15 Tips for Starting Your Health Practitioner Business Online
I share some of my personal experiences with running a health practitioner business online, plus give you LOADS of practical tips on software, systems and processes. These are essential for moving (or growing) your dietetics, nutrition, health coaching, or naturopathy business online.
Traditionally, many of the health practitioners that are in my network have struggled with technology. They honestly just want to “help people” and the technology feels like it gets in the way of that.
In reality, I’ve always found that technology is an amazing way to reach a wider audience, faster, and can multiply the effects of your impact in this world for good!
So I’ve written this article with a variety of practitioners in mind, from those just starting out on their own, to those who’ve been practising for years but haven’t “cracked” the online business model yet.
I’ve added some thoughts and opinions relating to business strategy, like market positioning, choosing niches, and alternate income strategies, but the main focus of this article is helping you focus on ways to achieve certain tasks and, over time, remove you from many “manual” business processes.
Some of the advice and software recommendations are focussed more on the Australian market (since that’s where most of my audience is based), but you’ll easily be able to find equivalent platforms for your country! Learning how to setup and master each platform is beyond the scope of this article (but a new course is in the works…).
Your budget and the finances you have available to invest in starting your business will also influence which recommendations to take on. I have tried to provide a “bootstrap” option and “premium” option wherever possible. Generally, the difference will be how quickly you can move forward.
- The Benefits
- The Challenges
- Getting Started
- Business Setup
- Developing Your Presence [COMING DECEMBER 2020]
- Scaling & Freedom [COMING JANUARY 2021]
- About The Author
- More Resources
This article has been a long time in the making!
After running my practice for almost 10 years, and having been 100% online since 2015, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to run a successful health practitioner business online.
This guide is intended to help you start consulting online and get the fundamentals in place.
Regardless of whether you’re a dietitian, nutritionist, health coach, naturopath, or any other “praccie” that doesn’t require you to be directly hands-on with patients, I guarantee you will find a way to improve your business here!
With the effects of COVID-19 forcing many practitioners out of their clinics and into online consulting, the sooner you start this process the better.
It doesn’t mean you have to give up face-to-face consultations either; it’s simply another way of connecting with people who need your expert help!
I will say upfront that if you’re someone who struggles with technology and don’t have someone to help you navigate this, I do not recommend that you move your business 100% online. The technical challenges for sustaining and scaling this kind of business model are just too much unless you’re willing to train yourself or can afford to employ a developer to work with you ongoing.
If you CAN afford this then I’ve given guidance in the “Outsourcing & Hiring” section below on where to find good help. Otherwise, you would be better off going with a blended approach of face-to-face consults while building your presence online slowly over time.
When I made the decision to move my health practitioner business online, the main advantages were clear:
- No office space. Without the overheads of renting an office space (or giving up 40-60% revenue to a clinic owner) I could allocate more resources into growth strategies, like hiring, advertising and getting a business coach.
- Clients found it convenient. Moving online eliminated all the hassles of getting dressed up, travel, traffic, parking, transporting children, and sitting in waiting rooms. Lots of time saved!
- Location independent. No longer was I tied to seeing clients within a limited area! I could help women from all over the world who felt aligned with my approach. It also meant I could travel more and still keep the business running.
- Automation and “always on” communication. The beauty of using tech tools and software is that it works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! That meant putting my ideas into programs, products and articles (like this) could be done once and made available to the world forever.
- More time freedom and flexibility. I instantly cut my commute and had more time available at the start and end of the days.
NOTE: While writing this article the full effects of COVID-19 have caused huge shifts in the way businesses operate and how humans interact. I don’t believe things will ever go back to how they were, so I encourage you to embrace a more remotely-connected and online future!
While the benefits are enormous, I’m not going to pretend like moving online makes the process of growing your business easier (just different).
It comes with a whole other range of challenges, like:
- No office space. Working from home, out of cafes, libraries or park benches can be wonderful, but there are times when I miss the consistency of a dedicated workspace. I have converted part of my home into a little office just for this purpose (tax-deductible rent)!
- Less human contact. There are many times I would love to reach out and give my clients a good old fashioned hug! I make up for this with my family and friends 🙂
- You need the internet. If you don’t have access to the internet (at the clients end too), it becomes very limiting. Phone consults just don’t work as well as being able to see your client!
