How I Make A Living Professionally Cuddling With People

$4,200
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Snuggle with Sam
from Boston
started September 2016
$4,200
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
5.61M
alexa rank
447
followers
63
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freelance
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi there! My name is Sam Varnerin and I created Snuggle with Sam, my independent professional cuddling practice, while I was still working full-time as a construction engineer.

Professional cuddling is a one-to-one service, much like massage therapy is, that is rooted in two basic human needs: touch and connection. And touch is-- well, touchy-- in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the backlash of people trying to figure out if they crossed a touch boundary, so my service is useful because I offer my service so that there is room for people to feel emotions like love and arousal if they come up in sessions without feeling body parts to express those emotions, like the lips or the crotch. In short, I provide a place for people to come and be emotionally accepted and physically held while keeping a therapeutic cuddle instead of a sexual one.

There are many reasons that someone might not get their touch or connection needs met other than anything related to sexual assault. These include but are not limited to: dealing with a divorce or death in the family, being a single man with few (if any) deep friendships, having anxiety or depression and needing a different kind of connection than what your therapist is able to offer (I’m seeing therapists and cuddlers working together a lot more now!), and high-performing executives that are praised by their peers but also put at arm’s length physically and emotionally.

I’ve been in the business for three years and have learned and seen a lot of things change and develop in the industry including the education available for cuddlers, but we still have a long way to go. This has inspired me to connect with the cuddle community at large by helping others start and grow their professional cuddle practices responsibly as a professional cuddling teacher.

On my personal practice side, my flagship product is a 90-minute cuddle session. I usually recommend first time cuddlers do a 90-minute session so we’re not rushing through the session for a 60-minute one (the minimum amount of time I cuddle), and oftentimes people that do a 60-minute cuddle wish we had more time. 90 minutes seems to be a good amount of time to settle in and not be waiting for the clock to go off.

On the teaching side, my flagship course is “Sam’s Snuggle School,” a comprehensive course I open for enrollment for one week in June and September that gives a beginner the basics of getting started as a professional cuddler, even if just part time, with the focus on efficiency and finding the best way for you personally to get started and feel comfortable doing this work and to grow their practice. Since this is still a very new industry, most cuddlers are entrepreneurs-- I know of one practice in the US that has cuddlers on a W-2 form, so this is all still very new for most cuddlers.

2018 in particular was a big year for me between going on a Cuddle Tour across the country to six major cities (blog on that TBD), being invited to consult and contribute for the Code of Ethics for Professional Cuddling, completing a 25-hour cuddle session with a client, co-speaking a highly successful talk at CuddleXpo in Chicago called “Connecting While Cuddling: Bringing Your Authentic Self to Your Clients”, and having my highest earning month ever-- over $7k!

how-i-make-a-living-professionally-cuddling-with-people

Here’s all of the contributors on the panel at CuddleXpo in Chicago presenting how we came up with the Code of Ethics for Professional Cuddling. Back left to right: Maryelen Reid, Madelon Guinazzo, Samantha Varnerin (me!), Samantha Hess, Jean Franzbleau, Fei Wyatt, Janet Trevino. Front left to right: Keely Shoup, Lisa Meece. Photo credit Rellian Chen Merrin

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I stumbled upon professional cuddling by sheer accident while looking at a newsletter from Jason Zook (during my work hours in my freezing office at my day job) where he mentioned it in passing but made a point to say professional cuddlers was a real job that people get paid for.

About 300 people filled out the application form within a week of the article going live, and that was the starting point of what is now Snuggle with Sam, which about four months after the article went live I began to pursue full-time.

I remember thinking, “No it’s not. I’m gonna Google this right now and it’s not going to exist because if it does I’d be so good at it.” I was living paycheck to paycheck and getting burried in student loan debt, and since I found an agency that would have me charge $80/hour, I signed up with the first agency I saw on Google and applied, asking if I can do this around my full-time job (note: I do not recommend you do what I did).

That company did a lot of things that made it a good learning experience at first, but they also didn’t do much teaching. I didn’t have a system to qualify clients, a process for checking in with a text-security service they had, a schedule to book clients, or a way to track sessions so I knew what I owed the company. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing for sessions, and since professional cuddling was only in the U.S for a couple years at this point and little regulation in the industry (there still is), I got a lot of requests from people that were looking for a session thinking this was a front for prostitution!

