How to Start a Private Practice as an RDN

If you dream of starting a private practice as an RDN, but don't know where to start, start here.

private practice dietitian

Hello.  I'm Julie Cunningham.  I'm an RDN, a CDCES, and an IBCLC.  I wanted to start my own business right out of college, but fear held me back.  Twenty-five years later, I run a profitable private practice, and you can too.  I hope you'll learn from my mistakes and get started much sooner than I did!

What I wish I'd known about running a private practice as an RDN

When I started my business, I spent a lot of money on courses and coaching.  I mean a lot of money.  Guess what?  I didn't need to do that.  I needed a simple marketing plan.  And I needed to understand that my business exists to pay me, not the other way around.

The first year, my business lost money.  The second year, I made the same amount of money as I previously made at my “day job” but I worked twice as many hours.  Now, I run a profitable business and I get up excited about “going to work” in my home office every day.

In addition to seeing clients, I get calls from RDN's every week who want to “pick my brain” about starting a private practice.  I love these calls because I love talking to other people with an entrepreneurial spirit.  And I really want to help them succeed.

That's why I created a free guide, The Penny Pinching Private Practice.

The Penny Pinching Private Practice is a step-by-step guide that walks you through each step you need to take to start a private practice as an RDN, and it's FREE.  So, why am I giving you all this goodness for free when there are business coaches out there who charge a bazillion dollars for the same advice?


  • I wish someone had done it for me.
  • I get a lot of calls about this.  I want to give callers something to work with…without repeating myself so many times.  🙂  
  • Some of the links in the document are affiliate links.  For example, I use Simple Practice as my EHR.  So, if you click on the Simple Practice link in my freebie and end up trying out their service, I'll get a credit on my Simple Practice account.  So, helping you helps me.  Thank you. 🙂

Before you make the leap to private practice

A bit of motherly advice, because I might be old enough to be your mother:  any business venture is an adventure, and it's inherently riskier than going to work and bringing home a paycheck every two weeks.  I think this goes without saying, but have a clear plan for how you will pay your bills between the time you start your business and the time you actually pay yourself with the money your business earns.

If you need your income, as most people do, and you can ease into private practice while you ease out of your day job, that's ideal.  If you can't ease in and out of your day job, my advice is to save up a “cushion” that will pay your bills for at least six months before you turn in your resignation.

3 key decisions for starting a private practice as an RDN

Online or On-site?

Where will you see clients?  Will you work online, or will you have a physical office?  An online practice may be ideal because you will avoid the costs associated with renting space.  Then again, if you have a toddler or a barking dog at home, or if you just mentally need a physical barrier between work and home, a physical office may be the right choice for you.  As I write this, most insurance companies are allowing telehealth visits for nutrition counseling due to COVID-19, but if that coverage goes away and you want to take insurance as a form of payment, then a physical office may become necessary.

Your Niche?

Think about your work experience and your favorite types of clients or patients.  Then think about what kind of nutrition services are available in your area.  Can you find a place where your expertise intersects with a need?  That's the sweet spot for your business.  

Insurance or Cash?

Let's face it.  Taking insurance adds a whole new layer of things you need to learn when starting a private practice.  But…when I go to see a healthcare provider, I expect my insurance plan to cover my services, and I bet you do too.

I want to help my patients use their insurance benefits to access nutrition counseling.  Plus, the first questions my patients ask when they call me are “How much does this cost?” and “Does my insurance cover your services?”

So, I choose to take insurance.  If you live in a larger metropolitan area, you may be able to run a profitable private practice without taking insurance.  Either decision is OK, but this decision will affect your business plan, so it's best to decide early on which direction you want to take.

Checklist for Starting a Private Practice as an RDN

The Penny Pinching Private Practice goes into much more detail and links to helpful resources, but here's a checklist to get you started on the path to private practice:


  • Get an NPI number.
  • Get a federal tax ID number.
  • Open a business checking account.
  • Set up a bookkeeping system.
  • Decide on insurance vs. cash payment.
    • If you'll take insurance:
      • Complete a CAQH profile
      • Start the credentialing process with each insurance company
      • Get a HIPAA-compliant fax service
  • Promote your business
  • Choose an EMR
  • Choose an Email Service Provider
  • Create a lead magnet
  • Use your Email Service Provider to create a landing page
  • Grow your email list
  • Talk to the people on your email list
  • See clients
  • Collect payment
  • Make a profit!


Download the guide and get started.  Then let me know how it goes.  I love hearing about other people's business ventures, and I'm happy to help when I can. 

Best of luck!