- Software, software, software. The number of platforms you need to make your online business really flow is crazy! There’s a LOT of time spent researching, trying things out, balancing costs, and making different platforms talk to each other.
When you break it all down, there are only a few essential elements required to start a health practitioner business online:
- Communication tools. A phone, laptop, email address, and internet connection are the bare essentials
- Managing bookings. An online calendar will make your life WAY easier (trust me)
- Storing confidential client files. For privacy, security and compliance you can’t skip this!
- Taking payments. You’ll need a bank account, and ideally a credit/debit card payment processor
As you read through the following, it may be tempting to feel overwhelmed by the detail or learning new ways of doing things!
So I really encourage you to take it one step at a time and recognize that if others can do it, so can you.
This section really focuses on getting the “foundations” to your business established.
If you get these right at the start, you will rarely need to think about changing them later on.
Instead, you’ll be able to add more services to your business faster, and focus on developing systems that make your life easier!
So avoid the temptation to skip ahead and avoid these steps. As they say, “you can’t shortcut the shortcut“.
I can also guarantee that business is going to stretch and grow you so painfully that you will want to give up at times. This is what it takes to succeed in running a health practitioner business online (or any other business).
Often it will feel messy, ambiguous, unrewarding for the amount of effort you put in, and downright frustrating. Really selling it aren’t I!
The key is to recognize that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. So be patient and kind with yourself as you face up to doing things you don’t like and trying things that you’ve never done before.
You’re going to be rapidly developing your professional learning and abilities too, and over the long-term you will become an incredibly versatile and skilled practitioner!
1. REGISTRATION, LEGAL & TAX STRUCTURE
To get started we need to tackle the most exciting, interesting content first…taxes! 🙄 Jokes aside, it’s REALLY important that you separate your personal and business finances before anything else (all the accountants and bookkeepers are nodding their heads right now).
There is a good reason for this.
Over time, the number of business-related transactions you make will grow into the tens of thousands. If you set up your structure and bookkeeping correctly at the beginning, come tax time you’ll save a lot of time, stress, frustration and missed tax deductions (“show me the money!”).
So consider these steps if you’re just starting out:
- Business Name. The 3 best tips I can give you are to: 1) make it short, 2) make it unique, and 3) make it match your online “domain name” (like YOURNAME.com). You can check domain name availability and pricing on GoDaddy (but DON’T buy it yet, we’ll cover that in the next step). The more unique your name is the better (within reason), because you’ll quickly rank higher in Google’s results for that keyword. I’ve gone with a personal branding strategy for my business, but because there was already another Natalie Douglas on Google, I added the “K.” initial of my middle name.
- Business Registration. Registering as a sole trader OR as a proprietary limited company. The first is YOU as the business, the second is the COMPANY as the business (like a legal “person” that exists only on paper). If this is your first business, it’s far easier and quicker to start out as a sole trader and setup a company later (that’s been my approach). Your time will be better spent getting the rest of your business up and running than trying to wrap your head around all the legal responsibilities of being a company director!
- Business Bank Account. Once your business is registered (you’ll now have an ABN or ACN, plus a tax file number), you’ll be able to open a standalone bank account for the business with a debit card attached. Look for a zero-dollar monthly fee account with a great online provider.
- Bookkeeping Software. This is where the rubber hits the road! Xero is what I use and recommend, and it’s truly excellent. It has a flexible pricing structure that scales as your business grows, and allows for you to send invoices and quotes, plus manage payroll to one person (yourself). You’ll need an accountant to setup the platform for you and link it with your new bank account. The real beauty of Xero is in setting “bank rules”, which means you can classify ongoing transactions with 1-click. Honestly, give it a try. You will regret ever having used spreadsheets to track costs…
2. Cloud-Based Office
As the article name suggests, you’re going to be running everything online!
To do that you’re going to need an email address and all the “virtual office” software needed to keep patient notes etc.
As mentioned previously, this is the foundation of where all your online “assets” (like your website etc.) will be linked to. Having our own domain name means you own this internet location for as long as you pay for it. It’s like a piece of virtual land where you’ll build everything else on top of. A “dot com” (.com) is the most recognizable, but not essential. A “dot com dot au” (.com.au) or “dot co dot nz” (.co.nz) are available to businesses registered in Australia or New Zealand respectively. Choose a short, clear, and relevant domain name for your business.
