005: Turning a Personal Health Struggle into a Membership Business
🗓 May 20, 2019
Ward and Andrea chat about how she turned an email marketing list into a sustainable business.
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Ward: [00:00:00] Hi, Andrea, thanks for joining me.
Andrea: [00:00:02] Hi. Thanks for having me.
Ward: [00:00:04] Yeah, no problem. So we usually start this off by you giving me a quick summary of what your business provides for folks at aren't familiar.
Andrea: [00:00:12] Yes. So I don't mean strong is kind of a groundbreaking online exercise program because it's the first exercise program that is designed for people living with autoimmune disease and other types of chronic.
Ward: [00:00:29] Cool, so that sounds like a definitely something that's needed. I don't know if I've heard of many other businesses out there that are that specific like that kind of a niche.
Andrea: [00:00:38] It is very specific and it is for a reason because I suffered really really greatly when I was diagnosed with I have actually for autoimmune disorders and in the process of trying to figure out how to get healthy so that I can. Live my life and take care of my kids. I really had to go through a lot of healing and exercise was a big part of it and I looked far and wide and could not find any expert who could tell me how to design an exercise program that fit my body because I was an athlete my whole life. And I was very accustomed to long distance running and I was a competitive skier. So I was all about the no pain no gain, like throw myself into CrossFit kind of exercise and it wasn't until I got sick that I realized that that kind of exercise was in totally incorrect for my illnesses and my body and I had to relearn everything and once I did. I said to myself. Well, like it's terrible that I have all this knowledge and that nobody else is talking about it. Not even doctors frankly or even talking about it. And so I'm now partnering with doctors to be able to spread this message and teach people how to design exercise programs that actually work with where their bodies are at due to their illnesses and their feeling.
Ward: [00:02:12] That's amazing. So what is your actual professional background so prior to getting sick?
Andrea: [00:02:18] I was in a completely different environment. I was in Corporate America. I worked for a company. That was the glory division of Berkshire Hathaway. And so I was the director of sales and Merchandising for jewelry company. So my job was to sell and Design jewelry and to fly all over the world and work with you know, major big-box stores to provide this jewelry. It wasn't until I got sick enough to have to quit that job that I made a real career switch.
Ward: [00:02:55] Okay. So after after you quit that job because of the illnesses you were suffering. What did you do next professionally?
Andrea: [00:03:03] Well, I decided that I was going to take some time off really just to focus on my health. It happened that I had two small children at the time at home as well. And I was working like 80 hour weeks. And so I was just dying to be home with them and get to know them and understand who they were. So I took a year and just focus on my health and my kids and then um, Once I really got my health back into some sort of manageable place. I started looking around and going back to the corporate world just didn't feel. Proper to me. It didn't feel like what I was trying to do. And in the meantime, you know, I was living in Providence, Rhode Island, which is a really small City and I grew up there. So I know a lot of people there and you know, you go to the supermarket and you see people you've known forever and they would stop me and say, you know, like oh my gosh you Andrea, you look great. Which was really cold for while you look like you're not dying anymore because there was a period of time where I was an absolute sick mess. And so then they would say oh my gosh, what are you what did you do to fix yourself? And how can I get some of that? And so I actually started Health coaching out of my. Out of my basement. I decided at previous to this. I had gone back to school to become a nutritional therapy practitioner and a personal trainer. I had no intentions of helping other people. It was literally just to be able to gain the knowledge that I needed to be able to heal myself, but once people stopped started. Say sharing their personal stories and they're in their struggles that I started to see that there was such a great need for this. So I started, you know, just coaching my friends out of my basement and soon. They told their friends and they told their friends and then I had a bite, you know, three months and I had a three-month wait list of people who wanted to work with me and I was charging like 200 bucks an hour. I was not cheap and and and so clearly people were willing that it needed this information and I felt like I wanted to. How you know be able to share this information without them having to a pay that kind of money and be have to wait to get that information because I knew that when I was sick, I wouldn't want to wait so I decided to record some videos and throw them up online. In I guess what you call like an MVP write a minimal viable product and mr. C is this a thing and I knew nothing about website development. I. Let's is Squarespace and this actually was on my vacation. I my family and I we went to Vermont and we were taking this like very quiet vacation. I put my kids to bed and my husband would go to bed and I would stay up at night and designed this website. I'm not a tech person in any way but actually Squarespace was pretty manageable and I was able to design like a basic website a friend of mine help me film some videos in my parents living room and we just like. Through this little thing together. It cost me like nothing and I threw it up online and pretty quickly it started to gain some traction and I did not even know what to do is so yeah, that's how it started.
