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!
- 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.
- Purchase professional liability insurance. I recommend HPSO, who I use.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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
- I would recommend reading the book Making Nutrition Your Business – it was super helpful to me as I figured out how to get started and up and running.
- New books that weren’t available back when I started but that are excellent (and perhaps more user friendly/specific than the book above): Welcome to the REBELution: 7 Steps to the Nutrition Counseling Practice of Your Dreams and Pursuing Private Practice: 10 Steps to Start Your Own Business.
- Once you’re up and running, check this book out: Pursuing Private Practice: 10 Steps to Grow Your Own Business.