Dietitian Finds Rewarding Work in Helping Other RDs Build Their Businesses
Nov 26, 2012
I first noticed Amy Sowards and her company AES Nutrition Education (which is an RD B2B) on the NE DPG listserv (which if you are not a member, stop reading this blog right now and go sign up! It is an incredible resource for any dietitian!). I attended one of Amy’s free business webinars and found it very informative. And, I was very impressed when I saw that she was compiling a list of RDs and their various services on her website. Since we clearly shared a passion for supporting other RDs in their career goals, I knew I had to interview her for my blog. When I did, I was surprised to see how although we have different backgrounds and experiences, they shaped both of us in similar ways. I’m excited about what Amy is doing and love the fact that she is supporting RDs in similar yet different ways than my biz. Keep an eye on her – she’s going places!
Amy, how did you become interested in a career in nutrition, and how long have you been an RD?
I have been a RD for a little over 10 years now. I actually started as a Biology major with the idea of being a Physical Therapist. I took a basic nutrition class as part of the curriculum and was hooked! I always enjoyed a healthy lifestyle, cooking and exercise. However, when I was only 18 I didn’t realize that you could do it as a career. During Speech class my senior year of high school, part of the class was making a little news show that aired on the public access channel. We each had our turn to pick the topic and write all of the news scripts. Mine was nutrition and health. Maybe that should have been my first clue. I still have the VHS of the airing. I hope I have the only copy!
Tell me a little bit about your nutrition philosophy – what are you known for?
Nutritionally, I take a whole foods approach. To me, it is the most basic and easy to follow. Make up most of your diet with fruits, veggies, meats, dairy and whole grains. Also, making the food yourself is so much better than the boxed version and with a little planning, really can be easy. But, if you lay a brownie in front of me, I will eat it! And will look for the pan you got the brownie from…and maybe eat another one.
Well, I can certainly agree with that philosophy! So, what prompted you to start your business AES Nutrition Education?
I started AES one year ago (November 2011). Essentially, my business is teaching other RDs how to start and grow their business. My communication is almost exclusively through webinars right now, but the format is going to evolve soon to include more non-CEU content. When I started I had 2 CEUs. Now, I have 12 CEUs.
I have had my hand in multiple entrepreneur ventures for years. I love teaching and educating and really enjoy business! I actually started my business as a clinical CEU company, but I could not get motivated to write the CEUs. It just didn’t feel like “me”. Like any good RD, I enjoy science, but wanted to be able to teach more “fun” topics. I did not know how to make diabetes fun!
Then I did a business coaching course and when I did the exercise for “my ideal customer and business”, the idea came to me to share the knowledge of business that I have learned over the years with RDs. Everything fell into place! The content and ideas just came pouring out of me. I LOVE working on my business and it has never felt like a drag.
I have the same feelings about my business. Once I really honed in on my niche, I have enjoyed every minute of it and how everything has evolved over time into what it is today. So, who is your target audience and what is your motivation behind your business/services?
My target audience is RDs/DTRs and RDs to be. I want us all to succeed-whether it be increased respect at work, better pay, starting your own business, writing a best seller, whatever makes someone feel successful in their career.
I have always kind of felt that RDs have to work harder to earn respect in the healthcare world because we are kind of the “new kid” in school. Much less now, but when I first started out, I kept having to explain to people what a RD or Dietitian actually is. I give my mom so much credit for spreading the word! She is always telling people what I do and what it means. Better yet, she is always telling people how important our jobs/roles are. Gotta love it!
But, my personality tends toward “doer”. I think the best way to earn respect/visibility/increased profits is to just practice and function in such a way that garners respect/visibility/increased profits. I ask for the pay that I expect. I do not take the pay that makes me feel undervalued. And, I show people I am the expert through my work. I hope to empower other RDs to do the same thing. This has worked for me. Most of my consulting work now comes through word of mouth. I have been told multiple times, “you cost more than such and such, but I have heard you are the best, so we will pay it”.
That’s a very important message for RDs and something I’m sure that you promote in your webinars. What types of jobs did you hold before your started your own business? What did you enjoy most about them or learn from them?
My first job was in acute care in a cardiac focused hospital and I worked there for 2 years, but I was very antsy early on. I like change, movement and growth, and I knew that was not going to happen there. From there, I moved to long term care. I was a FSD/RD for one (long) year. I like LTC, just not the being in charge of employees/kitchen part. I moved to another LTC company where I was full-time clinical RD. I had the pleasure of meeting (in my opinion) the best RD in the world! She was the main RD for the state and she traveled from center to center in a supporting/training role. Working for this company was a brand new experience. She was so supportive of RDs and our role and had worked so hard to earn us respect (again not by saying she was the expert, but by being the expert)! I walked into an environment where RD expertise was coveted and appreciated. It was a great job, but I still saw there was so much potential for RDs to grow and just be awesome! I started doing consulting, picking up other side projects, teaching a nutrition course at a local college, menu review and planning, speaking for local groups, other consulting contracts-LTC, ALF’s and Correctional Facilities, reviewing CEUs for accuracy and developing CEUs for other companies. Everything combined really had an integral part in what I do today.
