How I Pivoted My Career from Private Practice to Design Studio

Private Practice

Because a lot of my projects come from referrals and friends of friends (of friends), most people that I directly work with kiiiiind of know that my first career was actually as a dietitian – but I’ve never actually sat down  to tell the whole story of how I made a major career pivot, started a new business that became booked out within a year, and created a role that feels truly fulfilling and supports my whole life.

(If it’s not already clear – that’s the story I’m about to tell you. Grab a snack & let’s dive into the true story of how I went from being a dietitian to designing websites for dietitians)

Becoming A Dietitian

After completing my bachelor's degree, I moved straight into a dietetic internship with a combined master's degree. I completed my internship with a heavy clinical focus in pediatric nutrition, took my registered dietitian exam, and immediately got married and moved to rural Idaho for my husband's job.

(As in, this all happened within two weeks. Do not recommend)

Moving to a new city while trying to find a job and career path that aligned with my education was…difficult, to say the least. We lived in a town of about ~2500 people, with two grocery stores and the closest Walmart over 45 minutes away.

I ended up creating a blog to leverage the Instagram following I gained during my internship (sharing content about intuitive eating and body neutral health), and was also offered a role as the Food & Nutrition Director for the local hospital. But my main hobby was designing my website, doing VA work for entrepreneur friends on their websites, and watching 102387 tutorials on creating.

One year after moving to Idaho, my husband’s job relocated us to Denver – and frankly, I was thrilled. I already had friends in Denver, I prefer a city scene to a rural one, and it had a major airport close by (and less drive time to our hometown of St. Louis). Win & win & win.

Accidentally Starting a Private Practice

Yep – it was an accident.

I actually interviewed for a few jobs in Denver, before realizing that I was more or less unhireable due to the ever-changing nature of my husband’s job. All of my friends in Denver were dietitians in the beginning stages of starting their private practices, and before I knew it – I had one, too.

I shared my first office space with Charlie, coworked frequently with Hannah, and worked a side job as a front desk manager for a local barre studio. 

I navigated the ups and downs of applying to accept insurance, had a part-time caseload of clients in recovery from eating disorders, and grew my Instagram audience to 17,000+. But I noticed that while I loved working for myself, I primarily loved the tasks my friends hated (and outsourced to me) like social media template creation, writing website copy, and designing/maintaining all of our websites. And honestly? I wished I was only doing those things. But I was still relatively fresh out of my master’s degree in a completely unrelated field, full of imposter syndrome about starting a design business, and generally unsure of my plans – so I kept on with my practice.

A Break in Entrepreneurship

After about a year in Denver, my husband and I made the decision that he would begin the job search for a new role in our hometown of St. Louis, and I searched for a role in an eating disorder treatment center so that I could enjoy the stability and connection/coworker environment while house hunting and adjusting to our move. 

(Fun fact: We actually both received our STL job offers while on vacation in Hawaii, and it was a wild vacation where we’d splash on the beach then run back to our AirBnb for virtual interviews)

For the next ~2.5 years, I worked at a residential eating disorder treatment center – first as a dietitian, and eventually as a lead dietitian managing the nutrition and chef teams. I periodically saw clients through my private practice, but no matter what I was doing professionally, I found an excuse to design. I still loved working on my private practice website, creating content for my day job and doing outreach, and watching more and more tutorials in my spare time (there was a lot of this in 2020.

If you’re a clinician reading this and curious about my clinical background, here’s the scoop on credentials: MS, RDN, former LD, former CEDS. I don’t maintain the latter two credentials for financial purposes, but my specialties included eating disorder recovery, women’s health, PCOS, and body image. I loved collaborating with therapists and physicians to provide holistic care, and now I love caring for their businesses!

A Break from Work Altogether

In March of 2021, I gave birth to our first son, who was born with a condition requiring major surgery in his first two weeks of life. It was an emotionally intense time, compounded by the fact that the job I was on leave from was absolutely burning me out. Because most of my pregnancy was complicated by increased medical monitoring and the pandemic, I decided to return to work and commit for three months before making a decision about whether I’d leave.

Unfortunately, the job I returned to was a shell of the one I’d left to give birth – major administrative changes that affected how we were asked to practice care started to raise red flags for me. Couple that with recovering from a stressful pregnancy and postpartum experience and having a second baby on the way (yep – they’re 15 months apart), and I knew it was time to take a step back.

For about 1.5 years, I barely worked and instead enjoyed my time with my babies, and wouldn’t trade that time for the world. Actually –  even now with my business continuing to grow, I try to limit the amount of time that I spend working each week and remain a part-time stay at home parent.  It's been a balance that I'm still learning, but one that's definitely worth the work of figuring out how to get things done.

