Money

This Nomadic Couple Makes $1.5M a Year Writing Recipes

September 1, 2022

Molly & Luanne have been successful using one motto: keep it deadly simple.


I interviewed Molly over the phone. While this is both her and Luanne’s gorgeous company, I’m going to tell you this story from Molly’s perspective, as it was told to me. 💛


Here’s why I was SO excited to feature Molly & Luanne:

  1. They’re hitting $1.5M by WRITING RECIPES—hello, dream job!
  2. They almost exclusively use Facebook to market themselves for free—and I have NEVER seen this idea before! (It’s GENIUS—and entirely counterintuitive to everything you’d think you should do.)
  3. Molly suffered from massive imposter syndrome in the beginning, because she didn’t have a bachelor’s degree and thought: “Who’s going to take me seriously???”
  4. They failed HARD their first year of business—including launching with zero sales—and almost threw in the towel.
  5. Molly credits her success not to her business acumen, but her decision to stop drinking. “I was a binge drinker and had a really big problem with alcohol. I didn’t have the focus that I needed to develop a product and see it through.”
  6. And now their goal is $5M by the end of the year, and $30M….soon. She knows they can do it. Here’s how! ⬇️

The name “Molly Patrick” has been a familiar one for years: a student of mine since 2014, her brand name, Clean Food, Dirty Girl has always given me all sorts of thrills. I LOVE THIS BRAND.

It was one of the first plant-based brands that resonated with me, particularly because it felt edgy and rebellious in a traditionally pious industry. Clean Food, Dirty Girl had attitude. So much of the industry has a “woo” slant to it, but this was a refreshing twist on a traditionally tame industry.

Funny the power a name holds.

And yet, one of the first things we talk about over the phone is the feedback they’d gotten in some focus groups they’ve been running: “We hired an agency and the thing that kept coming up was how limiting our name was. Some fans mentioned they were hesitant to share because maybe their grandma or aunt will see it and think it’s kind of ‘porny.’”

Immediately I think to myself: OH, PLEASE. WHAT IS THIS, 1954?!

Then again, as someone who ran THE MIDDLE FINGER PROJECT for thirteen years, I get it. I had that feedback from a few people, too. “I’d share your book, but…my parents are still alive.” But, I have to say: if that was you, you were probably my target market anyway.

Most people are never going to buy your stuff.

But, they’ll still have plenty of opinions about it.

This is a critical truth that can’t be ignored: the vocal minority will always overshadow the silent majority.

But, who’s buying???

That’s the real question.

Turns out, Molly Patrick knows the answer to this question.

In fact, knowing the answer to this question is like having a skeleton key that magically unlocks ALL the profits—and, as you’ll see, it’s been one of Molly’s biggest shortcuts to success.

But, it didn’t start that way.

Oh, no it did not.

It started, rather, with a bunch of MASSIVELY failed experiments: experiments that would make Molly convinced she was in over her head. That she wasn’t cut out for this. That they should throw in the towel.

How easy it is to mistakenly believe that it’s you that’s the failure, rather than the experiment itself.

But, as Seth Godin recently noted:

Google has killed more than 200 projects over the last few decades. They fail all the time. More than once a month they shut down a business that frightened the competition and seduced consumers.

That’s part of the recipe for becoming an unbeatable behemoth.

Fail a lot.

Institutions like Western Union and A & P and Woolworth’s and Sears forget this part.

Despite all of Google’s failed experiments, I hardly think Google views itself as a failure.

However, it’s easier when you’re a massive company with employees and distance—much harder when you’re a small business and oftentimes, business failures do feel like personal failures.

For the entire first year of her now $1.5M recipe writing business, Molly Patrick viewed herself as a failure.

  • She’d gotten fired from her job in 2014.
  • She decided to follow her passion of plant-based eating.
  • She put all her eggs into that basket.
  • Moved to Arizona where it was “stupid cheap”
  • The plan was to live off their savings while they got the business off the ground.
  • She didn’t know what she was doing.
  • She felt like an imposter every day.
  • She was grasping at straws for what to offer and how—so much so, that she actually started taking pictures of plants and offering them for sale as prints. “Maybe someone will buy their friends christmas presents of a picture of kale!” she quipped to me over the phone. We both snort laugh at this, recognizing the benefit of hindsight.
  • One Christmas, she launched a new product that sold ZERO. “Goose egg!” as she put it brightly on our call.
  • Deeper issues loomed in the background: she was eating lots of plants, but also binge drinking every day, back then, through her anxiety. Unsure what her next move was. Feeling like she’d failed herself and her partner.
  • The entire first year they made zilch.
  • They were going to have to throw in the towel.