So, you’re really drawing on all of those experiences and skills as you build your own business. What skills or experiences do you think other RDs need to cultivate if they want to start their own business?
I think above all else, you have to have a passion for whatever you do. It takes a lot of your time. Time from yourself, family and friends. So you have to LOVE it. If you have the passion, you can learn all the skills and gain the experience along the way.
But, it does help to read, study and do! That is what I have done. I have read books, listened to webinars, completed programs on business and marketing. But, you can get stuck in this “I need to read more before I start” mentality. I think you just have to implement what you learn as you go.
I think if you lack experience, then surround yourself with people who have had that experience. That is why I love the NE DPG listserv. If you are brand new to business (or even a brand new RD), you can learn from others’ experiences.
I agree wholeheartedly! I suspect many other RDs also feel that way – that they have to do more “research” before taking action. But you can only learn some things by doing them and finding your own way. I’m so thankful we have such a strong network of phenomenal RDs to learn from in our field, and the NE DPG is a perfect resource for this. I cannot say enough about how open and sharing this group is on the listserv, what wonderful resources they offer their members, not to mention the amazing variety of experts in the group.
Tell us what comes naturally for you and what do you have to work hard on when it comes to running your business.
I think I am a natural born teacher. My dad has 3 siblings and all of them are teachers, and my sister is also a teacher. My dad owned his own business, so I think teaching and entrepreneurship is in my blood, somehow. I think I have a personality that many people can relate to. I have a lot of energy and I have the ability to motivate people. At least that is what I have been told.
However, I do have to constantly remind myself to stay on task. I have big ideas about where I want to go and I am known for getting ahead of myself. I have had to learn patience, which is so hard for me. Also, I over-schedule myself. I think I can accomplish 10 things off of my to-do list in a day versus the reality of only accomplishing 2 things. I am working on this!
Other than all of your formal education and self-education on business, and looking to other RDs as mentors, where do you get support and advice?
My hubby is awesome! He has a degree in Finance and a MBA. So, he is my go to resource for all technical business “thingies”! He never grumbles when I stay up working late. He knows how happy it makes me. He sits down with me once a week and does a check-in to make sure I am on track with my goals. I am “accountable” and it helps me stay on track. Also, he says when he thinks my ideas are good, but even better when they are not so good. He is not a ‘yes’ man. It has helped me take a step back and say, okay, let’s look at it from his perspective. When you are surrounded by your business, sometimes you don’t always see it as others do.
How wonderful! I always encourage other RDs to tap into those family and friends who have skills that can support them in different ways. My husband, Mark, has his own business and is a network engineer so he helps me with all my finances and most of my computer woes. And my mom, Gail, also has her own business in marketing strategy so she answers a lot of my questions about business. She also worked with me on my branding, my logo and my tagline. Having both of them takes a lot of the pressure off of me to figure everything out on my own.
So, what are your top 3 tips for other RDs who want to own their own biz?
1. Surround yourself with good people (in person or virtually) that will support you and help you on your journey.
2. Educate yourself on business topics. Read, take courses, join groups.
3. Start before you’re ready, which is the best piece of advice I was ever given. You can plan forever and never feel ready. Always remember-”Planning is essential. Plans are worthless.”-D. Eisenhower.
Excellent advice! Please share one experience that either taught you a lot or you think would help other RDs.
The first Webinar I gave on my own was kind of a disaster! Thirty minutes before it started we had some issues that we didn’t identify in the run throughs. The presentation was less than stellar. I was rattled because I knew there some issues with the slideshow and I know it showed. The second presentation was even worse!! I forgot to show my screen – no one could see anything. The best thing I did was acknowledge the issues with the audience in my follow up email. Some RDs who attended my first round of webinars are valued clients today. I said, hey, these were the issues, I am deeply sorry. They are fixed! People responded so positively to honesty!
You will make mistakes and that is 100% okay! Quickly reflect, acknowledge, fix and move on. If I would have fixated on the embarassment of royally flubbing up in front of 100 colleagues twice, I would have closed up shop and moved on. But, instead it only made what I do that much better. Also, I think I gained respect because people knew that if there was an issue, I would fix it.
Thank you to Amy for sharing her story with us and for supporting other RDs in their business efforts! You can find out more about Amy and her webinars (some of which are free) on her website, check out her blog, and get in touch with her for your business needs!
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I’m the Guilt-Free RD® – “Because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!™”. So, on my Food for Thought blog I’m exploring the secret ingredients needed to enjoy your food with health in mind. I’m also a “Dietitian Enthusiast” so I’m showcasing interviews with dietitians. My “How To” Series shares practical advice to help boost communication skills and gain more visibility, influence and success.
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