Importance of Online Group Programs

In the ever-changing landscape of the field of women’s health entrepreneurship, the asset of developing an online group program is an undeniable tool for fostering community and connection. In this article, Bridie interviewed Kerry Dobson, who is a group program consultant. They talk through why having a group program is important, how to build a profitable group program, and how to build a successful community for your women’s health business.

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Can you tell me more about you and your work as an expert group program consultant?

I have started calling myself a Group Program Architect because the work I do is helping founders, experts, authors and coaches to plan, build, and lead their own group program. Group Program Architect seemed to be the title that my clients most identified with.

My clients are drawn to having their own group program because they want to help and support more people and their clients have a desire to be part of a group or community. 

Why is having a group program offering so important for all types of women’s health business? What are the benefits?

Having a group program offering is another way to work with and support your clients. I often say.

“No one googles ‘group program for …’ Instead, they are looking for someone who can help them with the problem or dream they have.

-Kerry Dobson

Once they find someone they think can help, then they care about the offerings.” Having a way for people to work with you and with others who are in a similar place in their life and health journey will be appealing to several potential clients. 

I could probably write at least 100 benefits of groups from the perspective of you, your business, and your clients but the two I think are most important are connection and results. Connection because many of us are craving true community and connection. We want to be able to share in our experience, know we are not alone, and get support along the way.

There is something special and really bonding when we are in a group that is growing together, working on things together, and cheering each other on.

-Kerry Dobson

When I think of results, I often also think about accountability. For so many of our clients, it’s that accountability that they need the most help with. And in my experience, there is nothing quite as effective as accountability within a group. That’s because we might not hold ourselves accountable. We might not even feel that accountable when our health provider or coach is holding us accountable but when a group of people are relying on us, showing up not having done what we’ve committed to is very difficult and uncomfortable. We don’t want to let other people down. This additional accountability is often what our clients need to get the results we know they can get. 

Profitable Group Program, Kerry Dobson,
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How can female health founders initiate and sustain effective communication within a group program to ensure a positive and supportive environment?

What’s most important, is how you start the group. This doesn’t start at the first session; it starts as soon as they find out about you. This has to do with everything from how you talk about the group in your marketing to the conversation you have with potential participants, to the onboarding materials they get when they sign up.

Once you are in that first session with the group, I always encourage my clients to co-create the group expectations. Literally spend time in that first session having everyone share what they need from each other to help support their success. Don’t make up these expectations on your own and share them with the group. Instead have the group make them together. If you do this, the members of your group will hold each other to these standards, will feel an almost instant connection to everyone in the group, and will understand this is a different kind of group as most groups do not start out this way.

One thing to remember about groups, there is risk inherent in participation. You’re asking your clients to let strangers know their struggles and their realities. It’s your role to make sure the environment is safe for everyone. Group expectations are a great way to start creating this safe environment.

-Kerry Dobson

There are also ways that you can build and lead your group that enhances support and safety. As an example, one thing that I often suggest that is against the common way of leading groups is to NOT record calls or group sessions. As soon as you record a session, you make it less safe for people to share fully and honestly. Even in this time of social media and the pressure for authenticity, we are aware when we are being recorded and it impacts how most of us show up. Consider not recording your sessions to help make the group as supportive and safe as possible. 

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What strategies are there to address challenges and conflicts within a group program?

The best way to address is a challenge or conflict in a group program is to never have it happen. And the way to do that often has to do with how you build and set your group up.

The MOST important decision you will make is who you have in the group. Way too many times I see founders have a sign up for their group without any discovery call or application process. You don’t want to leave the most important decision to chance. Instead, you want to make sure everyone in the group is committed to the outcome and to the group, has the right attitude and is willing and ready to work with others. It might slow down your intake process and take more time but doing a thorough discovery call and making sure you have the right people in your group will save you from a lot of challenges in the future. 

Once you make the important decision about who is in the group, it goes back to the group expectations. If you co-create these, you can make sure everyone has a voice in communicating what they need to be safe and participate in the group. For example, confidently is a very common group expectation but confidentiality can mean so many different things to different people. You want to have a conversation with the group to get really clear on what it means for everyone.

For some groups it’s like Fight Club, what happens in group can never be talked about. For other groups it might only mean not using name or other identifying details. Make sure everyone in the group has a shared understanding of confidentiality.  

-Kerry Dobson

Another thing to make sure is included in the expectation activities is to talk about what happens if the expectations get broken.

As the leader of the group, you don’t have to assume responsibility for a conflict. Often the group will come up with a process that has them sort it out with each other before coming to you with anything.  

-Kerry Dobson

That said, to keep it safe, sometimes you have to make the tough decision to ask someone to leave the group (in my experience if you do the above this almost never happens). You get to decide what this looks like. You can consider offering to work with them 1:1 instead or give them their money back. Conflict that is left unchecked can and likely will deteriorate the trust and safety of the group.  If you don’t address it, you wreck the safety and experience for everyone else.

Profitable Group Program, Kerry Dobson,
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In your experience, what approaches have you found most effective in building a sense of empowerment and collaboration within a health group program? 

I don’t want to sound like a broken record but it’s all about how you start your program. In fact, I would encourage you to allocate 10% of total group program time to setting the stage/starting the program with things like introductions and group expectations. And this isn’t you spending that time talking to them about your expectations and your introduction. Get them participating as quickly as possible. Empowerment requires them to be taking action, get them working together and doing things in their own life as soon as possible. You set the stage and model what is to come in how you begin the program. 

