November 2008 Issue

Designing to Impress — Tips for Creating a Hip Homepage From RDs in the Know
By Lindsey Getz
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 10 No. 11 P. 46

Could hosting a Web site be your link to attracting bigger, better business? Find out what’s involved and whether it’s for you from RDs who’ve been there and done that.

Nowadays it seems almost everyone has a Web site, and many dietitians are following suit. A Web site is not only another means to advertise your services but also a way for potential clients to get to know you, without any pressure. Today’s Dietitian spoke with several dietitians who already have an active Web site to get a sense of what their experiences have been like.

Going Online
There are many reasons why dietitians decide to go online, but one of the most cited is exposure to new clients. “The whole reason I had a Web site created was to increase my business,” says Mary Jane Detroyer, MS, RD, CDN, a dietitian and exercise physiologist in New York City. “I’m in private practice, so it’s been very helpful. My practice used to be built by physician referral and word of mouth, but since the Web site went up, the number of people reaching out to me has doubled. Obviously, not every single one makes an appointment, but it has made a big difference and increased my income.”

“I created a Web site because I felt that an online presence would give me more visibility and showcase my experience, as well as my services,” says Erin Dummert, RD, CD, owner of Madam Nutrition, a private practice in Wisconsin. “I think of it like an expanded brochure, where people can get all of the information they need regarding my philosophy, my services, my background, and my education.”

Having a “home” on the Internet can be a great way for new clients to find you when searching the Web. But it can also be a source of information for existing clients. You can refer clients to your page to get up-to-date information between their office visits. Posting articles you think your clients would enjoy or recipes they may like to try is a way to connect with them when they’re not in your office.

A Web site can also be helpful for launching a new business. Melissa Davidson, MS, RD, CD, owner of Davidson Nutrition in Seattle, says she made sure to have her Web site up and running before her private practice was even fully operational. It was a way for her to start generating some interest and lining up clients before she opened her doors. “Even before I was officially in practice or had my office space set up, my first priority was to get something up on the Web,” she says. “I initially just had some recipes, a brief statement about my philosophy, and a link for people to e-mail me. My very first client ended up being someone who found my page by doing a Google search and scheduled an appointment using the online contact form on my Web site.”

Getting Started
Making the decision to host a site may be easy, but many are unsure of the next step. There are several approaches you can take. Using a skilled designer will ensure that your site has a professional, clean appearance. Detroyer says she hired a Web designer not only because she wanted her site to look professional but also because she didn’t have time to create it herself.

Dummert also says she used a professional design firm to create her site. “Media Systems Affiliates offered me a great program where they would design the look and template, and I could make all of the edits myself,” she says. “This was especially important to me because I didn’t want to have to pay someone to make changes when they were needed. I am able to add services, recipes, and newsletters on my own.”

To save money, Martha Rosenau, RD, of Peak Nutrition, LLC, a private practice in Colorado Springs, got creative and decided to hire a local college student. “I used a student who was a computer major and knew a lot about Web site design,” she says. “[The student] designed my Web site very inexpensively. Of course, now that this student is no longer in college, I am charged a little bit more when I need updates.”

Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD, owner of Cherry Creek Nutrition, Inc in Denver and a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, also used a graphic design student. “He offered me a really great deal because he was going to make it part of his final portfolio,” she says.

Another option is tackling the design yourself. If you decide to take this route, do your homework and don’t get in over your head. “I naively thought I could do it from scratch by myself,” says Sarah Gleason, RD, LD, owner of a private practice in the St. Louis area. “But I realized it was more than I could handle. So I ended up using Go Daddy [a popular Internet domain registrar and Web-hosting company]. I was able to do my own Web site, but Go Daddy did all the behind-the-scenes stuff that I wasn’t sure how to do.”

Important Features
The dietitians we spoke with say the written content can be the most time-consuming part of launching your Web site. But to create a high-quality site, it’s crucial to spend time thinking about exactly what message you want your Web site to project and what types of features you’d like it to have. “Creating the content was a lot of work,” admits Dummert. “It required hours and hours of writing and rewriting, gathering information to post, finding the recipes I wanted to include, and other work. But once it was up and running, it was easy to maintain.”

Before you sit down to create your Web site, you should have at least a general idea of what it will look like, advises Gleason. “Have any text you plan on including written in advance. Otherwise, you’re going to spend a lot of time creating the text while also building the Web site at the same time,” she says. “You should also have an outline of what you want on your homepage, what additional pages you’d like to create, and what each page is going to include.”

