“Most entrepreneurs go into business because something happens to them in their life and they’re like, ‘Wow! I learned all of this stuff!’ and through the process of whatever your hardship was, you can actually help people through your own knowledge. And that was basically what happened to me.”
Jennifer Fugo, founder of Gluten Free School, got sick. She was extremely fatigued, had head colds every six weeks, headaches and plenty of digestive problems. She talked to her doctor, went for some tests, and discovered she had a problem eating gluten, a protein found in many grains like wheat, rye, and barley.
Like many people who learn they can’t eat gluten any more, Jennifer had a hard time adjusting to her new lifestyle and what she could and couldn’t eat. So she launched a website to fill the gap, and after one year in business, she makes $297 for each person who registers for her classes and membership group.
From Distress to Successful Business Model
“There was a lot of conflicting information out there [when I was first diagnosed],” Jennifer says, “very few books and not a lot of websites that you could use for reference. I ended up having to do a lot of it myself.”
And with all she learned by figuring out a gluten free lifestyle on her own, she wanted to help others figure it out, too. She asked herself, “How can I bring this information to people and reach folks who live in the middle of nowhere, who might have to drive three hours just to get to a local support group?”
She started out writing articles and coaching women one-on-one. “I really wasn’t focused on gluten free folks,” she says. “I worked with people – primarily women – who wanted to change their diet and lifestyle.”
But the universe has funny ways of pointing us in the direction we need to go. Doctors started referring their gluten sensitive patients to her for help, because they didn’t have the time or knowledge to educate their patients on eating gluten free. She made the diet simple and accessible to the people who needed it. She fully embraced her niche after one client told her: “It’s great to have all of this medical information. It’s great. But if I don’t know how to do it in my kitchen, it’s a failure. I’m going to stay sick. But you’ve finally shown me how to do it.”
The start of her niche was born, and it didn’t stop there.
Lessons for Growing from Scratch
Jennifer started with a single, free teleclass on hidden gluten sources. She partnered with gluten free companies to help promote her class in exchange for her talking about them, too. She didn’t expect a lot, but her email list grew by 350 subscribers.
Then, she narrowed her focus even smaller: a three-week gluten free sugar cleanse. “No one else out there is talking about gluten free sugar addiction,” Jennifer says. Focusing on that single topic and refining it has increased her audience and her earnings. She started charging $37 for the class and community membership. Now she’s up to $297 per member.
Her top tips for success?
Focus on what you’re good at: “Get known for one thing,” she says. “Be really good at one thing before you try to do 20 different things at once.” And make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. “Ask yourself what you’re really good at, what you can do that there is a need for, and that you won’t get bored [doing].”
Make your message extra clear: Jennifer started out trying to write articles for too many different audiences. And that leads to confusion. “You’re losing people because you’re not being clear,” she says. “People would prefer for you to have clarity and just focus on one general topic as opposed to you trying to serve everyone.”
Build a strong network: This means supporters, mentors and sponsors. Jennifer found her initial success by approaching companies in her niche for mutual promotion. “Most companies want to be involved in education,” she says. “If you’re just asking them for support, a lot of companies will be more than happy to do that. They love to sponsor things.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for a mentor if you need one. “One thing that’s really helped me is surrounding myself with people who really believed in me, believed in my idea, and many people who have already done the things I have done.” Some of them were friends, and some of them were professionals she reached out to for extra support and learning.
But don’t expect anything for free, she cautions. Pay people for their time, whether it’s paying an actual consultant their hourly rate or bartering with a friend to use your skills when they need help. “Find a fair reciprocity between you and another person,” she advises.
There’s plenty more where that came from. Listen to the podcast below for more of Jennifer’s advice for launching your own online hub. And if you need a place to start your own support network, check out Soul Circle, a community of strong businesswomen just like you.