Back in Middleburg, she launched her new business with a free screening of the documentary Food, Inc.that drew several hundred people. In an effort to win new clients, Thompson decided to charge a bargain price of $95 a month for a six-month customized program based on interviews and an extensive questionnaire. The program included sessions with Thompson and phone and e-mail support and her own recipes. She hoped to earn $20,000 her first year, the bulk of it from private clients—and she met that goal. Within a year, she had raised the rate to $290 a month.
Thompson took great pleasure in watching her clients’ health improve. Two women in her first group each lost 30 to 40 pounds, and one man’s cholesterol level dropped from 240 to 180 in six months.
Not every customer was a success story, of course. “I’ve had clients who don’t want to do the hard work of changing their diets and exercising,” Thompson says. “But you can’t push people too far.” For clients who have trouble following her recommendations, Thompson suggests “baby steps”: A woman reluctant to give up her nightly glass of wine, for example, could try sparkling water with some bitters.
Thompson hired a marketing consultant to help her with social media. They set up Facebook and Twitter (@Nutritionista) pages and last year started a website she named Nutritional Style (nutritionalstyle.com), a nod to her fashion past. The consultant also helped her build an e-mail list of potential clients. Thompson volunteered to speak at parents’ association meetings and “girls’ night out” gatherings. At every event, she added names to her mailing list.
To encourage people to sign up for her services, she began publishing a biweekly free e-zine that included recipes and cooking videos. Before long, she had a list of 1,000 subscribers. Last year she started hosting live and online workshops like the 7-Week Nutritional Style Makeover: 20 clients paid $397 each to dial into a central conference line and hear Thompson teach a class.
But the core of Thompson’s work has remained private coaching, and many of her clients consider her a miracle worker. “How do I start to explain a process that has changed my whole life?” wrote Katherine Berger, a Berryville, Virginia, woman who lost 35 pounds, in a testimonial on Thompson’s website.
The majority of her clients are women over 40 who sign up for her $197 initial consultation. Some have illnesses like cancer, Crohn’s disease and colitis, but most just want to be healthier.
“Most of the women who work with me are getting ready to start the second half of their lives. Their hormones are changing; it can be scary and depressing,” she says. “But when they start paying attention to what goes in their mouth, most health issues get easier.”
Sometimes Thompson recalls the person she used to be—the overweight, depressed woman who shut herself in her bedroom, sick and suffering. “I feel so sad for that person now,” she says. She wants to encourage other women to take control of their health the way she did, by maintaining nutritious diets. “I feel I’m meant to inspire other women. I want them to know they can transform their lives through food.”
Lynn Roselliniis a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.
Running the Numbers
$1,997 Cost of Thompson’s Goddess Program, in which clients talk with her once a week for three months to revamp their diets “and come out feeling amazing,” she says
7 to 8 Number of private
clients in her practice at a given time
2,306 Friends on Facebook, where Thompson offers nutrition tips
$15,000 Start-up costsfor her business (includes marketing consultant but not education)
$100,000-plus Estimated incomein 2011
17 Number of recipes in her file for quinoa, a protein-rich grain
$1,497 Cost of her Nutritional Style Wellness Retreat, a day with Thompson,where clients learn to cook and shop for healthy foods