After getting sick on trip to Africa, Meghan Telpner received a surprising diagnosis in 2006. She was suffering from an autoimmune disease.
Telpner, now 36, was working in advertising at the time but had to leave her job when her condition, Crohn’s disease, left her too sick to work.
“I was going to doctors and no one could help me,” she recalls. “I was just 26 and had to figure it out.”
That experience started Telpner on a journey in which she would study at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in 2007 and heal herself to the point she says she no longer suffers from symptoms of the condition—characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract—as she made many dietary and lifestyle changes. In 2008, she also started what is now a seven-figure business built around sharing what she has learned with a fast-growing community of health-minded supporters.
Telpner’s Toronto-area business, MeghanTelpner.com, was a solo operation until 2011, when she hired a full-time assistant to help her scale. Today she relies on help from two contractors, as well. Her approach offers valuable lessons in how to grow a microbusiness in a way that allows for a healthy life outside of work—a top priority for her.
“I subscribe to the idea that my business is to support the lifestyle I want to live,” says Telpner.
Meghan Telpner (Credit: Catherine Farquharson)
Here are some of the strategies the self-described “nutritionista” used to grow the business successfully.
Keep it fun. Telpner originally started her business with the idea of creating a community around food, offering cooking classes several days a week from her tiny kitchen. At the time, she was eliminating gluten and dairy from her diet—a challenging task in a world of processed foods with long ingredient lists. She focused on introducing fresh, healthy dishes she was able to enjoy with friends, so people making similar dietary choices didn’t have to feel like “the odd one out” every time they dined with others.
We enjoyed these beautiful meals together,” says Telpner, who seems to have a naturally upbeat personality. “That was the route to everything.”
As Telpner expanded the site, she attracted readers with a variety of health concerns. “People are waking up to the fact that as a society we’re not feeling well,” she says. “There’s something not right. We’re not all deficient in whatever medication is being prescribed that day.”
Passionate about keeping her followers informed, Telpner blogged every day, eventually churning out more than 2,000 posts. Telpner, who has a degree in fashion marketing, made the site entertaining, adding photos of herself in colorful vintage clothes, shots of her stylish nutritionist husband, recipes for all-natural, DIY beauty products, and information on the practices, from yoga to infrared saunas, that have kept her from suffering another flareup. At the same time, she hasn’t shied away from taking a strong stand on issues that matter to her, from the ingredients in baby lotion to breakfasts that include Nutella.
As Telpner, who has recently branched out into business coaching, advises other entrepreneurs, “You can infuse your personality into what you are doing.”
Amplify your message. Looking to expand her audience, Telpner introduced her first online class — on her three-day Green Smoothie Cleanse —in May 2009. About 200 people signed up, paying $99. “This is incredible,” she said to herself.
“That was my introduction to `How do we scale this?’” she recalls.
That November, Telpner began filming live classes in her kitchen and soon started a YouTube channel. “My early videos were so embarrassing,” she says. “I was doing them all myself. They were me, alone, in my kitchen.”
In 2013, Telpner wrote a book called UnDiet: Eat Your Way To Vibrant Health for a division of Random House in Canada and for Skirt! in the U.S. With nutritionists from around the world and other fans contacting her for advice, she created a video-based tutorial program in her culinary methods. In 2014, she opened Academy of Culinary Nutrition, offering students a certification when they completed the program. The program costs $1,850 to $3,600, depending on whether students sign up for private coaching. As of December 2015, more than 1,000 students have graduated. She wrote another book called The UnDiet Cookbook, published by Appetite by Random House, in 2015.
Be patient. Telpner didn’t create the business with the idea of hitting a certain revenue goal. “My true purpose for doing all of this was helping empower people so they could take ownership of their health,” says Telpner.
Preferring to do things her way, she financed the business’s growth out of cash flow. “Because I’ve never been driven by revenue, I’ve been able to better serve my community,” she says. “That has directly resulted in the financial success of my business.”
In her first year in business, Telpner made $9,000. By the second year, she hit $30,000 and the third, $90,000. “It’s been slow and steady,” she says. But building the business gradually paid off. She broke the seven-figure mark last year.
Telpner is now in a position where she could easily expand her team, but she’s not sure she wants to. She’s not sold on the traditional model of scaling.
“The more time I spend creating programs and launching them, the more revenue for the business,” says Telpner. “Hiring more people would take my time away from creating. I could hire 10 more people and run the business differently, but I often question how that would affect the bottom line. I’m not sure it would benefit my community or my lifestyle.”
“How much do any of us really need anyway?” she asks. “I don’t know if bigger is better. I’d rather keep it small and mighty.”
That’s not something I hear many entrepreneurs say–but perhaps more would benefit by following her lead.