Ward: [00:06:50] Well, so let's kind of dive in the details there. So you're saying you created some initial videos like you said an MVP minimum viable product. And then it started to gain some traction. So I mean you didn't literally want put the website up and then it just gain traction. Right? Did you have an email list or how did people even find out about it?
Andrea: [00:07:09] That's a great question. I did not have an email list. I didn't know that was a thing. I did. I had nothing I. It was really that my network, you know, I would tell people about it and they would tell their friends about it and they would tell their moms and their dads about it. And then those people would tell though their friends, you know, I apparently hit on a topic where. People didn't even realize this is a problem and I still see this now, you know, I mean, this is this is truly the Crux of the issue is that a lot of people don't know that you have to exercise differently because you have an autoimmune disease. They didn't realize that what they were doing wasn't helping them. So the minute they have they heard about this and they're like, oh my gosh, this makes so much sense to me and I'll be quick about the science, but the science is this. When you have an autoimmune disorder, there are such thing as autoimmune symptoms so they can look like exhaustion fatigue flu-like symptoms and when you have too much stress. From all sorts of things that stress can cause a symptom flare up which basically means like you're in a credible amount of pain you're stuck in bed. You're exhausted. You can't do anything. It's absolutely miserable and exercise. Is stress on the body that's how exercise makes change. So if you have an autoimmune disorder and you exercise too intensely, you put yourself at risk of an exercise induced symptom flare up. And once they started explaining this to people they were like shocks. They were like, oh my gosh, that is me. That's me in a nutshell and so they would tell people. And at any time one of their friends would complain they say did you know about exercise and do symptom flare-ups and they would tell them about my website. So it really started with Word of Mouth then I eventually built, you know, I I eventually did a lot of things because once this started Trucking and and when I say Trucking, I mean I had maybe like 15. 50 users. I'm not saying I was making millions. I just had enough people that were actually using I'm shocked that anybody was using it. And so I said, oh my gosh, I need to teach myself about this. So I basically like called a couple friends who knew some things about about. You know website development and how to grow a business and I started running a few Facebook ads and I started just dabbled in a bunch of things and paid attention to what worked paid attention to what didn't and that's how it started.
Ward: [00:10:09] So do you have examples besides the Facebook ads and the word of mouth that you dabbled in that worked or didn't work.
Andrea: [00:10:17] I mean, I'm still in that place where I'm figuring out what works and what doesn't work. I now know that an email list is essential because you you don't own your own space when you're on Facebook or you're on Instagram, you are at the mercy of their algorithms and about how much money you put in and how much they decide that they're going to show your stuff. So I. So I learned pretty quickly that an email list was essential. I also learned that. You know with my product but I think this makes I think this is pretty Universal is that people don't just see a product and they're like, oh my gosh, I need it. I must buy it. They think about it for a while and they and they ponder it right and so I realized that I needed to do a free giveaway or something, you know something that would get them to trust me get them to understand that I have knowledge that. They can't find anywhere. So now I have a workshop series that my email list like you join my email list and you get this five video Workshop series for free and it's basically a workshop series that gives you the entire exercise philosophy, but truth behind why you need to exercise differently when you have an autoimmune disease it tells you everything you need to know except for. The actual exercises it gives you all the philosophy. So if you're a go-getter and you know a little bit about exercise you can you can design your own exercise program or if you want to take that information back to your personal trainer you can but if you're not someone who wants to figure it out, you just want someone to tell you what to do. You can sign up for autoimmune strong.
Ward: [00:12:12] So these workshops these are like in person.
Andrea: [00:12:14] No their videos with all videos.
Ward: [00:12:17] Okay.
