Jennifer Tyler Lee is a leading expert on eating healthfully and joyfully. And when her second cookbook hit the shelves in late 2019, Jennifer embarked on a round of public appearances, in-store demos, and live classes to share the goodness.
Of course, Jennifer wanted to promote Half the Sugar, All the Love. But she also loved connecting personally with her fans, some of whom had followed her since the beginning of her food career with the release of the Crunch a Color kids’ game and her first cookbook, The 52 New Foods Challenge.
Then COVID-19 hit. Gathering in person was out. So on a Tuesday in March, Jennifer made a fast decision to launch her first virtual cooking class. The following Friday.
“I never imagined hosting an online cooking class before the pandemic. But now, with the situation we’re in, it turns out that people love cooking in their kitchen, virtually, with me,” she says.
Jennifer heard about Marco Polo Channels initially from her husband, an early investor in Marco Polo. She realized it was just the right platform to make the transition to online group teaching, create organic opportunities to market her other offerings, and generate a new revenue stream – all while helping her stay connected to her devoted following.
How to share the love when you can’t cook together?
Jennifer had built a large online community on Facebook, Instagram, and her blog. Posting recipes, news, nutrition tips, and delectable imagery on these platforms helped Jennifer inform and inspire her readers and followers.
But for Jennifer, cooking is also an act of love and connection. Social media alone could never substitute for the give-and-take that she’d come to cherish when cooking with a group of students or in front of a live audience – for example during the nationwide in-store demo series she’d created in partnership with Williams-Sonoma.
So while Jennifer knew that offering online classes would help sustain her livelihood and maintain momentum for the book, she was also concerned about losing the sense of camaraderie she’d come to treasure.
The Jennifer Tyler Lee Cooking Club
Thankfully, cooking over Zoom turned out to be easier and more rewarding than Jennifer had anticipated. But her virtual presence really gained traction when she launched the Jennifer Tyler Lee Cooking Club alongside her live classes and intentionally positioned the two as complementary offerings.
Along with unlimited access to the live class, a one-month Channel membership includes weekly recipes, cooking tips, mini-courses on special topics like how to set up a low-sugar kitchen, and an initial one-on-one coaching session to discuss dietary preferences and nutrition goals.
Jennifer formally posts on the Channel daily, maintaining a consistent content schedule to keep members engaged and keep her planning on track.
Monday is “new food of the week” day, Wednesday is “what’s in your fridge” day, where she shares a recipe to help use up ingredients on hand, and Friday is virtual class day when, after her live class, Jennifer posts a link to the recording on the Channel.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are surprise days, when Jennifer pops in with time-saving hacks, behind-the-scenes peeks at her recipe development process, and spontaneous insights she’s gleaned while prepping for Friday’s live classes.
For fall, Jennifer introduced seasonal themes. Her Back-to-School Project centered on easy ways to reduce stress and stay organized during the transition to a school schedule, and her Healthy New Year challenge will show members how to enjoy beloved comfort foods in a healthier way – think more plants, less sugar.
“I know from experience that to keep people in a membership-based club, it’s really important to really tune in to what the group needs, and to give them a reason to believe in your program. Introducing a new theme or a new challenge every couple of months keeps it fresh for them and for me. That’s what my community is telling me that they want.”
Proof is in the pudding
Just as great recipes come from experimentation, Jennifer’s first foray into Channels has given her a chance to discover what her followers want out of a virtual cooking class while helping her clarify her goals as a leader. Amid those discoveries have come promising results.
Jennifer exceeded her initial membership target by 1.5x, which felt great. But she also likes having the flexibility to keep her Channel relatively small if she chooses. “It allows me to really engage with people and provide an exceptional experience for them. I think if I were at 1,000 members, they might not feel the same sense of community. That’s something I will continue to explore and discover as the Channel grows.”
After the first month, everyone on the Channel renewed. “My next target will be to make sure everybody gets past the three-month membership mark, which is typically a big milestone for memberships.”
As she’s engaging with Channel members, Jennifer can organically raise awareness of her other efforts. “The other week I incorporated a few tips based on what I was preparing for an upcoming class at Stanford University, where I’m a guest lecturer. The Channels format made it feel natural to weave that in, inviting my members to see behind-the-scenes.”
Following her own initial success as a Channels leader, Jennifer even created a side business coaching other leaders and creators who are getting started with Channels.
Jennifer’s top Channels features
#1. Asynchronous communication. Many Jennifer Tyler Lee Cooking Club members don’t live in her time zone. “I’ve had people tune in from the East Coast of the U.S., from India, from Australia. It’s really important for them to be able to do things asynchronously but still feel that sense of connection.”
#2. One-on-one private Q&A. Members like talking with each other, but sometimes they want to talk privately with Jennifer. “Before the launch of the new Q&A feature inside Channels, I would switch over to the Marco Polo app to talk with members one-on-one. This new feature really allows me to keep the conversation going without having to switch platforms.”
#3. Access to video history. Channels gives Jennifer’s members on-demand access to a full digital archive of cooking classes and tips so they can cook anytime, at their own pace. That history is also proving useful to Jennifer. “As a leader, it’s so helpful to have a visual record of the things I’ve been talking about and comments that I’ve made.”
#4. The camera’s on, but it’s comfortable. “Channels encourages me and my members to appear live just as we are, in our houses, doing our thing, sometimes on the fly. My members get a window into my world and permission to be okay with making mistakes as they happen. I love that.”