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Starting Your Private Practice as a Dietitian

by | Mar 6, 2022 | Intuitive Eating | 0 comments

Whether you are 100% interested in opening your own private practice as a dietitian or on the fence about it, this post will hopefully help you determine whether it may be a good fit for you and provide some direction on how to get started.

Opening my own private practice was one of the best things i’ve ever done and I honestly cannot believe this is my job! I love it so much that it doesn’t even feel like work. 

I love the flexibility, creating my own schedule, being able to work with and do (almost!) whatever I want for work, not having a limit to my earning potential.

Most of all, I love being my own boss!

This post will cover:

Feel free to read all the way start to finish or click on one of the bullet points in the list above to take you directly to that part of the post!

So what is a private practice as a dietitian?

Essentially, it’s your own nutrition business as a dietitian. It can be whatever you want it to be!

Typically 1:1 but can include group coaching, brand partnerships, e-books, books, corporate wellness, and WAY more.

It can be…

  • in person or online (telehealth)
  • self-pay or take insurance (or a combo of both!)
  • just you or hire others

The great thing about running your own practice is that it’s constantly evolving! It grows as you grow as a person and a provider which I think is a beautiful thing. 

Pros and cons of private practice as a dietitian

There are some definite pros and cons of having your own private practice. For me, the pros FAR outweigh the cons but the cons are definitely something to consider when deciding if private practice may be right for you.

Pros:

  • Flexibility (who, what, where, when)
  • You are your own boss
  • No limit on financial ability
  • Never get bored

Cons:

  • Can be isolating
  • Can be overwhelming at times
  • You are your own boss
  • Not always predictable

As you can see, I listed “you are your own boss” as both a pro and a con. This is because for some people like me who are more on the craving independence side, it’s a pro. 

But if you prefer to show up for work and be told what to do and not have to think about much more than just seeing your clients, then it may be a con to be your own boss as a private practice dietitian.

Private practice MAY be for you if you’re okay taking risks, crave independence, and are okay with ebbs and flows.

Private practice as a dietitian is not always SUPER predictable work. I tend to have busier seasons like January-July and then a bit slower September-December. 

It works for me because i’ve figured out how to make this work financially by setting aside some money when i’m busy for those potentially slower times coming up. 

Private practice as a dietitian may NOT be for you if you don’t want full responsibility for a business, are risk averse, or you need stability 24/7. 

My personal journey to private practice as a dietitian

I’ve owned and operated my practice since February of 2017. This year marks my five year anniversary, woo-hoo! I’ve never been happier in what I do for work, but it was kind of a long-ish road to get here. 

I graduated from the University of Connecticut coordinated dietetics program in 2011 and went straight into clinical. 

I worked outpatient oncology and some general inpatient at various hospitals around Boston including St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and Beth Israel Deaconness. 

I worked in the hospital and outpatient setting for about 4 years before working for Abbott Labs for about 1.5 years selling Ensure and Glucerna to cancer centers. 

THEN I actually got sick with my own digestive issues (IBS, SIBO, celiac) and it opened my eyes to the need for dietitian support for these conditions. 

Decided I wanted to do private practice to a.) not work for other people anymore and b.) help only the people I wanted to help (digestive disorders.) 

While working at Abbott was able to save up for my private practice as a dietitian startup costs. As I got things moving with my practice, I also worked part time for an oncology startup. 

Working part time for the startup gave me financial stability and peace of mind. I spent the rest of my time focusing on developing my private practice. 

I know some people say “jump and the net will appear” but for me, was easier to be creative and venture out with some sort of financial security from a part time job. 

Then, I finally opened my practice!

At first, I subletted an office from a naturopathic doctor and my focus was digestive disorders (ibs, celiac, etc.) I networked through friends, family members, and fellow yoga teacher trainees. 

Around the time I was opening my private practice as a dietitian, I was also completing my 200hr yoga teacher certification and I offered free coaching to my fellow trainees. I STILL get referrals from those initial 7 women!

Another networking piece I did was give free nutrition talks and yoga to New Balance, Lululemon, and yoga studios in the area just to get my name out there. 