Virtual “Cloud” Office
Google Workspace (formerly known as “G Suite”). This is honestly one of the best things ever invented and ticks every box needed for managing a health practitioner business online. With one platform you get online access to all of the following via ONE login:
- Gmail (email). This is the exact same interface as the regular Gmail, except it will be branded with your business e.g. [email protected]
- Google Drive. Think of an online hard drive (like a USB stick)
- Google Docs. Think, word processing
- Google Sheets. Think, spreadsheets
- Google Forms. Think…well, you get it
- Google My Business. Essential for getting Google Reviews and also a Google Map listing
- Google Analytics. Used to measure your website traffic and see which pages people visit
- Google Search Console. This is a bit techie but it tells you whether your website is properly connected to Google Search and people can find you
- Google Ads. Essential for increasing your exposure quickly!
- YouTube. Yes, if you didn’t know by now, Google owns YouTube. It’s the second largest search platform in the world (behind Google itself), so you’re going to want to be found here sooner or later!
- Google Admin. This allows you to add more users to your account over time (like Virtual Assistants)
- And a whole lot more…
You can also SHARE all of your files with others, either just to “view” or even to “edit” (if they have a Google account). This is so handy when working with others and wanting to send things quickly (without attaching files to emails etc.)
HERE’S THE BEST PART. It’s totally online (“in the cloud”), meaning you don’t save or store anything on your computer and you can access it from any device. After having 2 Macbook laptops totally die on me this year (one from a saucepan of boiling water, one for no reason), I was up and running again in 24hrs on a new computer without any lost work.
Get a 14-day free trial and 10% OFF 💰 your first year of Google Workspace by using the following codes when you setup your account billing:
- TAWUA6CVXXRTKV6 (Starter Plan, which I use)
- PC79X3LTRAVND7W (Standard Plan)
3. Sales & Running consultations
I haven’t spoken with many practitioners who feel confident with selling their services, valuing their worth, and running consults when starting out.
Welcome to the club!
For most praccies, selling is the thing that feels “icky” and they avoid, often because of their own relationship with money or previous bad experiences with health professionals who didn’t deliver value for money.
The harsh reality is that money is an essential part of sustaining and growing your health practitioner business online. As many coaches will tell you, “without sales, business fails!”
So here are my top recommendations for getting going quickly:
- Start out by charging a price that is at the very upper end of your “comfort range”, then raise your prices over time as your confidence grows. I started out by selling consults for $90/hr. Make sure you write this down (to avoid making it up on the spot) and don’t sway from this with discounts (though 10-15% for family and friends is reasonable). It’s even easier when you can take pre-payments for consults and never feel like you need to “close” a sale
- You can always offer new clients a free 15min connection phone call (not video!) just to see if you’re a good fit and to be sure you can help them. DON’T let this turn into a consult (seriously, no advice-giving!). I personally use Calendly for booking these types of calls. It’s been one of the simplest, most effective tools I’ve ever used. If you upgrade to the premium version you can also attach payment processor and receive upfront payments for bookings.
- For running consultations, I haven’t found anything better than Zoom. It’s simple, reliable, easy for both parties to install, and has a whole host of add-on features as your online health practitioner business grows (like running webinars).
4. clinic management
Behind the scenes of every health practitioner business, whether it’s online, in-clinic or “blended”, there is some kind of Clinic Management software at work.
This is essential for managing appointment calendars (potentially for multiple praccies), invoicing, sending/receiving patient notes securely, and tracking your inventory (whether it’s supplements, liquid herbs, or physio supplies).
The challenge is in finding the right one for you. There are more and more becoming available over time, and it’s hard to know what to look for.
The key criteria I used to make this decision included:
- Could I provide an online booking calendar where clients could schedule appointments without having to contact me for availiability?
- Could I take payments online, and offer packages and discount coupon codes?
- Would it store all patient notes and files securely?
- Did it connect with my bookkeeping software (in this case, Xero)?
- Did it integrate (2-ways) with my other online calendars (in this case, Google Calendar)?
