Starting Your Own Private Practice
I get emails, Instagram messages, and even random comments almost daily asking me for tips about growing a business and about private practice. I definitely don’t have all the answers by any means, but am flattered nonetheless that so many people look to me for guidance on this! After polling so many of my Instagram followers who also expressed interest in the topic, I thought it’d be helpful to share my own experience in starting and growing my own private practice, as well as some general and helpful tips I’ve learned (and some I seriously wish I knew) along the way.
My own experience
Most people don’t know that I was working full time at a medical center during the first two years of starting and running my private practice. At first, it was fun to do a little bit of extra work on the side of my full time job. Private practice was something that I always knew was my eventual goal, so I enjoyed gradually building it, while also receiving a steady salary elsewhere. Most people and other dietitians I know also took this route of working full time elsewhere while starting their practice. Unless you have someone else supporting you financially (or have enough savings to put into your practice and support yourself while making very little money at first), you’ll probably also fall into this boat.
Over time, my private practice and all things related to it began to grow. I was doing a lot of on social media, giving talks, writing articles and working with food brands. There were so many aspects to owning my own nutrition business that I didn’t even realize and seriously – I loved it.
As my business grew, obviously, I got busier and busier. By June of 2017, I realized I was ready to take my practice full time. At the same time, because I also needed to continue to support myself financially, I knew a needed a solid plan in place, and needed to see a certain amount of income in my practice to be able to make that jump. I started working really hard – all my evenings and weekends were dedicated to all things private practice - and became even busier than I knew how to handle.
That September, I attended mindbodygreen’s revitalize event, where I was awarded as The Next Great Nutritionist. It was there that I realized that I was doing these amazing things, and even being recognized for them (!), while still working full time somewhere else. I decided this needed to change. I took a step back and examined my life – I was no longer okay with how much I was working. I was waking up between 4-5am, going to my other job from 7:30am-5pm, and then coming home and working until around 10 at night. I had zero social life, I wasn’t sleeping enough, and I was barely even seeing my fiancé. Everyone I came across was telling me how great I was doing and how successful I was. My brother, Scott, talks a lot on his blog about success and how it’s more than just climbing the business ladder. Success is also our happiness, our ability to spend time on ourselves and what brings us joy, and to really relax now and then. To me – I was not successful.
Yet, through all the stress, here’s what kept me going – my private clients. No matter how tired, how stressed, or how overly busy I was, every time I ended a client session, I felt rewarded. Seeing my private clients truly brought me so much happiness, that I knew it was worth it to keep pushing on.
Finally, in November, I had my last epiphany moment that made me realize I needed to make the change to private practice full time, and that I needed to aggressively make that happen. I have 3 amazing, best friends that all live close to me in New York City. One weekend in November, I saw each of them for errand-like activities (a work event, letting one borrow something, giving the other a key). Each of them asked me to do something afterwards to hang out more, and to each of them, I said no, and that I had to work. Later, I thought about how little balance that showed I had in my life. I also then knew – I couldn’t continue working essentially two full time jobs like this. That November I made a decision – by January, I was transitioning to my private practice full time.
Okay, so how? At that point, I was running a successful practice, with backwards hours. My amazingly supportive fiancé helped me to map out the finances, and to calculate what needed to be done to make the transition work. I worked as hard as I ever had to secure more and more additional projects and clients, knowing that while I was spending that time putting my everything into my business, it would hopefully pay off once I made the transition.
It did pay off – I gained multiple new clients and finalized contracts doing various work for different brands. By January, I reached my goal and transitioned to my private practice full time.
Now, I’ve been in my practice full time for a few weeks, and am already the happiest (work-wise) I’ve ever been. I decide how to run my days. Instead of waking up at 5am, I wake up at 6am, which to me, is the most amazing sleep in. Now that I have my entire day to work on the things that I love and that I need to do, I’m more efficient than I’ve ever been. With that efficiency, also comes better quality – my Instagram presence has improved, the work I’m able to offer brands is better, the events I host are more thought out, and most importantly, my clients get 110% of me, not the tired 99% they were receiving before. This efficiency and quality has allowed my business to grow even more, and as a pleasant surprise, the more work I’ve been able to put into my business, the more growth and opportunity I’ve seen come out of it. I've even been able to write my first book!
Now that you know my story – how do you make it happen? Some of the more common questions I get:
Where do you work out of? How did you find an office?
I got incredibly lucky with my office. In November, my fiancé stumbled across an amazing WeWork deal. He and I went to go tour WeWork and ultimately decided that it wasn’t for me (the offices were too open, and I need privacy with clients and what can sometimes be sensitive subjects). After that however, I was super determined to find an office. I looked into similar WeWork-like situations, and ending up finding a great office space, that I was able to negotiate to a fair price. I felt like it was a deal I wouldn’t find again, and knew I had to commit.
