Opening my business is the scariest, yet most rewarding decision I've ever made. A year after starting my practice, I’ve learned a lot about what I wish I knew! Today, I'm sharing what to know before starting starting a nutrition private practice for any of you aspiring entrepreneurial dietitians.
Note: If you have any specific questions about starting a nutrition private practice, please ask in the comment section versus email. I SO wish I had time to answer each one of your emails individually, but unfortunately one of the realities of running a business is that it takes a lot of time!
Update: I now offer career coaching calls for aspiring private practice dietitians! Check out my service page for more information.
Tomorrow is my 31st birthday. Insert the cake and balloon emojis that I don't know how to put into my blog because I'm technically challenged!!
This year, April 4th has a special meaning to me. One year ago today, I nervously walked into my bosses office, put in my 3-week notice, and quit my well paying, government job with great benefits so I could pursue my dream of opening a private practice.
When I announced it on the blog last year, I eloquently summed it up by stating "OMGAOHTIOAFJDIAFOJESAFSHJIFNJ;A IEROR SA." I still kinda feel the same way. Y'all, I am one of the most rational and level-headed people on this planet, not to mention, kind of a weenie that's scared of just about everything. The idea of running my own business was terrifying, and still is. I felt confident in my skills as a dietitian and nutrition coach, but running a business?? Not so much.
A year later, and I am sill no expert. Much of what I've learned has been through failure, not success. Still, I get emails every week from dietitians and nutrition students, wanting to know how I got here and looking for advice on how to start their own private practice. Apparently, I look like I've got my act together! Although I'm still learning, I thought it would be helpful to sum up what I've learned and what to know before starting my private practice. First, I'll answer this question....
How did you get here?
It was always my dream to start a private practice. In college, I wanted to open a wellness studio for moms and kids where they could exercise together in a fun, play-centered environment and take cooking classes and nutrition seminars. Looking back, I don't really like kids nor do I like exercise, so clearly, it wasn't such a great idea. Still, I had an entrepreneurial bug.
My dietetics internship at Emory was clinically focused, and after I graduated, I started working in a clinical position at a small, community hospital. My job let me dabble in a little bit of everything. I spent each morning in the ICU doing critical care nutrition, but I also taught nutrition classes for cardiac rehab, saw outpatient appointments, and counseled inpatients on the heart unit.
After almost 2 years, I left that job, moving to Columbia to be near my boyfriend, now the hubs. I got a job at a large medical center as an outpatient dietitian, providing individual nutrition counseling and teaching classes. At the time, I called it my dream job. I loved working with veterans and I felt both successful and challenged in what I did.
Over time however, I realized in that type of setting where client load and numbers rule, I couldn't provide the type and quality of care they needed. I wanted to be able to provide more intensive, diverse and holistic nutrition services than a large medical center could allow. Plus, I had recently started a blog that was starting to become profitable and nurtured my creative side. I wanted to what I could make out of it. Then, over the course of two weeks, I learned of a change at work that was going to set me back career-wise and make it hard for me to help my clients, Scott got a promotion, and I stumbled upon an office I could afford.
All signs were pointing for me to move on. So, without much planning or foresight, I left to start my business.
In the last year, there have been ups and downs, but as I round out 365 days of being my own boss, I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I've made in my life. No, my business isn't exactly where I want it to be, but it's getting there, and I'm feeling fulfilled, inspired and helping a lot of people in the process.
Still, looking back, I could have been a lot more prepared! Here's what I wish I knew and what I've learned in the past year.
What to Know Before Starting a Nutrition Private Practice: for Students/Interns:
You don't have to be a clinical dietitian.
I repeat, you do not have to be a clinical dietitian to get your "base knowledge." Pursue the path you want, right off the bat, whether that's public health, nutrition counseling, school nutrition or hey, maybe clinical. It's the best way to gain the skills you need for the career you truly desire.
That said, inpatient, hospital jobs are easier to find and I hear from many aspiring private practice/nutrition counselors that took a clinical job out of necessity. Make the most out of the experience. Many dietitians think patients don't want to learn when hospitalized, so they bump education consults to the bottom of their priority list. To a certain extent that's true - someone still halfway anesthetized from surgery or vomiting up blood doesn't really want to chat about food, but many still do. When I was working clinical and covered a cardiac floor, I put tons of time and effort into educating and coaching those patients. It gave me basic counseling skills, and when I saw many of those patients again in cardiac rehab, many had made big changes based on what we talked about.
Consider your passions.