This was when my engineering background came in handy. After my first bad experience with a client, I started creating my own systems to make myself safe that the agency didn’t give me. I made my own email questionnaire, things to look for that might indicate if a client might be an issue, confirmation process to make sure clients knew when and where to be, and other things I felt could be automated and make my life easier for before I see a client. This got tested as the agency gave me more leads and I saw how they responded to my qualification processes, and I started tweaking how I wanted the sessions to look. As I heard the same questions over and over again, I began to come up with canned responses.

The following summer, I went to Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit and I talked about what I do on the side with someone. Word started to spread about me and my side gig, and one woman that approached me asked if she could interview me for a blog. I assumed it was her personal blog and said yes. A few days after the conference, she emailed me from her work account… the blog she was talking about was the Penny Hoarder.

When it came time to get interviewed, they asked me how I’d recommend someone get started as a professional cuddler… and I didn’t have an answer. I could not recommend someone to the agency I was working under because they didn’t train me and I felt it would be irresponsible to send people there.

I quickly put together a website for them to backlink to using Squarespace with two landing pages: one to apply to be a cuddler (I decided I would have people work under me in a company, which I no longer do), and the other one was to put in a request to work with me.

About 300 people filled out the application form within a week of the article going live, and that was the starting point of what is now Snuggle with Sam, which about four months after the article went live I began to pursue full-time.

how-i-make-a-living-professionally-cuddling-with-people

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

If my previous answers didn’t hint to it before, I like the idea of taking action quickly rather than spending too much time testing out ideas. There are definitely areas that need more calculated and planned action to be effective and profitable, but more often than not if I’m working on something new I’ll create Minimum Viable Products (MVP’s), or the cheapest, quickest way to make a product for the public.

I didn’t have to start from scratch. I had already been doing this work for over a year and generating $500/month easily from cuddling without really trying, and I was able to bring my clients with me when I left the agency. Scaling up a bit more was easy.

Before Sam’s Snuggle School, I had Snuggle Safety: Personal Protocols, a $79 course that consisted of one 45-minute video with my voiceover (which is no longer for sale but is now a bonus module in Sam’s Snuggle School). I dragged my feet over making it for nearly a year.

I originally made a manual that ended up being 35 pages of very dense content that I planned to sell. I could easily have sold it for 30-40 dollars to my email list and made bank, but I highly doubted anyone would read the whole thing (I barely wanted to read it once I finished it!). I decided to convert it into an online course to make it more digestible so I’d feel better about what I was producing instead of going with an inferior product.

I used Teachery for hosting my course and OfCourseBooks to make workbooks to check for comprehension in my course, so all I needed to do was use Powerpoint to record my voice on each slide and save the powerpoint file with my voice as an mp4. From there, I uploaded the video to YouTube as an Unlisted video (which back then you could embed without making it sharable), and then it was just writing the sales copy and making a payment page for people to buy the course. Teachey automates login info and emails for students in a course when they buy, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

Me and my entrepreneurial friend were launching something for our businesses around the same time in December 2017, and she had access to a 24-hour coworking space with showers. Both of us were inspired by Nathan Barry’s 24-hour launcheshe used to do when he was a freelancer and digital marketer, so we finished our projects by doing our own 24-hour work period together-- 9am Friday to 9am Saturday. It was a good way to light a fire under my butt when I was procrastinating on finishing a product that I already changed a lot since I thought of the idea.

This course didn’t make me a whole lot of money; it made me a few hundred dollars max. I’m glad I made this though because having this first course was what helped position me as a thought leader in my industry and got me invited to contribute to the Standard Code of Ethics for Professional Cuddlers and get more exposure in the cuddling community.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I got very, very lucky at first when I broke out on my own for three reasons:

  1. I had an audience for my website as soon as one very good, high-traffic article backlinked to it. This immediate traffic gave me a big boost for SEO that still positively affects my site ranking today. That article and my website gave me more credibility to be featured on podcasts, more websites, and even be in a local magazine.

  2. I left my full-time job with savings. I wasn’t making a full-time income from cuddling when I left (I was in an awkward situation at work not related to cuddling that made me decide to go this route full-time), but I had already built up about four months worth of savings to work with while I built my income up more. I funded myself for my business and only took out a loan for my business when I went on Tour this summer.

