It’s safe to say Fuel Your Life has been doing quite well over the last 12 months, for starters we took home two national awards; the Optus MyBusiness Award for Health Service Business of the Year as well as Best Health Improvement Services Business award at the Australian Small Business Champion Awards. We were also finalists in 6 other award ceremonies including the Telstra Business Awards, Allied Health Awards and Sunshine Coast Business Awards.
If all of that wasn’t enough, we have also been taken under Gary Vaynerchuk’s and VaynerMedia’s wing as part of the VaynerMentors program (now housed within the Sasha Group) which, needless to say, feels like a bit of a dream.
However, as I look back, I’m reminded that achieving all these milestones was no accident.
Having only started the business in 2016, Fuel Your Life has experienced massive growth and is now the largest dietetics practice in Australia, but not without a lot of work, planning and maybe a couple of sleepless nights.
So, why have we been successful?
I’d say our success comes from three different things:
1. Staff support and development
2. Doing things differently
3. Thinking long-term
In my previous article “Last year we spent $250,000 on staff support and development” I broke down the costs associated with providing valuable professional development for all of the staff in our organisation. This of course speaks to all three of the above points however now I’m going to talk about why we do that and how it makes us successful.
1. Staff support and development
I’ve always been passionate about staff on an individual level and, as a company, we have ensured that every single human being in the organisation, from top-down to bottom-up, has had a conversation about what they want to achieve. Once we have that conversation, we waste no time in taking the steps required to get that individual started on achieving their goal.
If we go right back to the beginning of Fuel Your Life, which started with just one person (me) then I hired two more, then I hired 8 more, then 12 and so on. Every single time, without fault I have sat down with a new staff member and had a conversation, without a single break in the chain, about what they want to achieve – not just early on but long-term as well. It’s not just about “I want to be confident in this or that” it’s also about “one day I want to run my own private practice.”
So where does it go from there?
Basically, we immediately put wheels in motion to help someone achieve that goal, hopefully within the company.
One example would be for those who are interested in Sports Nutrition (which sometimes feels like every dietitian who applies for a job with us these days) we will make sure the dietitian’s clinical skills are up to par, so they meet the requirements to actually get into the course. We will also give them a taste of what they’re signing up for before they fork over the $1500-$2000 investment to do the SDA course, which was previously at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra but is now being run out of MSAC – South Melbourne
This may start by upskilling them rapidly in a clinical setting and also getting them to get their hands on the Clinical Sports Nutrition Textbook so they get an understanding of what the clinical aspects of their day to day would be like as a Sports Dietitian. On top of that we will also organise work experience for the dietitian, in or outside the company, this might involve shadowing a Sports Dietitian, developing some resourses, helping with a fluid-balance study or completing data collection for skin-folds – whatever it is, we are going to make sure the dietitian is as exposed as much as possible to what it is like before they commit to the significant investment.
Obviously when someone starts out as a new grad, our priority is to make sure they’re a good dietitian first before we start upskilling them and specialising. Often the danger of new-grads is a lot of them want to fly before they can walk and just dive straight into everything with no focus. On the other hand, some new grads want to only do one thing and narrow themselves “no, I only want to do Sports Nutrition” for example. For that we just get them to take a step back and build their skills that will be useful when that day comes, skills such as: knowing how to manoeuvre a client’s recommendations, how to develop and deliver a strategic meal plan, knowing how to assist body composition manipulation and so on.
Although this is only one example, it’s our job as managers and experienced practitioners to create the supportive framework that facilitates the opportunity for advancement and development in our staff, this applies to everyone, whether it be dietitians, admin, social media, videography – no one is left out. It is imperative to the success of our business that every single person has a conversation about what they want to achieve. Whether those goals are internal or external to the company, we will try and guide them there. It might happen next week, or it might happen next year, whatever the case, my passion is to ensure that goal is achieved as quickly as possible for that individual.
At the end of the day, staff that are happy, motivated and constantly improving are going to be more engaged with the company, and likely getting better results for our clients.
2. Doing things differently
The second pillar of our success I believe is our ability to observe the market and do things differently. I have come to learn that this is something that I have a skill in that many others in our industry do not. But I do all I can to help others to think about things in a different way so they too can also see opportunities and be more successful.
It is not just about seeing what others aren’t doing, or are doing, but about questioning why and being able to identify where the opportunities are from that.
The truth is, most dietitians are sheep, there are very few wolves that are paving their own path, most people just follow the trends.
For example, when I first started the trend in Private Practice was (and for the most part still is): get a medical centre, hit up a GP and get referrals, which is fine, I did all of that. But I also did some things a little bit different.
I worked for many people before setting up my first business. I learnt all I could, but learnt a lot of the things I wouldn’t do if I was running it.. It may come as a shock, but I honestly never even wanted to start a business. However at the time I wasn’t getting the support and development I felt I needed to achieve my own self-actualisation.
I was doing a lot of things by myself and for myself and when I wasn’t getting any help, there was no progression plan, I thought “what the f**k’s the point of this?”
Anyway, I digress, I looked at the market and identified where I could possibly do things better or differently than the competition, and then I executed. I started off really small, I was posting as a new-grad on the old Dietitian’s Association of Australia discussion boards (haven’t done it for years if I’m honest), I was replying to questions that suited my expertise on a very regular basis and built up a bit of a name for myself in a short time. From there, a couple of people offered to sell me their small businesses (basically just clinics in medical practices) as they were trying to get out of dietetics and/or move on from private practice management, so I paid up and then identified areas of their business model that could be streamlined or improved – these businesses ended up being Sunshine Coast Dietetics and Correct Nutrition.