How do you customise your community-building initiatives to cater to the diverse needs and goals of female health groups, ensuring that the group is both inclusive and impactful?

On one hand, every group program is unique. On the other, all groups are very similar especially in what ignites a group to be inclusive and impactful. This is why, I do my work 1:1. I follow the same process and framework for every client. We go through the planning phase which is all about what the program will be about, who it will be for, and what the participants will accomplish within the program. We then build the program focussing on making the program engaging, actionable, supportive, and effortless.

Most times, this building phase is more about re-purposing tools, resources, and frameworks already created for 1:1 client work or even some of the marketing and social media assets.

-Kerry Dobson

We have a couple of sessions preparing for leading the groups where we practice any of the activities using the technology and resources. I always did a mid-point and end of program check in to make sure we can address any issues or obstacles that have come up. We then meet a year later to discuss how it’s going and what might be next for their clients. 

The process is the same but every program I help clients create is unique to them, their business, and their clients. 

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What methods do you use to leverage the unique strengths and expertise of individual members within the female health group?

Part of the magic of a group program, is your clients get to benefit from working with you while also working with other people in similar places in their life and health. And all those people also have wisdom to share with each other. 

Most of us attended school where the teacher was at the front of the class and had all the answers. This is NOT the approach we want to take with a group program. Instead, you want to bring out the wisdom of everyone in the group, so all the participants can benefit from that. Don’t feel like you always have to be the expert. For example, if a question gets asked in the group, often the “best” answer can be found in the group. Throw it back to the group with something like, “What do you think? What would you say/share here?” Sometimes you need to be the lead and direct things but often your role is more to help the wisdom of the entire group come out and be shared.

Another way to do that is as part of the introduction session where people are introducing themselves to each other.

It’s great to have them share some of their areas of wisdom instead of just name, location, and vocation. You can ask them to include in their introduction the answer to a question like “What’s the one thing your friends would all say they all go to you for?”

-Kerry Dobson

This is one of the reasons I really suggest a call before someone gets into the program or a 1:1 call near the beginning of the group. These calls give you the opportunity to get to know each person. Who are they? What are they looking for? What support do they need? How would they like to be of service to the group? When you know them, it’s easier to help support them in bringing their strengths and expertise to the group.

How do you navigate and overcome potential resistance or reluctance from community members in adopting new products, programs or offerings?  

The easiest way to overcome resistance is to avoid it or not encounter it in the first place. This might seem like a strange answer, but I believe as group leaders, one of the currencies you trade in is the currency of hope.

When someone signs up for your group, they have a hope or a dream: they want something different, they want to make a change, they want an experience and a result.

-Kerry Dobson

Yet way too many times when we hand in our currency of hope, we are left disappointed. It wasn’t as good as promised, it didn’t work for us, we didn’t feel supported, we didn’t feel like we were part of the group.

The good news with this, is if you take a whole different approach, and value that currency of hope. You will build and lead your program to ensure your clients have what they need, what they signed up for, and get results. This will undoubtedly have them asking you “What’s next? How can I keep working with you?” 

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What measures can you take to assess the effectiveness of your community-building efforts, and how can a female health founder know if her group is successful?

I probably have a unique approach to this. Success for me with groups is the 3Rs: 

  • Results: you know they are getting results, it’s obvious, they are telling you about it, it’s being showcased in the group, you’re following up with them
  • Retention: they ask, “What’s next?” They want to do the program again; they want to stay in it. Your participants want to keep working with you 
  • Referrals: when your clients tell their families and friends about you and encourage them to be in your program

If the 3Rs are happening, you will know that what you’re doing is working and is effective. If you’re not, you’ll want to troubleshoot for these. You won’t get retention or referrals if your clients don’t get results. So always start there.  

A fun way to tell if you have a great group program is the number of participants that are talking to each other outside of the group sessions. When you hear about these additional conversations you know the program is working. It’s great when you hear about clients who have become friends.

3 Top Actions for Female Health Founders:

  1. Know your why. I’m frustrated with the almost flippant nature in which coaches and gurus say, “If you want to grow your business, you have to have a group program.” A group program is NOT for everyone and it’s not a passive way to make more income. It’s anything but passive. So, if you’re only doing it for passive revenue or because someone told to, you won’t like the results. If, however your why is your clients are asking for it, you know your clients would benefit from a group, and you really see yourself leading your own groups, then groups are something to seriously consider.
  2. Determine your Program Promise. This is the promise you make to your participants about what they will experience and accomplish by being in your program. It’s what people use to decide if they will sign up for your group. It impacts your marketing content, the activities you include in your program, and so much more.
  3. Talk to your ideal clients first. The worst thing that can happen is if you put all this effort into building this great group program, but no one ever signs up. It’s heartbreaking and demotivating. The number one reason this happens, the group was built around a need that isn’t real or isn’t that big a deal to your clients. Once you determine your Program Promise, share it with some people. They can be current clients, past clients, or ideal clients. Get their feedback on the Program Promise before you ever start building your group program.

If you’re thinking about building your own group program, I encourage you to work through my Design Your Groups with EASE workbook. It includes the Design with EASE framework I use with clients and ensures your program will be engaging, actionable, supportive and effortless. You can grab it here.

The Program Promise is one of the most important things you need to determine. To help you with this you can listen to this podcast episode of my The Book Desserts Podcast Series. The podcast series is for authors using their book to build their own group program, but the episode is all about the importance of the Program Promise. 

How To Connect With Kerry Dobson