How We Grew Revenue To $8K/Month And Launched An Online Course For Professional Cuddlers
This is a follow up story for Snuggle with Sam. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi there! Sam here from Snuggle with Sam. A lot has changed since we last spoke, one of them being my field overall is gaining mainstream traction post-COVID and slowly a different title has emerged to describe this work.
We’re currently going back and forth between calling it to cuddle therapy and professional cuddling. I use both terms interchangeably. Ultimately, I’m a professional cuddler with a private practice, and I help other professional cuddlers start and build their practice.
My signature service through my private practice is still a 90-minute cuddle session, though there was a brief pause on that during the height of the COVID pandemic. One 90-minute session with people of all backgrounds struggling to reconnect with others in various ways has led to many other packages for long-term cuddle therapy with my clients, and I’ve built up a great client base where I truly help them over time and I’m proud of it.
As far as helping other cuddlers: my flagship product, Sam’s Snuggle School, has been remodeled and rebranded into a live online course with content I’m crazy about teaching, and it’s now simply called Snuggle School.
Since I was last here, I’ve made it higher-end to help cuddlers with everything from qualifying clients, creating a deep connection with them, logistical setup for their cuddle practice in physical and digital spaces, and more. I even took a leaf out of Marie Forleo’s B School (of which I’m an alumnus) and made it into a 7-week course we launch and run online that includes office hours with yours truly for deeper learning. My first cohort since I re-created the course just finished at the end of March and I’m SO proud of the growth and progress I’ve seen in all 5 of my students in the cohort!
Most of my money still comes from my in-person practice (yes, even after the height of a pandemic; I’ll explain more below because it’s a long story), and before the shutdowns were happening I was averaging just under $7k/mo from my private practice. Now that I’ve reopened post-COVID shutdowns, my earnings average hovers around $8.8k/mo. Since we last spoke, I’ve had 3 five-figure months (both just from private practice alone!)
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
This has been a weird ride since the last time I was here talking about my business because I was in the middle of an ACL injury and couldn’t work while I was in the middle of things. I have yet to even have a full year that I can work consistently all year in my private practice, but I’ve also realized that I build my business because I don’t want to have to.
But as soon as I could work again post-ACL surgery (and it was safe for me to do so), I had one singular goal for myself to get back on my feet: Get 3 new clients a week and make the sessions SO UNDENIABLY GOOD that my clients would want to come back and see me. I made it a mission to follow up with them and give them directions for the next steps should they want to come back.
I did that in April 2019, and by June 2019 I had a thriving practice that was earning over $6k/mo until shutdowns happened in March 2020. But more importantly, I wasn’t putting in insane hours to make it all happen. That continued and spiked back up when I reopened after getting vaccinated in March 2021.
Some things that also helped in the process since then that I would give a TON of credit for include:
- I formed an email list for my cuddle clients. At first I just emailed all my previous clients and asked them if they wanted to hear from me once a week. If they said yes, I wrote up a personal email along with my availability each week and BCC’d them all. If you read my previous article here, you know I’m all about getting it done first before making it pretty.
- I made a funnel for new potential clients. Once I switched to using Mailchimp and then later Active Campaign, I noticed people were going to my “First Time Clients” page but they weren’t always signing up for a call. I made a pop-up to join my email list with just their email and it would put them through a sequence that would have them get to know me, why I do this work, what the point of cuddle therapy is, and how it is might help them. Every email points to a way to hear from me more (Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) and also to sign up for a pre-session call with me.
- I experimented with my FAQ page. This one was cool because I got written about for a marketing case study for how I did this! Once I realized my FAQ page could be answering better questions that people needed to feel good about seeing me, I rewrote that so it was more for my clients and less for looking “professional” for everyone else. My clients have been way better informed by the time they get on the phone with me for their pre-session phone calls and so much of the work I do to onboard them has been cut out for me.
- I wrote more on my blog and started a Youtube channel. I’ve had clients tell me they’ve read my blog (like this one) or seen a video on my Youtube (like this one) and they felt more connected to me and better about working with me. Trust is a vital factor in this work.
Everything was going great, and I had enrolled in B School with Marie Forleo just when the shutdowns in March 2020 happened and I suddenly couldn’t see clients. I decided to shut down before they forced me to, but luckily just before that happened I was finding myself wanting to write a book. I didn’t have any real business reason to want to; I just wanted to because I love writing and thought I had a story to share with people.
When everyone was forced to isolate and businesses were shutting down, many professional cuddlers went online and did “cuddle zoom” sessions. I used Zoom before it was cool and, while I did some sessions here and there online, I hate doing video chats for long periods.
