Freelance dietitian Sian Riley

Sian Riley fell pregnant with her first baby while studying for her Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. Now the mum of three is leaving a successful career as a specialist in the dietary management of IBS to go freelance. She tells us how the Internet Dietitian was born.

How did you get started in your career?

I originally started my career in pharmaceutical research, as a biologist in the area of diabetes and obesity. I loved taking a step back from the cells and enzymes and looking at the bigger picture, which usually meant seeing the people that the cells and enzymes make up.

So I began searching for a medical career that gave me the chance to meet and help real people. I faint at the site of blood, so that ruled out training to be a doctor or nurse. However a dietitian ticked all the boxes, and incorporated my greatest love – FOOD! So my career as a dietitian began.

What challenges have you faced in your career so far?

Completing the MSc course and becoming a qualified and registered dietitian. It was a hard two years, made a little harder (and longer) by the welcome arrival of my first baby, three months before the end of the course. I completed my final exams when he was eight weeks old – providing a very uncomfortable breast feeding experience in the exam room!

I made good use of my ‘year off’ to complete my MSc dissertation project. Then, with a one year-old child, I went back to complete my final three month clinical placement. It was a real challenge completing and passing a full time clinical placement while getting to grips with the many trials of working motherhood. But what doesn’t kill you…

What’s been the highlight of your career to date?

A definite highlight was being given the opportunity to set up a dietetic clinic focused on the dietary treatments of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I really found my dietetic passion through this clinic and the many people I met along the way.

IBS has been misunderstood by the medical community for a long time. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing many dramatic, life-changing improvements to clients’ lives through the dietary management of IBS. It’s been a real privilege to be part of this exciting treatment.

How did your career change after having children?

I entered the working dietetic world with a one year-old child. Although I haven’t experienced being a dietitian child-free, I feel having children has made me more well-rounded in my career. The experience of infant feeding, food allergies and weaning have all given me hands-on dietetic experience.

Having children has also helped me to empathise with clients and understand the many trials we all face when trying to make improvements to our health. Dietary changes are rarely black and white and every person’s situation and challenges are unique to them. What works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another, which is very similar to parenting!

How do you balance your work and family?

So far I’ve only worked part time. This has allowed me to get the balance right between my job and my family. Working part time really has been the best of both worlds for me, providing an appreciation of the hard work of motherhood, while enabling me to progress in my career.

I would definitely describe it as a juggling act though, particularly as I now have three children. There have certainly been many stressful moments and I’m sure there will be many to come.

What inspired you to give up your job and go freelance?

My family are a big part of my decision to go freelance. I’m in no doubt that I’ll work longer and harder as a freelance dietitian, but I hope it’ll provide me with more flexibility and more quality time as a family. I love the idea of being in control of my career and my development as a dietitian, as well have more choice about the work I take on.

I felt I had reached a point in my freelance work where it was all or nothing – it was time to stop dipping my toes in and really take the plunge!

How did you research your freelance career?

As a dietitian, I’m very fortunate to have the support of the Freelance Dietitian branch of the British Dietetic Association. I attended one of their freelance courses in the early days, when considering if it was right for me and my family. More recently I’ve found social media, especially Twitter, has given me the encouragement, support and inspiration I needed to get a business plan written.

What are you nervous about?

It’s been a real roller coaster of emotions and a huge learning curve, particularly in the areas of business and computer skills, and I still have so much to learn. Going freelance is a completely different mind-set to having a regular job. I’m most nervous about marketing myself as an individual, without the backing and support of an office full of colleagues. But, at the same time, there is a real feeling of empowerment in looking to yourself for the answer.

What are you excited about?

I’m excited to see what the future holds and what doors and opportunities will be opened up to me. I’m looking forward to the variety of clients I’ll meet along the way, being involved in their lifestyle changes and improving their long-term health and wellbeing.

Who inspires you?

I’m surrounded by so many amazing business mothers (and fathers). I’ve had many inspiring conversations on the school run and I take some encouragement from each of these stories.

But, at the risk of sounding a little cheesy, my biggest inspiration is my husband. His encouragement and support has been wonderful and he continues to inspire me in all my freelance decisions. More importantly he keeps me grounded and reminds me of what’s important in life – my faith and my family. And, if that’s not enough, he can also fix my computer when I break it!

What’s your vision for your business in five years’ time?

The big question! I see my freelance career as part of a long term plan for our family. However, in the next five years I hope to establish myself as a local dietitian and continue one-to-one consultations via email through my website. I plan to continue writing and blogging and aim to be a respected writer among my peers and the public.

I’d also love to go back into research and do some lecturing. However – one step at a time! Most importantly, though, I hope I’ll be even more passionate about dietetics in five years’ time than I am now (and I’m very passionate about it now!).

What advice do you have for other mums thinking about going freelance?

I would say go for it! Use the skills and personal qualities of being a mother to your and your business’ advantage. Measuring whether going freelance is a success for you or not is about so much more than just money and sales. It’s about quality of time with your family and passion for your career – these things can’t be measured. I hope my answer is the same in five years’ time!

You can read more about Sian and her work on her website.