Starting A Design Studio

During my time away from a 9-5, I still found opportunities to do freelance work that included VA work for a food blogger and cooking educator (the virtual cooking class setup tasks gave me some major design and user interface experience), helping entrepreneur friends with their private practice brand design & tech setup, and generally creating.

And in March 2023, I decided to get out of my own way and take the leap into Hello & Co. Creative.

I began with a few small projects for friends, and things grew steadily and quickly into a regular project schedule from there. 

How I Grew A Booked Out Design Studio 

I have a lot of thoughts about why my business grew so quickly in its first year! I’m so grateful for the growth I’ve experienced, and think it worked well because of these factors:

Having an Established Audience

Remember that Instagram audience of 17k+ I mentioned? The followership declined sharply during the 2 years I took off from posting, but I started a new account for Hello & Co., talked about it loudly on my past account, and reconnected with several colleagues! Leveraging this audience was key, because my past colleagues are now my ideal clients – passion-filled entrepreneurs who are changing the world through client work, and want some support with the design & tech of it all.

Owning My Story

I rarely, if ever, post on my personal social media –  but I knew from experience with my private practice that nobody's going to sell your offer except for you.  My first paid web design project was actually from a former colleague I worked with ten years ago,  and all because I made it a point to frequently share about starting a new business.

Saying ‘No’ to Imposter Syndrome

I built my private practice almost entirely on tutorials, free information from Facebook groups, and asking for help from more experienced friends.  And while that approach absolutely did help me on my first business journey, I knew that  investing in some high quality education about the knowledge I was missing was where I wanted to start this time.

Websites for dietitians

I joined Elizabeth McCravy’s Booked Out Designer course within the first month of my business,  and it was easily the best investment I've made in Hello & Co. so far.  I knew a lot about running a business, I knew a lot about design, but I didn't know a lot about running a design business –  specifically, things like how to ensure a smooth and stellar experience for my clients, go back and forth with feedback, and the industry standards for how to make it all work.

By jumping into some trusted education right off the bat,  I saved myself years of learning by trial-and-error,  was able to exponentially increase the quality of my projects quickly (and raise my pricing accordingly),  and feel good about the decisions that I was making, instead of spiraling into imposter syndrome.

Finding – And Using – The Right Brand Voice

I've said it before, and I'll say it a million times over:  no one wants to hire a scripted robot.  I found a groove with my brand voice fairly early on (my ideal audience is aligned with my actual personality, which means I get to just… be me and talk, for the most part)  and I'm not exaggerating when I say that being myself has won me clients.

For example:  I posted a tongue-in-cheek Instagram carousel about assessing your website using a progress note format (a niche audience, to be sure),  and within a week I found myself in a consultation call with a client who booked because that post sealed the deal on what it would be like to work with me.

Investing Time in My Own Brand & Website

Ironically, it's actually been really difficult to find time to work on my business and my own brand & website – because I’m usually deep into designing someone else’s.  I actually made a few significant changes to my own designs within the first year, as I fine-tuned who I wanted to work with and my messaging.

Even with those changes, it's been well worth my time to invest in keeping my website updated and growing my blog.  

Branding & website design are essential for my business because they’re, well, my business –  but here's  the quick rundown of why I recommend starting a website (and doing it well) for any new business.

  • SEO takes time. There's a lot of factors that go into building your SEO, but time is non-negotiable. By launching an organized, easy to use multi-page website (more pages = more opportunities to rank) at the very beginning of my business, I put time on my side with foundations for digital growth.
  • You don’t own social media.   One of my friends recently had her Instagram account shut down for posting “stolen photos” – that she took herself, of her garden. The truth is, when  you use social media for 100% of your business’s online presence rather than using it to send people to your website (and email list),  you're gambling your business on rented space. Your account could be deleted at any time, but you own your website and email list – giving you more insurance from the start.
  • Your website can literally save you time.  A well-designed and organized website can actually attract clients, educate them on what you do, make them want to work with you, and help them take the first steps towards booking you – while you’re logged off. In fact,  a lot of my inquiries come in over weekends/evenings when I’m not even on my laptop (or haven’t posted to socials lately) – my website’s pulling its own weight here.

Showcasing Results

Social proof (reviews & testimonials)  is a key part of encouraging your audience to become your clients. Results are what sells your work, so make sure you’re leveraging reviews well!  I request feedback from all of my clients during our projects, and typically follow up again at the 3 and 6-month marks to see how our project is continuing to contribute to their business’s growth.

