The statistics surrounding small business start-ups are frightening: four out of five businesses go bust in the first year of practice; of the remaining 20%, a staggering 80% of these will experience the same fate in the following three years. In a time where global credit crunch is bandied about to the extent that our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has even coined the term GCC, physiotherapy should virtually remain ‘economy proof’ as people require our services as much as ever.
So why is it that private practitioners are becoming increasingly unfulfilled and disillusioned by their own practices, and not realising the untapped potential and profits which lie right in front of their eyes?
As a profession, we are experiencing a high level of attrition due to private practice offering few career paths with adequate earning potential. Essentially, practice principals don’t know how to manage and grow their business to start with as a result of limited business education at university level and a lack of entrepreneurial nous (only 1–2% of health practitioners being entrepreneurial). There is also the old line of thinking that as a health practitioner, our role is purely one of customer service and achieving a ‘good’ income is almost ‘unethical’ in many people’s eyes.
What many private practitioners are now realising is that they can achieve their financial goals without compromising their personal and professional values, and in the process actually deliver a better service, achieving better patient outcomes and optimising their reputation for delivering physiotherapy services. Unfortunately, health professionals think that having great skills at what they do equates to running a successful business.
Whilst I agree that having great skills is important as it enables you to provide your treatment and services in a competent, professional manner, that is, however, all it enables you to do. Great skills do not affect the number of patients you have, the volume of patients you treat and it certainly doesn’t affect the amount of money you make. What practice owners need to realise is that if they want to develop a profitable practice, they need to seriously reconsider what they are currently doing. In fact they need to turn the way they manage and market their practice on its ear and turn it completely upside down. Most practitioners spend so much time and effort working in their practice that they have little or no time to spend working on it; I can guarantee that most of the time that is spent working on the practice involves applying the wrong things anyway.
Ideal Practice has assessed more than 260 practices over the last four years and the same themes turn up time and time again. Practitioners need to realise that working on their practice is every bit as important as the quality of service that they provide to patients in their practice. The systems that you set up in your practice should not only increase your bottom line, but also be consistent with the excellent standards of service delivery that you set within your practice. We use the line that ‘congruency is king’, meaning that everything you do needs to be consistent and of the best standards possible. What most practice owners don’t realise is that for their practice to grow, it is 100% necessary to market themselves and their business. Health practitioners hate the idea of selling themselves (marketing) and are repelled by being likened to slick sales people it’s no way to run your practice.
Therefore in teaching people how to market their services, we make two assumptions:
- that you provide excellent treatment and other services that patients both want and need, and;
- that your patients benefit from hiring you to provide treatment and other services.
Since these assumptions are true, all you have to do is learn professional and dignified ways to promote yourself and your business in order to keep your valued patients in your practice.
To achieve this goal, you will need a marketing and business plan. It is astounding how few practice owners have a plan written down.
Remember the line ‘if you fail to plan then you plan to fail’? Well that’s what you’re doing if you do not have a clearly defined and documented business plan (the average physiotherapist spends one hour per seven years working on their business plan, whereas we recommend spending one hour per month on it).
Your plan needs to have specific strategies for both external and internal marketing. External marketing refers to flyers, ads, signage, radio etc. to get a new patient lead (lead generation) and is a more important focus for start-up or new practices than for more established practices. Established practices need to turn their focus to internal marketing strategies. This means maximising the value from you current clients and existing database (patients on your records not currently receiving treatment).