Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! I am Haley Hughes a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator and CrossFit coach! I’m from Anchorage Alaska but currently live in Greeley, Colorado where I completed my bachelor’s degree in dietetics.
I recently quit my comfortable 9 to 5 job to open my own nutrition counseling private practice in Colorado called RDRx Nutrition (Registered Dietitian Prescribed). I was tired of preventative care not being a priority and only having a few minutes to educate each patient in the hospital and outpatient setting. I decided to take a huge risk by quitting my full-time job and go all in. I knew nutrition education was a needed resource in my community. There was no other Registered Dietitian out here doing it and people were not getting the support they needed.
A large part of my business is individual nutrition coaching where I provide education, 24/7 support through my app, food journal review, customized meal plans, and goal setting. I don’t believe there is a one size fits all “diet” so I take a lot of pride in customizing each client’s nutrition plan and working with them 1:1 to make it a lifestyle.
After one year of business, I have been able to pay off my car, travel to Bora Bora and Europe and still invest in retirement. I am making $1800-$2100 per month through nutrition counseling while also working for 3 other organizations as an independent contractor where I still am able to my assigned work on my own time.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have always been a strong-willed, hard-working, and sometimes stubborn person.
I’m definitely “The Achiever” on the enneagram test, so working for myself has been a great change for the most part. I stand up for what I believe in, especially when it comes to patient care.
After graduating with a Master’s degree in dietetics, completing a 2-year-long internship process and taking a huge exam I was so excited to start my career. My dream job (so I thought) was to be an intensive care unit dietitian, because I felt it would be challenging and rewarding.
Hospitals and most government agencies required Registered Dietitians to work in these settings because “nutritionist” can be a self-proclaimed titled without any education or credentialing. At first, the hospital was an exciting place to work but after a year or so I felt like I wasn’t making the difference I had envisioned because I wasn't able to build relationships with my patients.
Clinical jobs are very common for new graduates because you can get a ton of experience working with different disease states. I had no idea if patients were understanding what diet changes they needed to make because I wouldn't see them after they were discharged from the hospital.
I had no idea opening a private practice was an option until I started seeing a few other dietitians doing it on social media. I obsessed over owning a counseling practice for about 6 months and did as much research as I possibly could before creating a website and filing for an LLC.
I was so excited to design a system where I could see my clients succeed and achieve their health goals. I wanted to have clients tell me they were ready to make changes vs. “I’m here because my doctor told me I need to eat better”. I knew I could help people reduce their medications, lose weight, become more active and actually have them sustain their habits.
However, I had just added another set of credentials to my name and got a bonus at work making it very difficult to make the jump into entrepreneurship. I saved for another 6 months to make sure I would be okay with a smaller salary. It took a few other annoying things at work to happen (nurses sending gossip emails and not being able to follow-up with patients) before I finally called it quits!
My idea of customized nutrition stemmed from flaws I saw in the current healthcare system. People who are ready to change want specific advice and counseling unique to their needs not just a quick visit and nutrition handout. Creating meal plans has been a great tool and way to educate as well.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I first assessed the market for nutrition counseling competition including Weight Watchers, supplement stores, gyms and “nutritionists” in the area.
If you are starting a business to genuinely help people and improve your community, things will fall into place. Don’t worry about your logo, what other people think or what exactly what the future holds. If you are truly passionate about what you are doing and provide what you advertise, go for it!
I felt none had even close to the education or credentials that I had nor the experience and passion for helping others improve their quality of life. I started developing my programs in a way that would be customizable for the amount of support each client needed and created the materials to get them started including macronutrient lists, meal plan templates, recipes, etc.
First I interview the client with a 15 minute phone consult to make sure they are a good fit for nutrition coaching. If they have a specific disease state that needs a specialist, eating disorder or our personalities don't click, then I will find a referral source. Next, I have a specific set of questions at the initial appointment to get to know them better, discuss the basics of building a healthy meal to meet their individual needs, set goals, address motivation factors and then set a game plan. After our initial appointment, I set goal reminders through my app, send an email of the main points we are focusing on and their meal plan along with their scheduled follow-up date. Each week we reassess the game plan and adjust as needed.
I started with only taking a few clients to test out my process. After I launched my social media platforms and website, in only a few days I had clients ready to go after finding me online or by word of mouth. I honestly have not had to market or “convince clients” they need me. I do my best to post my nutrition philosophies and credible information to build trust with my audience.
Being authentic during the 15 minute phone consult is so important because if they aren’t ready to put in effort and are looking for a quick fix, then I am not the right provider for them. I do believe in being active in my community so people know my business exists so I host fitness events and attend networking groups. Practice what you preach and be relatable to your niche.