Andrea: [00:12:17] Yeah, it's all video. So basically it's a talking head. It's like you enter in your email and you get a 5 video series. So the first video comes the first day and then the second video comes the second day of the third video comes the third day and do each day. You get a new video that teaches you something new. And what I've learned is that that process. Allows people to get to know me to learn that I know a lot of stuff about this topic and that they have a lot of aha moments. I get a lot of emails from this Workshop where people will say to me I had no idea but you've just described me and when people have connection to your product like that it's powerful.
Ward: [00:13:14] Yeah, definitely that it's interesting that the way you're positioning everything is that these are videos that can help you and that could be all there is to it and then you can kind of go and do your own thing and you don't need to keep paying me forever or if you want to continue to get value can keep paying me.
Andrea: [00:13:31] It's kind of nice if people that option right and as far as the payment goes I have multiple levels and tears so that there are lots of options because ultimately. I I'm in a healing space. So I want people to have information. I don't want them to feel like financially they're boxed out of getting this information that's important for their health. Right? So there's like a $19.99 a month subscription and they can cancel at any time where they get access to the entire portal which is all hosted on member space. Which is I think 27 videos or actually now I just put up more so it's maybe like 35 exercise videos plus a bunch of e-books journal and a whole bunch of other stuff so they can use it for as long as it's helpful to them or they can subscribe for a year in which case they get it like a huge discount, you know from so I think the year is like. The years 149 which I think works out to be $12 a month instead of 1999 a month. There's a third option which is small group coaching. So for some people they need a little more hand-holding. It's hard for them to motivate to exercise or they want some extra personal guidance from a personal trainer. So I offer these small group coaching sessions four times a year where there 12 week sessions and they learn the exercises from the videos, but then we have weekly Zoom calls where. You work with me and Coach Christy to help you figure out how to tailor these exercises specifically to your body and to your lifestyle and it's just an extra level of support. So and that's 349. So there are many options right?
Ward: [00:15:33] So where did the $19 a month price point come from in the first place?
Andrea: [00:15:38] You know pricing is is tricky because. I wanted to keep it low enough that it feels like something that people are willing to try but also, you know, I have to cover my cost of doing business. So I started at $14.99 and I realized that people were willing to pay that and it didn't seem like it was blacking there. Ability to join but it wasn't covering my cost of doing business. The surprising thing to me is that you know, people would always talk to me about like if you just have a you know, a recurring, you know online platform. It's just extra. And this is what I tell people is it is not extra. It's not just gravy to your regular visits. I ended up closing my my private practice because managing this online business. Was not a side project it became a full-time job. There's a lot that you need to do in order to make this kind of thing successful and I feel like that's a misnomer out there. A lot of people say, oh, I just I want to build an evergreen program. That's like a side gig and I'm like, okay. I for me this Evergreen program now requires. I have nine contractors that work with me and I work. Many hours to make this thing work so so it's not cheap and it's not easy, but it's totally fruitful. So the 1999 is kind of a mix of keeping it low enough that people feel like, you know, it's worth it to them to try. But also it covers my cost of doing business.
Ward: [00:17:32] Yeah, that's a good a good thing to mention the cost of doing business. We've alluded to this and other podcast before with people that you need to charge enough to be a sustainable company. If you're not sustainable from a from a revenue and profit perspective to cover your coughs you're not be able to help anybody.
Andrea: [00:17:49] Exactly and you know one of the things one of the the only negative feedback I ever get from you know on Facebook ads is people will say, you know, it's not fair that you charge for this program because I'm sick and I need this information but. That's what I say back to them is look I you know, I want to be able to give it away. But unfortunately I can't otherwise I won't be able to sustain this it costs money to put this together. So I have to charge something in order to be able to make this worthwhile.
Ward: [00:18:25] Yeah, that that's definitely a more tricky position you're in as you know, like you said to be in like the healing healer space because it's a little bit of a different Dynamic with your customer because it's someone who's not customer. They're sick. But yeah, like you said the same time. To help the most people and to provide the best quality of help. You do need to charge money to do their scale correctly and that in that yes for some people. Unfortunately if they can't afford the $19 a month then they may not be able to purchase what you have to offer. But that doesn't take away from all the other people that you have been able to help because you charge money
Andrea: [00:19:05] exactly, but that's also why offer a lot of free information. I have that free Workshop. I was telling you about my into my social media is a great place to get all ton of free information about. Exercising safely with autoimmune disease. I am working on creating more and more free content every quarter so that it's both a sales tool and information that people can use if they can't afford it. So I'm trying to offer multiple levels of value so that because I don't want anybody. To be left out.
