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How to Start a Nutrition Counseling Private Practice

Over the past couple years, I’ve started getting more and more questions about how to start a nutrition counseling private practice. As you know, I started my private practice, AnneTheRD.com, in February of 2013 shortly after graduating with my Masters of Public Health in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and passing the Registered Dietitian (RD) exam. (Looking for information on that? Here’s How to Become a Registered Dietitian, plus more about my journey to becoming an RD.)

Starting a private practice was something I wish I had learned about in school, but since I didn’t, I did a lot of research, asked for advice from fellow dietitians, and read some good books on the subject, too. Here is what I did in a nutshell, along with some additional books/resources that should help you get started. Just an FYI that some affiliate links are included!

Steps:

  1. Choose a business name (so hard!) and start an LLC. I met with a lawyer to do this, but you can also start an LLC online (just Google “how to start an LLC”). If you expect to make over about $80k per year, then I would do the S corporation route or be an LLC that is treated as an S corporation. If not, then just an LLC is fine. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Google “LLC vs. S corporation” – basically, once you start making enough money you’ll save money on income taxes by becoming an LLC S Corporation or straight up S Corporation (they are basically the same thing). You can always change later, so it’s probably easiest to stick with a regular LLC at first.
  2. Purchase professional liability insurance. I recommend HPSO, who I use.
  3. Start a business checking account and open a business credit card. This isn’t 100% necessary, but it really helps in terms of taxes to keep all your business income and expenses separate from personal ones. I also use QuickBooks online to track all my income/expenses, and work with an accountant to do my taxes/keep a general eye on my books. I highly recommend QuickBooks online (I use their “simple start” version) – you can invoice directly through it and download your expenses and deposits right from your business checking and credit card and then tag them into categories. It makes keeping track of income/expenses (and unpaid invoices!) super easy!
  4. Buy your website domain and make a business website. To purchase my website domain (e.g. www.AnneTheRD.com) and for hosting, I originally used Wix. I recently switched to Squarespace (review here) and like that even more, though! Play around with both and see which one is most user friendly for you – both are visual editors, so you don’t need to know html at all to build a website. They are both very intuitive and you’re able to move things around and play with different themes.
  5. Figure out your service offerings and rates and how you want to get paid. To determine my initial rates, I did a survey of other RDs in the area where I lived and went a little lower since I was new. Since then, I have raised my rates when I felt it was appropriate due to demand. In terms of getting paid, I have clients pay upfront via my website using PayPal. On Wix, you can easily add a PayPal payment button for clients on your site. When I first started my business, I offered 1 hour single initial assessments and 45 minute follow ups – now, I do mostly packages, and I shortened my follow ups to 30 minutes due to feedback from clients (they wanted more frequent but slightly shorter check ins). What you do is up to you – experiment and see what works best.
  6. Create intake intake forms for new clients. I have new clients sign an agreement with my policies and also have them fill out a lengthy intake form with all sorts of questions about their previous medical history, eating history, current health habits, etc. Think about what you’d like to know about someone before talking to them, and put those questions on your intake form. You’ll probably forget some things and add them later – that’s okay!
  7. Don’t worry about having everything 100% perfect and ready to go – just start! If you wait until everything is perfect, you might never start. Once you have the basics in place, get going and then adapt and create new materials/handouts and policies as they are needed. Trial and error is part of the process. :) You’ll figure out what works best for you AND your clients!

Books & Resources

Comments

  1. 1

    Thanks for the info! Though I’m not an RD, I am hoping to get a little business going and this is still extremely helpful! It’s so nice of you to share!

  2. 2

    Do you accept insurance? Just curious how that works if you have experience with it.

  3. 4
    Les @ The Balanced Berry says:

    Anne, this is an amazing resource! Thank you so much for continuing to share such helpful information!

  4. 5
    Nichole [email protected] says:

    Thank you for breaking this down! I am in the process of beginning my practice. Do you consult with people out of state?

  5. 7

    This is really helpful, thanks! Someday I’d like to consult part time on the side but do you think it’s possible to set all this up and pay for everything and still be profitable doing it part time?

    • 8

      Yes, absolutely. The start up costs aren’t huge, and neither is maintaining it!

      • 9

        That is good to hear! I always assumed start up costs would be huge for some reason. I actually had an interview today for a dietetic internship, match day is in 23 days so I’m crossing my fingers I get one…..you were lucky to do a coordinated programs, this internship stuff is SO stressful!