Eventually I got busy! I was seeing around 6-8 clients a day and had a full, successful practice. The truth is though, I was burnt out! I tried to do everything on my own and didn’t hire any help. 

I was very self-reliant, and thinking I could do it myself/teach myself everything which just wasn’t possible! My business wasn’t well organized financially either. I didn’t have any bookkeeping, accounting, or tax organization. 

And although I planned to do just digestive disorders, I ended up having a hard time saying no to people and was seeing EVERYONE, instead of nicheing down. 

So then I hired coaches, an accountant, a bookkeeper, and I asked for help! 

The external outcomes from coaching were:

  • Switch from only 1:1 sessions to comprehensive 3 month program
  • Clear niche/focus area I actually WANTED to work in
  • Working less, but making more $$

My internal outcomes were:

  • Peace of mind
  • Improved work/life balance
  • Not burnt out and could show up as the best provider for my clients

Now, in my 5th year I feel established, clear, focused, and organized. I’m doing work I absolutely love 100% working with clients I love. My business is financially organized AND I live comfortably on my income. 

My next goals are branching out into group programs, e-courses and other streams of income besides 1:1 work. 

A day in the life as a private practice dietitian

If you’re curious, here’s a peek into my typical day!

  • Wake up, morning routine – coffee, whatnot
  • Used to go into office, now just go to home office
  • See 4-5 clients/day via Zoom
  • They fill out a check in form prior to session that guides the session
  • Mostly “food therapy”
  • In between clients or at end of day I check emails, respond to client messages, maybe have a group client call

I see clients Wed-Fri and have admin day on Tuesdays. On Tuesdays I work to create content (insta, newsletter, etc.), do billing, Quickbooks, etc.

How to start a private practice as a dietitian

Get this book. 

It will answer pretty much ALL of the questions you could possibly have about running a successful private practice as a dietitian. 

Get a coach/mentor

Investing in coaches and mentors (I’ve had 3 main ones over the last 3 years) is truly one of the BEST things I’ve done for my sanity, mental health, and the success of my business. I truly can’t toot this horn enough!

It’s something I wish I did a lot sooner for sure!

Take some time to research RD business coaches. You really can’t go wrong if they’re an RD and a business coach – you will learn SOMEthing!

SCORE at the very least has small business startup help for FREE! The only caveat is it’s not specific to RD businesses unfortunately. 

I highly recommend Laura Schoenfeld’s Nutrition Business Accelerator program. It’s a 3-4 month program in which you go over EVERYthing from nicheing, to attracting clients, to media, and everything in between!

Get a business name

You’re going to realize early on that this is essentially one of the first things you need to do if you want to open a private practice as a dietitian. You need it in order to get your website, open a bank account, and much more. 

Not sure where to start? Do a brain dump! Get a pen and piece of paper and write everything down that comes to mind. 

You can hire someone for $5k+ for this and branding if you don’t want to do yourself. Use your name, or a word/words that represent your vibe!

Get a business bank account

I wish I researched more on ones with low fees, better incentives, etc. but I just went with the bank I use for personal banking because it was easiest at the time. 

Whatever you choose, make it easy to transfer money between business and personal accounts. You will need a bank account for opening LLC, sole proprietor, etc. Make sure to keep your business and personal expenses separate from the start! 

Decide your business structure

There are a few options and I am NOT here to give you advice on what’s best for you! LLC vs. Sole proprietor are the two common ones. 

I became an LLC through Incorporate.com. They will handle everything for you, it’s super simple. I think I did the $249 package and it was perfect. 

Get organized financially

When you have a private practice as a dietitian, being organized financially is VERY important. The first few years of my business I was not well organized and it gave me a huge headache.

I recommend Quickbooks online. *KEEP BIZ AND PERSONAL EXPENSES SEPARATE*. Hire a bookkeeper and an accountant (might be 2 people or 1 person doing both)

The investment is WELL worth the piece of mind, take it from me! 

You need an NPI

Per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, 

“The National Provider Identifier (NPI) is a unique, 10-digit, identification number for health care providers, practitioners, and suppliers of health care services. The NPI is an important means of demonstrating a viable workforce of qualified providers and practitioners to payors and other external stakeholders.

