What is it?
Nutrition is on everybody’s mind these days. People want to live longer, healthier lives, which is directly attributed to eating a balanced diet. It is also high on the government’s agenda and has become a cause for concern among health experts, as official figures reveal obesity rates in Britain are soaring, with nearly one quarter of the adult population now classed as clinically obese. Never before have more initiatives been launched in an effort to combat this escalating epidemic: Change for Life and Five a Day are just two examples of such government schemes. With all this in mind, there are clearly enormous opportunities for independent nutritionists to make their mark and do their best to help relieve the growing obesity problem, as well as treating a vast range of other health conditions.
Setting up a nutritionist business can be incredibly rewarding. You’ll spend your days helping people to live healthier lives and achieve their dietary goals, however, it’s not just limited to weight loss – the enormous scope of the industry can also include conditions as varied as: addiction, anxiety, fertility, food intolerance, insomnia, skin conditions and stress management. There are also a number of different avenues you can go down as a nutritionist – you can act as a personal diet coach, or as a consultant to restaurants and food manufacturers, you can give classes and seminars, or you could attach yourself to health clubs or health-conscious organisations. It’s an extremely varied industry where no two days will be the same. It’s also important to recognise that there are numerous schools of thought surrounding nutrition, from traditional scientific and medical methods to a more holistic approach, so you’ll need to decide where you stand in your attitude to the subject before you start to think about becoming a nutritionist.
Who is it suited to?
Many people are put off nutrition as a career because they don’t feel they have the right scientific background, however this is in fact a common misconception. You certainly don’t need to be a scientific genius, but a good understanding and keen interest in the subject is crucial because much of what you learn and practice will be based on scientific theory. Becoming a nutritionist will require you to enrol on a recognised course (which we explain in the next section) so you must therefore prepare yourself for further study, both mentally and financially.
Being a nutritionist involves a huge amount of interaction with people from all different backgrounds, who will come to you seeking help and advice. Charlotte Fraser, who started her business, Naturopathic Nutrition, in 2006, emphasises the importance of maintaining a personable and compassionate manner because you will spend much of your time listening to people and their problems, as a therapist. She says: “You must be able to relate to people and be a good listener – a background in psychology also helps – it’s rather like putting together pieces of a puzzle when you’re dealing with different people’s conditions.” Charlotte also highlights the value of keeping strong boundaries: “At the end of the day, you’re a therapist of sorts, but it’s easy to get caught up in your clients’ problems – you need to have strong boundaries and a level head.”
Starting a nutritionist company is just like any other business, in the sense that you’ll need to have a flare for all things business-related; a lot of passionate hopefuls fall by the wayside due to a lack of business acumen. A good grasp of the financial elements is paramount – such as working out balance sheets, profits and losses, and efficient budgeting. Previous experience in marketing and communications is also hugely beneficial, however it is possible to develop these skills as you go along.
As a therapist, it is vital that you maintain a professional and discrete attitude towards your work. You’ll be dealing with other people’s health and will have access to their private medical records, some of which will be highly sensitive and so will require handling with due care and diligence. Many people seek help from nutritional therapists having already gone to their GP who may not have been able to resolve their problem. Helping people to better understand their body and improve their health can be enormously rewarding as long as you approach the industry with the right conscientious attitude.
Planning and research
Before you embark on starting a nutritionist business, it is important that you acquire sufficient and recognised qualifications. Julie Pegler, co-founder of Healthy Eating Organisation and lecturer at the Centre for Nutrition Education and Lifestyle Management (CNELM), explains that nutrition is still a largely self-regulated industry, meaning that there is not one single qualification you must have. Instead, there are a number of recognised and reputable courses, both degrees and diplomas, that will provide the right training for the job, although obtaining a degree is the gold standard and will stand you in good stead for the future. Julie advises you join the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) once you’ve finished your course. This is the professional body for nutritional therapists, which offers a wide range of benefits to members and keeps them up to date with the latest changes and developments to the industry. Make sure that the course you take is recognised by BANT. Another professional body that’s worth joining is the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) – this umbrella organisation protects people who work in natural healthcare and is widely recognised as the hallmark of the industry.
Once you’re qualified, setting up a nutritionist business is a fairly simple and low-cost process. You’ll need to find a consultation room where you can see clients; some people use a room in their home as this can help keep costs down, however it’s important that the room is easily accessible and gives a professional impression to clients. Julie Pegler says: “You may have an office or room in your house to convert into your consultation room, however you have a duty of care to make sure the facilities you use are safe and fit for purpose.” It’s paramount that you adhere to health and safety regulations, making sure for example that you can provide clean and accessible bathroom facilities, as well as a tidy and welcoming consultation room. Another option is to visit clients in their own homes, which would allow you to save money on kitting out a consultation room, although you will have to factor in the cost of travelling to and from appointments, both in terms of money and time. Many nutritional therapists rent rooms in other health centres or attach themselves to GPs or other groups of therapists, for example chiropractors. This can also be a good way to generate new clients as you may refer patients to one another as and when necessary. It is in fact possible to hire a consultation room on a commission basis, whereby you pay a percentage of your earnings to the property manager, which can be beneficial if you’re starting out and haven’t yet obtained a solid customer base or a regular income.
