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Some people say they were born to run their own business, but me? I never envisioned myself as an entrepreneur with a healthcare business.

In fact, when I was in the first year of my dietetic internship, one of my professors predicted my future. She went around the room and guessed where in the nutrition field each student would end up. When she got to me, without even a question, she guessed research. I gawked. I wanted to be in the community. Yet two years later, I started my career in clinical diabetes and obesity research. She had predicted correctly. 

My Healthcare Business Backstory

Working in clinical research suited me. I was a type-A perfectionist who paid extreme attention to detail. A couple of years later, though, I married my husband who serves in the US Army, which meant relocating to a new city. I moved from a city of nearly 700,000 people to one of less than 200,000. 

For those of you who are familiar with the military lifestyle, you know how difficult it can be to find a new job while maintaining your career path. I searched for and applied for jobs for eight months before taking the leap and becoming jobless. I had a lot of internal struggles during this time. One was shifting from breadwinner to working a measly 10 to 12 hours a week in an environment that didn’t suit me. 

Hidden business opportunities

1. New local market

I saw it as an opportunity to serve my community. You see, when I was in a metropolitan area, the dietitian job market was saturated. Here, though? Dietitians were few and far between.

The population did not have access to nutrition experts like myself outside of a clinical setting.

2. Portable business

Secondly, I saw this as an opportunity to build a healthcare business that could move with me, no matter where the military may take us over the years.

3. Mission

And perhaps most importantly, I saw this as an opportunity to live out my personal mission. This is to empower and educate women to advocate for their health and to make sustainable lifestyle changes. 

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Top 10 Must-Dos

Looking back, here is a list of useful tips for anyone wanting to start a healthcare business.

1. Familiarize yourself with rules and regulations

At first, I was overwhelmed with all the rules. What forms did I need? What type of accounts did I need? Did I have all the right HIPAA measures in place? I was hesitant to start my business because I just didn’t know. I spent time researching state and federal regulations. What services can I provide? What are the telehealth rules? Do I need to physically see each patient in person?

I also took proactive steps to protect myself as a healthcare provider, many of which I learned from the book, Making Nutrition Your Business by Ann Silver and Lisa Stollman. I obtained liability insurance, made sure I had the right licenses to practice medical nutrition therapy in the states where I would be seeing clients, and established an LLC to protect my personal assets.

2. Define your niche early on

This is so you know exactly who you want to help and what services to offer.

After losing my mom and taking on the personal mission of helping other women, I thought I knew who I wanted to help. It wasn’t until I tried marketing myself, however, that I realized the shortcomings in how broadly my niche was defined. It’s important to narrow down your niche.

I went through several iterations of my niche before coming up with my avatar: A woman named Samantha, who is in her late 20s/early 30s. She is exhausted. She is frustrated. She’s tried every diet under the sun and even though she’s lost 10-20 pounds on each diet, she gains it back and then some once she stops.

Now, it’s affecting how she feels mentally. It’s even affecting how her kids talk about their bodies. She’s ready to stop this generational cycle of body hate and actually be proud of the choices she’s making and the curves she has.

Once I specified my avatar, I had to figure out how to use my nutrition expertise to help her. Samantha doesn’t have specific health conditions, per say, she’s just tired of the yo-yo dieting cycle. See, once I defined Samantha further, I learned that she’s stressed out trying to plan meals for her family of 4.

With that, I decided to offer meal plans – not a diet plan, but a comprehensive plan with a grocery list that takes the thinking out of meals for this busy mom. I also determined that Samantha is someone who could “get it right” all day, but would binge eat unhealthy food at night once her kids were asleep.

With this further defining of my avatar, I learned that offering one-on-one nutrition counseling would help Samantha develop healthier habits and feel supported while making these changes.

Because Samantha is busy, I took the steps from my one-on-one and incorporated them into an online emotional eating course I built. It’s made of short videos with captions so that Samantha can watch them and make progress from anywhere at any time – even if it’s in from her car while waiting in the school pickup line.

3. Figure out how to price your services

Now that you know your niche, you’ve figured out what services to offer. But how much should you charge? Inc. talks about pricing your services, but I found that pricing services as a healthcare provider were honestly harder than a product- or other service-based business! It was especially difficult as a registered dietitian when there are unlicensed nutritionists in the area with vastly different qualifications but much lower prices.

To help me set my prices, I first did market research. How much were dietitians within 50 miles charging? Once I got an idea of that, I looked at the CMS Physician Fee Schedule and used unit reimbursements to determine my prices. 