There are many features that you can make part of your site, and since it’s your personal space, the choice is yours. Some popular features dietitians are including on their sites are healthy recipes, a list of services they offer, and a biography. Including a biography, often listed as a link titled “About Me,” gives potential clients a chance to get to know you in advance. You can showcase your experience and credentials but also talk a little bit about yourself on a more personal level. That may lead to new business by making clients more comfortable with the idea of scheduling an appointment with you. It’s one of the reasons why Detroyer created her site. “I wanted people to be able to get to know more about me and my background,” she says. “I wanted it to eliminate some of that talk time on the phone. I do everything myself in my business—I have no receptionist—so if people could get the information they need or have their questions answered by going to my Web site, that helps save me time.”

Some dietitians even use their Web space to schedule appointments by offering an appointment request page for clients to fill out. Whether or not you go that route, it’s important to have contact information in an easy-to-find location, perhaps on both the homepage and a “Contact” page. “Make sure your contact information is in a place on your site where it is readily available,” recommends Farrell. “And be clear about exactly what you do in your practice—what types of patients you see and what your specialty is. Don’t just have general nutrition information that they could find anywhere. Include information that is specific to your practice.”

Including a blog is also one of the latest trends. A blog is a space where dietitians can write about their thoughts or experiences and can be a great place to include nutrition tips or advice. New blogs can be posted weekly and are a way to connect with clients. Similarly, e-mail blasts or newsletters are another way to reach out to clients outside of the office. Dummert says sending out a regular newsletter has been one of the most important features of her Web site. “I use a free monthly e-newsletter as a marketing tool,” she says. “It’s been one of the biggest benefits of my site. I create a short newsletter with nutrition news, recipes, and more and send it out monthly. This allows me to stay in front of people by giving them information they can use, without asking anything from them. It reminds people that I am here, and when they need me, they can call. I’ve gotten more business that has come from replies from my newsletter than from any other source, and I have people signing up for it from across the country.”

No matter what tools and features you choose to add to your site, the most important thing is keeping it up-to-date. “The Web site needs to stay current or else you risk your business looking like it has closed shop or that your practice is outdated,” says Farrell. “That doesn’t only mean keeping your practice information updated but also any information you have posted needs to be current. If you have an article on your site from 10 years ago, there may be newer research that has emerged. You want your clients to know you’re keeping up with the latest nutrition trends and research.”

The Downsides
While most dietitians say the pros of having a Web site far outweigh any potential cons, there are a few negatives to consider. For one, you should expect that having a Web site will add to your workload. “Having your e-mail address up on your Web site means spending an hour a day managing spam,” says Rosenau. “I do have a spam filter, but there are spammers out there who know how to get around them. Deciding whether or not to make your e-mail public is a big decision.”

Rosenau adds that dealing with uninterested clients has been a hassle in her experience. “The Internet has not been a good source of quality clients for me,” she says. “It’s not that it’s not a good source for finding new clients, but they aren’t quality ones, like those that would come from a referral. They bug me through e-mail all the time and then never make an appointment.”

But Detroyer says that growing her business has meant accepting that not every client will work out. “If you get 10 e-mails per week from people interested in your services and you reply to all 10, you may only get two new clients from it, and you’ve lost that time answering e-mails,” she says. “But you would’ve done the same thing on the phone. And sometimes you do get six or seven clients from those 10. You never know, so you do have to respond to them all.”

Cost may also be an issue, depending on how you have your site designed. Hiring a professional can be expensive, but most say the high-quality Web site you’ll have is worth the expense. “The cost of getting the Web site up and running may be a barrier, but the benefits of having another avenue for potential clients to find you should pay off fairly quickly in this Information Age,” notes Davidson.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the idea of creating a site yourself, hiring a professional may be within your financial grasp. In addition to reaching out to local college students like Rosenau and Farrell did, you may also want to research what various professional designers would charge. It may not be as expensive as you imagine. “It definitely wasn’t something that was outrageously expensive,” says Detroyer. “Plus, it’s a very worthwhile investment. Other dietitians should know that if budget is an issue, you can try to barter. Try offering a few nutrition appointments in place of payment to have your designer update your Web site.”
Make Your Site Work for You
Despite these potential downsides, the consensus seems to be that having a Web site is a great way to generate new business and keep current clients engaged. “For me, it’s been an extremely positive experience,” says Farrell, “especially for dietitians in private practice. And it’s been a great way to get new business.”

Taking the time to make your Web site look appealing and convey the precise information you want it to will make a difference. “I get e-mails from people who say that one of the reasons they contacted me was because they liked the way my Web site looks,” says Detroyer. “I spent a lot of time and looked at a lot of other dietitians’ Web sites in determining how I wanted to position myself and how I wanted my site to look. In the end, it has truly paid off.”

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pa.