In the beginning, the businesses were building but not very quickly or strongly honestly, then the idea of Fuel Your Life came to me…
One night when I was in Barcelona (post running with the bulls in Pamplona – so many bulls were dodged), I was lying in a single bed in the early arvo in an AirBnb, with a child screaming non-stop from the lounge room, and I explicitly remember sending out an email to different companies that I felt I, or my businesses, could add value to as a dietitian. One of those emails ended up hitting the right person and I had a meeting set up for the week I returned to Australia. When I got back, I had the meeting, pitched, nailed it and Fuel Your Life was born. Fast-forward to now and we are still identifying new ways to grow while other practices are still fighting tooth and nail over GP referrals and doing things the same way everyone else is.
Refusing to think outside the box and diversify is ultimately why so many private practices fail, only relying on GP referrals is a race to the bottom. All it takes is someone to start a new practice in a medical centre and leave 60% on the table for the GP and that’s it, they’ve won (for now) and there’s nothing you can do. If someone’s in a medical centre they’re going to get referrals over someone who isn’t, that’s just how it is. Things like this is ultimately why we do warn people to avoid starting in private practice for yourself when you first graduate because you don’t know shit yet, you don’t know what your break-even is, you definitely don’t know how to run a business and you don’t even know how to be a dietitian yet – this takes us to the third pillar of our success.
Just a quick FYI – if you are giving up more than 20-30% (max) to a medical practice, you will struggle harder than you know. Do not accept those terms, no matter how desperate, as you will go backwards!
3. Long-term thinking
From what I’ve seen, short-term thinking is one the biggest business killers out there, this often looks like “things are going well, I am going to buy that watch I could never afford, or I am going to start paying myself the highest wage I can” instead of re-investing and planning for the future – what happens when things slow down again? What if your success doesn’t continue? Let’s get real for a second:
For the first four years, I did not take any money out of my businesses, I didn’t pay myself a wage – just let that sink in.
While running my first business Correct Nutrition, I was also working in a private hospital part time which helped me fund the business, I would live off $50 per week for food/fuel maximum (I lived off $30 while I was at uni!) It sucked, I still went out a few nights but still, it was basically all work and no play as I still had to worry about paying rent and other bills.
At the end of the day, the 12-16 hours I was working at the hospital per week would fund all personal expenses, with anything else going straight into the business. This money primarily went straight into paying staff but also marketing and other business costs. Unfortunately, this was all a long time ago and social media really wasn’t what it is today, I don’t even think Facebook had released the ability to run ads yet! If they had however then I would have 100% put all my money into Facebook ads, f**k doing flyers, papers, pharmacies, all that shit – useless, social media is king. #takenote
It was all about invest now and save, save, save and this allowed to me to purchase Sunshine Coast Dietetics and still have money saved to invest into the business – things like websites and so on. Even then it wasn’t like “ok it’s $10,000 for a website let’s do it” I would find the cheapest method to do things, I would take the time to learn things like HTML code and WordPress to cut costs even further, I would also do the bulk of my accounting and legal stuff like contracts (I wouldn’t recommend doing these things for most).
Once I started Fuel Your Life we grew exponentially quick compared to my other business, which required a whole other set of challenges. But ultimately with quick growth, staff are your most important asset. Not just dietitians, but admin staff! It was really important for us to ensure we looked after the current staff as best we could, to minimise turnover, and then to listen and support them throughout the process. Another thing we do is hire a lot more admin, management and ancillary staff than most other companies – dietitians generally hate admin and anything else that isn’t “being a dietitian” but lot of the processes are essential for running a business and there is no getting around it. So that strategy also contributes to happy staff. Again, it’s all long-term progression and thinking, spending short term money in a focused way to build that next big thing, reinvest and progress.
A little extra info
If you want to hear about the nitty-gritty about how things are right now, I take a smaller wage than some of the managers in the company, I also earn less overall than some of the contractors (but I still work two-three times the hours as every other person). That is completely fine with me though. Not only because I love it, but it is my business.
I could NEVER expect anyone to care as much as me, or to work as much as me. It just isn’t a reasonable thought process. I also know all that instead of taking more money from the company, that it allows us to do more with it. Like right now we have hired A Business Operations Manager, Marketing Manager and HR manager for the company (among other ancillary staff being hired at present) which will cost the company another $200-300k per year. Name another dietetic private practice company that has ever done that?…I’ll wait.
I don’t mind investing money in the short-term, whether it’s through marketing, staff or other. If it benefits us the long-term, it’s worth it.
Long-term thinking ensures we are prepared for the rainy days and catastrophes so that we will survive, our staff will survive, and our company will survive.
At this stage, Fuel Your Life is certainly doing a lot better than just “surviving”, we are actually growing faster than ever. We are continuously hiring and developing more and more staff so we can handle our ever-increasing workload (want to work for us?). We are also constantly looking at ways to capitalise within our market, for example, Fuel Your Life is now partnered with Goodlife Health Clubs which will enable us to move further into the Sports Nutrition space. We are also the first VaynerMentors client to undertake the program outside of the USA, again doing things differently but also thinking long-term. We’re not committing to the VaynerMentors program just for a bit of fun (find out why we are doing it here), we have turned to them to help us grow even further and more efficiently.
Ultimately, staff, observing the market, and long-term thinking is why we have been successful and will continue to be successful.
This is just the beginning for Fuel Your Life.