselling to business education. So that's the first part of Dietitian

Business School. The second part is supervision and nutrition counselling.

Sticky customer service situations. We've all been there. This is so common for

therapists Melvin, but when I say supervision, it's not normal in the

dietician, world. 

It might be a little bit more normal

in the eating disorders world for dietitians, because we're working with so

many therapists, but you won't believe the amount of like transference and

counter transference issues that come up that dietitians don't even know what

they are. And of course, all the therapists out there are probably like, how in

the world is that happening? I feel like dietitians need to learn from

therapists, which is the main point. So there's that section in there. So we do

group supervision calls three times a month, we do business strategy once a

month, group supervision three times a month. 

And then we actually started a

self-care aspect of Dietitian Business School, because so many of us struggle

with boundaries, raising rates, how to say no, money mind-set things. So we

have a self care call every single month. And we also talk about that in our

community in our Facebook group. So my team and I figure out like, who's

struggling with what? We talk about all the members all the time and we figure

out, like what can we do for them with prompts and like trying to get other

people to help them with certain issues. 

And I just absolutely love that part

of Dietician Business School because it's not all about hustle, hustle, hustle

all the time, it's also about taking care of yourself and knowing what's



Yeah, so you're resting so that you

can be creative when you need to be, right?


Yeah, and setting boundaries.


Man, we like flew through our time.

So we've got about five minutes left. But I wanted to ask you, what was a big

mistake that you think you made as you transition from having this online

course to a membership model?


Well, that's a good question. I don't

know if I have a big mistake, but I feel like I have lots of little



Give me like three of your little



Okay. I think assuming that everybody

would come over with me, not everybody did, which is total autonomy. And that's

100% okay. I think thinking that I had the answers to a lot of things in

business, don't get me wrong, I feel like I know a lot, but I'm not the best at

everything, no one is. So I feel like thinking that I could do all of the

lessons maybe without bringing in some other people to help me. So, once I got

to some of the topics that I really wanted to talk about, I definitely brought

some people in, and I'm going to be continuing to update those lessons,

especially things like social media, I'm not a social media guru


When I update the social media

lesson, I will definitely bring in someone else that knows a little bit more

than me. Thinking about how much pursuing private practice has evolved, I feel

like my other little mistake, which I'm correcting now is thinking that I could

just do it, like, run it all. My team, I have two employees and I think at this

point, I have like four retainer contractors, and I use a couple people every

once in a while too. 

I have a big team. And I'm not afraid

to be honest about that because I feel like it's so good for other Dietitians

to see like, you don't have to do it all, you can definitely have help and

support. That's actually my word for 2021, support. You can have support and

like grow a big business employing other people creating jobs. You don't have

to be the best at everything and do everything.


Yeah, that's such a one. I think that

requires such a level of humility to realize that and then two, in some ways,

like it's so empowering to realizing there are people who can do it better than

you and then you don't have to have that pressure on yourself to create

something and then wonder like, “Oh, not the best at it. But hopefully this is



Yeah. Oh my Gosh, when I got somebody

to do my sales pages that look so beautiful, I gave her some of my old sales

pages. I was like, “I'm a little embarrassed. I want you to know I did this.”

And she's like, “This is my perfect job.” It’s just so funny how someone can do

something so much better than you. And I happily pay her money every single

month to do the things that I do not do well.


I think that's such one of the most

valuable lessons I've learned as a business owner is like having the ability to

realize what you're like amazing at and focusing on those, but then having the

ability to realize that you're not good at everything and actually having the

wisdom to figure out who is really good at it. So then and then bringing them

on board so that you have a more complete team.


Yeah, exactly.


Last question for you, what advice

would you give to a clinician that is either launching an online course or

making this transition from a online course to a membership model?


