Wondering about how to start a nutrition business? Where to even begin? Launching an in-person or virtual nutrition private practice can feel overwhelming…but visions of designing your perfect career are keeping you up at night and freedom beckons.
Trying to find the tools and resources you need can leave you running in circles searching for answers. From creating a business plan, to website design, client education materials and marketing, a successful dietitian private practice requires a set of tools and skills.
This article features ten essential elements that every aspiring nutrition private practice owner must think through. In addition, it provides suggested resources and features insight from fellow successful dietitian private practice owners.
No more wondering how to start your thriving nutrition private practice – we’ve got you covered!
Getting a Dietitian Private Practice Started
Before you jump in, how do you know if private practice is right for you?
Many dietitians have chronicled their experiences of launching a private practice. Links to these posts are included throughout this article. You can benefit greatly by reading these and feel more confident as you will know how you will navigate similar experiences as you launch your nutrition business.
A checklist can make it easier to keep track of the tasks you need to complete. It can also create motivation and provide clarity on your dietitian private practice launch journey.
Nutrition Private Practice Essentials for Registered Dietitians
1. Who is your ideal client?
These days, there are so many ways to work as a dietitian. Most people join the field because they want to help people, and the good news is that there are so very many ways to do that. From teaching preschoolers about healthy eating to working with elite athletes to promoting gut health, everyone benefits from the expertise of a registered dietitian.
Step 1 of how to start a nutrition business? Deciding exactly who you are helping and why. This is the foundation to building your brand and allows you to grow deliberately and more effectively by minimizing distractions. If an opportunity comes up for a different kind of project or client, you can say no or refer to someone else, for now.
Think about what topics you can read about and talk about until your friends beg to change the subject. That’s probably a clue about who your ideal clients are! People want to work with someone who they can help them, who understands them and can solve their problems or pain points.
The more specific you can be on who you want to help allows you to laser focus on your goal and grow! You’ll feel worn thin quickly if you’re seeing a client with diabetes followed by someone needing to follow a low FODMAP diet and then an underweight child before someone with a stomach ulcer – that is way too many types of clients to be up-to-date on best practices.
In this article by Jenna Gorham, RD, she gives great insight into the value of having clarity about your brand and how it helped her grow her business. Rather than spreading out in a million directions, grow steadily with one main focus. You can always add more later (and even change your mind – you’re the boss!)
2. Branding and Design
Now that you know what your nutrition business is all about, it is time to prepare to market yourself. Your brand is more than just a logo or a name. Branding and design include essentials like business cards, social media graphics, stock photography or professional photos to elements such as colors, fonts, and your style.
Decisions about branding will be influenced by your target audience as well as your personal style. Your brand should feel both authentic but also be unique and memorable. You’re not trying to impress everyone – you want to genuinely connect with your ideal clients.
Hiring a graphic designer or branding specialist to create essential brand elements is one approach. You can also take a DIY approach and leverage design tools such as Canva to create branded materials for your business.
To get top quality results, you will want to learn how to think like a designer and understand the basics of graphic design. This can be easier than you think using Canva! You can quickly learn to create gorgeous graphics for your business including social media banners and business cards as well as flyers and handouts for your clients.
3. Practice Management and Reimbursement
How are you going to run the day-to-day aspects of your practice? Perhaps you’ll utilize a comprehensive electronic health record (EHR) complete with scheduling, online client paperwork, messaging and payments.
There are several EHR platforms that are built specifically for dietitians. The features and functionality vary, as well as the pricing. Most offer a free trial period where you can give various features a test drive.
In this article, virtual practice owner Kristi Coughlin, MS, RD provides detailed recommendations for how to select a platform for running your telehealth practice.
When trying out various options, do more than just browse around the platform. Embed the scheduler tool on your website and see how easy the booking process is. Create a client account and test out sending electronic paperwork. Test the program from both the client and practice owner perspective.
One key way to set yourself apart and efficiently run day-to-day tasks is to have a solid process for booking, paperwork, documentation and billing. Having a practice management tool that makes these elements easier can save you a great deal of time. The more you can automate, the less time you’ll be spending (or hiring someone) to do those tasks.
If you opt to use an all-in-one practice management tool or EHR, be sure to test out the tools and processes you decide on from the customer perspective. Make sure that the process is clear and as easy-to-complete as possible. If you decide to use Practice Better, check out out one of our best sellers on RD2RD: the Complete Client Form Package for Practice Better.
