Step Outside the Clinic Walls to Grow Your Practice
Foster strategic alliances and watch your practice flourish.
By Darryl Elliott, PT, and Patti Elliott, SLP/CCC, MS
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. —John Donne
What characterizes a successful private practice? Our argument is that successful private practices are great relationship makers. Connections with patients, referral sources, staff, vendors, insurance companies, and community businesses are just some of the necessary relationships that evolve in great practices. When private practice owners focus on what they can give and what they can get from these relationships, they are creating strategic alliances.
A strategic alliance is an agreement between two or more parties to pursue an agreed upon set of objectives while remaining independent organizations.1 There are many reasons for developing strategic alliances based on the size, age, and direction of the company. These reasons may include new patient growth, developing interesting or unique caseloads, staff recruitment, opportunities for expansion, or exit strategies. Successful strategic alliances are mutually beneficial to the two companies involved. Each party must see a clear benefit from the arrangement. These alliances often create new synergetic opportunities.2
Physical therapists often think their job description consists of evaluating and treating patients only. They erroneously believe that marketing teams and private practice owners are responsible for filling their schedules with new evaluations. However, the marketplace in outpatient private practice is changing; patients often take to social media to find a physical therapist. Relationships with the community can make one practice stand out from the rest. Community alliances create opportunities for both employees and leadership teams. Every member of the practice is responsible for fostering these alliances and ensuring the success of the practice.
How do you secure a strategic alliance? First, you must delineate the type of partnerships you are looking for and outline the characteristics of this new partnership. Second, clearly identify what strengths you offer the other party and why the potential partner would value a relationship with you. You are going to have to sell this partnership in order to build future alliances, so you must become very clear about why this relationship is mutually beneficial.
A few opportunities for developing strategic alliances in outpatient private practice:
1. COMMUNITY OUTREACH
At Elliott Physical Therapy, every employee is a brand ambassador. New employees meet with the marketing team to discuss their interests, both professionally and personally. If a physical therapist (PT) who is a recreational runner wants to treat runners, the marketing team will coordinate with local running groups and road races to foster that relationship. The PT will often attend weekly runs and organize educational talks and free injury screens for runners with the understanding that the running group will seek out the PT’s services if needed. Administrative staff members also connect with various groups and have a PT help them coordinate the needed services.
2. BE POLITICALLY ACTIVE
Locally (in your town), in your state, or at a national level. Politicians want to know the issues that are affecting their constituents. They may not be knowledgeable about the issues impacting physical therapy, which provides private practice owners with an opportunity to become a resource to legislators. Educate legislators on any bills that you are in support of or oppose. Share your rationale in context of how a bill will help our patients and their constituents receive great outcomes at a reasonable cost. This approach helps physical therapists and private practice owners become part of the health care solution.
3. MAINTAIN RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR PAST EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS—FROM ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS TO DOCTORAL DEGREES
Donate your time, treasure, and talent, whether it involves teaching a course, mentoring a student, offering employment to student interns or recent grads. Participating in career days, job fairs, being a resource for sports teams and health committees all go a long way promoting you as the physical therapy expert in your community and the go-to when services are needed.
4. DEVELOP AND MAINTAIN RELATIONSHIPS WITH REFERRAL SOURCES
Attend conferences and community talks that your referral sources host. Write personal thank you notes when you are added to a PT referral list or are sent a patient from a new doctor. Support their charities or events. Provide clear concise communication at follow-up visits and at discharge. Update their practices with any new specialty services that you offer or if a new PT joins your practice.
5. FOSTER FRIENDSHIPS WITH OTHER PRIVATE PRACTICE OWNERS
In a startup environment and beyond, private practice owners and all new business owners have many questions: Where do you order your towels from? How does the new law impact employees and payroll? Having a network of private practice owners to lean on and call on for support is critical. (Attending PPS Annual Conference is great for this! Start this November in Chicago!) Having friends and colleagues who understand your day-to-day stressors is important. However, and this is a big however, you cannot spend all of your time networking with colleagues. PT friends and colleagues provide a wonderful sounding board and network of advice. Schedule time to maintain these valuable friendships, but do not spend all your time doing this. Although a comfortable “alliance” with other private practice owners could develop into future partnerships, you must go outside of your comfort zone and foster other relationships. Learn from other industries about customer service, marketing, leadership, and skills that can help improve your practice.
Developing strategic alliances takes time, money, fortitude, and patience. Early morning meetings, evening functions, and attending weekend events are all part of the territory. Representing the profession of physical therapy and your brand is a full-time commitment when done correctly. Ultimately, developing these strategic alliances will help you develop a practice that you and your staff will be proud of and the community will support
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_alliance. Accessed July 2017.
2 http://smallbusiness.chron.com/strategic-alliances-23997.html. Accessed July 2017.
Darryl Elliott, PT, owns Elliott Physical Therapy with three locations in Massachusetts. He is an active member in the APTA Private Practice Section and a practicing physical therapist with over 25 years of experience. Darryl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patti Elliott, MS, SLP/CCC, is the director of marketing and community outreach at Elliott Physical Therapy. She can be reached at email@example.com.