I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy switching 1-for-1 in-person sessions to online ones. Once I realized I had money saved up to last me through the pandemic (!) and I was going to qualify and get self-employed unemployment relatively easily (!!), I gave myself space and time to figure out what to do with this time I had now instead of forcing my model to bend to whatever the rest of the market was doing.
At that time, I had just finished an entire year getting my professional and personal life back up in action after isolating due to my ACL tear, so I had a lot to say about isolating– or, how I like to refer to it, “permitting.” That’s how I came up with, wrote, edited, and self-published Happy While Hermitting Handbook: a Guide for Your Isolation in October 2020.
I’m honestly surprised I got it done as fast and as well written as I did since most of my days writing looked a lot like this. I’m super proud of how the book came out, and it got to #1 on Amazon in new releases for books on dependency the first week it was released (which is a story in itself but ultimately, it came down to making an email list of people waiting for me to finish it and hyping them all up the week it did).
It’s still selling 1-4 copies a month even though I’ve done almost nothing to promote it at this point. The last time I checked my KDP account it hadn’t made the money I put into making it yet, but it has been a book many of my clients and potential clients have bought to learn from me when I can’t tell them everything want to in my sessions.
Overall, I keep on providing value through what I’ve learned and through deeply connecting with my clients and my fellow cuddlers. Caring and showing that you do in this work goes a lot further than any tactic I can give you.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Over the past year, I’ve been open again, and I’ve noticed something really interesting: the demographics of my clients have changed a lot. While my clients mostly used to be men in their 40-60’s (and I still have many people in this demographic as it’s one I specialize in working with!), these days I’ve found a much higher percentage of my clients have been younger and a lot more nonbinary, women and trans people.
I think after having to be 6 feet away from people for so long that more people realized that they didn’t have to be in a relationship to get their touch needs to be met. More acceptability and more visibility from other cuddlers like ChicagoCuddleTherapy on TikTok, Cuddle Santuary on the Bachelorette, and many others in my industry have contributed to this uptick in a lot of ways. My little weird job is now more visible and seen as a little less weird!
Being seen as less weird and more legitimate is important because I needed people to believe me and my business for a very personal reason last year: my boyfriend of four years and I bought a condo just outside of Boston together and I needed to find an office to work outside of my home (we couldn’t get approved for home insurance if I worked in our condo). My office– or my cuddle room, as I like to call it– is right down the hall from a child psychologist and a real estate office, and it’s created a new layer of professionalism and legitimacy that I appreciate having and that has opened a few more doors for me.
That said, I do miss having a short commute from one bedroom to another, but this also led to us having one more change I wouldn’t have been able to have as easily: our sweet furbaby we adopted just this year, Kissa!
Even so, I haven’t just been riding the gravy train this whole time. This time last year, I was trying to get a membership for cuddle therapists off the ground and realized a few months in that I just did not like using a membership model for teaching people the way I was trying to.
Don’t get me wrong, membership models are amazing. But I was forcing myself to make certain types of content for them, and half of it felt good but most of it was a drag to create and I found myself missing deadlines and refunding members when I couldn’t create anything.
Looking back, I’m grateful for having tried it now because some of those lessons I did manage to make are now integrated into my final Snuggle School today. But it was a good lesson learned: I have ADHD and a membership model where I have to perpetually create high-quality content on my own is not a model I wanted to force myself to do at this time.
The upside to all of it was that I did get a lot of market research done by talking to people in the cuddle therapy community and what they need for support. I have other projects in the works for cuddlers that are a better fit for me and how I create. I wouldn’t have considered some of them had I not pursued this membership idea, so even though it was a flop I’m really glad I tried it.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
It’s funny that I’m updating you all on this now because my business coach asked me a few weeks ago what the next project I wanted to work on would be once I finished running Snuggle School (which I finished at the end of March 2022). I thought about it for a moment and realized how hectic my life has been over the past few years even before the pandemic. I’m in an awesome place with my private practice in that I don’t have to work so hard to be in the black so I told her, “Honestly, I just want to coast for a little while.”
Never would I have ever said that if I was the same person I was two years ago, but I’ve appreciated something more recently: I do business not just so I can keep growing and scaling and working on new projects. I do business so I can focus on what I do have, be happy with it, and enjoy it with my friends and family.
So as of this writing until mid-May 2022 (right after a wedding for a friend I’m going to out in Philly), I’ll be mostly focusing on what I’m doing with my friends and family, investing in my relationship with my boyfriend, and prioritizing working closely with clients that commit to packages with me. This is a level of just relaxing I haven’t had in a long time that I wanted to appreciate.
That all said, here are the major projects that come to mind in the near future once I’m done “coasting” that I plan to flesh out and pursue after mid-May:
With clients, I’m finding myself increasingly interested in working with clients and their talk therapists. I’ve had the chance to do this with one client already to better support my clients and give talk therapists some direction and things I’ve noticed about the client in my sessions that might be good to dive into in their sessions. I’d love more chances to work with the psychology community at large on how I can better support their patients in their work.
