Whether a medical school graduate or not, you must have thought to yourself at least once: How would it feel if I were my own boss? How would it be if I could do things my way? While for some this remains just a thought that occurs from time to time at the peak of a busy day, a few actually pursue this path, driven by various factors: ambition, family history, favorable financial conditions, wanting to do more, in their own terms etc.
The purpose of this article is to be a step one in the research journey of those in the second category—those registered dietitians and nutritionists who decide to open their own private practice. Since our clients are private practitioners, we put together a list of challenges that one might encounter in this journey and useful ways of handling them.
1. Not having a clear and detailed business plan
The most important thing when opening a private practice—same as when opening a business—is planning. While for a business, the core might be a brilliant idea of a product or service that is or could be in high demand, for a private practice, the approach is a little different. Additional products or services can only add to the success story, but the main idea is aiming to improve people’s lives through knowledge and accurate investigations. However, before you get to do that, you need to be able to estimate the investment necessary to make it happen.
A private practice involves higher costs than a regular small business, as there are several unexpected expenses and investments. Research is key and for this you will need time, so set a realistic timeline. If possible, hire a consultant or gather as much industry know-how as possible. Another useful piece of advice when discussing budgets is sticking to what is necessary for providing top care for your patients rather than adding fashionable pieces of furniture and décor to your financial plan. After you have a realistic estimate, start sourcing capital.
2. Rushing a loan process
If possible, avoid debt as a source of capital. If not possible, do not dive in for longer than you can hold your breath. All metaphors aside, financial miscalculations are one of the main reasons why (small) businesses fail. Take your time in writing up the pro forma that you will use to obtain a bank loan.
Setting up your price list will help you estimate revenue, but keep in mind that the flow of customers will fluctuate, especially at the beginning. If you plan to advertise and invest in marketing, you can expect an increased flow of patients in the first weeks/months, especially since word of mouth will also work its magic. Ideally, visit several banks for the loan you need and compare rates. Choose the best match for your business plan.
Don’t forget you need to plan for the medium or long term. A coherent business plans cover the next three to five years. This means laying out a strategy that will also include the next investment in growing your practice: acquiring more/better equipment, software and maybe adding staff.
3. Underestimating your staffing needs
Another common mistake made by those opening their own office or private practice is believing that they can do everything by themselves, without hiring anyone else. The business side of it all can be overwhelming and the issues related to this can be hard to manage if you don’t have any training or experience in the area. Having the right people by your side from the very beginning is important. At least three specialists are necessary to start out: a legal expert/lawyer, an office manager/administrator and an insurance agent. The latter can help clarify and set up several important issues related to entering the public health care insurance system and being covered for malpractice.
4. Having high expectations and no patience
The mindset is very important in the success of a private practice. Just like any other venture, it will take time until things will start functioning properly and the revenue flow will become constant. This also means that you will need to use various tools to make your work as efficient as possible. There are several programs and software products that can help keep the activity of a private practice organized and efficient, but to begin with you will need electronic health records (EHR), billing and scheduling software.
This will save you the trouble of going through countless files and papers to plan your day or week or make the necessary accounting calculations. Speaking of accounting, you might want to consider a specialist to handle this part of your business, even if not as a full-time employee. Some more complex practice management software includes several of the functions that you will need, so you might end up paying less for the whole package. This means you could have the visits calendar, payments and even patient metrics and meal plans in one place. One such example is our very own Nutritionist Assistant. Staying organized and realistic is necessary for a successful RD.
5. Not paying enough attention to online presence
Today, everything is happening online, so make sure you are visible in the digital world. Start by creating a website, social media pages on the channels you feel will help most (hiring a consultant or specialist to handle this part for your private practice is advisable) and make sure people can find your office and contact details easily on Google Maps. Be mindful that online reviews weigh heavily today and that you will need to have a coherent strategy to navigate the digital environment.
Many of your patients will be Millennials, known for being tech savvy and for expecting the process of booking an appointment online and making a visit to be as smooth as possible. A practice management software solution such as Nutritionist Assistant can also help here, by keeping records and appointment info online, which makes it easy to share and archive.