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Building a Group Nutrition Practice Founded in Collaboration

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Forming a nutrition private practice is an exciting, yet challenging endeavor. Typically launched by a solo provider, an individual dietitian will create a sole proprietorship or LLC and start building a business under their name. Many successful practices later expand their reach by adding other dietitians (or wellness providers) under their business umbrella to form a group nutrition practice. This journey requires the founding dietitian to take on all of the responsibilities that are required for building a business: from sales, to business, to finances and even marketing. But what if these responsibilities could be shared among a group? 

This success story shares the journey of Pacific Nutrition Partners, a truly collaborative group nutrition practice. Formed by six dietitians who met during their dietetics coursework, Pacific Nutrition Partners established their practice with six equal partners. Two years later, they continue to flourish and grow as a functional, successful group nutrition practice. Built on trust and mutual respect, the members of Pacific Nutrition Partners have been able to work together to equally share the responsibilities, challenges and successes that come with running a business. Collectively, they pool their resources and expertise to not only expand the reach of their practice, but to improve the care that they provide to clients. 

Follow along as we speak with team members, Esther Schultz MS, RDN and Jocelyn Harrison MPH, RDN, as they share their insights into how a collaborative spirit can help elevate dietitians in private practice, especially when forming a group nutrition practice.

Building a Group Nutrition Practice Founded in Collaboration

Healthie: How did the initial concept of forming a collaborative group nutrition practice first come into being?

Jocelyn: 

There was a big group of us who met at university during our dietetics classes. We connected around the mission that we really wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives through food and nutrition. There were about 14 people to begin with. From there we started a book club and really stayed in touch. As we were all starting to get through with our dietetic internships, we thought maybe we should have a more formal connection and start a private practice. It seemed really daunting on our own, with the idea of 6 individuals building 6 different private practices. So one of the things we considered doing was starting a group and collaborating to become a group private practice. There were ultimately 6 of us who actually pulled through with all of it, and it has worked super well for us. 

Because I had a previous professional career and the experience of working through difficulties with co-workers, especially when the environment can be competitive, I knew that I loved collaboration. 

Esther asked when we started: how can we divide these collective responsibilities into 6 different positions? First, we made our company into a LLC and each one of us has an equal ownership of the business. We wrote the business plan together which really helped us envision it, putting all of us on the same page. We created the umbrella organization that really helped us share responsibilities like building the website, taking care of social media, writing the blogs, all of those things would be shared work or expenses that each of us could benefit from, but it was really for Pacific Nutrition Partners. Then we would manage our own client base underneath that. 

Healthie: What are some of the benefits to working together as a collaborative group nutrition practice? 

Jocelyn: 

The benefits of collaboration by far outweigh any of the cons. It can be competitive and personalities can conflict. However, it took several different skill sets to get the business started. Some of our team members had mega expertise to do this while others did not. Over time, everybody has had gifts to bring to the table.

As the business has progressed, for instance, we have a partner who is extremely analytical and research focused and if we ever need anything researched, she can give us a meta-analysis. Another member’s background is in public relations and she sent out a press release that got the attention from a major marketing television station, one of our top stations here in Los Angeles. Within 3-4 months from when we got started, they did a feature of us on the news that ran for an entire week.

So what I’m really talking about here are the benefits of collaboration. Everyone has their own strengths to bring to the table, and you can let everyone play a part, like your fielding a team. Most of the clients we work with are people with chronic diseases, and the truth is, you can’t be a nutrition expert in everything.

One of our partners has a lot of experience with diabetes and we have two partners who specialize in eating disorders. If I have someone who calls to see me who has diabetes and is on insulin, I will send the client to our member who specializes in diabetes. If someone comes to me with an eating disorder, and I work mainly with people who have chronic diseases, I will have someone whom I trust see them. It’s all about trust. We are all in this to make the world a better place.

We really want to play to our strengths and take advantage of what being in a group provides in terms of people having different skills and areas of expertise. But also we get to share all of our responsibilities, and this was genius! 

Healthie: What are your 6 “buckets” of responsibilities that you each share, and how did you establish them? 

Jocelyn: 

Truthfully, it was the business plan that miraculously helped us with everything and walked us through all of the challenges. 

We currently divide our responsibilities to include an: 

  • Organization Manager 
  • Website + Healthie Integration Manager 
  • Financial Manager 
  • General Business Manager (legal and insurance) 
  • Social Media Manager
  • Marketing Manager

For example, marketing is one of our big buckets of responsibility. Our Marketing Manager develops a strategic plan and then she tells us what to do underneath that. The one person who is in charge of our website where our blog is hosted, has created a blog schedule. Then, we each contribute to the blog. 

When our patients pay us, they most often do so through Healthie. One of our partners is the Financial Manager, because finances are a big part of our responsibilities too. She is in charge of the checking accounts, managing all of the finances and has also become an expert with Quickbooks! Money comes in then it comes right back out to that provider. We split shared expenses (like Healthie) and contribute money for those on a quarterly basis.  

This is another awesome part of collaboration. It really does come from having ownership. It makes a HUGE difference. Everyone has ownership and we are all treated as equals.

Healthie: How did Healthie help you as you initially established Pacific Nutrition Partners? 