That's a good question. I think my

answer would probably be different for both, if that's okay. If you're

launching an online course, I feel like so many people, and I see this all the

time in my group too, so many people are working on the course waiting, doing

really amazing work on the course without telling their audience that they are

building it. I think the biggest piece of advice I have, if you're launching

something, especially something new to the world, you have to bring your

audience into the process with you. 

Not only is it great for marketing,

because you're actually telling people that you are doing this project and you

can talk about it 10 times before you launch it, and then when you launch it,

that's the 11th time someone might have heard about it, they're definitely

going to buy. And then if they feel involved, it is so awesome, not only for

your business, for your sales, but also for creating the content for your

perfect person, if someone is telling you, from your audience what exactly they

want in a course, and what they would like to see, they are investing their

energy into your product. That's a perfect customer for you. 

I think asking your people what they

want, figuring out what are the topics that they want, the delivery of it, what

would be best for them? We have to talk about our things before we launch them,

which is something that a lot of people don't do.


Yeah, and I would just add to that,

like, I think there is a way to authentically sell, and I think a lot of us, I

think we get scared of the word selling. We think it's like some sort of like

slimy, whatever thing. And I think for me, it's realizing that if we have

something that can truly help people, it's actually our responsibility to share

that knowledge with them. And I think if you come from that perspective of just

genuinely wanting to help, I think it really can lessen some of that sleazy

feeling, and all that kind of stuff. 

And people are smart on social media.

I feel like they know between the slimy sleazy versus the like, “Hey guys, this

is what I'm doing.”


Oh my Gosh, and they and they have a

right to say no. And I sometimes even remind people that even to make myself

feel better, a little bit like, “Okay, this is for you. If this is not for you,

if this,” When I saw Dietician Business School, if you're just starting a

business at stage zero, and you don't know anything about forming a business

entity or anything about the topic at hand, this is not the perfect membership

for you. And then I have resources to send them to other places, if they want

something and I'm not the right match, and that's okay.


Yeah, absolutely. What piece of

advice would you give someone that's making a transition from a course to a

membership model? 


Yes, I would say probably not

everyone is going to follow you. And knowing that you are probably going to

make some people upset, knowing that it's okay to stand in your boundary or

your self-care, if the membership model is really the best thing for you, which

I think a lot of times it is for course creators or clinicians that have been

doing a lot of coaching on the outside of things. I feel like that happens a

lot in courses. So that might be my piece of advice, although I'm not a

membership expert by any means, but I am sure that it happens to a lot of

people. Not everyone is going to agree.


Yeah, absolutely and think honestly,

I would rather have speak to someone like you who is actually doing it and has

that sort of experience. Jennifer, I'm just so grateful for you. Where can we

learn more about you, the business, the membership site, please let us



Yes. I am at

pursuingprivatepractice.com. I also have a podcast called Pursuing Private

Practice, which Melvin helped me set up through health casters, so I owe you

and your group a lot. That podcast is really for Dietitians building a

business, we talk a lot about different stories, about business growth and the

hard things and things like that. So that's my podcast, you can find me


I also have a group private practice

that specializes in eating disorders that's at eatwithknowledge.com. We are

virtual right now, but hopefully going back to a local space soon, fingers

crossed. So we are taking clients from mostly the New York area. So that is

just one thing to recognize. We get a lot of inquiries from all over the place,

but we have a great directory of Dietitians that have gone through Dietician

Business School to send out to people that want eating disorder help, but we

are mostly local.


Jennifer, thank you again for doing

this and have a great rest of your day. 


Thanks Melvin.


Disclosures: Please note that all opinions are my own and based on my personal experience. Sponsors are acknowledged. Some links in the description are affiliate links where if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a commission at no additional cost to you. I use these funds to continue to create helpful content to serve our field. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.

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Hi. I'm Melvin. I'm a psychologist (PhD), entrepreneur, and online creator living in Philadelphia, PA.

In 2014, I began to think about how to use the therapy skills we learn in grad school, and in our clinical work into different realms (e.g., podcasting, consulting, online course creation, etc).

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