How To Start Building A Private Practice During Your Dietetic Internship

Do you have dreams of owning your own private practice one day in the far, far away future?

What if you could start taking steps towards building that practice right now?

As dietetic students and interns, we’re often told we must gain experience elsewhere before we enter into private practice. I’d like to lovingly suggest that that is bullshit, friends.

When I was doing research about private practice at the beginning of my internship, one thing really struck me – NO ONE ever feels ready. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student or have been a clinical dietitian for 10 years. Dietitians consistently say, no matter when they started, that they didn’t feel ready to enter into private practice. Why? Because it’s scary, and so different from what we learn in school and during our internship.

So then why are we always told to gain experience before starting private practice? Maybe the person giving you that advice is projecting their own fears onto you. Maybe it’s because they’ve fallen into the trap that so many of us do of accumulating endless degrees and certifications in an attempt to “feel ready”. Maybe they’re subconsciously jealous of your aspirations.

Here’s the thing – I’m not saying jump in blind and ruin your future clients’ lives with misinformation and crappy counseling skills. But what I AM saying, is that you will learn as you go, make mistakes, and figure it out on the fly regardless of when you start. So why not start now?

I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned while beginning to build my private practice during my internship – the resources I use, the accounts I follow, the specific tools I use, and the magical trick that will help you build an audience.

This article is perfect for students and interns because it focuses on what you can do NOW that takes little to no money – build your confidence and build your audience. Keep an eye out for more articles about other private practice aspects (legal stuff, EMRs, HIPPA, etc) in the coming months!

Read to take your career into your own hands and start doing things on your own terms?


Where to Start

I’m going to suggest you start by taking action, not with research. Here’s why – you can spend weeks, months, and literally years researching how to do this stuff before you actually do it. So before you start googling your little heart out about how to start a private practice, do these three things:

1. Create an Instagram Page

Instagram is MAGIC for Dietitians. You can attract clients, sell your services and programs, do market research, and get support from fellow RD2Be’s and Dietitians all on this amazing app. I suggest going with a simple username when you first start – I think mine was KelliRoseNutrition – until you figure out what your niche is going to be (more on that later!). Make sure to set it up as a business account so you can see all your wonderful analytics. If you want, you can convert your personal account to your business account – that’s what I did! Just delete any old photos that don’t make sense with your new focus.

2. Create a Facebook Page

Use the same name as your Instagram page, and link it to your Instagram so that whenever you post something on Instagram, it goes directly to your Facebook. This eliminates the need for you to be super active on both platforms while still catching the people who use Facebook more than Instagram.

3. Create a Website

Okay, don’t freak out – you can make this as simple or as complicated as you’d like. I use the free version of WordPress to build my websites because I’m familiar with it and I like their templates, but I know many people use Squarespace and Wix and are happy with those platforms. All you need to do is create a homepage, an about page, a blog, and a contact page. You can look at my website if you’d like inspiration, but my website is by no means fancy or professionally made! It can just give you an idea of things you can put on there to attract attention.

Favorite Resources

Once you’ve completed your first steps, it’s time to do some practical research! Here are my favorite resources for learning all about building a private practice:

The Dietitian Boss Podcast by Libby Rothschild – I’ll be honest, I would be nowhere without this podcast. Libby Rothschild is all about empowering Dietitians and RD2Be’s to take action and build their private practice using Instagram, and she is a goldmine of information! She also provides coaching services which I plan to utilize in the future when I’m not living in my in-law’s house and eating air for breakfast =D She does, however, take students and interns as clients so if you have the dough and are extra motivated, check it out!

The Unconventional RD Podcast by Erica Julson – this is a newer podcast that I’ve really been digging! It goes more into the non-social media aspects of building a business which are just as important. Topics she’s covered so far include SEO, freelance writing, finding your brand voice, and lots of others! Erica also has a great blog with lots of amazing resources and courses for private practice RDs.

Inspiring Instagram Accounts to Follow

Now it’s time to get some inspiration. I learn a lot just by following RDs who are KILLING IT, regardless of whether I agree with their personal nutrition philosophy. Here are some of my favorites!

Diet.Culture.Rebel – Bonnie Roney is a master of creating sharable Instagram posts and really knows how to show up in her stories. She is an intuitive eating / food freedom RD.

GutHealth.Nutritionist – Amanda Sauceda specializes in, you guessed it, gut health and IBS. Her Instagram is super cute and fun, and she isn’t afraid to talk about poop!

LibbyRothschild – Of course I follow Libby on Instagram – her stories always keep me motivated and she’s a great example of how to use interactions with your audience as material for content.