  3. I didn’t have to start from scratch. I had already been doing this work for over a year and generating $500/month easily from cuddling without really trying, and I was able to bring my clients with me when I left the agency. Scaling up a bit more was easy.

But there were also some key things that were not to my advantage in this process:

  1. I didn’t know how to manage my business income. I paid myself with my cuddle money every so often a couple hundred dollars here and there, but I mostly reinvested the money back into my business without seeing much of a return on my investment. Around July I began to run out of money (don’t worry! I bounced back from it). I’ve since learned a better way to manage my money.

  2. Few people knew or trusted what professional cuddling was. I thought professional cuddling was self-explanatory, but when I tried networking locally that first year, I was asked at startup events if I was secretly an escort. One members-only networking group even barred me from going to their events at one point.

  3. I avoided other ways to get leads other than generating them myself out of pride and laziness. Until this past May I never joined another professional cuddling platform or agency. I also didn’t post on Craigslist before SESTA-FOSTA went into effect which now prevents me from doing so. This meant I forced myself to create a business that was fully generated by my own efforts as soon as I left my job. This stunted the growth of my business severely since I hadn’t yet figured out how to do this.

It wasn’t until a year after I went full-time with my business that I was getting back in the black for my efforts and not until May 2018 that I began consistently making a livable wage from cuddling, and I believe that I would have been much further along had I done a better job managing my income, presented myself as a cuddler better, and went where my clients were hanging out online from the getgo.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I have my hands in many pots all at once, but these five are where I’m seeing the most results:

Following up with leads until they say no.

In 2018, most of my clients were from my lead list from 2017 and before that never replied to me or scheduled a session for some reason.

I try not to go overboard with follow up, but I try to follow up until I’m told no because sometimes people are just really forgetful and want to book a session but need to be reminded.

Especially in professional cuddling, I notice that many potential clients are really self-conscious if I don’t take the initiative to schedule a session or make contact with them; they think I just don’t like them!

Google Adwords.

My friend Ronnie Deaver helped me set up my first simple Google Adwords campaigns last year-- apparently no one was buying Google ads for “Professional Cuddler Boston,” so that was a really quick way to get seen.

Our ad was short and to the point since we assumed someone googling that was looking for a cuddler and already familiar with what to expect, so the ad was simple (and emphasized free parking, a hot commodity in Boston) and linked to my request form.

It cost me a lot of money though and I saw some leads turns into clients but not that many, so I ended the campaign.

Unintentional SEO.

Shortly after ending the Google Ad campaign, I started getting a curious number of leads the next few months that said I was the fifth website on the first page of Google when they searched “Professional Cuddler Boston”.

Upon talking to Ronnie, he told me that when ads perform well for certain search words, Google rewards you with higher search results. I’m sure this would improve more if I put more efforts in this direction. I also got a popular article written about me on Student Loan Herothat got picked up and linked back to me on several other websites, so that was also a factor that I didn’t plan on helping me do well in Google ranking.

If nothing else, get backlinks to your website as often as possible!

Coffee Talks.

I was getting a lot of leads submitting a form and many had told me they wanted to do this but felt weird cuddling with a stranger.

So I thought “Well, let’s not be a stranger then!” And that’s how Coffee Talks were born. Potential clients could sign up for a half hour time slot to meet me for coffee at the local Starbucks and talk about their cuddling needs. I posted the signup link on local Facebook groups to let them know I was doing that, which sparked some interest from locals and strangers.

This is a very time-consuming method and not scalable. However, the quality of the clients I got from this method were the highest of any of the methods I’ve used.

Prepaid packages for clients.

My hourly rate is $100/hour (typical for the industry is $60-$80/hour), so I like to incentivize returning clients by giving them lower rates for paying in advance.

This helps me by giving me money and cuddle hours scheduled in advance, it helps them by saving them money. Everybody wins.

I have one package that incentivizes sessions to be less than $70/hour if they pay in advance (I do allow for payment plans upon request).

As far as my cuddling teaching side of my business goes, when the GDPR law took place, I did the unthinkable: I threw away my list of 300+ subscribers for my professional cuddling business. Instead, I started it from scratch to create better reasons for people to join my email list so I had higher quality email subscribers.