Ward: [00:19:47] Are you considering increasing the price again, or you think you're just gonna stay at 19 indefinitely?
Andrea: [00:19:52] It's hard to say right now. This is a comfortable price point for me. So right now it's working. It's hard to know I've learned. I've learned that you never know what's going to happen. So I hate to box myself in anything.
Ward: [00:20:13] Right, right. Do you do you anticipate as the business continues to grow that you will need to hire either more contractors or going to have more costs or you feel like you're pretty you're pretty set for for a while ?
Andrea: [00:20:26] Again, that's hard to say. I would love to be able to hire more people one of the things I struggle with is that when you are. The CEO of a small start-up you wear a million hats right? And so I am customer service. I am the Visionary. I am the person writing all the content. I am doing I'm the person running the budget and you know, analyzing the statistics and I do. a lot of stuff and in order to have a sustainable company. You have to get some rest and you have to take breaks and you can't work all weekend and can't work all night. And so um. Ideally, I'd like to be able to bring some people on full-time so that they can take over the areas where they are experts and I can get to be simply the expert on Fitness and Wellness for autoimmune disease and I can spend more time working on this free content and working on more content for my platform to make that 1999. A month valuable where people will stay with me for years on end, you know, but that comes in time.
Ward: [00:21:48] Do you feel like customer support is kind of taking up the majority of your time or is it something something else?
Andrea: [00:21:55] Customer support is a big one. I'm not ready to pass that on to anybody and I don't know if I ever will be I love talking to my customers. I love hearing about their stories. I love hearing about. Their struggles. I love hearing about their experiences with my product. I feel and I always felt that in my corporate life as well. I feel like when you get too far away from the customer experience you lose what you're doing. So the customer experience is really important to me. I just you know, there has to be a balance.
Ward: [00:22:39] Yeah, I mean I bring that up in that not that you it's one or one or one of the other word you either do customer support or you don't do customer support, but if somebody were to help. Maybe supplement with that. I would just curious from a financial perspective if that would even be possible at this point, or is that something where you need to grow a bit more before that would be like a financial reality?
Andrea: [00:22:59] Oh, no, I do have someone who's helping me currently. She will handle a lot of the technical questions or billing questions and things of that nature, but when it comes to giving. Advice on health are you know supporting someone through the program that if people need me they will get me I also have someone coach Christie who runs the small group coaching. I don't teach the small group coaching anymore and she is phenomenal and I actually find that I learn a lot from her about exercise and autoimmune disease. So I think it's really great because the members. Her experience and my experience in her knowledge and my knowledge so they get double which is really wonderful.
Ward: [00:23:48] Yeah, it's awesome. And I totally agree with you what you said before about you got to stay close to the customer. You have to be talking to them on a I'd argue daily basis. To really really hear how the products doing what people are struggling with what they like and and and that really shapes how the business involves. Otherwise, you're just kind of guessing in the background or hearing secondhand information.
Andrea: [00:24:11] Right? Exactly and I like to be able to ask questions where you know, maybe. I can learn something and I have learned a lot from my customers. I've learned more about what they need and what they want and what their goals are and then I go to bed and I. I think actually in my shower that's like where I really do my deep thinking and I'll have this these moments where I like think about this email conversation of having somebody I'm like, how can I help them better and and then I have a moment of like a hot and then I go back to my team and say I want to do this I want to produce this and so we figure out how to do that and I wouldn't have had that thought if I hadn't talked to that customer.
Ward: [00:24:53] I think that's a great a great place to end it thanks for taking the time Andrea to talk with me.
Andrea: [00:24:58] I'm so glad to be here and I'm very grateful to member space because you guys are my host. And without you being there to keep this product running. I would I don't know how else I would do this. I'm very grateful cool.
Ward: [00:25:18] Alright take care
Andrea: [00:25:19] You too.