But, Molly Patrick had a secret ace up her sleeve (even if she didn’t recognize it as one at the time):

She was hella clear on her mission.

”We help people eat more plants while celebrating imperfection!”

While she may have been lacking the “how” piece still, one thing she did know was that successful people in the online space were “always writing emails.” So, that’s where she started: her mission + her emails.

Every Saturday at 9am Pacific, she’d email an audience that basically consisted of her mom and her partner, Luanne. However, this would help her build one of the hardest muscles to build in online business:

Consistency.

”I didn’t HAVE to do the Saturday email, but because I told people I would, I showed up. That’s how you develop the skill. I became a decent writer because I told people I was going to do it.”

In tandem, she started a Facebook group which, on its face, seems like nothing revolutionary until you understand what she did with it.

Most businesses will set up a general Facebook Page for their business—not a Facebook group—and then post generic updates here and there. That’s a business-centered page, where the focus is the business, the business, the business. However, when you make a Facebook group? That exists explicitly for your people: it’s for them to join, to post, to talk.

Combine that with a clear mission—i.e. “We help people eat more plants while celebrating imperfection!”—and you’ve got a recipe, which is absolutely a pun, for GETTING PEOPLE ON BOARD.

(P.S. It helps that, with Facebook groups, users can set their notification preferences to be notified every time there’s a post in the group. That’s important.)

Today, Clean Food, Dirty Girl has 63,900 members.

It was from there that she started pushing people to sign up for her Saturday emails. A golden rule of online business is that the show happens on social, but the sales happen on email. Okay, fine, I just made up that line but it’s 100% true and REALLY IMPORTANT TO LEARN. Email is where your sales are.

Molly knew this.

”Starting on email was great; there wasn’t the pressure of Instagram. I unsubscribed from anyone in my industry—I didn’t want anything to compare myself to. That’s what we do naturally, right? But, emails made it easy: I told myself ‘just stay in your lane, just put out the stuff that feels honest to you and might help somebody.’ If it’s something I authentically believe in, then it’s good enough.”

Soon, she had built an email list of 8,000 people from her Facebook group.

AND YET—she still wasn’t making any money. 😲😲😲 

This is when the realization occured: the problem wasn’t her marketing, it was her offer.

POWWWWWWW!

As Molly tells it, she really didn’t have a real offer. She had no idea what her audience wanted, or how to actually solve real problems they were having when it came to eating more plants. Enter: the era of “let’s take pictures of kale.” 😀

You can have all the email subscribers in the world, but if your offer is weak, your sales will be, too. Just imagine yourself wandering into a high school football game and offering people a half-eaten Twix bar that’s covered in dirt from the cup holder in your car and melting all over your hands. Are you going to have any takers? Okay, probably at least ONE, because there’s always a weirdo. But the point is, you’re not going to have enough to create a business out of a used Twix bar.

But replace the Twix bar with something that’ll actually help your audience solve their problems—like a bleacher seat with lumbar support (these totally exist, by the way 😂), and now you’ve got a market.

The audience didn’t change. The offer did.

What Molly did right since day one: she slayed it with her fierce committment to the mission. She knew what the mission was. She had the mission of helping people eat more plants BIG in her heart. So, she was able to take people on the mission with her marketing.

All she was missing?

Was the right offer.

This speaks to a conversation that’s often had in the online business world: marketing first, or product first? Focus on the product first, and you might find that you have no audience to sell it to. Focus on the marketing first, and you’ll have to delay revenue while you get it sorted. For Molly, however, the latter eventually worked out: and all because she had a solid mission to act as a central, unifying theme to get people on board.

Contrast this with the aspiring health coach who knows they want to focus on healthy eating, but aren’t clear on a defined mission. It’s hard to create anything that resonates with other people if there’s nothing for them to claw into. And it’s hard to convince anyone to sign up, too, because there’s no real PULL. No magic, no passion, no real mission that you want to take us on.

The lesson here is clear: forget marketing, forget product, and figure out what mission you want to take us on first.

Once you know that, you can make clear and definitive decisions that make sense. Until you know that, you’re going to be spinning your wheels, lost in a sea of uncertainty and indecisiveness.

Molly Connects the Mission to the Product

After two years of building an audience around a mission, Molly and Luanne began to ask themselves a mission-critical question:

What will solve a problem for our audience???

Turns out, the audience was on board with the mission—lots of people wanted, in theory, to eat more plants—but what they were missing was the practical piece: how do I do that?

Another piece of wisdom in online business is that you should market the why, and sell the how. And so finally, this is what Molly and Luanne did.

Enter: THE RECIPES.