So I created things like a What it Takes to be a Great Professional Snuggler Guidefor the beginning cuddler, webinar signup lists (there will be more webinars in the future!), the waitlist for Sam’s Snuggle School, and One Week to More Cuddles Guide for the experienced cuddler. I write to this list every other week if not every week. This list was helpful for when I initially launched Sam’s Snuggle School this past November. Over 25% of my new list bought my course!

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The past few months have been me planning out big grand plans for my cuddling community now that I’ve had a bigger stage, figuratively and literally, in 2018 than I ever have before. This January I started a three-month experienced cuddler course with my friend Peter Benjamin called “Cuddle with Your Whole Self” which is surrounded around bringing deeper connection not only into your client sessions but into your entire life. We get on Zoom calls and teach and do connection exercises live together to teach our students. As of writing this we’re three classes in and I’m really happy with how the course is coming along so far. I’m already seeing a huge difference in our cuddlers’ mindsets.

Unfortunately after a wildly successful finish to my year in December and planning out how to move forward with gaining and retaining clients, I got a wrench thrown into my cuddling plans by tearing my meniscus! I currently can’t walk or cuddle like this unfortunately, but it does mean I get to work on more projects for cuddlers like I’ve wanted to. I’m really thankful I started building that email list the right way back in May now so I can continue making income even without having to cuddle right now.

For the most part I don’t track too many parts of my business even though I have the data and Google Analytics set up for it to look into heavy technical things such as keywords, average time on site, and converstion rates. That’s mostly because I want to model something doable for other cuddlers. Other cuddlers in their practice don’t want to spend a lot of time on analyzing data or building a website or learning SEO; they want to get clients and cuddle! So most of what I do is centered around what a cuddler growing their practice would want to do. I want the actions I take to be duplicatable, especially since my main start on my own was from getting a massive website to backlink to my brand new website isn’t necessarily duplicatable.

As of right now I get an average of 1-3 new subscribers a day for my Cuddlers-in-Training email list and I have 450+ total cuddle requests from individuals (I have yet to pull in data from a few new platforms so the exact number is slightly off). This past year the average cost per client was just shy of $24 per client, but when clients were coming in for a session that cost between $63-90 an hour and half of them returning for more than one session, that cost per client is well worth it for me. My next step once I’m not injured anymore will be digging into the data to see what I can do to make my conversions better moving forward-- I want to get more people in the door for a first session in coming months.

I mostly live off of the money I make from cuddling and the money I make from my courses and coaching make it so I can take bigger risks with trying new lead sources, optimizing parts of my business like getting some lifetime software through AppSumo, paying for my business coach, and funding other growth dreams I have for my business.

My big projects this year are the following: advertising and enrolling aspiring cuddlers into Sam’s Snuggle School, moving into more focused work in helping experienced cuddlers grow their practice including coaching and advanced coursework, and tying it all together with my baby by July with a dream of mine I conceived while on Tour this past year, Connection Community

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I keep learning how much my health and wellbeing directly affects my business. The first year I was a professional cuddler was one of the roughest years of my life personally, which was the motivation to buying the URL mylifeisneverboring.com as my personal social skills blog.

The first two weeks after I quit my full-time job I slept for 14 hours a day because I was recovering from some unhealthy habits around sleep, work and coffee I had developed from working at my job. I still look at pictures the months before I left my job and am appalled at how unhealthy I looked in those pictures even. Once I was back on a healthy sleep schedule and started eating more regularly I noticed the first of many dramatic shifts in my creativity, productivity, and client base.

I always had an idea that I’d be able to make it work as an entrepreneur somehow even if I didn’t know how the numbers would look on paper. I just knew that if I ever started failing I would find a way to make it through it and thrive. Between having clients last minute decide not to renew a big package the day before rent was due and trying to figure out how to make up for that loss, shifting gears halfway through my Snuggle Tour and trying to avoid a significant loss, finding out my hotel in NYC wasn’t booked online properly when I have a client coming by in less than a half hour, releasing a course in 24 hours when I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to record it without a working microphone…

I proved myself by getting out of all those situations. My strongest affirmation was forged through these trials and tribulations: “I’ll figure it out. I always do.”

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Some of these links are affiliate links.

