Tips For Running a Nutrition Private Practice

If you enjoyed my post "What I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Nutrition Private Practice", you'll love part 2 "Tips for Running a Nutrition Private Practice" packed with the lessons I've learned in the last year! 

Tips for Running a Nutrition Private Practice by Columbia SC based dietitian and blogger Rachael Hartley

Update: I now offer career coaching calls for aspiring private practice dietitians! Check out my service page for more information. 

For the past two years, April 4th has held a special meaning to me. Well, really for 32 years it's held a special meaning for me, since it's my birthday ;) But two years ago, it gained an even more special meaning when I decided to quit my job and start my private practice on my 30th birthday. I guess I have a flair for the dramatic!

To celebrate, last year I wrote a post about lessons I wish I knew before starting my practice. In the year since, somehow it's become one of the most popular posts on my blog. I had no idea the response it would get! I received huge numbers of emails from students, interns and dietitians with questions and asking for support - I so wish I had the chance to sit down with each and every one of you and chat personally, or at the very least have the time to respond to every email. But alas, one of the realities of running a business is that it takes a lot of time, so for this post and the last, I would greatly appreciate it if you write your questions in the comments so everyone can learn from it.

Today I'm sharing part 2, how to run a nutrition private practice. If you haven't already, read part 1, where I share what led up to my decision to start a private practice and what I learned in my first year.

Here's the gist of how I got here - after changes were implemented at my work that would severely impact my ability to help people, I leaped into private practice with nothing remotely resembling a plan (this I do not recommend but in my situation, I needed to jump). I basically count the first 9 months of my practice as a throwaway. The first three I had zero clue what I was doing, hardly any clients and was fairly certain we were going to end up living on the streets in a cardboard box because of my boneheaded decision. The second three months, I had accepted a prn clinical position at a hospital helping while one of their RDs was on maternity leave. I was working 2 days a week doing something I hated, but you do what you've gotta do, and that gave us the flexibility to travel. At the same time, I was taking every client and paid opportunity that came my way, which turned out to be a decent amount, but I was undercharging and not working with people I would consider my 'ideal' client - everything from home tube feeding (whaaaatttt??) to diabetes to people who definitely weren't ready for a non-diet approach to eating I so believed in. I was burnt out, working really long hours for little pay, but more importantly, little fulfillment. I realized what I was doing wasn't sustainable, so I basically stopped marketing and spent the rest of the year actually creating that plan I probably should have had in the first place.

I'm not sure what prompted it, but there was one day I did a lot of thinking about how I wanted to make my clients feel versus what specific area of nutrition I was interested in practicing. The word joy kept coming to me. That's where I came up with my mantra of 'live joy, give joy' which has guided so many of my decisions and interactions since. I wanted to bring more joy and happiness to food and eating, hence my tagline 'rediscover the joy of eating'. I also thought about what was robbing people of their joy - being stuck in a cycle of dieting, chronic health conditions that sucked energy and life, depression and anxiety, two incredibly common and under diagnosed conditions...this would be where I focused my practice.

So, I brushed off that Intuitive Eating book I had read years ago and really started marketing a non-diet approach. I created the Good Mood Food series and started a discussion on how nutrition impacts mental health. And I decided to get certified as a LEAP therapist to help those difficult to treat health conditions like IBS, migraines and autoimmune disease (although that didn't happen till the very end of the year because, well, life).

I like to keep it real here, so I won't say business shot up overnight and within months I was running a thriving private practice - I wish! But business grew steadily, my clients were happy and I felt confident in the steps I was taking. In those months of planning, I set a "content" goal (as in this is what I can be content with) and a "dream" goal. I'm now firmly in that content spot and I think my dream goal may be right around the corner with the launch of the Joyful Eating, Nourished Life program! I've had a few other exciting milestones this year. I went to FNCE, the national dietitians conference for the first time this year in Nashville (also a fun excuse to slumber party with my gals Min and Meme). I went to my first sponsored trip with California Almonds where Alex and I first came up with the concept for Joyful Eating. In the summer, I moved into my new downtown office.

