Professional Development

10 Steps for Building a Private Practice

Starting a nutrition private practice comes with a lot of benefits: being your own boss, creating your own schedule, charging what you’re worth, and working with your ideal clients. That said, it can be incredibly daunting to start a business. Finding the time and money to invest in such an endeavor can be a significant obstacle.

The solution for many RDs? Don’t quit your job and dive right into private practice. Starting your business while you have a stable income from another job can make the new venture less risky. Here are 10 things to consider when starting a nutrition private practice while working full time.

1. Know Your Reasons
Before you jump into forming a business, take a moment to write down why you want to start a private practice. Will it help you reach your career goals? Or is it something you think you “should” do because you see other dietitians doing it? Private practice isn’t for everyone—and that’s OK.

2. Disclose to Your Employer
Depending on your job, you may need to have a conversation about starting a private practice. If your full-time job is in counseling, there may be noncompete or geographical variables to consider when starting your own practice. And if you need to change your current work schedule to accommodate your private clients, that’s something to request sooner rather than later.

3. Define Your Ideal Client(s)
You’re more likely to be successful in private practice if you have a niche. While it may seem tempting to cast a wide net to bring in as many clients as possible, it’s not realistic to specialize in everything. What are your areas of expertise and passion? With whom do you most enjoy working?

4. Make Time to Work on Your Business
If you work full time and have a family, determine when you can carve out time to create, sustain, and grow your business. Will you need to arrange for childcare? Will your partner need to pitch in more? Block out time on your calendar each week to focus on your business.

5. Understand Business Essentials
Research what it takes to legally form a business in your state, along with how much it costs. You’ll need to get a tax ID number as well as a National Provider Identifier (NPI). Even if you don’t plan on accepting insurance, it’s a good idea to get an NPI so you can give clients superbills for potential insurance reimbursements.

6. Organize Your Finances
Open a checking account for your business. It’s very important to keep your personal and business finances separate. Create a spreadsheet to track your business income and expenses. This makes it much easier to calculate and report numbers come tax time. You may consider hiring an accountant for advice.

7. Consider Virtual Sessions
Seeing clients virtually via a HIPAA-compliant video platform can be an affordable and flexible way to build your practice. You may consider starting a virtual practice at first, and then using funds you earn from your virtual practice to rent office space later on to start seeing clients in person.

8. Invest in a Practice Management System
While not required to start a private practice, a practice management system can make charting, payment, and virtual sessions easier and more secure. Many systems have tiered payment options and affordable rates for practitioners with just a few clients—which is perfect for when your private practice is a side job.

9. Monitor and Readjust as Needed
Maybe you thought you could see five clients a week but then quickly realized that’s way too many. It’s OK if things don’t work out exactly how you pictured; there’s so much trial and error with private practice. It’s easy to burn out when building your practice when you have a full-time job, so don’t be afraid to take a week off from seeing clients or reduce the number of time slots you offer.

10. Think About the Future
Is your intent to leave your full-time job to build your nutrition business, or do you want to see just a handful of clients and keep your day job? If you intend to leave your full-time job, consider what you’d need to make that happen. Does your private practice need to be hitting a particular income threshold? Make a checklist and timeline for leaping into your business full time.

Building a private practice as you take the appropriate steps takes time, but getting started with these tips can help you cultivate a thriving nutrition business.

— Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN, is a private practice dietitian, health writer, and consultant based in Chicago. Her specialties include intuitive eating, vegan nutrition, research, and communications.

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