        Also, Dana came to my class last month to talk about being a private practice dietitian and I flipped through her book, glad to see you recommend it. I was thinking of picking it up.

  6. 11

    I am so glad I stumbled across this post! While I launched my consulting practice not even a month ago, I am still learning new things everyday. I am so thankful you wrote #7, I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist and reading someone else say “Don’t worry about having everything 100% perfect and ready to go – just start!” is so important, thank you!! Just curious, I know you said you do not accept insurance but do you provide a Super Bill?

  7. 15

    Thanks for posting this! Very helpful. I am finishing up my dietetic internship and thinking about starting a private practice someday. How does Skype/phone counseling work with out of state clients? Do you have to check licensure laws in those states? Or do they only apply to the state you live in?

    • 16

      The RDs that I talked to when I started mine up said you should just be licensed in your home state. I mean, considering how many “nutritionists” that don’t have their RD do virtual counseling, I feel like it would be absurd if RDs weren’t able to!

  8. 17
    Farah Cavanagh says:

    Hi Anne – This is a GREAT resource – thank you for providing this. I have a couple of quick questions:
    1. Did you have to become licensed or certified in DC to have a private practice, or was the RD credential sufficient?
    2. Would it be possible to have a private practice as Sole proprietorship vs LLC? Or would you recommend forming an LLC?

    • 18

      Hi Farah, DC does require an additional license – Virginia (where I practice) does not. You could do a sole proprietorship if you wanted, but an LLC is good for the additional liability protection. Good luck!

      • 19
        Farah Cavanagh says:

        Thank you so much Anne – I really appreciate the feedback and advice! Enjoy the rest of your week and weekend!

        Best,
        Farah

      • 20

        Hi, Anne:
        Thank you for this post!
        May I ask, Do you have to become licensed or certified nutritionist to have a private practice?

        • 21

          The rules are different in each state — I’d check with your local dietetic organization or with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But the more qualified you are, obviously, the better… :)

  9. 22
    David Hernandez RDN CD CFSP says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Anne. Honestly, I’ve been sifting through books, webinars and webpages reagarding private practice but your concise article broke it down in realistic and practical steps and made me feel like “I can do this!”. I, too, loved #7 (one of my biggest self imposed obstacles!).

  10. 24

    Hi,

    Thank you for your post. I have been seeing clients privately for a few months. I spend 45 minutes with my clients during the first visit and give them hand outs with information to take with them. I don’t accept insurance either. Would you mind sharing how you schedule follow up visits?

    • 25

      I just use Google calendar internally and schedule the next session with clients at the end of the previous session – easier than emailing back and forth about it later!

  11. 26
    Jami O'Day says:

    Such a great resource! Thank you!!
    I am a licensed registered dietitian starting my own private practice too.
    I have a question as far as providing samples of healthy smoothie recipes and snacks… Do I need another specific type of license? Or should my professional liability insurance and Texas license be enough to protect myself? Thank you for any help or advice. :)

  12. 28
    Steph Day says:

    Hi Anne! After three years working in clinical, I’m hoping to transition to private consulting. Your article answered some questions I have, but I still have a couple more.
    How did you market and advertise your services, especially in the beginning?
    How many clients do you see in a month?
    Do you have an office space to see your clients?
    Thanks in advance!

    • 29

      I was lucky in that I already had my blog for a few years before starting my private practice, so that was basically my marketing! Regarding clients in a month, that totally varies depending on what side projects I have going on. I don’t have office space – I meet local clients at a coffee shop near where I live!

  13. 30

    Hello Anne,

    I am wondering about what credentials one needs to start a private practice. For example, is a bachelors in Dietetics enough to start my own private practice?

  14. 33

    I Anne,

    I just wanted to post on this because I wanted to let you know what a great resource this is, despite being only 7 step! What a great way to make it simple for those of us venturing out on our own. It’s given me more confidence to start my own up. It should be launching by the end of this month or early November. Being a clinical RD has been rewarding, but it’s time to pull away from my comfort zone of being in hospital.

    Thank you,
    -Art

  15. 35

    Hi Anne,
    I love this information. If it is not to forward I would be interested in what you did before starting this and do you feel financially it is a good decision? Also, do you have a physical building that clients come to?