Perhaps most importantly, I learned a lot in this past year! The first year was all about learning through failure, which is a good thing! But thankfully this year I learned much more through success! Here's the lessons and knowledge that had the greatest impact in the 365 days since my last birthday for all you aspiring (or current!) private practice dietitians:


A mastermind group is essentially a group of similarly-minded professionals who get together on a regular basis to brainstorm, set goals, troubleshoot and support each other. Since Blog Brulee, a sponsored blogging conference, I've been in a blogging mastermind group with my pals Min, Meme and Marisa. We even launched a modern Southern food ecookbook together! This year, I joined a counseling mastermind group with Anne, Alex, Robyn, and Kylie. We're all similarly minded, working in intuitive eating and/or with eating disorders, so it's great to have a group to bounce ideas off, brainstorm for our clients and just chat with an awesome group of women.

As early as you can, I encourage you to start a mastermind group with other RDs in a similar field. Even if you're currently in clinical or working in a community setting, it's a real game changer! So often we feel alone in what we're doing, so having that sounding board for ideas or sharing in struggles is really important. Here's a great article on how to start a mastermind group. 


One of the biggest frustrations for many dietitians is setting themselves apart from other nutritionists/coaches. I'm not one of those RDs who think only dietitians can contribute to the discussion of food. There are SO many highly qualified nutritionists, therapists, naturopaths and doctors working with nutrition. But, I do share in the frustration of having six years of education and having to compete with people who have done a short online program that focuses more on marketing than nutrition science, or worse, someone just trying to sell a product.

After working with a couple clients who had developed disordered eating after becoming coaches, I had a realization. One of the criticisms of RDs is that we're too traditional and not open minded to new science. Sorry RDs, but sometimes I agree. But I understand why - we've seen so many fads and trends come and go, when something new pops up it can be easy to dismiss! In a world that loves their expensive juice cleanses, fad diets and quick fixes, people who don't have the background training in nutrition are just as susceptible to pseudo-science. As an RD, the idea of staying on the cutting edge without embracing these things is daunting. Embracing intuitive eating and body positivity with health at every size (HAES) is a way you can be a part of a trend, but one that's backed in science!

Update: This is a fantastic YouTube video on working HAES into medical nutrition therapy practice, perfect for those of you still working in a medical setting!


Another way to set yourself apart? Consider accepting insurance. I currently don't, but I'm in the process of it with a company called Healthy Bytes. Initially I decided not to because reimbursement rates were so low here in SC. Plus, the paperwork takes forever and I heard so many horror stories of people not getting paid after insurance companies didn't reimburse - it just wasn't worth it. But I always struggled with that decision because although I obviously want to run a financially viable business, I hate for money to be a reason someone can't get the help they need. That's why I was excited to find Healthy Bytes, a company that goes through the whole insurance application process, simplifies the paperwork and prescreens clients to see if they're covered, so you know exactly what they owe at the time of service. I'm waiting to hear back from insurance companies, but hoping to get started soon!


In part 1, I encouraged everyone to start a blog if they're thinking of starting a private practice. I still stand by that recommendation, because it helps you build an online presence, hone in on your area of passion and speak to your ideal client. That said, it's easy for the blog to take over. There's so much advice out there for bloggers trying to make a business out of their blog it's overwhelming - trying to keep up with it all is a full time job on it's own! I get that there are a lot of people who are trying to become professional bloggers and certainly there's plenty of money to be made in blogging, but me, I'm not trying to be the next Pinch of Yum. Carefully consider the role of your blog in your business. I could spend hours learning to create videos, spend thousands on a fancy food photography workshop and dedicate hours trying to build a twitter following, I don't, because it's not a very effective way for me to reach my future goals.

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Need more guidance? I now offer career coaching calls to aspiring private practice dietitians! Hone in on your dream business and create an action plan for success. Check out my service page for more information.

Additional Resources:

I feel crazy honored to have been a presenter at the RD Entrepreneur Symposium, teaching a seminar on harnessing your unique voice to attract your ideal client. The symposium is packed with 18 expert sessions from six figure dietitians and marketing pros designed to give you actionable steps to grow and start your business. As someone who spent hours (and I mean HOURS!) on google trying to figure out what to do to get clients and the logistic/legal side of business ownership, I can't stress enough how valuable it is to have all your information in one place! Get more info and sign up here!

Now, I'd love to hear from my RD friends! What are your thoughts on my advice? Anything you would add or change? Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!