Reimbursement for your services is one essential consideration. Will you be cash-pay only or accept insurance? If you plan to accept insurance, it can feel overwhelming to figure out the steps in the process. Leveraging the expertise of colleagues with experience can help to make the process easier. This toolkit offers a comprehensive set of tools and videos on reimbursement.
Determining how to price your services and track your expenses as well as forecast revenue can help you to better manage your cash flow. Having a comprehensive and easy to use spreadsheet can help you stay on target with your business goals.
For some insight from an experienced practice owner, this article from Felicia Porrazza, MD, RD, LDN gives an overview of the steps to starting your nutrition private practice including steps in the process if you plan to accept insurance.
4. Legal Services to Start a Dietitian Private Practice
Getting your business off the ground will mean that you need to consider a few legal elements. This article is not legal advice and you should consult a lawyer for specific details as you start your nutrition business.
How you set-up your business such as an LLC or S corp are also legal considerations. Your local chapter of the Small Business Administration is one free resource you can use as you navigate these decisions and paperwork.
Working with clients will mean that you’ll need some official paperwork. There are a few different terms used to describe the document that is most essential, but it is often called a client agreement. This document can include a variety of elements including your cancellation policy, fees for no-show, billing information and more. If you accept insurance, you will also need to be compliant with any HIPAA requirements and have appropriate documentation.
There are templates for key documents available which you can customize. Hiring an attorney to create custom forms or reviewing and revising a template can help to ensure that your forms are specific to your needs. If you accept insurance and bill directly for your services, you will need to be sure you’re compliant with any regulations.
This can feel overwhelming and that’s ok. Take a deep breath and keep in mind that if you can memorize the Krebs cycle you can do this, too. You’re smart, hard-working and have many RDs who have been navigating these waters already – you can, too!
5. Client Forms and Handouts
Your nutrition private practice will require forms such as a new client intake form to gather health history and other information such as insurance information or a diet history or 3-day food record.
Some options to provide these to your clients are to have them available for download from your website or send them via email.
Many electronic health records allow your clients to complete these forms electronically and securely. If you are utilizing email to send and receive health information about your clients, remember that you are responsible for knowing what HIPAA privacy laws you may be subject to and being compliant with them.
For client education handouts, you can create your own or purchase from sites like RD2RD or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ store. It is also common to provide electronic copies of education materials via email or electronic health records.
Other popular tools include a documentation template for client visits, referral forms to provide to providers and visit summaries to provide to clients or providers. You want to make it as easy as possible for your local healthcare practitioners to make referrals to you.
6. Business Services
Your new business will need essentials like a business phone number (and perhaps fax), email and if you offer virtual visits, web conferencing. If you are subject to HIPAA requirements then you need to ensure that services you choose meet the necessary requirements and can provide you with a Business Associates Agreement.
You should also consider how you will keep records of your business expenses and if you will need the services of an accountant or bookkeeper. Tools to track and predict your expenses can help keep you organized for taxes.
You may consider working with a local tax preparer to file your taxes and optimize your refunds. They’re available to answer questions year-round, sometimes at no additional cost. While there is no limit to what you can do, it is wise to practice delegating as often as possible so that you can grow your nutrition business.
In this article by Erica Julson, MS, RD, CLT she gives a comprehensive overview of all the business essentials including a timeline and costs.
7. Website Design and Hosting
Your website is an important tool for both attracting new clients as well as may function as a store to sell your products/services and a blog.
Most registered dietitians spend a great deal of time on the design and appearance of their website. You can build your own website utilizing DIY-friendly website builders like Squarespace or Wix. WordPress.org has a steeper learning curve, but more customization and features for bloggers.
If you choose to hire a professional, there are a variety of options from full-service design firms to freelancers. Be sure that you carefully review the work portfolio of any prospects prior to making your selection.
Another consideration with website design is if you will maintain your own website or if you will need to hire a professional to make ongoing edits to your site. Be sure that you have a plan for how this will work, so you don’t have a website that is a “black box” that you don’t know how to update.
In this article by Whitney Bateson, MPH, RD, she gives insight into how to decide if hiring a professional to design your website is right for you.
8. Marketing Your Nutrition Practice
To get clients for your nutrition practice, you will need a marketing plan. This may include both local, in-person marketing as well as online via social media. Think about what your ideal clients are worried about or problems they need help solving –- that is where you come in!
For in-person marketing, you might need to design flyers to distribute to local physician’s offices, referral pads and business cards. These professionals are busy – be specific about who you’re helping and the best way for them to connect with you. Thank them and be on your way and mark your calendars to stop back in a few months later.
