This week definitely felt more comfortable for me being in private practice. It started to feel like my career and less like I was on a vacation from the full-time job I left! I focused a lot on building partnerships and reaching out to different facilities to find out if they had a dietitian they referred to already. Two major things I learned were that I should have looked back at the business plan I made in grad school for my practice and that I should have thought more about who/what I wanted to target before spending time researching every facility in my area (thank goodness for my intern). This week, my plan is to develop a more clear marketing and outreach strategy so my efforts are more targeted.
Although it was close to the holidays, I wanted to make some connections now in order to prepare for January when more people want to lose weight and eat better. I reached out to about 30 different facilities this week; however, I only spoke with about 5 that could have been potential partnerships. Three places let me know they already had a Dietitian and the rest didn’t get back to me. My plan is to reach out to those companies next week. Below are the things I learned this week while trying to build partnerships:
1. You can’t expect to partner with everyone.
As I just mentioned, I started by gathering a list of practically every gym, doctor’s office, community center, you name it, in my area. After a few calls and emails, I realized that this was a terrible strategy. I needed to narrow down my focus first and I began to think about the facilities that I would want to partner with. Fitness centers and community centers were ones that I felt would make great connections and they also may be a little easier to speak to if they were individually owned versus with a large corporation. I also realized that you don’t need 30 partnerships to be successful. I already had 5 good ones from the last year or so and that drove a nice amount of clientele to me. I don’t want to spread myself too thin and not provide a quality interaction or service to those I do end up partnering with.
2. Think about the method you are using for outreach.
When I first thought about reaching out to companies/doctors’ offices, my plan was to just call around to everyone on the list I had developed. I planned a short blurb of what to say when I called. I realized that it was hard to just cold call without knowing who to speak with and when you would get off of hold. I decided to send an email first with a short description about myself and reason for contact. I linked my website and contact information and stated I would follow-up in person. This initial email helped me weed out those who already had Dietitians and also narrow down the correct contact person. I have heard from other Dietitians that they prefer to just show up in the office and try to speak to someone. Depending on how you present yourself, either way could work just fine. One thing to remember here is that in any initial contact (whether it is email, phone, or in-person) be sure to state how the partnership can benefit them.
3. Prep before your meeting with potential partners.
Before I went in for a meeting with any potential partner, I did a more involved investigation on their company. Who are they? What do they promote? Do they have a well-developed website (could help to market having a Dietitian)? I did a little bit of research before my initial contact to be sure they would be a company I wanted to align with. I always came to a meeting prepared with my business cards, short flyer about myself and my services, and list of questions. I also brought my resume with me as a back up. I get comments from people on how young I look, and I had a few people act condescending because of that. If anyone questions my experience for being so young, I pull out my resume and show them the organizations I am a part of, my education, and past working experiences. Usually, that does the trick 🙂 Dressing very professional (blazer and all) and being clear and concise in how I spoke also helped a lot.
With any type of new partnership, I always found that it was best to be honest about all of my concerns up front. I didn’t want to spend my time building a relationship without fleshing out all of the details that could later harm the business. When I met with different people, I also thought about any red flags during the conversation and how this may impact a business relationship later on. I like to tour any facility before making a commitment and thinking/asking about if the clientele are really interested in nutritional services.
There is a lot to think about with building partnerships; however, the more prepared you can be before the initial meeting the better. Also, don’t commit to anything at the first meeting. Gather notes and review at home (or in your office) all the pros and cons to the partnership. Often in meetings something sounds like a great opportunity (and some people can be quite pushy about it); however, putting it on paper later can show you that it won’t be as beneficial for you! Lastly, be okay with the fact that sometimes you just need to walk away.