Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Are you excited to take on clients but confused and overwhelmed with the steps to take to start your private practice? In this blog post, I provide you with an overview on how to start a private practice as a dietitian nutritionist.
This blog post was created based off of a podcast interview with RD, Maiya Ahluwalia. If you prefer to listen to the content, check out the episode here:
One of my goals with The Dietitian Project is to empower dietitians with the skills and knowledge that they need to build a career of their dreams. Although I don’t work exclusively with private practice dietitians, of course that is a common avenue that many dietitians choose to pursue within entrepreneurship.
In addition, with Covid-19 many dietitians are looking for opportunities to create an income or a side-hustle with the health industry not hiring, cutting hours, etc. If you find yourself without work or looking to build up a business on the side, now is a great time!
Before I get into it, please note that the regulations differ slightly depending on your location. Many of the resources within this blog article are applicable to dietitians in Ontario, however the steps taken will be similar regardless of where you reside. Make sure you check your local jurisdiction for regulations and requirements specific to you :)
Step 1: Define your ‘why’ and your ‘what’
The very first step before you get into any of the technical pieces around setting up your business is to first define your ‘why’ and ‘what’. Every business idea should start with you and the mission that you want to accomplish. Make sure you have a strong sense of the niche area that you want to pursue and who your ideal client is before coming up with your services.
Your niche doesn’t need to be a specific nutrition-related condition (like weight loss, HAES, etc.). It can easily be a specific age group, cultural group, etc. The world is your oyster!
Step 2: Decide what you want to offer
Go back to your ideal client - what services are going to resonate with them? Will you be doing 1:1 nutrition care, group sessions or online programs?
Every business should have multiple revenue streams. This means that you are making money from multiple sources. Many dietitians running their own businesses will see clients 1:1 in addition to having an online course, picking up freelance writing work, recipe development, lunch and learns and more. Check out this blog post for 15 different ways you can make extra income as a side hustle each month. When you’re first starting out, I recommend picking one stream and then building up from there.
At this point, also figure out where you are going to work. Are you going to be virtual or are you going to offer in-person sessions? With covid-19, many dietitians are opting for virtual care for the convenience it offers (and I think this habit is going to stick around as more and more people see the value in working from home). You can also consider doing a mix of both - working virtually and at a pre-established clinic (like a doctors office, physio, chiropractic clinic, etc.)
At this point, you’ll want to give some thought to your business name. What name resonates with your target audience OR do you want to operate in your own name?
Having a name that isn’t your own can be helpful if you have a long-term vision of expanding your practice or business so that it’s broader than just yourself - perhaps you see yourself taking on employees one day or maybe your vision is to build a health center. Or, perhaps you are selling a product, in which case it might not make sense to have you as the brand.
Some of the pros of having the business in your name are: it helps establish you as the brand and may create a deeper connection between you and the person who wants to work with you (people resonate with people more than with generic logos and business names). With you as the face of the brand, there is also more credibility around you as THE subject matter expert on this topic. In turn, it may be easier for people to find you on google, IG, LinkedIn, etc.
Step 3: Figure out what the government needs from you
This is one of those situations where every jurisdiction will be slightly different. I recommend literally Googling “starting a business in ___”. You will find a government-sponsored website which will walk you through the steps required to actually start your business.
Generally, if you are not taking on any employees and are operating virtually without a physical office space, it’s pretty basic. In Ontario, all you have to do is pay a fee to register your business.
I also set up a separate bank account for my business. Separating your personal and business income is important for when tax time comes!
Resource: Registering your business in Canada
Step 4: Figure out what you need from a dietetics perspective
Understand what the requirements are from your regulatory body. Usually this starts with finding liability insurance and paying your dues. (Note: check and make sure your liability insurance covers the work that you want to do - some will not automatically cover telehealth or writing, for example).
You should also find a client management system that works for you and is compliant with health information and record keeping requirements.
Here are some popular client management platforms:
Practice Better (note: this is an affiliate link, so if you purchase a plan through this link I will receive a % of the purchase)
Find out where you are legally allowed to provide services within your province, state or country. If you’re unsure, simply ask! Your regulatory body is a good place to find answers to these types of common questions. I also recommend this resource if you are looking to provide telehealth services.
In Canada, certain provinces require licencing in order to see clients within those provinces (Ontario, BC, Alberta and PEI). Many dietitians will partner with others within those provinces in order to be able to see clients across the country. In the United States, more and more dietitians are choosing to provide MNT to clients within their state and provide nutrition coaching to those outside of their state.
Step 5: Understand how to get paid
One important question to ask yourself here is: are you going to take insurance or not? There are pros and cons of each, and the answer depends on your target client and what their needs are.
If you are able to convince someone of the value that you bring to the table and communicate the transformation you provide, they will pay out of pocket to see you. It’s important to remember this when you are setting your prices - don’t just assume that insurance is the only way to make money as a dietitian.