    • 36

      Before going back to graduate school, I worked in public relations/communications. Changing careers was definitely a good financial decision. And no, I don’t have a physical building. I meet local clients at coffee shops.

  16. 37

    Hi Anne,
    I, too, found your post so helpful! I am a new-ish dietitian (~1 year), working on starting my own practice… Felt totally lost until I read through this. My biggest concern right now is financial stability while building my client base. I work full time, in a position where hours are not really negotiable (couldn’t switch to part time or per diem), and am having trouble finding the time to commit to building my client base a sufficient amount to support myself. I’m also scared to switch jobs to something that is part time, again for fear of not being able to support myself — or my business for that matter! I live in San Francisco, now one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. Any advice on that? Thanks!!

    • 38

      Perhaps you could look for a different job that is more flexible/offers part time, so that you have more time to build the private practice? Or for now focus on doing the practice at nights/on weekends? Living in SF definitely makes it harder, that city is so expensive! Best of luck to you!

  17. 39

    Hi Anne! I just wanted to let you know your site/blog has been helping me through starting my own practice. I got ahold of the first book you mentioned after you and a few others recommended it, and I built my website through Wix mostly on your recommendation. I feel we have similar philosophies when it comes to counseling clients – I also don’t believe in super restrictive diets or intense calorie counting for general health and wellbeing and tend to promote more intuitive eating and enjoyment of food. Although, I do think diet analysis and the numbers that go with it may have a place at least in the very beginning of a client relationship. I have two questions for you: Do you use any specific diet analysis/menu planning software? And have you done any specific training on intuitive eating and how to counsel clients in it that you’d recommend? Thanks so much for being a great resource, not only to your clients, but to fellow RDs as well. You embody the “we’re all in this together” philosophy and I think if more of the world supported each other that way, we’d all be closer to realizing our common goals.

    • 40

      Thank you for this kind comment, Jess! I’m so glad to hear I’ve been helpful. I don’t use diet analysis or menu planning software as those are not services I provide. I have done intuitive eating training – I did Evelyn Tribole’s PRO series Intuitive Eating training (just the virtual training, not the supervision group). It was helpful, especially as I was getting started! Best of luck to you!

  18. 41

    Great info! Thanks for sharing! I’m hoping to start a private business within a few years, so this is really helpful. Thank you again!

  19. 42
    Nancy Wilson says:

    Hi Anne,

    Do you mind sharing your thoughts on using Skype/FaceTime vs. a HIPAA compliant video conferencing software? I’m just getting into virtual nutrition coaching and am having trouble figuring out what to do here. Thank you.

    Nancy

  20. 43

    Thank you so much for sharing! I recently graduated with my master’s and finished my dietetic internship and passed the RD exam and am considering starting my own private practice. This is a wonderful resource and I may email you with more questions!!

  21. 44

    Thanks for this post! I just started an LLC and private practice and I am not sure if I need a NPI number. I am not planning to take insurance right now. Do I need it anyways? Thank you!

  22. 46

    Anne,
    Thanks for the post. I’m a student majoring in nutritional science. You have answer many question. Questions with no idea where to search for answers. Once again thank you!

  23. 47
    colleen k says:

    Hi,
    I was just curious if this was your full-time job, or if you thought it would be possible/profitable to run a Small LLC with private counseling, seminars, cooking demos, etc. on the menu WHILE working full time (4, 10 hour days) as a clinical RD? Or does it take more time?? I would not have an office space, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue as it seems like you don’t either? I would not accept insurance, which seems to be the simplest route to go. Getting an LLC, liability insurance, a website up and running and promotion… any other steps youd recommend?

    • 48

      I think you can absolutely do this as a side gig – you’ll just have to see how many private clients/gigs make sense for your schedule.

  24. 49

    I am a junior studying Nutrition and I plan on obtaining my masters in Nutrition or Public Health (haven’t decided which yet) while doing my internship (the graduate school I plan on going to has the internship/master dual program). I plan on an opening food counseling business also, which I also plan on doing weekly or monthly cooking classes and personal home visits for clients/potential clients. I want to focus on mostly obese patients and diabetics and pre-diabetics. Luckily for me, my mother is an attorney and both of my aunts are accountants so I can get their help with the legal and finance stuff. I really enjoyed this entry.