As a practicing nutritional therapist, you’ll need to purchase a reliable computer – if you haven’t already got one, and also obtain some basic stationery for your office. It’s a good idea to have some professional business cards printed so that you can give them out to potential clients. However, aside from these obvious materials, there’s not much else you’ll need, unless you’re planning on doing food-allergy testing, in which case you’ll need to buy the correct equipment.
Rules and regulations
As previously mentioned, the nutrition industry is largely self-regulated, and as such there is no single qualification that you must obtain. Rather, there are a number of reputable courses available, each offering a slightly different approach to the business. A-levels in biology and chemistry are a pre-requisite, however don’t panic if you didn’t take these subjects at school, because it’s possible to retake them fairly quickly in a condensed form before embarking on a further course. You need to decide which avenue you want to go down before enrolling on a course. Most respectable courses will be recognised by the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For the highest level of training, you’ll need to do a degree course, although it is possible to do a diploma as well, which may take less time to complete. There is no ‘one size fits all’ rule, so it’s worth giving it good thought and researching the possibilities before committing to a course.
Insurance is absolutely crucial for anyone starting their own nutritional therapy practice. You must make sure you take out professional indemnity insurance to protect yourself if a client misinterprets your advice and then tries to make a claim against you. Without this vital cover, which is also known as medical malpractice insurance, your business and livelihood is at risk of potentially ruinous allegations. Public liability insurance is another important protection you must acquire if clients visit your place of work, which is highly likely as a nutritional therapist. This cover will protect you against claims from clients if they have an accident while on your premises and injure themselves in some way. These types of claims can also be potentially devastating for small businesses, so be sure to obtain the correct cover for your practice. There are an abundance of different insurance providers out there, so research the market thoroughly before choosing the best plan and supplier for your business.
As a therapist, you’ll be dealing with people’s private health records, often holding them on your premises. Therefore, it’s important that you register your business with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), to ensure you’re following the correct data protection policy. The ICO can also offer you advice on how to store confidential information safely and securely – visit the website for more information.
Costs and potential earnings
Aside from the costs of qualifying, which vary depending on the course you choose, establishing a nutritional therapist business can be a fairly inexpensive affair, which is good news for most people starting out. There are a few necessary expenditures however, such as obtaining sufficient insurance to cover you in case of malpractice claims. You’ll also need to acquire adequate premises in which to see your clients, although with suitable health and safety precautions, it might be possible to transfer a room in your home into your consultation room, provided you won’t be interrupted during sessions by any children, pets or other members of the household.
To practise efficiently as a nutritionist you will require a reliable computer and some basic stationery, which will add to initial costs, although most people will already have a computer they can use at home. It’s a good idea to get some business cards printed so you can hand them out to potential clients, however these need not be expensive to buy. Other initial outlays include obtaining third party endorsement, such as registering with the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT), which will help to build your business’ reputation – clients often look for such certification before committing themselves. Setting up a website for your business is also highly recommended as it will inform potential clients about your practice and a professional looking site with good industry endorsement will add credibility to your name. It is possible to set up a decent website without breaking the bank and there are plenty of website building template packages you can use if all you’re after is a brochure site with contact details, basic details about your services and a few customer testimonials.
You might also want to invest some money in marketing and advertising your business. Placing advertisements in local newspapers or putting your business card on notice boards at local health centres or GP surgeries is a good way to get your name out in your area. You can also test the waters with some geographically targeted pay per click (PPC) advertising on search engines, adjusting your budget according to how successful it is for you. However, many nutritional therapists find that word-of-mouth and client recommendations are by far the most valuable promotional tools, so it is important to serve you clients well in order to obtain these referrals. There are of course various free marketing tools at your disposal as well, such as social media platforms and writing your own blog. An excellent way to meet fellow industry people is through conferences organised by BANT and other industry bodies, which are available to members.
Julie Pegler, co-founder of Healthy Eating Organisation, believes it is possible to set up as a nutritional therapist for as little as a few hundred pounds and the cost of actually running the business itself will also be minimal. However, it can take a while to build up a solid and loyal customer base, so it’s important that you’ve planned for this and have enough money saved to survive on until business picks up. There are a number of avenues you can explore to help keep the money coming in, such as acquiring a regular health column in a newspaper or magazine, which also helps promote your business and build up your reputation. You might also want to consider doing talks at schools or organisations on the importance of healthy eating – this can be a great way to earn cash fast. Charlotte Fraser, from Naturopathic Nutrition, advises not giving up your day job completely when you start your business, because you can’t build a practice overnight. Depending on your previous career, you might be able continue working part-time in your job until you’ve acquired enough clients to pursue your nutritional therapist career full-time.
With regards to what you can earn as a nutritional therapist, the amount varies dramatically. An hours’ consultation will cost a client anything from £30 to £100, so where you set your prices will depend on your own personal circumstances and where your business is based. Conduct extensive research of your local area and gauge what other nutritionists are charging, then it’s probably best to set your prices around the average mark. Charlotte Fraser made the mistake of actually pricing her services too low at the start: “I started with lower rates but I found that I got more bookings when I put up my prices a bit – if you’re too low people won’t trust you, although you don’t want to be too expensive either.” It’s important to strike the right balance to avoid putting off potential clients.
The British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT)
Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)
Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
Centre for Nutrition Education and Lifestyle Management (CNELM)
Institute of Optimum Nutrition