Over the past couple years, I’ve started getting more and more questions about how to start a nutrition counseling private practice.
I started my private practice 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 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.
How to Start a Nutrition Counseling Private Practice
Let’s quickly look at the step-by-step process that you need to follow to start and operate a nutrition counseling business.
1) Choose a business name (so hard!) and start an LLC.
You can start an LLC online by simply filling out an LLC formation application. Along with completing your LLC state filing, you will also be able to obtain your EIN/Tax ID number, which is required for taxation purposes.
If you expect to make over about $80K per year, I would recommend that you start an S-Corporation or choose to get your LLC taxed as an S-Corporation. If not, then just forming 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 will essentially become an employee of your own business, meaning you can write off your salary. It does require running payroll and can be a bit more complicated, though, so you will probably want an accountant’s help.
Either way, 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.
I originally had a separate website for my nutrition counseling business (created using Wix, and then I switched to Squarespace later as I liked it more – Squarespace review here), but last year I decided it made sense to have everything (my blog + my business stuff) in one place.
I now have a “nutrition coaching” page right here on my blog! Simpler is sometimes better, right?
Re: Wix vs. Squarespace, 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 and Squarespace, 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! I do suggest getting paid BEFORE sessions, though, so that you aren’t chasing people around after trying to get them to pay.
It’s just easiest for everyone involved, and it also means they will be less likely to cancel last minute since you already have their money.
6) Create intake intake forms for new clients.
I have new clients sign an agreement with my policies (more on that below) 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 realize you want to add them later – that’s okay!
7) Make sure you have the proper legal documents in place.
While you’re at it with creating forms, you’ll want to make sure you have some legal-specific forms sorted out before you officially open the doors (virtual or otherwise) at your private practice.
A set of well drafted legal documents in your business will help you to (i) convey professionalism, (ii) set expectations with your clients, (iii) protect your intellectual property, (iv) enforce payment terms, and (v) limit your risk exposure and liability.
If you’re like: “Help, this sounds complicated!”, I hear you! For a cost-effective one-stop shop of attorney-drafted DIY legal templates, I recommend checking out Dotted Lines Legal Templates (and be sure to use my affiliate code “fannetasticfood” at checkout to get 30% off your purchase).
It’s run by two experienced corporate attorneys and was set up to specifically cater to the needs of professionals in the nutrition community. You can download the DIY contract templates instantly, and each contract template comes with an attorney-led video tutorial explaining the key contract provisions in plain English terms.
8) 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 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 About Starting a Private Practice
- This book is a great resource: Welcome to the REBELution: 7 Steps to the Nutrition Counseling Practice of Your Dreams (Amazon affiliate link).
- Check out the free “Legally Ready” start-up guide published by Dotted Lines which contains their top 15 tips for starting a health, wellness, and nutrition practice. (And remember, you can save 30% off any purchase you make from Dotted Lines with my affiliate code fannetasticfood.)
- Lastly, check out the resources over at Pursuing Private Practice, run by fellow dietitian Jennifer McGurk. She has a wealth of information, as well as various courses for dietitians starting private practices or trying to grow them!