Again, not a groundbreaking new industry—there are plenty of recipes online—but Molly Patrick has figured out that you don’t need to do something revolutionary: you just need to do something well.

And, you need to go back to the basics.

What problem can I solve for my audience?

Something Molly knew for a fact: her audience was older, age 40 – 70+. They’re of a cookbook generation. And they’re not technology people.

Our audience is actually kind of older. Age 40 – 70+ and 98% female. They’re not technology people, they just want to eat better. But, it makes sense because when you turn 50 is when you start to see signs of the standard American diet. Also, because they’re often retired, they’re spending a lot of time in their kitchen.

This is why Facebook worked so well for them.

And it’s also why Molly and Luanne decided to start with the simplest product that would solve the problem.

They’d send out plant-based recipes every week…via PDF…in an email.

Just like a cookbook, but better.

And they’d charge a simple monthly membership fee:

  • $25/mo if signing up monthly
  • $20/mo if signing up quarterly
  • $18/mo if signing up yearly

We tried so many ways to monetize—eventually what we figured out is that people just want a blueprint for what to eat. I decided I’m just going to start writing down what I’m eating, and making my grocery list and share my recipes.

I recently talked about the caveat for making money with a membership site is having enough volume to support it. Welp, THEY HAD VOLUME. They had 8,000 email subscribers when they launched this.

And, it worked.

As sales started to roll in, Molly kept a notebook where she’d physically write down her new customers’ names and the sale amount. First it was thirty people, then it was seventy-five. Then she couldn’t keep up anymore. They made their first $100K easily.

But, there’s yet another truth of online business: sometimes people will be on your list for years before they buy.

This is why urgency is so important: you need to give people reasons to try it sooner, rather than later, because your cash flow depends on it.

So what Molly & Luanne did next was perhaps their most genius move of all.

Instead of giving their members access to a private members group—the standard move—they opted, once again, to keep it simple: there would be no private members group. ALL members would remain in the public Clean Food, Girty Girl Facebook group.

That’s where the conversation would be had, paid member or unpaid member.

And guess what happened???

  • Paid members started posting pictures of the meals they were making, thanks to Molly & Luanne’s recipes.
  • Unpaid members started seeing these juicy photos of plant-based meals that looked ah-mazing.
  • Unpaid members started seeing the value through the eyes of their peers, rather than the company telling them how amazing they were.
  • And unpaid members started converting into paid members because there was social proof being put in their face day in, and day out, as a part of this awesome group they were a member of. (And remember: they got notifications.)

This strategy really wowed me: most of us try to apologize for asking for payment by over-delivering everything we can—and private member groups are a common offender. Most people don’t realize how hard it is to manage a group. They seem to be an easy add-on, when in reality, they’re extremely time intensive if you’re doing it with care.

Molly’s decision to veto the private paid members group, in favor of keeping the conversation going in the main group, was genius: (a) For pooling her resources into one place, and (b) Because her customers would sell the product for her.

Now, her marketing is cyclical: join the free Facebook group dedicated to eating more plants, see other people eating more plants, ask them where they got that sick recipe from, see it enough times that you trust the product and start to desire the product, and then get an offer for the product and you say YES.

For years, Molly and Luanne kept it deadly simple: new PDF recipes every week in your inbox.

And, what a way to do it! All of us always overcomplicate EVERYTHING. We think we can’t launch something unless it’s with state of the art software, because our imposter syndrome keeps us from feeling like we’re ever enough…and so, neither is the “simple” product.

But simple is powerful.

Simple mission, simple marketing, simple offer.

When I asked Molly, however, why she thought she was so successful in a crowded space, you know what she told me?

We build a lot of trust with people—we’re consistent. We follow through, and we develop content that is HELPFUL for people. And we deliver it in a way that people want to share it. It’s word of mouth, that is how we’ve done it. When people come into the Facebook group, they have a questionnaire – how did you find us? Nine times out of ten it’s: my sister told me about you, my friend told me about you, I was referred to your blog by a co-worker. When people hear about us, when they go to the website or sign up for the emails, they have a good experience—it doesn’t fall short. We are entertaining, we have great testimonials, a great community. They see that it’s helpful, and then they’re IN. It’s not “should I, shouldn’t I…” It’s an easy conversion. Because we make content that is actually useful, not just to get something out there.

And then she told me something else: that none of this would have been possible if she didn’t stop drinking: that her drinking was preventing her from having the focus to develop a product and see it through. In her words:

I could write emails and reach out on social media and write copy, but I wasn’t in a place emotionally or with my addiction at the time that I had the patience to do what I needed to do.

Mic drop.

