My Path to Becoming an RD in Business | Katie Proctor

One of my greatest passions is sharing my experiences with students, as I was a very eager student myself and found it incredibly helpful to learn from others who had gone before me. The purpose of this post is to answer some of the most frequently asked questions I receive from students who are interested in a nontraditional RD career path, especially in communications, marketing and/or business entrepreneurship. Due to the volume of inquiries I receive, I am not always able to respond individually to direct emails but I try my best.

It is my hope that these responses will give you some direction as to how to move forward in your career and you can always work with me via All Access Internships, join the waiting list for my quarterly group calls, and apply for my 1:1 mentorship!

Did you always know you wanted to be a registered dietitian?
No! In fact, I didn’t even know this career existed until a year or so into my undergraduate career. I went through about 7 majors before finally landing on dietetics. My friends always joked that I had to make it “official” by filling out the major change form, even if I changed my mind multiple times within a semester…which definitely happened. My first major was actually Architecture, which I dropped on day two when I was asked to draw something, and I realized I have ZERO drawing skills. There is a lot of pressure to know what you want to do with your life or to fulfill certain expectations, but it takes self-awareness to fully understand your strengths and what career path will eventually fulfill you. I may not have always known I wanted to be an RD, but once I made the decision, I instantly knew that I wanted to go the nontraditional career route.

What did you do as an undergrad to set you up for future success?
I took advantage of all the opportunities that were made available to me on and off-campus. Don’t underestimate the power of building personal relationships with your professors, as they can help guide you to experiences you’d never otherwise know about or vouch for you. There is a big difference in just being another “name” in your classes or taking the time to share your goals and aspirations with educational mentors. I also got involved in leadership positions and causes that weren’t related to dietetics, but allowed me to meet and learn from other influential people on campus.

How did you meet Jenny and decide to co-found All Access Internships {AAI}?
I wrote an article for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ student newsletter called “Making the Ask”, which detailed my perspective on creating your own experiences and not just waiting for them to fall into your lap. If there is one theme of my entire career, it has been taking initiative to make things happen. Jenny read my article and reached out to me based on shared interests {and honestly, shared frustrations with the dietetic internship application process}, and the rest is history! I had an idea to create an easy-to-navigate internship directory and testimonial-driven resource to help make the process easier, and knew she would be the perfect person to help me bring it to life. While we were both heavily involved in the early years, I chose to give up all day-to-day responsibilities when I got my first full-time job and I credit Jenny with making AAI into the thriving community it is today!

In what ways were you involved in the profession early on?
I volunteered on the Academy’s Student Council Advisory Committee, joined several Dietetic Practice Groups {DPG’s} and attended FNCE every year. I learned who the movers and shakers were in my desired career path and tried to make as many connections as possible. I am very grateful for the generosity of my now colleagues who generously gave of their time and energy, and many of those relationships have only strengthened over time.

Where did you complete your dietetic internship? Why did you choose it?
I completed my DI at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN and it was the best choice I could have made. This program is competitive for good reason, and for me it was the balance of clinical experience at a strong research hospital as well as community and business experience that is always adapting to the current state of the profession. I found very few programs that would allow me to feed these personal interests. I was also impressed with the organization and attention to detail of the program, and the directors are truly who make it the beneficial experience that it is for the interns. Because the interns came from all over the country, we were very tight knit. I am still close with many of the girls I met while at Vanderbilt, and have enjoyed staying in touch through weddings and other exciting life changes!

What are your top 3 tips for getting experience in business, marketing and communications? What skill areas should I focus on?
There are many ways to get informal experience that will help you with translatable skills. I would focus on strong written and oral communication, understanding consumer trends and behavior and being able to analyze data and provide actionable recommendations. I personally was surprised by how much data analysis was involved in my first job from understanding where website traffic is coming from to interpreting how people’s attitudes are changing towards different foods. It used to be one of my least favorite parts of the job, but now I love asking questions and being curious about the how and why of things!

What was your first job as an RD? How did you find it?
My first full-time job was as an Account Executive at a global PR agency. Most agencies won’t hire you full-time without an internship, but I already had a summer internship at a competitive PR agency in Chicago which resulted from a personal recommendation from one of my previous mentors. There was no job posted {in fact, not one of my three major full-time jobs came from a job posting}, but I took what I learned from my summer experience to share how I could specifically help as an RD and food/nutrition expert. My future jobs came from reaching out to someone on LinkedIn {even though an opportunity didn’t arise for another 6+ months} and speaking at a regional AND meeting. If you didn’t already see that this is all about connections, hopefully now you do!

How has your career path evolved since then?
I worked on many clients in different industries at the PR agency, which taught me a lot about time management, prioritization and how to quickly assess the “state of the business” of any company and provide useful recommendations to help them achieve their goals. This was the most fast-paced but also high-profile jobs I had and I really loved it. You also work a lot at agencies and the opportunity came for me to slow down a bit and move from Kansas City to Colorado, so I took it. In my next role, I got to see what it was like to be intensely focused on only one business, learn all the ins and outs about the brand and manage agency responsibilities. I loved being the “expert” on a particular brand, but working for a big company I was also pigeon-holed into one primary role – social media. During this time, I also went back to school to get my MBA and changed jobs again to broaden my scope of work and be a brand manager for a smaller natural food company. Here, I enjoyed getting to be involved in every single part of the business, including manufacturing, and seeing how decisions I made really affected the brand on a larger scale. It was during this time that I started health coaching on the side and finally made the decision to go full-time entrepreneur status.