All credentialed nutrition and dietetics practitioners (RDNs and NDTRs) should have an individual NPI regardless of work environment, employment status, or whether claims are submitted to payers.”

For more info on how to obtain an NPI as a dietitian and more FAQ check out their site. 

Decide your pricing structure

Running a private practice as a dietitian is just that – a business! You have to make sure you’re financially taking care of yourself and your business.

For the first few years of my business I chose my pricing structure based on what other RD’s I knew were doing. This didn’t work! Everyone is totally different when it comes to money. 

Our goals, current wealth/savings, and the types of businesses we want to run are all SO different! One of my business coaches, Laura Schoenfeld created an amazing profit planner I used starting a couple years ago and I highly recommend it! 

Laura’s profit planner has helped me create a business that supports my financial dreams and vice versa. 

Billing insurance for your private practice as a dietitian

I’ve accepted various insurance plans since I first started my practice. When I started out, I was self-pay for the first few months while I waited to be credentialed with the insurance companies. Once I became credentialed, I did notice I was able to get more clients.

Plenty of dietitians don’t accept insurance and do just fine! It just depends on how you feel after learning the pros and cons. 

If you’d like to learn more about billing insurance, I recommend Amy Plano’s resources for getting started with insurance billing as a dietitian

Decide in person or telehealth

I started out in person, and switched to telehealth at the start of the COVID pandemic. To be honest I NEVER saw myself wanting to stay telehealth. I typically prefer in person visits but I have to say I now love telehealth!

For me (and clients!), it’s super convenient and I don’t have to spend money on a physical office space. This may change for sure and I may crave going back in person but for now telehealth has been working great!

Get a website

I actually created my own website when I first started. Let’s just say I watched a LOT of tutorials! If you have the time, it’s totally doable to create your own. If you think you’ll want to do blogging, WordPress is recommended for that. 

I personally do a lot of blog writing, so learning how to optimize my posts so they have a higher chance of ranking in Google was important to me. It’s especially important for anyone who doesn’t LOVE social media.

Since I’m someone who definitely doesn’t love social media, it’s been great for me to focus more on blogging. I can write one post, and it keeps attracting clients to me forever! Versus an instagram post that just kind of fades away.

Consider this my huge plug for Erica Juleson’s SEO made simple course.

In terms of site design and function, i’ve hired Jessica Freeman and Courtney Vickery to help me revamp my site since I first created it myself. Again, this is a great investment that I’d highly recommend! 

I recommend checking out Jess and Courtney’s sites along with Chloe Creative Studio and Whitney Bateson.

Get an electronic medical record (EMR) system

Personally I use Practice Better for my EMR system and truly cannot say enough good things about it. I used 2 other software systems prior to Practice Better and both them gave me nothing but trouble.

I’ve used PB for 2 years and haven’t had a single issue! I love the functionality and how much you’re able to do with it. My clients love it too and say it’s really easy to use on their end.

Finally, GET CLIENTS!

Now that you’re up to par on all the nitty gritty details of getting your practice up and running, it’s time for the fun part. Getting clients!

There are TONS of referral sources for clients, but here’s the top ones I could think of:

  • Social media
  • Website/SEO – show up in Google search results
  • Other RD’s
  • Client’s therapists
  • Doctors, acupuncturists, massage therapists
  • Insurance directories (if you bill insurance, you can be listed in their directory)
  • Client referrals (I get TONS of referrals from previous clients!)

RD entrepreneur symposium

One last thing! Once you’re up and running your successful private practice as a dietitian (which I know you will!), I strongly recommend attending the RD entrepreneur online symposium.

I’ve attended every year for the last 3 years and it has been SO helpful! The symposium covers topics from marketing to niche-ing to mindset work.

I hope you found this post helpful and it at least provided some clarity into whether you think a private practice as a dietitian may be right for you!

Like I said, I absolutely LOVE it and am so glad I took the leap. Believe in yourself! You can do it!

Blog Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

Hi, I’m Lexy!

I’m a Registered Dietitian, yoga teacher, & body image coach.

I help women make peace with food and built trust with their bodies so they can live the lives they desire and deserve.

Hop on my email list for your weekly dose of food freedom, body liberation and self-care!

Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

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