Waveapps. Once I got a separate bank account for my business, I hooked up the bank account to this free accounting software. As a one-woman band that files a Schedule C, this software is easy to categorize and see my income and expenses at a glance. I like logging in and seeing that I’m making more money than I’m spending really quickly.

SquareUp. This is how I accept credit card payments via card swipe or online invoice. You can also set up recurring invoices, use their free scheduling software,

Squarespace. For the tech-challenged, this is a really easy way to set up a pretty website quickly-- or in my case since I had no design skills, an ugly website

Mailchimp. Automation is on the free plan, something I rarely see, and that’s really useful for sending my questionnaire to potential clients as soon as they fill out my form on my website. You can send email lists, make landing pages, and track opens with your list to see who’s reading your emails and who’s staying silent.

Ecwid. It’s really useful for using SquareUp on your Squarespace website and making items in your store way prettier than Squarespaces default sales pages. I use the free version because I don’t need too many items, but the paid versions allow for more than 10 different items on your store and it’s a very powerful tool to sell on social media in the paid version.

Teachery. This is a really simple course creation platform where I host my courses. They also have a sales page builder for your course with Rick Astley placeholders that are perfect.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Mornings with Mike Podcast. My friend Mike Goncalves makes a five minute daily podcast, and I’ve set up my Google Assistant so that when I turn my alarm off in the morning the latest episode of his podcast plays. He has some interesting thoughts on success, motivation, health, and a happy life. It’s a really good way for me to wake up in the morning.

Life’s Golden Ticket by Brendon Burchard. This book is his only fiction book he wrote, but it’s an amazing book about letting go and making the most of the life you have. Unlike The One Thing, I couldn’t put this book down. It reminded me to keep sight of pursuing the things that matter to me in my life.

My business coach, Stephanie Marino. I’ve worked with her on and off over the course of two years and she’s been one of the most empowering coaches I’ve ever met. She’s helped me move some big rocks like stabilizing my income for my business, shifting gears for my Tour when my first plan wasn’t working, and not being afraid to run my business differently than other people.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Start with going on a platform or agency and give it three to six months.

I’ve met new cuddlers that want to go straight to a therapist’s office to do referrals and I’ve met cuddlers three months in that think they need to make their own website. Those are great things to do, but they’ll be more effective you’ll command more authority once you’ve gained some experience from a place where people looking for cuddling are gathering.

Take the pressure off of you to market yourself right away and let the platforms that are pouring thousands of dollars into marketing do that work for you, and pay attention to the clients that are coming in and attracted to you because that will help you understand what it is that you offer people that has them choose you as their cuddler. Then you can use that to go to other people for referrals and build a website around that idea.

Use pictures for your profile photos that reflect how you’ll show up to your sessions.

I see some women and men post really suggestive or misleading photos of themselves: women in bikinis, men shirtless, clubbing photos, using Snapchat or Instagram pictures, etc.

Those are all nice photos, but they don’t send a good message for who you want to attract to your professional cuddling practice. Take a photo of yourself while you’re wearing your cuddle attire so people can see upfront how you’ll show up for your sessions.

Don’t be afraid to talk about professional cuddling in public.

When I was on Tour and met strangers I would tell them I was a professional cuddler. More than a few times I got replies like “I’ve heard of that but I’ve never met someone that does that.” There’s way more media coverage on professional cuddling than when I first started, but people need to see that it’s in their communities as well in order to start normalizing the profession. Start talking about it like it’s a real profession because it is.

Educate yourself.

I don’t care if you’re a massage therapist, a psychologist, or a high school dropout. If you’re going to do professional cuddling, you need to be continually learning to get better and show up for your clients better. That doesn’t have to be professional cuddling specific training, but it definitely helps to see how other people are doing it.

Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to like I did, but don’t be afraid to pull skillsets from other areas if they’ll add to your practice. For example, I use Authentic Relating Games and Circling to help understand my clients better and guide the way I communicate clearly with them.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Looking for part-time VA for 5 hours a week to start.

Mostly big projects such as converting spreadsheets of leads to a CRM program, putting social media-friendly photos from phone into an album, batch editing blog posts and newsletter emails, and able to do academic-level research for scientific sources.

Native or fluent English speakers are welcome to reach out at [email protected] and I’ll have a test task for you to see if we’re a fit.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Samantha Varnerin,   Founder of Snuggle with Sam

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