What has been the biggest professional challenge you have faced?
One of the biggest professional challenges I faced was working on a brand that I didn’t believe in or support as a health professional, which eventually led me to pursue other opportunities. Ethics should be a top priority for RD’s and how we’re viewed by the public, and this was a responsibility I didn’t take lightly.

If you could do anything differently, what would it be?
It probably would be to throw out the idea of a 5-year plan. One of my strengths is being futuristic, which means that I’m always researching what’s next. The problem is that the professional landscape changes faster than you can plan ahead, so I’m now a lot more comfortable opening my mind to opportunities as they come and not trying to control everything. Don’t get me wrong, I know that my self-motivation is a big part of why I’m here today, so I wouldn’t necessarily change that, but it’s a lesson I’ve learned moving forward that I’m more established in my profession.

Why did you choose to get an MBA? Would you recommend it for other RD’s?
I chose to get an MBA because I was working for a big company at the time, and it was a requirement for the promotion I was seeking. Even though I moved onto another company before this goal came to fruition, I’m still glad that I made the decision as it opened up the door for me to be a brand manager at a smaller company, an opportunity that would have not happened without the MBA in progress. Before jumping into any graduate program, I would really evaluate why you want it and what you’re hoping to do with it. I really felt that it would enhance my credibility in the business world and help me continue to grow in non-RD roles {none of the jobs I held were marketed to RD’s or had the RD as a requirement}. There are of course other ways to get business training, but the formal education has really helped me be more strategic in all of my roles since, including as an entrepreneur.

How did you balance a side business while working full-time?
It was hard, but also at times easier. Because I only had a small window of time each day to dedicate to growing my business, I had to be hyper-focused on which activities would move my business forward {like I outline in my productivity worksheet} and be really efficient at accomplishing them. I utilized my 2-hour commute, lunch break and evening to catch up or get ahead. I made a list of daily non-negotiables, hired out certain tasks even before I was profitable and committed to continuous learning. As a result, I was able to double the size of my health coaching business year-over-year and consistently brought in at minimum 3-5 new clients a month, every month while working part-time.

When did you decide to just go for it and go all in on your business?
I left my full-time corporate job in August of 2016 for an opportunity to be the freelance brand manager part-time for a new health and wellness site that was a joint venture by two bloggers I knew {again, connections!}. Even when I was health coaching while working and commuting full-time, I always thought it was more of a hobby that would help contribute to my student loan debt, and I really despised all of the messages out there about “ditching your 9-5” because I had worked very, very hard to get to that point in my career. However, it got to a point where I had to choose one over the other if I wanted to provide either adequate attention and still have time for my personal life. My biggest advice here is to not wait until you think you’ve “made it” or until someone else provides you external validation to go after what you want. My business was growing and thriving, yes, but it wasn’t at that magical “6-figure business” mark that so many people wait for before they decide to go all in. You’ve got to move by your own rules, and not judge your progress against anyone else’s!

I saw you moved to the Dominican Republic. That’s so cool! How did you do that?
This is a very popular question, as my husband and I had the privilege of moving to the DR for a few months at the end of 2016. It took a lot of creativity, courage and collaboration to get there. A lot of it came down to figuring out how much we really needed to live on and then just deciding to make it happen! This was a crazy life change that I literally never would have anticipated, but I’m really glad that I was open to the chance at this stage in my life and that my business was at a point that it could support us in doing so.

What is your advice as it relates to work-life balance?
I used to be all about inbox zero  until I realized that for every email you respond to, you’ll get another one in return. The work never stops! I’m more a fan of the term “work-life integration” because I know there are seasons of life where one area gets more attention than another, and you’re never truly in balance. One of the things that was hardest for me to witness in my corporate career was how quickly long-term, loyal workers could be laid off for business reasons. I saw this in nearly every job I had. So I also realized that the idea of giving everything you have to one company isn’t a good idea, because if they take that identity away from you…what do you have left? The same goes for entrepreneurial endeavors. While yes it’s nice to have some sense of control over your time and income, it can just as easily become all-consuming. You have to be fiercely protective of your self-care and your relationships. If you’re someone who tends to put your health on the back burner {yep, RD’s are guilty of that, too!}, I do still run monthly accountability groups to help you prioritize you again! Send me your goals here.

What are your top resources for personal and professional growth?
I read books and listen to podcasts very regularly. You can follow me on Goodreads to see what I’ve shelved and recommend! I also took some online courses or trainings from Marie Forleo, Chalene Johnson, Amy Porterfield, Jessica Rodriguez and Adrienne Dorison who I credit for helping me how to translate my previous learnings into the online space. My one word of caution for new and aspiring business owners is to be picky about the resources you invest in, because it’s easy to get caught up in learning mode and never take any action. Your individual strengths are what will make you stand out and relevant to your clients, and by focusing on those you’ll be better able to provide something useful and original rather than a 2.0 version of what’s already out there.

I work with a business coach 1:1 every month and it’s been hands-down the best investment for my business. If this is something you’re considering, beware of the flashy messages and fluff out there and make sure that you align with anyone you’re thinking of hiring on a personal and professional level. A few things that were important to me in a business coach were 1) had a proven track record of success running their OWN business before teaching others how to do so {you’d be surprised how often this is not the case} 2) willing to share both the ups and downs of their journey 3) a philosophy that was about being smart with money, not going into debt out of a lack or fear-based mentality 4) focused on getting results for their clients.

I do offer a monthly consulting service for RD’s, and I’d love to speak with you {and answer your tough questions} about how I work if you’re interested.