Earlier this year, a dear family friend, who is like a second mother to me, received news she had early signs of cancer. Her doctor told her it was too early to tell, and that she would need to wait it out and see if it would develop at her next exam. He encouraged her to be mindful of her stress levels and her nutrition.
“Nutrition? How am I even supposed to know where to start?” she asked me.
I knew then that I had to find someone who would not only make it easier to understand foods that impact cancer development, but could also give her reassuring guidance during such a scary and uncertain time.
With her specialty in working with cancer patients, I knew right away that I would reach out to Stephanie McKercher of The Grateful Grazer. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to see her work firsthand as she guided someone I love towards hope. By letting my friend know that there is always a positive direction to move forward in…just as long as you try. Thank you, Steph, for all that you do! :)
What was the very first memory where you knew you wanted to help others with their nutrition?
I first thought about becoming a nutritionist during my first semester of undergrad classes at Wisconsin. I took an introductory nutrition class and loved everything about it!
But, at the time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer (so wrong!) and thought of nutrition as more of a hobby.
A couple of years after graduation, while working full time in the insurance industry, I was constantly reading about food and nutrition. (Even at work!) I finally realized I could no longer deny my passion for food. I needed to take the leap.
That must have been so exhilarating when you felt that need to take the leap! Where did you head next?
I quit my job, moved to Chicago and decided to pursue my graduate degree in nutrition. I haven’t looked back since – it’s the best decision I ever made!
How did you get you start in your specialty of helping cancer patients?
I ended up getting an internship at an integrative cancer treatment center in Chicago during my last semester of grad school. I knew I wanted to work in integrative nutrition and learn more about the holistic approach, so it was a great fit.
I loved everything about the internship rotation – I got to work one-on-one with highly motivated patients who had a good basic understanding of nutrition, cook healthy plant-based food, and lead cooking demonstrations to help others get excited about healthy eating.
The cancer treatment center offered me a full time job once my internship was complete and I jumped at the opportunity. Over time, I began to see amazing changes in the patients I worked with and realized that beyond integrative nutrition, I also had a huge passion for helping cancer patients.
Was there anything that you noticed having to change in your counseling/coaching style to accommodate cancer patients? Was there anything in particular that you felt that experience helped you become a better dietitian?
Interestingly, most of the people I worked with before my time at the cancer clinic were less motivated, ate lots of processed foods, and weren’t very compliant with my recommendations.
Once I began working with more cancer patients, I realized that many of them were not only incredibly motivated, but actually incredibly fearful of food and the potential of food to “cause” cancer.
I came across a lot of orthorexia and realized that I needed to shift my style of counseling to be more supportive of overall wellness, emotional health, and stress management. I often found myself providing motivational support and working to liberalize diets, instead of “taking food away.”
I definitely feel this experience has made me a better dietitian. I pride myself in working from a balanced, realistic, and approachable perspective. I want to inspire changes that are lifelong (and actually enjoyable) for my clients.
Helping people with cancer has really helped me learn to value and inspire whole-hearted living.
How did that experience lead you to starting a private practice?
I knew from the beginning that private practice was my ultimate goal but I never expected it to happen so soon. After less than two years at the cancer center, I realized that I had already acquired a good amount of clinical experience, including some complicated cases, and I felt pretty confident in my abilities to help others independently.
I was also ready to move out of the Midwest and set up base in Colorado. (A longtime dream for my husband and me.) I also realized that I preferred to choose my own projects and ways of doing things. Being an entrepreneur became a very real dream primarily because I felt like I could do my best work on my own.
After our wedding last July, my husband and I decided to go for it. My husband was able to move his current position to Boulder and it just felt like the next logical step for us.
Your blog “The Grateful Grazer” really captures your voice and gave me a sense of how nurturing you are with clients. It was a big reason why I reached out to you for my friend! :)
What was behind the inspiration of your blog, and how has it helped you in connecting with new clients for your private practice?
Inspiration for my blog came from all around me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to work with every single person one-on-one, so I wanted to find a way to share my knowledge and the work I was doing with a bigger audience. I wanted to share my love of cooking and show that healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated.