I used this guide to write my feedback surveys, and it’s so helpful in getting reviews I can actually use.  Now, I make it a point to check in on at least one former client per month, as well as setting aside a few minutes to review the testimonials on my website and see if there's any place I can add or update.

Example:  Brandi with Honest Therapy launched her new branding and website refresh last summer – almost a year ago –  and has now had time to see an actual return on investment for our project.  She sent me a note that she's had multiple client inquiries mention that the reason they reached out to work with her specifically is because of the way she showcases her therapeutic style and personality on her site. They knew she’d be a great fit to help them without even meeting her. 

How I Use My Clinical Training to Support My Design Business

To be honest, I thought that my training as a dietitian would only come in handy when I designed for other clinicians – which I do a lot of and love! But really,  my clinical and counseling skills support me through every single project, no matter who I'm working with.

Find the Problems, Make a Plan

One of the biggest things in my clinical toolbox is the ability to identify issues through an assessment, create a treatment plan, and continue to monitor and follow up.  And I still do that all the time today –  just for businesses, not eating disorders.

Before I even open the zoom window for a consultation call, I've already reviewed someone's website and social media presence to see  how I can support their goals.  After we book a project and I gain more access to analytics and data, I'm able to put together a really specific plan for our project – whether it’s a small refresh or a full brand & website overhaul.

Listen To What Clients are Saying… And What They’re Not

Being a pretty highly trained, specialized dietitian (see: eating disorder specialist)  gave me a lot of experience with asking  the right questions at the right time, and listening both to the answers and what's left unsaid.  

Combine that with a lot of experience in untangling a complex situation and keeping my eyes on what really matters (treatment and project goals can be surprisingly similar),  and I've ended up with a lot of clients telling me that I simplified what they thought was going to be a really complicated, unpleasant task. Or that I was able to hear and identify themes in what they wanted for their brand that they didn’t even know they wanted. Or that I was able to help them connect the dots through other areas of their business and left them feeling refreshed about the entire endeavor. 

(Plus, it’s way more fun for me to be able to deliver on projects in a big way – because we never, ever stop at skimming the surface here)

Working With Clinicians

 And of course, the obvious:  I speak fluent medical terminology, I have a firsthand understanding of what all of my clients are actually doing in their businesses,  and I would never use a stock photo of a woman laughing while eating a salad to represent your nutrition practice. Instead, I'm here to help your private practice stand out!

But really –  mixing the technical medical knowledge with an understanding of how people are searching for providers and consumer psychology  has been such a match made in heaven for my clinician projects.  A lot of the feedback I received from clients after nutrition sessions and groups was that I'm able to help break down complex concepts in a way that doesn't feel overwhelming, and it's truly a joy to get to do that through website copy on projects now.

Oh, and I probably know someone who can refer to you or vice versa – I connect clients with colleagues in their area all. the. time. and love getting to see my friends become friends with each other!

Want a peek into my first year of designing for clinicians? Here's my favorite dietitian sites from 2023!

What It’s Like to Work With Me As A Clinician

Curious about what it's actually like to have your website designed by a {former} dietitian?

“I trust Amy to know this profession, and to know exactly how to capture what matters to me most because she is a fellow ED RD, CEDS and gets my heart and vision. I am so confident in the brand strategy, and the branding itself, because I know the quality of Amy's work, the experience she has doing the same things I do professionally, the creativity she brings to any project, and the energy she exudes in life itself!” – Tammy Beasley, MS, RD, LD, CEDS-S


Whether you’re a dietitian, therapist, lactation consultant, PT, or just here for the tips, welcome! I’m Amy Hanneke, brand & website designer for business owners who hate boring. More specifically, I help service-based business owners book more clients & work less through captivating brand/web design and copywriting. I want it to feel super easy for clients to fall in love with you and for you to feel confident in your business, so here’s how I can help make that happen:

DONE with YOU

The ultimate starter website launch pack that includes: a website, branding course, and copywriting guide in one (oh, and it’s already designed to be mobile-friendly for you) I poured everything I think new business owners should have and know about their brand + web design into one big offering, then put it into videos, too – so it’ll be like I’m designing right alongside you. Learn more here.

DONE for YOU

Fully custom brand identity design, copywriting, and website design. Your job: answering some questions, having some fun on Pinterest, eating some chocolate, hanging out with me on Zoom a few times. My job: Taking all of your brand dreams and turning them into a cohesive online experience that clients can’t book fast enough. Learn more here.

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