Then we talked about how, so often, online business is seen as “passive income,” but that there’s really no such thing as passive income: even if the sale is passive, the effort is massive. (Oh my god, I’m really turning into Dr. Seuss here. 😂)

There’s nothing passive about the decision to go on this mission.

There’s nothing passive about writing an email every single Saturday for nine years.

There’s nothing passive about managing a Facebook group with 63,000 members.

There’s nothing passive about testing recipes and coming up with fresh content every week.

There’s nothing passive about getting it all organized to send out to members every week.

And yet, you can build an incredible income if you’re willing to do the work.

I asked Molly why so many people in this industry fail once and let that be the end:

I think the reason why people aren’t successful, no matter how much they want it, is because it is grueling to do this work. To do it well, and do it consistently, this is my life. I do have work / life balance, but I’ve worked harder on this than I have on anything, ever.

It may be grueling, but there’s certainly a payoff.

For the past three years, they’ve been at the $1M, $1.3M, $1.5M mark. 🌟

Just earlier this year, they modernized their membership with a shiny new portal subscribers can log into to search for recipes, save recipes, and review their recipes. (It’s so slick!)

It was custom built by a database developer and cost them $45,000 to build.

Luanne actually dug into her invoices while I was on the phone with Molly and figured out the total, because I thought this was a good teachable moment: even though they now have this $45,000 custom portal that looks amazing, that doesn’t mean they started there. And it doesn’t mean that YOU have to start there. So, don’t compare yourself to where they’re at now.

They started with a simple PDF and kept it that way for years as they grew.

And grow, they did!

In 2016 they hired their first employee: another recipe writer to help keep up with the demand. She was a member in their Facebook group who was always chiming in with, “this would be a good substitute for this, if you need one!” She was a kindergarten teacher who wanted to do something different with her life. Molly reached out and asked if she’d be open to helping her develop recipes. “We can pay you $700/month—that’s all we can pay for right now,” she told the woman. She accepted, and she’s still with the company today—though they pay her a lot more today. 😉

Soon after, they hired another recipe developer.

Then an office assistant.

Today, they have six employees, and six part-time contractors. I asked her what their roles were, and here’s what she told me:

Tamie & Jen are their recipe writers of joy. 🌟

Kellie is a go-between person who handles the online portal and everything else. She’ll take raw data, recipes, and meal plans and input them into the portal and makes them work beautifully.

Stephanie is their office manager, and she handles email support, writes Friday emails to members sharing new recipes, and helps write the blog. In fact, at one point Molly was going to stop writing the blog because she was doing too much, but the team told her no…we got this. (A big perk of having a team!)

Brittany does graphic design, WordPress back end stuff, and Ontraport stuff. (That’s their email marketing system.) “She’s my digital unicorn!!!!”

Amber is a photographer and does their amazing food photography.

And then they have 6 other part-time people who handle things like Facebook moderation, accounting, and developing.

Molly loves her team. She flat-out told me she doesn’t like the solopreneur route: she really enjoys having the camaraderie and support.

For example, they’ve just come together as a team to launch a new 10-day free trial—something they’re experimenting with for the second half of the year.

Our 10-day free trial just launched this morning. We had a trial in the past that gave you access to one of our meal plans but, hahaha, people would never convert because there was never any urgency. Now, we’re going to give them access for 10 days, and then do a really awesome nurturing campaign in a series of emails to encourage them to upgrade to a paid subscription.

I asked her if she’d offer any discounts to encourage the sale. “Nope!” she replied. “We don’t do a lot of hard selling, but on Day Ten, there’s a hard sell email—this is your last chance to upgrade.”

As for conversions, she told me that quarterly is their number one selling plan, followed by monthly, and then annual.

She also said she doesn’t mess around with offering different tiers, each containing different levels of access, because “we don’t want to overcomplicate it.” There it is again, her genius M.O. shining through everything she does.

”Our churn rate is awesome,” she told me. “Under 5%!!!!!!!!!!!” (A churn rate is the rate at which people cancel a subscription.)

She said that sometimes people sign up and then cancel, sign up and then cancel. But, they’re still going to keep things as they are because “we want to keep it as easy for people as we can.”

They hope to start doing ads seriously for the first time in the existence of their business, where they’ll push Google ads, Pinterest ads, and Instagram ads to the free trial.

Of course, they’re looking at it all as a big experiment, no longer internalizing wins and fails, but learning from each and adjusting course as necessary.

If this doesn’t work, something else will. We now know this with all our heart. When we are just being ourselves and doing the thing we really want to do, we ARE helping people.

And, as Molly has shown us, there’s always a market for that.

And even when you feel in over your head?

You’re still swimming.

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