    I was wondering, should I work as a RD at clinic, hospital, etc. for a few years before I open my business or do it right after getting my masters and passing the RD exam? How did you advertise? How long did it take you to make a ‘decent’ living as a new business owner? How did you obtain the finances to start your business as a recent graduate?

    You obviously do not have to answer all of those questions lol but I will appreciate any further advice from someone who is doing exactly what I want to do.

    • 50

      If your ultimate goal is to have your own practice, I would go for it once you get your degree and pass the exam! I mostly advertised via my blog and was lucky I had had my blog for a few years already so I had a decent following. I’d recommend partnering with a doctor’s office to get the word out when you start! You can also list yourself online (HealthProfs is a good place to do that) and get involved with other local entrepreneurs. I don’t have an office (just meet clients at coffee shops) so I had basically no start up costs besides my own time making the website and client forms. :) Good luck!

  25. 51

    Hi, Anne,
    You post is extremely inspiring! I am wondering what nutrition blog websites you recommend to start posting nutrition topics and opinions? Or you recommend to start with a self-owned website?
    Thanks!

  26. 53
    Chelsea says:

    Hi Anne,
    I saw in the comment section that you meet with clients in a coffee shop. Do you find it harder or easier to communicate with the clients being in a more informal situation? Did you let the owner of the coffee shop know ahead of time about the consultations? Seems very interesting, just getting some ideas. Thanks for all the information!

    • 54

      I think the key is finding a coffee shop where it’s relatively private – i.e. lots of ambient music/noise but tables that are not super close together. The one I use has a big outdoor area and indoors there’s a nice area I always snag where we can kind of be off on our own – makes a difference. You don’t want to be crammed right next to others! I don’t let the coffee shop owner know – but I always make sure to buy something while I’m there! :)

  27. 55

    Hi Anne! Long time reader, and love your blog! I have a question for you, if you are able to provide your thoughts. I am an #RD2Be interested in both opening my own online nutrition counseling practice and blogging…I’m curious why you separate your blog and business site? Have you ever considered combining the two?

    Thanks for always sharing great content – have a great day, and be well!

    • 56

      Thanks for reading Tay! I have them separate for SEO purposes — makes it easier for people searching for a DC area dietitian to find my business site. I also just felt it was more professional to have them separate since my blog is so casual. :)

  28. 57

    Hi anne, your website was so helpful. I have a couple of questions. I am a RD in NJ, thinking of doing side consultations for now until I gain more experience in self practice. I think the hardest part is coming up with the name lol, then everything flows: So, I saw you did LLC, (1) but did you copyright your copy name too? or does the LLC take care of that (2) I see you do skype and online consults, do you have your clients sign any HIPPA agreements ( I have the same insurance you have and I am a RDN, but a little worry with protection, people sue for everything everyday and like you, I am not 100% advocate of ALL the ADN traditional teachings)

    • 58

      Hi Ileana! An LLC is not the same as a copyright so I’d suggest getting both if you are worried about someone using your same LLC name. I do have my clients sign a liability related agreement when they come on. And I recommend getting professional liability insurance as well!

  29. 59

    Okay so I’ve got banking experience but not business experience. I worked for a nutrition company that was LLC, however, I want to launch my own company. It’s an online nutrition company and I do not expect 80k at all! Would a DBA be sufficient for me? Also would I be required to file anything at all with a DBA if I had absolutely no profit or loss? I want to get all of my biz setup before I go live & it may take a while to go online..

  30. 61

    Hi Anne,
    Thanks for the great post! This was super helpful for me. I am an RD, but currently finishing my Master’s. Since I have the time right now, I’ve been starting to venture into building my private practice. I have a website built through Wix and I am dabbling in the blog world, still trying to decide what platform is best (I’m just using the blog feature through Wix currently). I am also present on Fb, Instagram, & Twitter. What are your suggestions on getting more followers, blog readers, and marketing yourself as a nutrition professional?

  31. 63

    Hello! Do you have any resources regarding obtaining an EIN, if we register to pay state sales tax& how you organized your income related to the quarterly federal taxes paid?

