In this series, we connect with a diverse group of small business owners across the country to hear their stories – from overcoming hardship to the achievements that have allowed them to grow. There is no doubt that this past year has been a challenging time for the industry, and through elevating their voices we aim to provide advice, support and inspiration for small businesses everywhere. More resources like our Community Business Directory can be found here.
This month, we are highlighting women business owners. Today we are speaking with Amy Gardner, founder of Metrowest Nutrition.
Tell us about your business.
Metrowest Nutrition is a group nutrition counseling and consulting practice dedicated to empowering individuals and organizations to find a positive, sustainable relationship with food and their body(ies). Our work extends beyond nutrients, exploring all aspects of our clients’ relationships with food and body. We employ mindfulness techniques, yoga, behavioral counseling and hands-on experiential work to help people move into greater overall wellbeing.
Our primary areas of focus are eating disorders, disordered eating, family feeding, gastrointestinal health, sports nutrition and general wellness. We work with all ages. In addition to one on one and group nutrition counseling, we also lead school and corporate wellness programs.
We are 12 registered dietitian/nutritionists (RDN) and growing. We will soon add 1-2 more RDNs and a psychotherapist. We plan to extend our work into mental health and movement therapy to provide more comprehensive care to our clients. Although we are currently operating exclusively via telehealth, we have 3 office locations throughout the Greater Boston/ MetroWest area and look forward to getting back soon.
How did you decide to start your own business?
Prior to starting Metrowest Nutrition, I had a solo private practice in Newton, MA. It was lonely all by myself and I missed mentoring others and using my leadership skills. I also saw there was a demand for this kind of work and was motivated to help meet this need.
How does your business operate?
All of our clinicians and administrators are employees. This is an advantage to them because they can attain the pay potential of private practice with a great deal of support and without paying additional business owner taxes. We have an amazing administrative team including our Client Care Coordinator and two Office Assistants. For billing, we contract with an outside company.
How do you delegate responsibilities?
I’ve learned through my years in management that it’s very important to delegate. If I’m stuck in the day-to-day operations, I can’t see the big picture. Someone said to me once,“you are the conductor” and that analogy really helped. Over the past couple years, I’ve worked hard to put systems in place that optimize client care while allowing us to scale the practice. There are individuals in charge of clinical training, client care, billing, office management and social media. We’ve also created several leadership tracks within the organization for those clinicians interested in pursuing leadership opportunities.
How do you decide who to hire?
I use the Ideal Team Player (IDP) model outlined in Patrick Lencioni’s book. In the book he describes the IDP as someone who is hungry, humble and smart. He offers some great interview questions to assess these three qualities. I’ve found these are things you can’t “train” and they are essential to maintaining the strong, collaborative team culture we have at Metrowest Nutrition.
What blindspots do you think small business owners have and what can they do to prevent them?
One blindspot I had was underestimating the need for highly qualified and adequate administrative support. Early on in business ownership I had the mentality of “if I can do it myself, why pay someone else to do it?”. A better question is “what’s the best, most valuable use of your time”. I’ve moved into thinking more about what I can take off my plate instead of add on. This frees me up for the higher level thinking needed to run the business; the strategic and creative elements that I really can’t and/or don’t want to farm out.
You recently celebrated your 10 year anniversary -- quite an accomplishment! What advice can you give others to help set them up for long term success?
Find support. It’s so important to have other leaders to lean on. Business ownership can feel isolating at times. I’m so grateful for the other practice owners I’ve been able to lean on and grow with through this journey.
Tell us about a time you wanted to give up, what kept you going?
There were certainly times I wanted to give up. The one that stands out most vividly is when we were about 4 years in. We had just moved into a larger office space and brought on 2 more clinicians. The space was a stretch for our budget but it was ideal for us and I was determined to make it work. Simultaneously, a number of events happened in my personal life. I was exhausted, depleted and something needed to give. In order to stay in business, we needed to increase our revenue substantially and I simply couldn’t find the agency or energy to figure out how. At the time, I was convinced that I had to figure it all out on my own. When I finally opened up to the group about my concern and asked for help, I was amazed. It was amazing to see how committed they were to the business, and to me. Together, without my knowledge, they put together a marketing campaign and presented it to me. It was a great learning experience - realizing I didn’t have to figure it all out on my own. It not only renewed my investment in the business, it helped move me out of a place of immobility to a place of motivation.
Are there any tools you can recommend for managing your practice?
I mentioned the book, Ideal Team Player above. This is a great resource for hiring and has accompanying tools for business owners. I also love the book Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath. In the book, there’s a questionnaire you can take that helps you discover your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. This was eye-opening to me and helped shape some changes in my approach. The Center for Women and Enterprise offers great business development and consultation programs at a very reasonable price. I’ve had a great experience with the network of experts through WiseHer. I have also greatly benefited from membership in several clinical practice leadership communities, The Group Practice Exchange and Mindsight Partners.
Anything else you’d like to share?
It helps if your business aligns with your heart’s purpose. This will help get you through those times when you want to give up.
This article was written in partnership with wiseHer - a technology platform that provides on-demand expert advice for small businesses and women to accelerate their business or career.
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