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Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD

Putting your heart and soul into a business and doing what you love is how entrepreneurial journeys are ignited and sustained. And that’s exactly how Alexis Joseph of Hummusapien and co-founder of Alchemy Juice Bar + Cafe continues to live her life each and every day.  Starting a business is all about the unknown, and as Alexis shows us, keeping an open mind and forming meaningful connections with others can sometimes lead to an unexpected new path!   

 
 

How did your journey into building your nutrition lifestyle empire all start?

I never thought I would turn my hobby into a career…but why not? I decided freshman year to major in dietetics so I could go on to become a registered dietitian. I knew I was born to do something I was passionate about. I wanted to find a career path that was fulfilling, one that would be rewarding, one where I could be consistently helping others. Nutrition is so impactful on people’s lives and I love being a part of that!

Your love for plant-based eating is so apparent throughout your blog Hummusapien! How did that all come about?

I actually grew up eating meat and dairy like the rest of America. I had a pretty normal upbringing when it came to food. My mom would cook chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, but she always taught me about ingredients and wouldn’t buy anything with “chemicals.” I became super inspired by plant-based eating after I took a trip to Israel the summer going into my junior year of college. I went on a 10-day trip called Birthright. I met a couple of inspiring vegan friends, was surrounded by beautiful produce, and ate at a bunch of vegetarian restaurants. 

Ultimately, I did it for my health. I read tons of research (including some of the largest nutrition studies in history) on plant-based diets reversing chronic disease and ultimately being the most optimal diet for long-term health. I had never felt better, so I challenged myself to eat a vegan diet for a year. I of course went off course here and there, but overall, I learned how to cook with new-to-me foods and fell more in love with plant-based health. I don’t like to label myself, and I want to have the freedom to eat eggs or cheese or wild salmon when I’m in the mood without being patronized.

 

And this all led to you starting your very own juice bar and cafe, Alchemy! How did it all come about? 

Hummusapien was a huge stepping-stone to getting where I am today. It basically personifies my passion for food, nutrition, and recipe development. Half of Alchemy’s menu is actually on my blog!

I went to college with one of the brothers that owns A & R Creative group, the company that co-owns Alchemy. As an undergrad at Ohio State, I became good friends with Abed, one of the brothers who owns A & R Creative group that I co-own Alchemy with. Abed and his family (A & R Creative Group) have opened a bunch of incredible restaurants here in Columbus, Ohio, including The Crest, The Market Italian Village, Ethyl and Tank, 4th Street Bar, and more! I served at The Crest throughout graduate school. We used to joke about opening a smoothie place since I hated that there wasn’t anywhere in Columbus to get a healthy (and tasty) smoothie. 

Once I finished graduate school, Abed told me he was seriously considering making our vision a reality. Before I knew it, it was! My official title is co-owner and Director of Nutrition and Communications, but I have had the role as the general manager, chef, and dietitian. I have basically had my hands in everything, including managing the staff and operations, ordering, catering, directing communications, providing on-site nutrition counseling, and developing the menu.  Now my role has changed to be more developmental and nutrition-focused as we grow the business. Alchemy has been the biggest challenge of my life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

What really differentiates Alchemy is how you incorporate nutrition counseling as part of a food business. How did you come up with that idea?

We wanted to make nutrition accessible, so that’s where the personalized on-site nutrition counseling comes in. We’re intersecting two of the fastest growing industries in the U.S.—health care and food.  I’m fortunate to be able to also do what I love, which is create amazing food that I believe in, impact people’s long-term health with personalized nutrition counseling, and engage with the media.

 

It’s so awesome to see how you cultivated your passion for a lifestyle into something that can be shared with so many others! Do you have any tips for your fellow dietitians as they forge their own entrepreneurial path?

There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve impacted some one’s life with nutrition education. Nutrition is so critical for long-term health. Our generation is plagued with chronic illness, and I consider it my job to help change those statistics. The bottom line is that I love helping people and I love food, so it’s a perfect match!

Find your niche and get involved in the community! What is your voice? What makes you love nutrition? Answering those questions is a great start. I also found that networking with other nutrition professionals (especially when I was a dietetic intern) was crucial for me. Don’t be afraid to reach out via email (or even via social media!) to dietitians who are doing interested things in the nutrition world. Ask to help! People are always looking for interns and it’s a great way to get to know leaders in the field.

Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey with us, Alexis!

Stephanie McKercher, RDN

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: 

  1. 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.  

