May 2009 Issue

Creating a Business and Marketing Plan — 10 Steps to Success
By Beverly Price, RD, MA, E-RYT
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 11 No. 5 P. 22

How does it feel when you instruct your patients to keep food records and they fail to follow through with the task? As a private practitioner, it can be very frustrating, as the food, exercise, and emotions journal often guides your clinical sessions. Without this, you may feel as though you are grasping for straws to try to put the pieces together for your clients and keep them goal oriented and on a straight, systematic road to healing.

As a business professional, your business and marketing plan is really no different than a client’s food journal. If you shoot arrows in the dark, attempting to reach your target, it can become frustrating if you cannot see your target in the first place. Knowing the keys to creating a successful business and marketing plan is vital.

1. The Executive Summary
This is the first section of your business plan in which you state the name of your business, the products and/or services that you plan to offer, why you chose this business, your values, the key milestones you anticipate, when you began your business, and when you will introduce key products and services. In addition, this section should outline your expectations about the company’s size, key players, and how you will raise money should you need capital. This piece of your plan may be the part you write last. Naming your business may also be the last element, as it may become clearer as you delve into the meat of your business plan.

2. Business Description
This next section involves describing your vision. No one can create your vision for you. Perhaps someone can inspire you, but your vision is personal—it is about your passion. What is your vision for your company? Describe it in vivid detail as though you are telling a story.

From your vision, you can develop your company’s mission. The following is an example:

• At Daisy Counseling, LLC, our mission is to:
- enhance your physical, emotional, and spiritual health;
- increase your ability to feel alive and well; and
- help you tap into your innate intuition.

Listing your company’s objectives is the next step. What do you hope to achieve in the next year, five years, and 10 years? Describe these milestones. The following is an example:

• Private referral base will be 20 patients per week, with eight new patients per month by the end of this year.

• A corporate wellness division will be established by year five, with accounts growing by 10 per year.

• By year 10, we will have our own building with five other dietitians working for the company and referrals growing at the rate of 10 new patients per month.

In addition, this section highlights your business structure. You should discuss whether to form a sole proprietorship, S corporation, or limited liability corporation with your accountant and attorney.

3. Management
How many positions are currently in your organization and how many do you plan to create? Developing an organizational chart along with job descriptions may be helpful (see table for an example).

4. The Market
The market examines the current economy, political climate, and technological trends, all of which drive the marketplace. You can choose to let the economy be an obstacle in your business decisions or you can plow ahead with a positive attitude. In terms of technological trends, how can you position your business to tap into online sales of any type of product or service?

In addition, analyze demographic trends. Who is your ideal client? What is his or her age, gender, religious affiliation, and shopping patterns? Where does the person live? What are his or her likes and dislikes? Develop a good idea of your ideal client’s characteristics.

Your niche drives your market. You may think that becoming a one-dimensional practice limits your referrals, but focusing on one specific area can help increase your business as you position yourself as an expert and focus your marketing.

5. The Competition
What are your competition’s strengths and weaknesses? What are their prices, performance, and reputation? Who and what is their market share? Why do your customers buy from them? Create a table and do some research.

6. Products and Services
Describe your products and services in detail and as related to the competition.

7. Action Plan With Timelines
Synthesize completion of product lines/service detail, find a location for your business, hire staff and subcontractors, and develop policy manuals, contracts, and HIPAA policies and procedures, if applicable.

8. Contingency Plan
Identify trouble areas and devise solutions to potential risks. Focusing on your goal is important, but be flexible enough to change your course of action if your initial plan does not work the way you had hoped.

9. Marketing Action Plan
Your marketing plan has several components, including the following:

• public relations, including business to business and media exposure;

• Web site marketing;

• advertising, including paid media and Web site ads;

• direct sales;

• speaking and writing opportunities;

• cross-marketing with other healthcare and nonhealthcare professionals; and

• networking opportunities.

Consider how you will use these avenues to promote your business.

10. Financials
Are your financials in place? Consider the following:

• Income and expense reports (profit/loss).

• Cash flow and gross margin: Is your income exceeding your expenses? How must you price your services or cut your expenses to turn a decent profit and keep cash on hand for expansion or emergencies?

• Break even analysis: How long will it take you to break even and then move forward to turn a profit?

Case in Point
Katie Hamm, a senior dietetic student at Kansas State University, and Jennifer Westerkamp, a dietetic intern at Massachusetts General Hospital, developed their business and marketing plan during a year-long entrepreneurship class. They own and operate All Access Internships, an information site designed to assist aspiring dietitians with the dietetic internship search process.

“The business and marketing plan provided us with structure and direction but still allowed us the flexibility to be creative,” Hamm and Westerkamp say. “We were able to take all of the ideas we had floating around in our heads and in e-mails to each other and put them in a concrete plan. We had to think about how we were going to achieve these and decide on the best methods for doing so. Without a business and marketing plan, we wouldn’t even know where to start.”

Have No Fear
Dietitians may resist writing a business and marketing plan for a number of reasons, including fear of committing to an idea, lack of understanding the concept and the need for a business and marketing plan, and lack of interest in turning ideas into action. But creating a plan is the first key to success. So grab a pen or pull your chair up to your computer, let go of your fear, and move forward.

— Beverly Price, RD, MA, E-RYT, is principal of Jump Start Consulting, LLC, specializing in management and marketing strategies for RDs, along with seminars and distance learning products for students and continuing professional education.