Esther:

Healthie really helped us out here when we took our first huge steps. Writing a business plan is one of the most important things when you are thinking about going into private practice. A year ago I was saying to Jocelyn, “Why do we have to write a business plan?” Little did I know it would become the single most important document in our organization. Jocelyn was the one who pushed for it, then we worked on it for months and, honestly, are still working on it. We still change things; it’s a movable base. It really does outline everything that you need in your business.

It was when we were writing our business plan that we truly assessed all of our needs: we need to be HIPPA compliant, we need to communicate with our clients, we need scheduling, billing and we need to provide superbills. We needed a service that provided all of this, which is when we realized the value of Healthie. The business plan played a huge part in helping us work out the services we needed. We use it even now when we put together marketing materials. We get ideas from it, see how we worded certain things, and look up the clients we were trying to target.

Healthie: What advice do you have for dietitians who are thinking about private practice and aren’t necessarily sure if it is for them? 

Jocelyn: 

We took baby steps. We started talking about the business in September and worked on the business plan first. We took the time to think about what we would need to do to open our doors. This included everything from picking our name, logo and color palette to picking a business entity, method of accounting and marketing ideas, etc. We had a checklist. We had everything ready to go and launched the following year in March.

It’s really been a joyous experience because you learn so much from going through the process. Overall, the entire idea of putting together a business is a creative endeavor. You get to present yourself in the world however you choose, and there is something super fun and exciting about that. On the other hand, it’s nerve wracking when you go see your client for the first time and it’s like wow, their health is MY responsibility. Anyone who considers it, do it! Just go for it and if you don’t like it, stop.

Esther:

I completely echo that! It is possible to do it without putting in too much money up front. We managed to keep our costs low during the first year to limit our financial risk. So it is possible to do this without spending too much money if you end up not enjoying it.

Healthie: How has using a practice management software allowed you to grow as a group nutrition business?

Esther:

Initially we considered all the services we would need and the costs began adding up. I think the question that finally tipped us over the edge was, “Do we have 6 fax machines to put in all of our homes?” That’s when we turned to Healthie. Healthie solved all of our problems with one platform and one monthly fee. And a bonus was the Healthie app that’s available to our clients. The ease of communication using the Healthie app helps clients feel connected with us in between appointments and they feel like they have someone to feel accountable to.

Building a Group Nutrition Practice Founded in Collaboration

It really has changed the relationships we have with our clients. It’s so easy for them to use, like snapping a picture of food for their food diaries. It’s great for those who don’t like to keep physical food diaries. Ultimately Healthie has been helpful in building a better relationship with our clients because it’s not easy to make lifestyle and diet changes. The easier we can make it for our clients, the more likely they are to succeed.

The responsiveness of Healthie is just mind blowing. Sometimes I will communicate with the tech support and they’ll say sorry it’s not available right now. Then two days later I’ll get a notice from the app store that there is an update for the Healthie app, and there it is. Something I asked for appeared as an update on my phone. So that has been amazing. Healthie has really helped draw together every aspect of our business and make it work.

Jocelyn:

Healthie has helped us present ourselves very professionally in the world –  whether it be superbills, scheduling our clients, or accepting payments. One of our partners went out on maternity leave and another partner took over her patients and care was easily transferred. As a result, the patients didn’t feel any disruption in services. They STILL went on Healthie to pay and log in and chart notes could be shared.

We love sharing our documents there and we use the organizational calendar to see where everyone is and what’s going on. It’s just been a big plus to have Healthie. We don’t think we would want to practice without it because it’s so comprehensive. When we first started planning the business we were like, “We have to be HIPPA compliant, we’re all going to have to go get fax machines, how are we going to do the calendars, etc.” It’s brilliant and it’s perfect to have all of this under one umbrella, and that’s Healthie. As a practice, it gives us everything we need to operate. We decided we simply have to use this practice management software because it would be perfect for us, especially because we are all working from different locations.

Healthie: How have you stayed connected as a collaborative, to make sure every member is heard? 

Jocelyn:

One great thing about a collaborative business is that you are not isolated. If you do have questions, you can always reach out to a team member and say, “Oh my gosh, I have this patient that is struggling, what can I do?” We have bi-monthly team meetings. Everybody has an equal say. We share our handouts and resources using the Healthie documents folder. 

We have in person meetings and virtual meetings because we are in different parts of Los Angeles. For patient meetings, each of us has access to office space and we also offer telenutrition appointments to our clients using the Healthie platform. Since we work in different parts of Los Angeles we can provide services to a broader range of people.  

Esther:

We are so committed to our business, but our number one commitment is to build an inclusive work environment where we are loved and supported by each other. We are each other’s biggest champions! “Ask for that raise, you’re worth it!” It’s a super supportive environment. I couldn’t imagine a better team or work situation. 

Establishing a group nutrition practice relies heavily on team communication and collaboration. By valuing and trusting team members to share their expertise, the nutrition group as a team can work together to provide better client care. Sharing resources, insights and support are crucial to creating a truly collaborative team. Overall, collaboration in a private nutrition practice has proved successful and is more common in this generation as it demonstrates how companies can move more effectively towards their goals. Pacific Nutrition Partners has contributed the efforts of collaboration to the success of their business.  

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