A few of my clients have contacted me just because they were familiar with my blog but most come to me from other referrers. Most potential clients do take a look at my website before calling and many have told me that they chose to contact me because my blog and website were done well.
I also see my blog as a form of communication with current clients - I can pass along links to provide more detailed answers to their questions and recipes that can help them make good choices. They also get to hear from me more in between sessions.
What are a few important lessons you’ve learned that you’d like to share with other Experts who are starting out their private practice?
I’m still in my first year, so I have so much to learn myself, but I have already picked up on a few important lessons:
It’s important to stay connected with others. I work from home, which can get a little lonely, so I love connecting with other RDs virtually and by attending local events whenever I can.
Time management, organization, and work/life balance are so important. As an entrepreneur, there are always more projects to be done. I try to help myself out by staying organized, developing systems, and trying not to work for more than 8 hours a day. (Still working on that last one, though...it’s a struggle.)
Follow your passions. I have built my practice around the aspects of nutrition that I love most. (Vegetarian/vegan diets, oncology nutrition, cooking, writing, photography, etc.) It’s immensely rewarding and it never really feels like “work.” I recommend focusing on what you love most about nutrition and then determining how you can build a business around these passions.
When we first started out at WellSeek, Haley Goodrich of INSPIRD Nutrition was just getting started with her private practice in Pittsburgh, PA and became one of the first Experts to join our community. As a confidante and our sounding board (a big THANK YOU!!), Haley has the perfect combination of practical intuition and a remarkable drive to succeed as she created her business.
With her methodical and thoughtful preparation from the very beginning, it has been incredibly inspiring to see her steadily grow her practice through social media marketing, physician referrals, and accepting insurance.
How did you get your start as a dietitian?
Throughout my entire internship I was sure I wanted to be a clinical dietitian. I started each rotation with an open mind but completed it with the same confidence that I was meant to be a clinical dietitian. We did not have a rotation in private practice so this was something that wasn’t really on my radar at the time. Once I graduated and passed my boards, I accepted my first job as a clinical dietitian. I felt so proud and very official in my white coat. The excitement only lasted about 6 months when I felt something was missing.
Was there a specific event that triggered the ‘A-HA’ moment that you wanted to start your own practice? How did you get started and how did you feel about the whole process?
My white coat days began to feel very repetitious. I didn’t feel like I was making a big enough impact on people’s lives. I wanted to show people how to love food as much as I did. Many times my patients were too sick to know I even assessed them, completely removing any RD to patient interaction. Education consults were not always welcome and hours of charting were often seen by no one other than the succeeding dietitian. I felt stuck in my career of 6 months and anxious because I wasn’t helping people in the way I wanted to.
One day a little over a year ago, while boarding a plane, I looked at my husband and said, “I want to own my own practice!” Before my flight was even off the ground I had started a Word document titled “What I need to start a private practice.” By the time we landed a very basic business plan was formed. In the following weeks I began to research everything I could from forming a LLC to how private practices across the country were structured and I wrote every single idea I had down. I was determined. I was inspired.
That must have been so thrilling when you made that decision! What were some of the initial first steps that you took to set up your business?
Once I had some logistics figured out, the first thing I did was form an official LLC and obtain a business tax ID. Next came a business bank account and the process of becoming an insurance provider. Healthy Bytes would have made this process much less painful had they been around at the time. I was simultaneously planning and implementing my marketing strategy. During my internship I believed private practice didn’t seem attainable because everyone said establishing a clientele took years to achieve. My future self is now looking back realizing this was not always the case as long as I carefully planned out all of the necessary steps.
I do believe MD to RD relationships can take time to establish, however this is not the only source of referrals anymore. Nutrition counseling reimbursement has grown substantially and preventative care is sky rocketing. Social media also plays a huge role in marketing by reaching potential clients.
How do you know if you will connect with a client? Are there specific things that you look for that help you identify the best candidates who you will work well with?
