By Libby Rothschild, CEO of Dietitian Boss; follow on LinkedIn.
You may have heard about the recent Amazon docuseries titled LuLaRich, a clever twist on the brand name at the center of heated controversy: LuLaRoe. The company grew to an estimated net worth of $2 billion by selling “buttery soft” leggings largely via social media and through the controversial multi-level marketing (MLM) model.
Many businesses struggle to make good decisions, and scaling any company poses challenges. Rapid growth can cause things to break down, such as backend processes and reputation management, but according to the docuseries, LuLaRoe made many poor decisions in a short amount of time.
While fashion retailing and dietetics don’t have much in common, the docuseries got me thinking about how online business owners in the food and nutrition space must take inventory of and reevaluate their current practices. Here are the main reflections I took from the series.
1. Define your ideal client.
Successful businesses are well defined and differentiated. The first step all businesses must master is defining their ideal client and developing a sound marketing strategy to reach them. For better or worse, LuLaRoe did this exceptionally well. Since their target audience was stay-at-home moms, they leveraged Facebook to socially recruit people and sell. With a well-defined target market, LuLaRoe’s profits soared — until things got a bit moldy. Literally.
2. As your company grows, revisit your brand image.
In LuLaRich, getting weight loss surgery sounded like a common practice. This is a clear, harmful stance to take for many reasons. For decades, companies have been sued for discriminating against and fat-shaming staff. In the nutrition world, this practice has unfortunately been carried out all over — from famous registered dietitians to private practices.
Being mindful of diversity, equity and inclusion practices can help your business make sound decisions and serve as a role model for staff and clients. As an entrepreneur, you get to define your brand image.
3. Traditional recruiting methods are being replaced with social media.
LuLaRoe nailed social media recruiting by getting people excited about products, friendship and selling the “dream of financial freedom” via Facebook Live sessions. LuLaRoe put time and effort into recruiting teams with a social media funnel to get people to pay $5,000 upfront to become a retailer. They added urgency by creating a waitlist and making some women so excited that they left their bachelorette parties to take the call confirming they got a slot to become a seller.
While LuLaRoe ultimately used these tactics to defraud thousands of women, adopting a similar strategy for your legitimate business works. By increasing visibility via social media consistently, dietitians become seen and heard. Simply showing up on Instagram landed me 1K followers within weeks of using the platform.
4. Develop necessary leadership skills but don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Scaling a company requires leadership acumen, meaning the business owner must sharpen their skills and learn how to listen. Some of the best ways to develop leadership skills include networking and asking for help. When lawsuits came into play, it was clear LuLaRoe lacked an advisory board or any outside help with coaching or consulting.
Narcissistic leaders are known to not prioritize ethics or seek outside help. This mindset can create a toxic environment because when you’re going somewhere in business that you have never been before (with billions of dollars at stake), you need to seek help from someone who has been down this path before.
As dietitians in private practice, checking in with your leadership skills, asking for help and taking responsibility will support the mission and vision you stand behind. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has standards of practice with ethics, and you must create your own version to follow in your online business.
5. Budget budget budget.
In the series, the person in charge of LuLaRoe’s marketing (who was also one of the founders’ family members) said he had no budget to coordinate events that brought in big names like Kelly Clarkson. Healthy businesses have budgets for departments such as marketing and staff, and team members must follow the checks and balances to manage cash flows and projections.
Dietitians often feel scared of numbers. After all, in school, we learned about the Krebs cycle, not the sales cycle. Now is the time for dietitian business owners to take charge of their budgets, read their balance sheets thoroughly and learn what profit margins mean.
6. Develop and implement the right processes.
As a company gets more clients, the staff needs to continue developing key processes and following them to get a company set up to scale. In the series, when the office administrator talked about how everyone plugged away responding to a quota of tickets, he did not mention if they followed any specific process with customer service or if they received any guidance on how to respond to customers or internal staff.
Dietitians have the opportunity to document and manage their processes or hire staff to manage them. Thus, dietitians can steer their online business in the direction they choose in order to serve thousands of clients a year.
7. Weigh your business decisions carefully.
Despite over 50 lawsuits, LuLaRoe is still in operation. While LuLaRoe has somehow managed to survive, “cancel culture” is a real possibility for many businesses. When leveraging the power of social media, dietitians must be aware of how their brand values and virtual presence impact society. There is a huge divide among different nutritional philosophies and belief systems, largely because nutrition is such a personal topic. Always be conscious of how your message is coming across to your audience.
As dietitians, when reflecting on our brand, keep in mind that helping more people involves developing a clear social media strategy. Most dietitians are familiar with AND’s ethics and are aware their credentials can be removed if they no longer follow guidelines from the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the governing body for dietitians, but learning how to become differentiated is new for most. We have the chance to shape how we want our businesses to look and feel and the impact we want to make as the top experts in the space of food and nutrition — don’t let it go to waste.