  2. 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.)

  3. 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.  

 

Haley Goodrich, RD, LDN

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

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE

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.

 

What are some of the things that wish you had known as you were starting up?

1. Get started now! No, I don’t mean go out and quit your job today. But do start taking steps towards opening your practice, building the business skills you need so it’s not so overwhelming when you finally do open up shop.

2. Learn to say no, even in the beginning. When I first started my business, I took every paid (and often times unpaid) opportunity that came my way, and found myself not being able to say no when others needed help.  I was focused on making money, not building a business. After 6 months of private practice, I was overwhelmed, not all that fulfilled, and the growth of my business stagnated. Luckily, I was able to recognize that, take a step back, think about branding and relaunch with a new business plan when I relaunched my site. Since then, business has been growing steadily in the direction that I want. One thing I learned – if your reaction to an opportunity isn’t “YES!!” then your answer should be no.

3. Expect clients to have barriers. A comment I frequently hear from aspiring private practice RDs is “I want to work in a setting where clients actually want to change.” The presumption is that if someone pays money to see you rather than getting counseling for free or covered by insurance, then they’ll follow your advice to the T. While all of my clients at some level are ready to change, what I’ve learned is that everyone has barriers and at some level, is ambivalent about changing their diet. Counseling in private practice is NOT easy! It’s not as simple as telling someone what to do and expecting them to do it. You have to be prepared to coach, counsel, listen, motivate and THEN educate. 

4. Don’t be afraid to sell. This was a big fear for me, and still is. But, it’s kinda essential to having a viable business. When I first started, I sold nutrition counseling sessions a la carte because I didn’t feel comfortable pressuring people into spending lots of money. I figured if they loved the initial session, they’d schedule follow ups. That happened sometimes, but mostly, clients went in expecting a total transformation with one session – not so realistic. Since then, I’ve began offering clients session packages, and it’s been much more successful for both me and clients. Remember, you are providing a valuable service and deserve to be compensated fairly for it and if clients recognize you’re providing a valuable service, they won’t have a problem paying for it.

 

That’s a great point about helping people understand the value of your services! I’m sure many RDs want to know how you have conveyed that value to new and continuing clients.

Marketing is still definitely one of my struggles.  I get a lot of traction on my blog, but it is still most difficult for me to convert my blog readers to buyers. I think a lot of us have learned the hard way that more traffic doesn't exactly translate to more clients. I used to think there was some kind of 'threshold' to hit where it would support a full client load, but in chatting with a dietitian friend who has a blog with dozens of times more traffic than mine, her requests are still not enough to support a full virtual client load. 

I absolutely love blogging - it's a creative outlet, source of income, has led to some really incredible things with my business and personal life. It helps me 'speak' to my ideal client so I find most people coming to me for counseling are the exact type of person who I want to work with. But using it as a standard way to build a practice...I don't think that works for most dietitians! 

Right now, I see about half my clients virtually and the other half out of my Columbia office. For marketing purposes, it probably makes more sense to focus on one or the other – virtual or local.  

 

The conversion to paying customers is definitely a difficult one! What are some ways that you are considering as you move forward?

Insurance has definitely been something that's on my mind. The fact that as dietitians, we are supported by insurance, is something that sets us apart from other health coaches. I also think it’s our duty to make nutrition services available to as many people as possible, of course, while being compensated fairly for the work we do. But from what I had previously learned, there was little reimbursement for nutrition in SC. After I learned that I kind of gave up on the idea. 

After talking with WellSeek and Healthy Bytes, I learned that so much has changed around what’s covered and the rates were on par with what I currently charge in private pay. I figured, why not? It may be a way to get over the initial hurdle of helping clients get through the door for a few individual sessions, and a way to build a rapport that will translate into the value of how I can help them if we work together for an extended period of time.

 

Are there any last tips that you want to share with fellow RDs as they start out in their business?

Get training in health coaching!  I cannot stress the importance of this for everyone who dreams of nutrition counseling. I think where many dietitians go wrong is with an emphasis on education, which is rarely helpful for clients. They can read a book and know what to do – it’s your job to break down barriers, foster “aha” moments, motivate and THEN educate. I was lucky to have access to two different health coach certificate programs though my last job, but if I hadn’t, I would sign up for Wellcoaches or ACE training immediately.

 

Thank you for sharing all that you have learned so far on your journey, Rachael! We are grateful for your kind, giving presence in our Expert community :)