I have had to make changes including the way I create meal plans because initially it would take me hours. Having a good system in place has helped me become more efficient. I started to create my own recipes by posting them on my website. Using my own recipes helps me ensure quality and balanced meals that are quick and simple for my busy clients.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I first created a website with information about me and my programs. My website has expanded and now has recipe, lifestyle and travel blogs. I also found a portal and phone app for my clients that allows food journaling, video chat, scheduling, billing and task reminders which has been a huge blessing.
My overhead is very low since I rent an office space in a gym who I partner with and coach for. My client portal including scheduling, billing, food journaling and a phone app is about $65 a month making it an easy all in one service. I also hire a team of website designers and small business gurus who I pay $500 a month to help me grow and develop RDRx Nutrition called Estus.
My client referrals have been mainly word of mouth. Many of my past patients from the clinics have actually found me on social media as well. I stay very involved in the community and have done fitness events, write for the local paper, and attend charity functions frequently.
The biggest lesson I have learned is to be confident in my service and to be ready with a plan when starting a partnership. Sometimes other businesses will want to take advantage of you or are thinking more of themselves. It’s important to know what your limits are. If you are starting a business to genuinely help people and improve your community, things will fall into place. Don’t worry about your logo, what other people think or what exactly what the future holds. If you are truly passionate about what you are doing and provide what you advertise, go for it!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I reach out to my past clients to check in and see how they are doing with maintaining lifestyle changes, some feel they need continued support which may include on-going coaching. Changing long-time habits is certainly not easy so I encourage most of my clients to continue until they feel confident about sustaining their behaviors.
I have been working on improving my SEO rankings for blog and recipe posts to drive new people to my resources which has definitely been a learning curve. I am slowly figuring out the algorithms for Google and social media platforms. I haven’t had to use any type of advertisements yet, however I do ask clients to share their testimonies, write reviews and once a month I do a giveaway on social media.
Reviewing Google analytics every week looking at where traffic is coming from and which pages are most popular helps me improve my posts and content. It’s important to assess what people are looking for vs. what you think they want to know.
Amazon affiliate links are something I use to show what products and ingredients I prefer however does not provide me with significant income because they are relatively low priced items giving me little in return. I hope to increase this revenue stream as my audience grows.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
My first year of business has been profitable. My audience has been increasing since launching the site January 2019, I now have 2200+ followers on IG, over 300 email subscribers, 850 facebook page likes and hundreds of pins on pinterest.
My short term goals include consistently posting useful content for my clients and improving SEO. Long term goals, I would like to have more automation for my programs making it easier to get clients started and scheduled along with weekly video content. I would like to start a YouTube channel demoing healthy recipes and answering nutrition questions. I love myth busting nutrition trends!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of my biggest mistakes has been not valuing my time.
Sometimes my appointments will run over or I say yes to volunteering making it hard for me to catch up on other things, missing workouts or time with my family and friends. I’ve had to change some of the appointments to virtual or phone calls making it easier to manage my time.
The biggest mistakes I made have been not charging what I am worth and for my time in the beginning. As an entrepreneur, your time is extremely valuable and it can be hard to take breaks and disconnect.
I made a huge mistake hiring a website marketing company who did not cater to small business. They basically made a crappy website and did not personalize anything along with wanting to charge extra for any type of customization.
After my contract was up, I met a new start-up business who completely saved me! They sit down with me every week to assess my goals and what needs to get done. It’s exactly what I was looking for vs. a generic marking scheme and basic website design. It was the biggest financial mistake I had made and felt totally tricked!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For my clients I use Practice Better which takes care of my invoices, food journaling, task reminders, resources, chat and video.
I use Square for credit card processing since it is compatible with Practice Better and I can use it for all other sales and invoices.
To remain HIIPA compliant I receive faxes for doctor’s offices through SR fax.
WordPress was the most user friendly with room for website growth. I’ve added a recipe, travel and lifestyle blog.
Canva for marketing
MailChimp for email marketing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Podcast: Side Hustle Nation
- Books: Grit by Angela Duckworth, Nourish by Nicole Aucoin
- Resources: Facebook groups with other dietitians in private practice
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Hire a coach or take courses in the areas you feel weak in. I first started by taking a course on how to build a functional website. This was the best thing I could have done as far as saving time. I also recommend looking into what local support you have for small business. The university in my town provides free business coaching which was huge when trying to figure out all the steps to get started!
The biggest mistakes I made have been not charging what I am worth and for my time in the beginning. It was hard to say no to multiple opportunities and networking events that eventually made me feel burned out. As an entrepreneur your time is extremely valuable and it can be hard to take breaks and disconnect. I also would encourage wiring out your processes as if you were to sell your business. I am trying to do this now and I am finding major gaps in the way I have been running my business.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m currently looking for someone to manage and improve my Pinterest page to drive traffic to my website and also edit/review recipe and lifestyle blogs to boost SEO ranking.
Where can we go to learn more?
- [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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