  32. 65

    Hi Anne – this was just the article I was looking for! I do consulting on the side in addition to my full time clinical job but want to start focusing more on private practice work. I already have professional liability insurance but am thinking of taking the next step to be a LLC. My main concern is if I’ll get enough clients without accepting insurance (as I currently didn’t want to go down that scary road of insurance / reimbursement). Can you tell me what your thought process was when deciding not to accept insurance? Thank you! :)

    • 66

      I just decided it made more sense for me to stick with self pay since I’m not doing the private practice full time. If you are looking to do it full time, it might make sense to take insurance to get extra client volume – but it’s up to you! Obviously you make a higher hourly rate when not taking insurance, though…

  33. 67

    Hi Anne!
    I am currently starting a private nutrition consulting practice and I found your article to be very helpful. Do you use an Electronic Medical Record app or some sort of electronic charting system?
    Thanks!
    -Jaime

  34. 69
    Nikky Hindle says:

    Thank you for putting this together! I am an RD hoping to launch my own nutrition counseling business in a couple of months, and your post really gives me a clear sense in direction of how to make it happen.

    Best,

    Nikky

  35. 71

    This was really helpful! Im in a similar position to where you were when you started you practice. Thank you for taking the time to publish the steps you found to work! if you have any recommended articles for taxes when starting a private practice please share!

  36. 72
    Allison Miller says:

    Hello Anne, this is very helpful! I am getting ready to take my Holistic Nutrition Counselor test and only plan on consulting part-time. What is your opinion of AFPA programs? I also have my associates in Medical Laboratory Technician, Bachelors in Business Management along with a Minor in Biology that was focused on Human Health and Disease, and I have one more semester to complete my Masters in Environmental Management. I have considered exploring a Bachelors in Nutrition, but I have been advised it won’t be necessary. I live in Pennsylvania.
    Best Regards and thank you for your input.
    Allison

    • 73

      To be honest, I’m not overly impressed by the online-based certification programs (like AFPA) — compared to what one has to do to become an RD (years of science classes + hours of internships including time working in a hospital + a national exam), the education you receive from those programs doesn’t hold a candle. As far as I can tell most of the online certifications are basically pay a fee, do a little self study, get a certificate. In my opinion, if you want to work in nutrition (especially counseling one on one), I’d suggest getting the RD. Just my two cents! Given your background, it sounds like you may already be on your way in terms of coursework, so it might not be such a long road. Good luck!

    • 74

      To add to this, obviously there are people who have done the online certification programs that go on to be fabulous nutrition coaches — and certainly there are RDs who aren’t so great nutrition coaches — but I think that if you want to do it the “right”/more legit and respected way education-wise, I’d go the RD route.

  37. 75

    Hi Anne! I am currently a junior getting my bachelors in nutrition and after graduating, I am attending culinary school. I plan on having my own “food company” (idk what you will call it ha!) where I offer personal chef/catering services, cooking classes (for extra promotion and revenue), and hopefully, a cooking camp during the summer for children…all of which will focus on personalized, nutritious meals that are also delicious! After finishing culinary school, I plan on obtaining my certified nutrition consultant (CNC) certification so I can also do personalized nutrition consulting. Even though I am in a didactic program and will be graduating with my degree in nutrition, being a RD is soooo not for me.

    Even though I do have these dreams to start my own business, I know that clients won’t come knocking at my door the day I start my business. Do you suggest that I work for awhile before I do this to make sure that I am half-way stable? I do not have a family and do not plan to have one anytime soon and I always promised myself that I will start a family after I am well established and stable (financial wise).

    Also, because I do not plan on being an RD, do you think just obtaining my CNC will hurt me, even though I do have the education to do nutrition consulting?

    Any advice will be deeply appreciated

    • 76

      Plus, I do not want to be a RD because the culinary arts is where my real passion is (if you haven’t noticed). I have one more year left in my nutrition program and I absolutely hate it because I know culinary is where my heart and soul is.

    • 77

      Why is being an RD not for you, especially since you are already most of the way there? Sounds like the work you want to do is perfectly in line with having the RD credential – it will give you a lot more credibility, especially if you want to provide personal nutrition consulting! I don’t know anything about the CNC cert, never heard of that.

      • 78

        It’s because culinary is where I plan to be and doing with my career. Plus I am miserable here doing my undergrad and I can only imagine the internship! (I’m really really bad at science too…like really bad). If I was to decide to the RD certification, I know I won’t be satisfied because working in/around medical field is not for me.

        And CNC is not as “fancy” as thr RD certification and to be honest, outside of private practice, career wise, does not do too much. I was considering getting the CNC for personal chef services only.

        Thanks!

  38. 79

    Thank you so much for sharing this valuable information! I found it very helpful!!

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