Rethinking The Business Of Wellness

Lessons From The Food Network For Wellness Businesses

Visited my wonderful in-laws in Mississippi for the holidays. Saw a marathon rerun of the 2009 “Next Food Network Star” episodes.

The basic idea: judges eliminate one of ten contestants weekly, based on that episode’s cooking challenge. The last chef left standing gets his or her own Food Network show.

Guess what? The same qualities that produce a celebrity chef also produce successful health & wellness businesses!

1) Technical skills

A couple of contestants who consistently undercooked food were quickly eliminated.

The lesson: Mastery of the basic skills and subject matter are necessary for a successful business – it’s table stakes. But it’s not sufficient to guarantee success.

Health and wellness professions are not for the faint of the heart. For example, if you’re a personal trainer, you’ve got to know basic anatomy and biomechanics, the psychology of motivation and much much more. You’ve also got to know how to adapt your skills to different clients with different needs, potential and limitations.

Or say your business provides workplace wellness services to employers. You’ve got to know health and wellness AND how insurance reimbursement, claims processing, and managed care work. AND how corporations make business decisions and manage vendors.

And if you’re going to run a successful business, your staff will need to include business competencies as well as health and wellness know-how. Financial management, people management, vendor and landlord negotiation, sales, marketing and more.

And all this…is just to get started!

2) Magnetic story

Melissa, the winner, told cute stories about how “her girls” would help her “cook” as she described different dishes. I’m not particularly into kids and even I thought it was engaging. Another contestant told interesting stories about growing up as a Korean-American who doesn’t speak a word of Korean.

The lesson: Every wellness business, whether big or small, has a personality.

Make sure your business personality is genuine and interesting – authentically appealing and engaging to potential and current customers. Avoid the temptation to drain the personality out of your business by “over-corporatizing” it.

3) Know your strengths

The eventual winner enthusiastically described herself as “a fabulous home cook”. She ended up launching a Food Network series called “Dinners For Under $10″ targeting – you guessed it – home cooks. In a hurry. On a budget.

As a single mom with kids, she lived those priorities every day. Those were her strengths, and it’s not coincidence that the Food Network already renewed her show for another season.

The lesson: Successful wellness businesses understand their strengths and capitalize on them. And they know what they don’t know.

For example, there’s a big difference between running a free online fitness community and selling a turnkey personal training program to fitness centers. Strengths like computer and Internet literacy and an understanding of search engine optimization are much less important if you’re offering a fee-based product through a direct sales model.

4) Grace under pressure

Melissa, who ultimately won, had to overcome a tendency towards “mommy mayhem” when things heated up. Instead of rushing in six directions at once, talking a mile a minute, she eventually learned to slow down and work methodically.

Another candidate received kudos from the judges because he always stayed calm. He may’ve been screaming inside, but you’d never know it.

The lesson: Business owners always face pressure and adversity. It’s unavoidable.

So the question is how you handle it.

Do you make your staff miserable when you’re under stress?

Can your customers tell when you’re having a bad day?

5) Unique point of view

In the Indian cuisine episode, one chef chose to use premixed commercial curry powder rather than mixing his own. His dish was adequate – but nothing special. And it certainly wasn’t memorable. In fact, you and I could do it, right?

The lesson: the basic ingredients of health and wellness don’t change much. Physical activity, nutrition, stress management, and so forth.

It’s what you do with them that sets your corporate wellness or health coaching business apart.

Successful wellness develop their own distinctive brand. They don’t copy a competitor’s branding, because they understand, for example, that while nearly every weight management program addresses exercise and nutrition, it’s HOW they do it that sets them apart.

(And #3 – knowing your strengths – plays a big role in defining your unique point of view.)

6) Consistency

Some contestants made marvelous meals in one episode – and produced disasters in other episodes. The judges eventually knocked them out of the competition.

The lesson: A consistently good experience is essential.

Health and wellness services are, for the most part, provided by people. So it takes special attention to make sure that the client experience is consistently wonderful.

Every employee has to provide great service – not just the front desk. Every interaction with a nutritionist, health coach, personal trainer, clinician, instructor has to be wonderful.

When your customers get a mix of experiences – some good, some crummy – that inconsistency chips away at the customer relationship like water dripping on rock.

Eventually, they’ll no longer be YOUR customer.

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