For online marketing, there are so many options: from Instagram to Twitter, Facebook to TikTok and Pinterest, LinkedIn and more. The question is: where are your ideal clients hanging out and which social media platforms feel the most natural and authentic to you?
You should pick one or two social media platforms and consistently show up there. Batch your work of making posts and writing captions so that this activity doesn’t become a time suck. There are even scheduling tools where you can plug in your posts and have them automatically posted for you – win!
On your preferred platforms, you can share blog posts you have written, articles by others or video (live or recorded). You can leverage advanced tools such as a webinar or a free download to attract new leads. Remember that this is not all about you; you’re providing value to your ideal client. What would they find helpful, interesting, and speaks directly to their nutrition issue? Include open-ended questions and polls so that your ideal audience wants to engage with you.
One strategy is to create an email list that people can join to receive updates such as a regular newsletter, blog post updates, recipes, tips and more. Lead with value and your clients will be so excited to work with you. There are software programs that make this process seamless.
Once people have joined your email list, you can nurture them with emails so that they can get to know you and your business and then – here it comes – ask them to take the leap and work with you! By then they know you and know that you can help them.
If you offer in-person events, you can utilize this as a way to add new subscribers or using digital content such as blog posts, social media posts or videos.
In this article by Samara Abbott, MSEd, RD, LDN, she gives insight into how to choose marketing strategies for your private practice. She has many articles on her experience starting a private practice.
9. Mentoring or Coaching
Starting a nutrition private practice is a big task. Keeping motivated as well as staying focused on the most important priorities (or even knowing which priorities should be at the top) can be difficult.
There are many options to get expert advice including masterminds, local small business groups, paid individual mentors and group programs.
Creating a network of both mentors and colleagues is valuable to help answer questions that arise (they’ll be many!) as well as ensure that you are making decisions that are best for your business and will lead to a successful practice.
Being an entrepreneur can be a wild ride of high expectations and enthusiasm as well as fatigue and disappointment. If you don’t have fellow RD entrepreneurs to speak with, you can feel lonely and isolated.
Connect with fellow dietitian practice owners, especially those who are successful in the way that is meaningful to you. You don’t want to be the smartest person in the room because that is a missed opportunity to learn from others.
It can be incredibly helpful to learn from the journey of others. These RDs have chronicled their experience starting a private practice into a detailed article with advice, humor and a fresh perspective on being a business owner.
Jenna Gorham, RD, LN – Things I Learned My First Year in Business
Samara Abbott, MSEd, RD, LDN – Starting a Private Practice
Erica Julson, MS, RD, CLT – How to Start a Nutrition Private Practice
Leanne Ray, MS, RD – My First 3 Months In Business
Kristi Coughlin, MS, RD – Telehealth Tools for Virtual Dietitians
Felicia Porrazza, MDA, RD, LDN – First 10 Steps to Starting Your Private Practice
10. Reflect, review and recharge – and don’t forget to raise your rates
Starting a dietitian private practice is not easy, but it can also be incredibly rewarding, flexible and lucrative.
As important as it is to dig deep and work hard, it is just as important to rest, reflect and see how your business is doing. Step back and take a look at the big picture. We often think of success in terms of finances, but quality of life is just as important.
Is your nutrition private practice offering the freedom you’ve dreamt about? Do you have the time off and flexibility that you need? Are your client interactions warming your heart because you know that you’ve genuinely helped them? Are you giving back and providing opportunities to registered dietitian interns?
And lastly – have you raised your rates? You should be told that you’re too expensive some of the time. You also need to give yourself raises or your nutrition private practice will not keep up with the rising cost of living.
As you grow in experience and skills, your rates should too. Remember that your clients are not just paying for the face time with you, they’re covering all of the time you spend researching, charting, billing as well as the costs of your business – liability insurance, EHR fees, etc.
Starting a nutrition private practice and becoming a business owner is exciting and intimidating. There are essential resources that your dietitian private practice needs to get off the ground and run efficiently. Tackling this process, bit by bit, is the way to go. You can do this!
RD2RD is your one-stop for tools needed to Launch for Nutrition Private Practice. Choose from a selection of tried and true resources from fellow RD Private Practice business owners. From forms, toolkits, handouts, video lessons and more, save yourself time by not spending time recreating the wheel for new business. And once you’ve got your business started, you’re welcome to add new tools that you’ve created to our collection – put your work to work!