Start using this time to figure out you're passionate about and start developing that into a marketable skill. Love photography? Invest in a camera, sign up for courses and maybe a career in food styling or blogging awaits. Are you a yogi? Take courses and read books on mindful eating. Athletic? Pursue a certificate in personal training, which would be a great combo with nutrition coaching.
Make the most of your internship.
Most internships offer elective rotations. Work with a private practice dietitian and get a glimpse into what they do. I SO wish I did this when I was an intern.
Start a blog.
Even if you have no aspirations of becoming a blogger, I highly recommend starting your own blog. You don't have to share it with anyone - it can be something for you keep to yourself! Blogging helps you identify your passions when you pay attention to what topics you're drawn to. And by putting everything in writing, it solidifies your personal nutrition philosophy and beliefs.
Do things that scare the s*** out of you.
Every day of running a business, you're putting your entire heart and soul out there for the entire world to see, connect to, disagree with, embrace or reject. The idea that you can fail in a very public way is terrifying and awful, but if you give into that fear, you'll never have the chance to succeed. Get used to doing scary things, whether it's public speaking, signing up for a new workout class by yourself or just striking up a conversation with a stranger (preferably one that's not driving a white van). You might fail, get rejected, and/or look like a total moron, but you'll also learn that it's a lot less traumatic than you feared.
What to Know Before Starting a Nutrition Private Practice: for Dietitians:
No, I don't mean go out and quit your job today. But do start taking steps towards opening your practice, whether it's networking with other private practice RDs, reading books or taking a business course, or joining the nutrition entrepreneurs dietetic practice group. Start building the business skills you need so it's not so overwhelming when you finally do open up shop
Don't be afraid to sell.
This was a big fear for me, and still is. But, it's kinda essential to having a viable business. When I first started, I sold nutrition counseling sessions a la carte because I didn't feel comfortable pressuring people into spending lots of money. I figured if they loved the initial session, they'd schedule follow ups. That happened sometimes, but mostly, clients went in expecting a total transformation with one session - not so realistic. Since then, I've started selling nutrition services in packages, and it's been much more successful for me, AND for my clients. Remember, you are providing a valuable service and deserve to be compensated fairly for it and if you're providing a valuable service, people won't have a problem paying for it.
Get training in health coaching.
I cannot stress the importance of this for everyone who dreams of nutrition counseling. I think where many dietitians go wrong is with an emphasis on education, which is rarely helpful for clients. They can read a book and know what to do - it's your job to break down barriers, foster "aha" moments, motivate and THEN educate. I was lucky to have access to two different health coach certificate programs though my last job, but if I hadn't, I would sign up for Wellcoaches training immediately.
Expect clients to have barriers.
A comment I frequently hear from aspiring private practice RDs is "I want to work in a setting where clients want to change." The presumption is that if someone pays money to see you rather than getting counseling for free in the hospital, then they'll follow your advice to the T. While all of my clients at some level are ready to change (they’ve already taken the step of seeking out help on their own), what I've learned is that everyone has barriers and at some level, is ambivalent about change. Don’t expect people to walk in the door and be ready to make every change you suggest. Counseling in private practice is NOT easy! That doesn’t mean that you’re not doing your job well. Have realistic expectations for your clients, and yourself!
Learn to say no, even in the beginning.
When I first started my business, I took every paid opportunity that came my way. I was placed on the referral list for a large hospital and immediately started receiving tons of referrals, most of which were for clients outside of my ideal base. A few months later, I accepted a prn job as a clinical dietitian, which turned into 2-3 days a week, because I couldn't say no when they needed help and I was scared of not making enough money in my practice. I was focused on making money, not building a business. After 6 months of private practice, I was overwhelmed, not all that fulfilled, and the prn job had stagnated the growth of my business.
Luckily, I was able to recognize that, take a step back, think about branding and relaunch with a new business plan when I relaunched my site. Since then, business has been growing steadily in the direction that I want. One thing I learned - if your reaction to an opportunity isn't "YES!!" then your answer should be no.
Any private practice RDs reading this? Would love to hear your advice! Hey, I'm still learning too! Or feel free to leave any questions in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!
Since writing this post in 2015, I’ve written more posts for dietitians with career advice. Check out the following articles:
Since writing this post in 2015, I’ve grown my private practice and blog into a six-figure business from it’s humble (and impulsive!) beginnings! I want to help you find the same level of success that I’ve had, and help you learn from the mistakes I made early on. I love to work with aspiring and new private practice dietitians, sharing what I’ve learned and helping you build the business of your dreams. Book a mentoring call where I can help answer your burning questions, guide you in defining your niche, and teach you how to build a client base. Click here to learn more about dietitian mentoring calls.