I ended up having my office for 1 month while also working at the medical center. It was actually really nice to be able to slowly move into it, so that by January, once I was there full time, it was ready for me.
For me, having an office was key for a few reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, I want my clients to be able to come somewhere that they feel comfortable. I want them to know where they’ll be meeting me each week and have it become a familiar space for them. Secondly, I’m so much more efficient getting up and going into the office each day. Some people are able to work from home – for me, I can work for a few hours from home until honestly, I start to take couch breaks. You know yourself best – search around for the best options, and do what works best for you.
How did you know all the little details of private practice? Liability insurance, NPI numbers, getting an LLC – it’s all so much!
I learned so much of this as I went along. Around February of 2017, I created a list of everything I knew that needed to get done (in my opinion, having everything written down on a list is the best way to feel sane – even if you know it will take months to get done!). I set out to accomplish a few things per month, delegating myself a few realistic tasks per weekend. For the other RD’s out there – I essentially set SMART goals, and they worked! (Total praise hands emoji).
At the same time, there were so many things that I learned I needed along the way. For example, once I had a client cancel last minute, I learned I needed a form about my cancellation policy. When I started having a lot of business expenses, I knew it was time to make a separate business checking account. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers at once – you will learn as you go along.
The other resource that helped me tremendously was Jennifer McGurk’s Pursuing Private Practice E-Course. This course has 10 modules that go through everything there is to know about private practice. As I went through, I added things that I had previously missed to my list of weekly SMART goals. I can’t recommend these resources enough to anyone looking to start private practice (and as a bonus, if you're a dietitian, you get 8 CEU's for completing it!). Jennifer herself has been such a big help to me, and has been one of the biggest cheerleaders in encouraging me to go off on my own and be my own boss.
How do you get your name out?
I don’t know exactly how people find me, but I’m confident that at least 80% is through Instagram. If you’re a dietitian and not on Instagram, what are you waiting for?! It’s such a great way to share your nutrition philosophy with a large audience, teach about nutrition education, and reach a myriad of people. Through Instagram, I’ve networked with countless other professionals (that have turned into special friendships and important relationships), written so many different articles, and helped advertise myself to potential clients. Then, each of these opportunities has given me even more exposure to help get my name out there.
Do as much as you can to get your name out! And, always remember, other dietitians are not your competition. My RD friends have given me invaluable advice. They’ve also been amazing sounding boards for problems and questions that I have. I’ve given so much advice and help to other RD friends that I now know, if I ever need something, I have so many people that (I hope!) would be willing to do the same for me. On top of that, I’ll often refer clients looking for topics that I don’t cover (food allergies, pre-natal nutrition, etc.). When the time comes that clients reach out to my RD friends and colleagues about topics that I’m an expert in, I know that they would do the same for me.
How do you know when it’s time to make the transition?
When I was at mindbodygreen’s revitalize, I went to an entrepreneur workshop with the founder of Evolution Fresh, among others. One of them said something that really resonated with me, and told me that I was standing one foot on land, one foot on water – it was time to jump.
At some point, you have to be ready to take that risk. Set your expectations, and make the jump.
I don’t know if you’re ever fully ready to make the transition. For me, as overdue and welcome as the transition was, it was still also super scary. At some point, you have to be willing and ready to take that risk. You have to know that there will be a point in which you’re not making as much money as you’re comfortable with, and a point at which you’re working harder than you ever have. Set your expectations, and make the jump.
Is it worth it?
100% YES. When I look back on how hard I worked during the last half of 2017, it was definitely not glamorous. I spent so many months not seeing the people I loved and not enjoying my life as much as I could’ve. On top of that, I think about how hard I was working with two jobs, and honestly can’t imagine ever going through all of that again.
That said, there was one thing that kept me going through the long days and work filled weekends – and that was my clients. There were days where I was so tired that I couldn’t imagine going to my office and seeing clients for the night after working all day. Yet, and it’s so cheesy but I’m not just saying this, after every client, I felt invigorated. I loved working with my clients in a way that I never loved any other work. I loved hearing their stories, and helping them reach their goals. I ended each session so happy to be able to do exactly what I love, with the exact people that I wanted to work with. One time I even told my fiancé (and this is so mushy and unlike me) after a particularly exhausting day, that seeing my private clients truly brought me so much joy.
If you’re like me, and private practice is where your passion’s truly at, go for it. Work hard, knowing that eventually, the work WILL all pay off. Having your own private practice and getting to choose the work that you do is truly the most rewarding feeling there is. And, at the end of the day, there’s honestly no prouder feeling than knowing you, and only you, worked so hard to get there.