I love working with the super motivated client who is ready to change their lifestyle. Sometimes with the physician referrals you get a lot of clients who just feel they have to be there per their MD's request. With this comes a lot of negativity and excuses and they are less likely to return. But I also try to view it as a great opportunity to shift their perspective in being more positive about a lifestyle change, even if it's just a little bit.
I have also learned I connect better with clients when I am counseling on subjects I am most passionate about. We can’t be experts in every area of nutrition. Find what your passion is specifically and excel in it.
You chose to began accepting insurance very early on in your practice. What made you decide to invest that time upfront, and was the whole credentialing/contracting process and reimbursement process really as difficult as others make it out to be?
I knew I wanted to be a provider for insurance from the beginning. It is very important to me that dietitians are seen as equals with other health care providers. We are the experts in our field so why should another professional be doing our job. By accepting insurance dietitians can help more people and we can get paid more for doing it.
The credentialing/contracting process was confusing to me only because I had no one to direct me or answer my questions at the time. The process was mostly trial and error on my part and honestly I almost quit. But I am SO glad I didn’t quit. Accepting insurance is definitely worth it and using a resource such as Healthy Bytes can make becoming a provider much easier! The more we help each other, the easier it can become for RDs in the future!
You’ve since began working with Healthy Bytes, has that been helpful to your process?
Healthy Bytes has made accepting insurance so much easier! The submission process for both eligibility checks and claims take less than 30 seconds, so it is very user friendly. Healthy Bytes is always available to answer questions or provide help. I usually receive returns emails and eligibility checks within 24-48 hours. Another feature that is helpful is the Dashboard. You can see all the claims you have submitted, their current status and how much you are expecting to get paid. Honestly I have survived the new year because of Healthy Bytes, as deductibles started over and new clients were filling up the schedule.
As you continue to grow your business, what are some areas that you think would have an impact on keeping your clients coming back?
Retention is definitely an area I would love to improve on. I have played with the idea of package deals (ex: 5 sessions for a set price) but I feel it may scare some people away because of the commitment. I find that most are already nervous about going to see the dietitian so making them commit to 5 sessions is overwhelming. A package deal after the first session is a better idea. Get them in the door and get them motivated first. Unless I really feel like they do not need another session, I always encourage scheduling a follow up. At the beginning, the more frequently I see the client usually keeps them motivated. Lastly, I have found that if you set up mini goals at the end of each session they are more likely to come back. Looking at the big end goal (100 + lbs weight loss for some people) is extremely daunting and not attainable. We make 1 to 3 mini goals just to work on for the next couple of weeks. These are always set at a level suitable for the client.
Thank you for sharing your story and for being with us from the very beginning, Haley! <3
Many of you know Rachael Hartley through the mindful eating insight she shares through her blog ‘Avocado A Day Nutrition’ and the amazing recipes she curates as the FoodRX Feature Editor on Healthy Aperture.
After starting her career as an outpatient dietitian at a large medical center, she started her entrepreneurial journey in 2014 by opening a private practice in Columbia, SC, to help individuals nourish both their minds and bodies.
What was your big moment when you made ‘the jump'?
I can still remember when I nervously walked into my boss's office almost 2 years ago, put in my 3-week notice, and quit my well paying, government job with great benefits so I could pursue my dream of opening a private practice.
That must have been so exciting! How prepared did you feel about it all?
When I announced it on my blog, I eloquently summed it up by stating “OMGAOHTIOAFJDIAFOJESAFSHJIFNJ;A IEROR SA.”
I still kinda feel the same way. I am one of the most rational and level-headed people on this planet, not to mention, kind of a weenie that’s scared of just about everything. The idea of running my own business was terrifying, and still is. I felt confident in my skills as a dietitian and nutrition coach, but running a business?? Not so much.
Almost 2 years later, I am still no expert. Much of what I’ve learned has been through failure, not success. Still, I get emails every week from dietitians and nutrition students, wanting to know how I got here and looking for advice on how to start their own private practice. Apparently, I look like I’ve got my act together! But I’m still learning every day.