Coming up to the end of 2014 and my Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sydney, I began to wonder about what sort of work I would like to take on as a new graduate.   I started scouring SEEK, NSW Health, JobSeek….you name it, I spent countless hours job searching. I began the Masters with a clear idea that I would go into hospital work and be a hospital dietitian and live happily ever after.  Somewhere along the lines of placement I realised that hospital work wasn’t really for me.  I needed the deeper and longer lasting relationships with clients that you don’t get in a hospital setting.  I was however certainly conditioned to think that the hospital dietitian job is what I should be striving for and probably my best option as a new grad, but with limited new grad positions available (and a burning hate for criteria selection answer writing) I decided I needed to take another route.

With the encouragement of my mentor and then boss the idea of going into private practice started to appeal.  There was certainly discouragement among those I told of my plans. “You’re a new grad” “You don’t know enough or have enough experience yet”, “Where would you even start?” were among the comments I received from the negativo camp.  This probably just spurred me along however because I am the sort to rise to a challenge rather than shrink from it.  ALSO, if I haven’t learnt enough to be able to open up my own business in dietetics isn’t that more saying something about the course material rather than myself? I technically should be the most up to date out of everyone with the information fresh in my mind no?

So, I did.  I opened my own private practice but I’m now writing this article to fill you in on the stuff I would have loved to have known before I did so, because that is one thing our course does certainly not prepare you for!

Business plan

You have to have a business plan!  You can get a free template for one from the www.business.gov.au website and whilst you may not fill in all of the areas it makes you think about the crucial points of your business and where you see it heading/ its viability.

Find a home

I originally wanted to set up solo but just couldn’t afford the outlay costs or find an appropriate place to set up shop.  I ended up in a very happy arrangement where I work out of the same clinic as an osteopath and physiotherapist (instant referrals) and pay a daily rent that includes a receptionist, use of the merchant terminals, booking software, a furnished room and functioning computer.  Perhaps I would have tried to bargain for a percentage rate of clients seen for the first few months if I was doing it again because that way you are covered for costs as the patient load builds up.

Research and Costing

A business HAS to be viable, but not necessarily profitable to start with.  Analyse the market and your competition and establish your business in an area that is not over-crowded with dieticians

As a consultant you are selling hours, of which you have a finite amount.  For example if you plan to open your practice for three days a week to start off with working from 8:30-5:30, with a 60 minute break, then you have  24 hours a week to sell. From this you can calculate the minimum income required to cover your operating and ongoing costs, which at the minimum would probably include rent, phone/internet bills, stationary, merchant fees, advertising and insurance.

Side gig

The reason I gave the example of only opening three days a week to start with is because it is probably not appropriate to think that you are going to be able to cover costs of the business with clients alone in the first few months.  Have a job on the side that you know will cover at the minimum the rent while you are building business up so that you don’t get yourself into a financial pickle.

Have a presence

Create a website – it is seriously not that hard! Check mine out www.ihn.net.au – done in less than 5 hours on weebly.com.  Purchase a domain name that applies to your business and you’re ready to go!  Content is key and I’ll be writing another article on Search Engine Optimisation in the future because that is the key to getting noticed on the web.  Create a call-to-action button front and centre so that people sign up to your weekly newsletter/tips/whinges etc,  giving you an instant following.

Marketing yourself

It is so important to learn how to sell yourself as the professional. I rang every doctor’s clinic in town asking for the practice manager. Never leave your number for them to call you back, YOU always call THEM back if they can’t take your call!  Let them know you would like to give the doctors an update on what is happening in the dietetic world and how it can benefit their patients.  They are usually interested and the next step would be to attend a doctors meeting with a case study ready to present, cards to give out, pamphlets and answers on hand to the butter in the coffee argument. Voila – referrals.

Secondly, specialise yourself.  It is much easier for a doctor to remember you for something rather than everything.

Templates, Documents and Codes

If you’ve got a bit of spare cash I cannot recommend enough getting the Nutritional Professionals Australia resources for dietitians.  The NPA team have put in a bucket load of work to provide you with resources that cover topics from HPHE to Food allergy and intolerance protocol.  Aside from this, create templates for invoices, doctor’s letters and pro-formas so you are not fussing around and wasting yours, or your patients’, precious and billable time.

Create a Network

Bring all your champions together.  There is nothing more important to me then the people I turn to for help and advice.  I appreciate it beyond words and ensure they know that’s how I feel.  They’re not only experienced dietitians either and include other new grads, doctors, nurses, physios, psychologists and friends.  Keep them close!

Remain confident

Most of all, know there will be a serious crisis of confidence when your first patient cancels or fails to attend, but YOU are the future of health and ultimately have good skills you can put to use in helping all types of people – and you WILL see all types of people in the private practice setting.

Part 2 will be up on my blog next week and include all the info on doctor’s letters, Medicare and private health funds

Imogen Hooper is an APD and sports dietitian recently graduated from the University of Sydney Masters program.  Imogen has strong interest in food allergy and intolerance stemming from completing her research project at the RPAH Allergy Unit.  She also has a particular and growing interest in women’s health and sports nutrition.  Recently having set up a private practice in the Southern Highlands she is keen to share her knowledge with other new graduates on how they can do so too.