When it comes to getting my coaching clients excited about eating healthy, nothing beats teaching a cooking class. It’s a great way to show what it’s like to work with me while promoting my other coaching services. Plus it’s an incredibly powerful way to attract new clients. Everyone loves food, and with TV cooking shows drawing huge numbers of drooling viewers, it’s easier to get people to come to (and pay for) an event where they get to see you make food magic and enjoy some tasty treats.
But when I talk to other health coaches about teaching cooking classes, most of them freeze up. “But I’m not a trained chef!” they wail. “I’m not even a great cook! I couldn’t possibly pull off a cooking class.” Often they’re afraid that, without a fancy culinary degree or years spent sweating behind a restaurant stove, they don’t have the skills or experience to teach others how to cook.
For all of you out there who might be thinking the same thing, I have amazing news for you. After spending years designing and teaching hundreds of hands-on classes and demos, I’ve developed my top five secrets for cooking class success. But the biggest secret is this—a great cooking class is not about cooking.
Nope, not about cooking. At all. It’s not about being able to slice onions in rapid-fire style. Or creating a five-star dish in 30 minutes from items scrounged out of a vending machine (yes, I’ve seen more than my fair share of Top Chef episodes). A great cooking class actually has a lot more to do with what we, as health coaches, love to do every day. So rest assured, you don’t need to master the fine art of sauce making to design and deliver a terrific cooking class.
So if it’s not about cooking, what is it about? A great cooking class is all about creating an amazing experience for your audience. Think about the last time you threw a dinner party for some close friends (or went to a good friend’s dinner party). You gave a lot of thought about who to invite, and if you wanted a fancy affair or a casual get-together. Then you chose your menu, decided how to set the table, what wine to serve, and all those other details. Finally, you crafted a plan for buying and cooking the food so you wouldn’t be stuck in the kitchen all night while your friends made a Major League dent in your liquor cabinet.
The same basic idea holds true for cooking classes. Your goal is to create a fun and engaging event that speaks directly to your audience. At the same time, you want your attendees to get to know you (and your health coaching services) better, so by the end of the class they’re dying to sign up with you.
Ready to get started? Here are my five biggest secrets for pulling off your best (or your first) cooking class ever:
Know Your Audience: The biggest mistake I see health coaches make when they’re trying to put a cooking class together is casting too wide a net. If you try to offer a class geared toward everyone, then it’s really for no one. People are way too busy these days to give up 2 hours after work on a Wednesday night for something called “Learn to Cook Healthy.” Unless you have a huge local following (and I hope you do!), then you have to design a class that, when people read the name and description, they say, “that class was made just for me!”
So how do you do that? Before you get caught up in what recipes to make, you need to get crystal-clear on your target audience. It’s not only the first secret to cooking class success—it’s the cornerstone of any successful health coaching business. If the edges of your target market are still kind of fuzzy, start by asking yourself who you like to work with. Do you enjoy teaching moms how to feed their families healthy meals? Are you excited about helping people who can’t eat wheat go gluten-free with whole foods? Or are you passionate about helping women in the 40s lose weight and boost their energy? Spend some time honing in on your target market, then learn about their needs, wants, concerns, and goals. Once that’s done, ideas for cooking classes will flow easily.
Have a Clear Message: Once you know who you want to target and you understand them, it’s time to pick a theme for your class. I can’t emphasize it enough—be specific! It’s much more fruitful to talk to half-a-dozen attendees who are passionate about your topic than 20 people who are half-tuned in to what you’re saying. If your goal is to use a cooking class to introduce your coaching services to potential clients, you want to attract the right people, not just people.
Here’s an example. One of my target audiences is endurance athletes who are also busy professionals. Besides having careers and families, some of them carve out 15 hours or more each week to train. It’s important for them to eat high quality foods to maintain their energy and overall health. I’ve been targeting this group with cooking classes designed to help endurance athletes “build their nutritional base.” When I write my class titles and descriptions, it’s very easy to see who should come to my class and why. These sessions are packed with exactly the kinds of potential clients I’m looking for.
Be Relatable: Here’s the real secret sauce to a great cooking class (any why it’s not about cooking). If you want your audience to get excited about you, entertain them. Watch a cooking show on Food Network and notice what the host does. The best of them (I would included Mario Batali, Paula Deen, and Alton Brown on the short list) draw their audience in by telling personal stories and weaving in humor. Whether you like them or not, each of these TV personalities have mastered the art of making cooking look fun and exciting to an audience who can’t smell or taste the food.
I’m not saying you have to develop a Southern drawl or wear orange clogs to teach an awesome cooking class. Just like when you coach clients, you must be true to yourself and your point of view. Your goal is not to be goofy or over-the-top—you want to strike a balance between entertaining and informative. If you’re looking for a good example, there’s no one better than Julia Child. Check out some of her shows and you’ll see what I mean.
Be Focused: Once you’ve picked your cooking class audience and theme, it’s time to choose recipes. Here’s where a laser focus comes in handy. It’s tempting to cram in as many information as possible. Please don’t do this. There’s a limit on how much even a willing audience can absorb. Plus you want to give yourself time to weave in those stories, answer questions, and talk about your health coaching services. When I create a class menu, I’ll pool my recipe ideas, edit the list down to the number I think will work, and subtract one. Better to teach a few memorable tips and techniques than overload your audience.
Be prepared: I absolutely can’t stress this point enough. Give yourself plenty of time to think through all the details. I’ve held classes in everything from professional kitchens to hotel conference rooms to city sidewalks, and all of them present logistical challenges. How much food do I need? How much food will I cook on site? What equipment do I need? How will the food be served? And don’t forget about your upsell materials!