4. Decide whether to accept insurance

Reimbursement is a sticky topic, and whether to accept insurance is a personal opinion. There are many factors to evaluate when considering insurance. For a registered dietitian like myself, CPT codes can be challenging, and seeking insurance reimbursement can be time-consuming and paperwork-heavy. There is also a lack of codes that specifically describe nutrition services in the outpatient setting. I started my practice as solely private pay.

While I have considered insurance, I have decided against it thus far for several reasons. First, I am not confident in my insurance billing abilities; and it turns out, in fact, that most dietitians require additional education in this area. Secondly, I heard the phrase once, “When they pay, they pay attention.” I have found this to be incredibly true. Clients who invest in themselves tend to have better outcomes because they have more skin in the game. 

5. Determine where you will get your referrals from.

Will you connect with local physicians’ offices? Physical therapy practices? Chiropractors? I started my business shortly after relocating to a new state. To prepare for that and help get my name out there, I found local businesses on Facebook and Instagram and reached out to introduce myself. I also connected with individuals in the area using LinkedIn. As Porter Gale says, “Your network is your net worth.”

6. Find your inner passion and share that story

It’s no secret; people trust who they know. In fact, in the business realm, we talk about the Know, Like, Trust factor.

Once I shared my background – not just my credentials – I was able to grow my community much faster. At first, I was struggling to relate to my ideal client. I felt like they saw me as this woman who was a dietitian which meant I could eat anything I want and not gain a pound, though I’d probably only eat a salad. FALSE.

Yet instead of getting defensive, instead of trying to “prove” this narrative wrong, I shared my story. I shared the fact that I became a dietitian because I lost my mom unexpectedly as a teenager. Her cancer diagnosis was missed and her telltale symptoms dismissed as “you’re just too fat.”

Since then, I’ve been on a mission to empower women to ditch diets, love their bodies, and advocate for themselves when it comes to their health. The important part is that you learn how to tell your story.

7. Get a mentor

Turns out, many other dietitians have opened their own private practices. While some are business coaches who ask you to pay the big bucks (that they duly deserve), many others have been in similar situations and are willing to share their advice.

There is much to be said about the benefits of mentorship in medicine, including the ability to learn the “hidden curriculum” of the profession. Throughout my life, I’ve had “mentors” but I didn’t have a true mentor. However, that changed this year when I signed up as a mentee with American Corporate Partners.

By signing up, I also learned that mentorship requires intentionality. It requires you, the mentee, to show up, be prepared, absorb as much as possible, and take action on that knowledge. In other words, it’s important to be a great mentee.

8. Build a team of experts to help you along the way

This can be a small business accountant, bookkeeper, small business attorney, etc.

I was incredibly overwhelmed when I was thinking about how to start my healthcare business. I mean, I went to school for nutrition, not for business.

That’s when I realized the value of having my team. I know that legal forms are not my expertise, so I reached out to a small business attorney in the area. I wasn’t sure how to go about tax planning and bookkeeping, so I reached out to a local certified public accountant (CPA).

Both provided free initial consults, which goes to show you don’t have to invest thousands and thousands of dollars just to get started! My CPA as well as resources from the US Small Business Administration helped me figure out the best business structure for me. Plus, local SBA offices helped me connect with someone in my area.

9. Take advantage of the many free resources that are available

As a military spouse, I am part of several organizations that share free resources on entrepreneurship, marketing, business accounting, and more. These can be both local and national.

Some of the organizations I find value in are:

Before I opened my business, I lived in a different state and was only familiar with the dietitian licensing there. Turns out, though, that the state website had helpful business documents and a Smart Start Small Business Guide

There are also SBA locations across the US and numerous opportunities to grow your network.

10. Don’t let perfectionism hold you back from starting.

You’ll never have it all figured out!

Historically, I’m also a perfectionist which I’ve found is quite common for those of us in the healthcare industry!) I mean, it makes sense why my professor predicted I would work in research! I was so worried about doing it right, that I wasn’t doing it at all.

But then I thought about my mom. If only someone had taken some action, maybe she would have had a fighting chance. Maybe she would have been here today. Slowly but surely, I worked on letting go of perfectionism and just taking action. Because imperfect action is better than no action at all. Or, as President Harry Truman said, “Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.” 

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Mary-Catherine LaBossiere, MPH, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and the owner of Busy Babes Nutrition. She started her career working in obesity and diabetes clinical research in Boston. While working there, she earned her Master’s in Public Health. Mary-Catherine then transitioned to working in behavioral health, where she learned the role of nutrition in managing our mental health.

Mary-Catherine is now a full-time entrepreneur who helps busy women love their bodies and develop healthier relationships with food. She is passionate about making nutrition easy, fun, and sustainable. In her free time, she loves being active and exploring the outdoors with her husband and their dogs.

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