- Would it connect with my email marketing CRM (previously Mailchimp, and soon-to-be ActiveCampaign)?
- Would it scale well with more patients or practitioners?
Though not as slick or marketed as well as Cliniko, SimpleClinic has SO much more functionality for naturopaths, nutritionists, and dietitians. It’s built by naturopaths, for naturopaths, and includes integrations with:
- Square (for both online and offline transactions), Stripe, and EziDebit for payments (one-off and recurring)
- Zoom for telehealth calls
- Google Calendar, iCal, or Microsoft 365 for online bookings
- Vitae Mosaic, Ariya Health, Metagenics, and other suppliers of liquid herbs, supplements, functional medicine, pathology, and naturopathic yoga
The support team (Eric and Marianne) are also EXTREMELY helpful and responsive to change requests, the pricing was flexible based on patient numbers, and they have tailored their system to include options for praccies who are 100% online.
They also have an active and supportive Facebook Group where you can get all your questions answered!
If you’re a physiotherapist, chiropractor, osteopath, or other allied health professional doing “body work”, you may find Cliniko more suited to you.
[NOTE – if you’re looking for a SimpleClinic Coupon Code to get $100 OFF your subscription then just enter the promo code SC100OFF when you first sign up!]
5. taking payments
If you followed through with my recommendations in Section 1, you’ll already have your business bank account setup and ready to go.
Obviously, you can start taking client payments via Direct Debit straight away. There’s nothing wrong with this method when you’re first starting out and only have a few clients.
The downsides are that it’s very time-consuming, you have to manually monitor your bank account to check that payment has been made, and client’s who don’t pay upfront are more likely to be “no shows” for appointments!
The only advantage is the small saving made on the transaction fee (typically 1.15-2.9%), and very quickly you’ll realize this is WELL worth the time saved.
Spending that time on improving your marketing, branding, connecting with new clients, or getting better results for existing clients (and therefore referrals) will all pay off far more in the long run. I see too many praccies make this mistake!
So the next step is to hook up your Clinic Management software to a payment processor, which is most likely to be one of the following:
- Stripe. Stripe is simply the best in terms of security and functionality. It’s not often you can access the same level of software used by companies like Google, Amazon and Shopify. It takes a little getting used to the dashboard, but you can generally find everything you need where you would expect it. You never need to see or handle your clients’ credit card details, and the platform can process different kinds of payment types, like one-off, part-payments or recurring subscriptions.
- Square. I have used Square briefly and loved the setup experience and how easy it was to connect everything. Definitely the most user-friendly platform. They also offer portable “hardware” for taking in-person card payments (like at an event you might run), or even running a full cash register and Point of Sale system. Simple, easy, flexible, and affordable! Between Stripe and Square it’s unlikely you’ll need anything else.
- PayPal. I will mention PayPal here because it’s a big name. As a consumer, I like how PayPal works, but as a business, I found the experience to be mixed. On the plus side, it’s widely accepted and used on many websites and has a suite of business tools, like invoicing and custom recurring debit plans that you can setup. But I’ve had multiple occasions where clients have purchased programs via PayPal, only to take the content and process their own refund. Not cool 😢I’ve stopped using it for this reason, but it can work fine for things like invoicing one-off payments or making payments to other businesses.
- Ezidebit. This is another common platform for online businesses in Australia that need to process recurring direct debits. I looked at this and for me the cons FAR outweighed the pros. There’s a LOT of additional charges, fees, and contractual obligations compared to other solutions out there. It may be what you’re after but in my opinion, there are better options (for both you and your customers).
- EFTPOS. A lot of traditional banks offer the use of EFTPOS machines to handle in-person payments. The rates and rental fees are generally lower than for a system like Square, but they don’t have anywhere near the flexibility or portability. It’s also another system to manage, which means more complexity and less time for the truly important things.
Are you beginning to pick up on the fact that time is your most valuable currency as business owner?!
developing your presence
It’s time for a pat on the back! Well done for getting this far 💃🏽
We now have all the fundamentals in place for running your health practitioner business online.
Your business is registered and set up, you’re keeping the tax man happy, your domain and email are sorted out, your consulting treatment notes are in order, and the money is starting to come in.
Now it’s time to start finding more clients!