Vegan.Kids.Nutrition – Karla Moreno-Bryce is killing it on Instagram! She is in the process of developing a digital cookbook (which she pre-sold, by the way, and made thousands of dollars before it’s even been released) and is a perfect example of how to own a potentially controversial niche with authority and confidence.

PCOS.Weightloss – Tallene is a master of audience engagement and is doing something really smart and innovative with her Cysterhood Membership program! If you are looking to scale in a major way and have a huge impact (while making money), Tallene is your girl.

HappyStrongHealthy.RD – Jenna is a food freedom Dietitian who is a great example of having a strong brand voice. Her vibe is super fun and relaxed, and she clearly relates very well with her target market!

No.Food.Rules – Colleen Christensen does a great job of showing her face in posts and stories which is the number one way to relate to your audience. People connect with PEOPLE! Colleen also employs the membership model and has a free ebook that I really admire.

NutritionForYourBrain – that’s me! Make sure you follow me and shoot me a DM so we can support each other in our private practice journeys =)

The Tools I Use

Here are the various tools I’ve been using to get my business up and running (these are not affiliate links, just stuff I actually use and love!) :

Graphic Design

Canva – you probably already know about Canva, but if you don’t your life is about to change! I create all of my social media posts in the free version Canva, but here’s what’s really cool – I created my entire Migraine 101 Guide in Canva too! People are blown away when I tell them this, but Canva really makes it that simple. Here’s one word of advice – if you aren’t good with creating visuals, that is OKAY. Either stick to the preset templates in Canva or model your posts after ones you see on Instagram (I’m fine if you want to steal my post layouts!).

VSCO – This is an iPhone app that I use to make all my photos look consistent. I’ve chosen one filter that I apply to every photo I use so that when someone sees one of my photos, they know it’s mine right away. Here’s a tip, though – the filters in VSCO are pretty artsy, so try picking one and adjusting the strength down to about 20%.

Unsplash – this is where I find all my free stock photos for my website. I don’t use them as much for Instagram (I try to use my own photos), but there is some really good stuff on there if you’re willing to spend the time looking.

Vecteezy – this is where I get the vector images for a lot of my posts. Canva has some free ones but most of the good vectors cost money, so I download my own from Vecteezy and insert them into Canva.

A Camera or a Newer iPhone – sorry, but you’re going to have to get used to taking pictures of yourself. Remember how I said people relate to people? That means you need to show up not only in stories, but in your Instagram posts and on your website. Here’s a secret – I haaaate having my picture taken. But I know how important it is for my audience to see the person behind Nutrition For Your Brain, so I do it anyway. It gets easier! I personally use my iPhone 11, usually in portrait mode, to take all of my pictures.

Social Media

Instagram – obviously, right?

Twitter – I use Twitter solely as a way to create easy Instagram posts. If you head to my Instagram page, you’ll see that I feature a Twitter post about once a week – this gives me a break from creating full pieces of content from scratch.

Notes – and by that I mean the Notes app that comes with your phone. I use this to plan out all of my Instagram posts for the week – I insert each image and write out the caption and tags in full below it so that when I need to post, it’s all ready to go. There are apps specifically made for planning and scheduling posts, but they all cost money and I’m a broke intern! Notes honestly works just fine.

Website

WordPress – This is what I started out using way back when I created my first blog over 10 years ago, so I’m super familiar with it. I honestly think it’s worth starting out with wordpress and learning the basics, because most web designers will want to use this platform and when you get a professional website done in the future, it will be much easier if you’re already using it.

Mailchimp – this is the platform I use (free!) to build my mailing list and create landing pages for my free guide and wait list. It takes a little figuring out but it’s totally doable!

GoDaddy – this is where I buy my domain names, but this is totally optional. I would highly recommend just going with your name (mine is kelliroseyates.com) or your name plus “nutrition” just in case you change your niche in the future – it happens! Most of their domains are less than $20 a year, and I honestly think it’s worth it. It makes you look much more professional! You can also purchase a domain name through wordpress, which can be simpler if that’s the platform you’re already using for your website.

Other

A Notebook – I carry a business notebook with me everywhere I go, because I’m constantly getting ideas for posts, blogs, future revenue sources, and ways to serve my audience. Once you get going you’ll be thinking about your business all the time, and you need to have one dedicated place to keep all your good ideas.

The Magical Trick To Building an Audience

Okay, so you’ve created your pages, you have your resources and tools, and a few accounts to inspire you – now you need to find your NICHE.