Otherwise, the majority of my clients are finding me directly through my site snugglewithsam.com. I’ve let many of my processes just exist at this point, and I know I can do more to improve those processes and make becoming a client smoother and easier so I can max out my client schedule. I have yet to hit my max capacity for clients, and I’d love to get to a point where I have a waiting list or need to refer clients out. If I can build my practice to hit that level regularly, that would give me a new level of personal stability and growth.
As far as teaching professional cuddlers: Snuggle School this year was such a success and proved that I found the right model to teach cuddlers at long last that now I have to decide if I’m going to run it once a year or twice a year. Right now I’m leaning towards running it once a year because this round was really fun but also really tiring.
Once I’m done coasting, I plan to spend time with a project I let go for a few years and didn’t do anything with for a long while, findacuddler.com. I can’t say much on this front yet because I don’t entirely know what that will look like in the end yet, but I’m especially interested in helping cuddlers that create their independent brand (something I find still fairly rare in this field) find their best-fit clients.
Lastly, I have a little more clarity around a 5-year goal for me: start a cuddle therapy franchise. This isn’t something I take lightly, and if I’m being honest I’m still a little scared of this goal/dream. I’m continually getting more info from the cuddle field as a whole so I don’t accidentally cripple the field with what I create from this goal (we’re a very friendly bunch of people, and none of us consider each other “competition” since when any of us win we all win).
More than a few times I’ve been told by clients that have seen many cuddle therapists across the country that I’ve been one of their best experiences, which is what has driven me to continue training and help other cuddlers. I want to expand that to get more resources for success into cuddlers’ hands, including business systems, systems for running a session, professional yet down-to-earth spaces to have sessions, advertising, and marketing plans to grow their practice, etc. I’m doing very well financially in this field, and I want to make that easier for other cuddlers too.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I have ADHD and my bad habit of reading part of a book, putting it down, and then picking up another one has crept into my life a lot more in the past year. That said, there are two I liked, even if I’m still working my way through them:
Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo. I started reading it after taking her course, but as someone whose general motto is “I’ll figure it out; I always do,” the whole book is not only encouraging but actionable. Pro tip: do the Insight to Action Exercises she has in the book. It does mean that getting through the book will take longer, but it’s worth it.
Be willing to educate. But don’t just educate on what you want to tell people, but what they want to hear about too.
The other book I’ve been making my way through is Atomic Habits by James Clear. I’ve followed James on and off through his blog since 2015, so when he wrote a book I was excited and realized many of the concepts he talked about were what he’s been writing about all this time. Highly recommended especially for the entrepreneur with raging ADHD like I do.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
First and foremost, remember that your sales mean nothing about who you are as a person. I spent a long time tying my identity to my success, and when I couldn’t do that due to not being able to work, that helped me figure out who I am at the essence of my being. If I hadn’t separated my success from my identity, I don’t think I would have considered taking a longer break to just enjoy what I’ve created all these years for a month.
(Shameless plug, but I talk a lot about navigating these insecurities around identity in my book in the first chapter. It’s titled “Who do you think you are? (This isn’t a threat, it’s a legitimate question)” so you know it’s going to be a fun one to read).
Once you have some sense of who you are and that your service or product is separate from who you are, really focus on the service and experience: before you even think about scaling, are you giving them the best possible service, the best possible product, the best possible experience they could get that would get your current clients to come back?
Are you following up with them to make sure they got the best of what they could from the experience? Are you inviting them to come back and do business with you? Are you creating a way to help them remember that you exist and they like you? If clients aren’t coming back, find out why. It’s much easier to get a client to come back than to find a new client, so if you can find the right recurring clients you’ll have a much more solid leg to stand on.
I know a lot of people these days would say email lists are dead, but that hasn’t been my experience. Email lists are alive and well, and it’s the fastest way to own your marketing and stop relying on social media. I dabble in social media but I’ve found relying on social media too much for my marketing and for getting clients to come to me isn’t the best way for me. It takes 6-7 exposures to your brand for someone to consider buying from you, and I’d rather be in a little more control of when they get those exposures to me. I might not have thousands of followers like some other people in my field, but I’m making great money and have a very engaged audience which is more important to me and to being well into the black.
Lastly, be willing to educate. But don’t just educate on what you want to tell people, but what they want to hear about too. That’s how I was able to transform what people learned about my work on my FAQ. It’s also why I’m much slower to create content on my Youtube now: I want to talk about stuff that would matter to my clients too.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Instagram: Snugglewithsam and Cuddlecareer
- TikTok and Twitch (not as active as of this writing)
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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