There are some simple but essential steps we can take to do this, like:
- Making sure you appear when you type your name into Google
- Building your subject matter authority and audience
- Finding a niche and creating a vibe
- Featuring customer testimonials
- Building a new and repeat customer database
- Broadcasting your message out into the world
But don’t stress! I’ve got you covered with my tips below 👇🏽
6. SEO & social media
These are both HUGE topics so I will give you some “easy wins”.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the way that websites try to rank at the top of Google’s results for different search terms (keywords). It’s one of the main reasons people blog about certain topics, since it drives more traffic to their website.
More traffic = more sales.
The most important keyword to your business is YOUR name and your business name. The best way to guarantee that you’ll appear in search results for your name is to setup a Google My Business account. You can do this through your Google Workspace account that we setup earlier.
This lists your business name, location, contact details, public reviews, photos and so much more! It’s often the very first impression customers will have of your business.
It also ties any physical location you use for your health practitioner business, like a clinic or storefront, to a virtual location on Google Maps (so you’ll appear in “…near me” searches). Pretty cool!
Next up, social media.
The vast majority of your clients are going to come through personal relationships and word-of-mouth referrals. That’s just how business works!
So you’ll need a way for people to connect with you personally and get a feel for who you are before they ever reach out for help. That’s where social media comes in, since your friends, family, and existing network will be your first point of referrals.
In my opinion, all that you need to start with is either a Facebook page or an Instagram account. Choose the platform you enjoy being on most.
Eventually, you’ll want BOTH a Facebook business page and an Instagram business account that are linked together. This allows you to cross-post content on both platforms and reach the widest audience possible. You will also want the ability to advertise on both these platforms in the future, hence why I’m planting this idea with you now!
By FAR my favourite tool for social media is Planoly, followed closely by Linktree. The combination of these 2 platforms supercharge Instagram into a powerful sales platform (without even needing a website). I’ve tried many other services like Later, Link In Bio, Schedugram, Buffer, Sprout Social and Hootsuite.
In my opinion, Planoly and Linktree together are a winning combination for any online business 👌🏽🏆 Both are free to begin with and allow you to direct people to all your various online links without needing a website!
7. visual marketing
- Google Chrome exensions – WhatFont, ColorZilla
- Professional photos
8. building your "list"
- Google Forms
- Lead capture
- Linked from Clinic management software
9. emails & automation
- Inbox vacation auto-reply
10. podcasting & content
- Podcasting mic affiliate link
- Content hyperloop > 1 episode = video + audio + text
- Always produce things for a purpose and give people what they want! Use Keywords everywhere to understand search volumes
scaling & freedom
At a certain point, your business will feel like it takes on a life of its own.
New clients will seem to come from all different places; word of mouth, professional referrals, spontaneous emails, and social media enquiries. Exciting times!
This is a great indication that you’re approaching the point where you’re going to need some more help. Your personal time and energy limits will soon become the “bottleneck” and dictate how many clients you can sustain.
11. outsourcing & hiring
12. building a website
“What!?”, I hear you cry. Yes, for an online business
- Delay as long as possible
13. running webinars
14. ebooks & courses
15. other helpful tools
- Google Chrome extensions
Well, that took longer than expected!
If you’ve made it this far then well done 👏🏽👏🏽
What should be clear to you is that there is a strategy and system for handling every kind of problem in your business.
It’s a lot of work to get things really “humming”, but if you follow my recommendations you’ll be FAR closer to reaching your goals and succeeding in your health practitioner business online.
“You can do this, you’ve got this!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Disclosure: The key way I’m able to support YOU is through affiliate relationships with some of the companies mentioned on this page via the links provided. Writing this detailed article and condensing years of “trial and error” into a simple format for you has taken MANY hours of work.
There is ZERO additional cost to you in using these links (often there’s actually a discount to you). There’s also no incentive for me to promote anything that I don’t believe will bring great value to your business (because I don’t earn anything if you don’t use it).
I only ever recommend a product or service that I have used in my business and personally loved. I will never recommend a service or product I don’t believe in.
Thank you for your support 🙏🏽
Looking for more information on getting started in the health world and starting your health practitioner business online?
Have a listen to this episode of The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast where Kate Callaghan and I discuss our personal journeys and how we came to work in the “health world”.