This is something a lot of people struggle with, especially students and interns! You need to figure out what you’re passionate about and translate that into a specific slice of the dietetics market that you will own.

My niche is Migraine, but I didn’t start out that way. For the longest time I thought I would be in eating disorders, or mental health, or GI, but when I sat down and made a list of health conditions I’ve struggled with over the years and looked at how I could have the biggest impact, I realized Migraine was the niche for me.

Once you figure out your niche, creating content will be soooo much easier because you’ll have a clear focus and direction. Not sure how to go about this? Head to Libby Rothschild’s website and download her free workbook.

…And Now What???

Once you figure out your niche, and have done everything else above, take the following action steps:

1. Change Your Instagram Name

This is optional, but it can help attract your ideal client if your username is clearly related to your niche. If you look at the accounts I listed above, most of them make it pretty clear what their focus is! That’s not an accident.

2. Start Posting Consistently

Whether you prefer to blog, use Instagram, or both, start creating content and post it regularly. I post six times a week on Instagram and upload stories daily – I know, this sounds like a lot. But if you plan out your week ahead of time it’s totally manageable, even during your internship!

3. Conduct Market Research

You need to figure out what your ideal client needs and how you can help address their pain points. I do this by joining Facebook groups related to my niche, searching hashtags on Instagram and looking at what people are posting, and interacting with my audience on my own page. As my audience grows, people are beginning to trust me and are sharing more about their personal struggles and questions they have. Pay attention to your comments and DMs – people will tell you what they need!

4. Join RD Facebook Groups

Dietitians are some of the most supportive and welcoming people on the planet! I’m in several Facebook groups and use them to network, ask questions, and get a feel for what other RDs are doing. Don’t try to do this alone!

Here are some of my favorites:

Dietitians in Private Practice

RDs Who Write

Integrative Functional Dietitian Nutritionist Practice Building

The Unconventional RD Community

Dietitian HQ Community – for RD Entrepreneurs

RD2Be Group by RD2BeSource – make sure to come share your journey with us!

5. Research, Research, Research

There’s a reason why I put this last – because as Type A RD2Be’s, we tend to get really into learning every single thing about a topic before taking action.

Once you have done everything above, it’s time to become an expert on your niche. This is especially important if your niche is not a topic that is covered in school, like mine – I don’t think Migraine was mentioned once throughout my four years of education! Read old and new studies, go through your textbooks, and head to the library to see what you can find. Make sure to also read books and resources that your ideal client is likely to encounter as they’re searching for answers on Google – you need to be aware of what information (or misinformation) your client might bring to the table.

It also doesn’t hurt to brush up on your motivational interviewing and counseling skills, but I will tell you this – it comes with practice. You will NOT be good at it at first. If there is a way you can shadow a private practice RD in school or during your internship, do it!!! This is the best counseling instruction you can possibly get.

Can I Start Seeing Clients During My Internship?

To be honest, I’m a little unsure about this. I know several interns who have, and do, see clients during their internship. I am choosing to wait mostly because my niche – Migraine – involves medical nutrition therapy. If you are not delivering MNT – for instance, if you are focusing on healing disordered eating (NOT full on eating disorders) – the rules are less clear for you. If you feel comfortable starting now and are not delivering MNT, I say go for it!

If you are planning to incorporate MNT into your practice, here are some other things you can start doing now:

Create A Freebie

I did this with my Migraine 101 Guide. Not only does it get my work out there, but it allows me to grow my email list! People must enter their email in order to download the guide.

Create A Paid E-Course

Is there a way you can approach your niche that doesn’t involve MNT? If so, you can create a course and start selling it now. I’m working on this as we speak – a “Lifestyle Overhaul for Migraine” that does not veer from myplate recommendations. Just make sure before you put a bunch of time into creating a course that your audience actually wants it and that it addresses their pain points.

Build A Waiting List

I started doing this out of necessity, which was really exciting! One of my Instagram followers asked how she could work with me, so I told her to join my wait list (which is really just my mailing list). Here’s a tip – you can keep track of requests to join your wait list versus who downloaded your free guide or whatever else by looking at the landing page they used to enter their email.

Now Get Going!

I am by no means an expert, but I hope this helps you realize that you CAN start building your private practice during your internship, and you are more than capable of doing so! Before you start thinking “But I can’t do it because x y and z”, I”m going to stop you right there. If I can do it, you can do it. There is nothing special about me other than I took action despite being scared and unsure – and you can do that right this second!

Make sure to share your new Instagram page with me by sending me a DM @NutritionForYourBrain and we can support one another! I believe in you =)

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