Nicole M. Armbrust, PT, OCS, FAFS
Nicole M. Armbrust, PT, OCS, FAFS, is the owner and Running Analyst™ of JumpStartRunning. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Practice Location: Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona
Who or which event has been the most influential in your decision to become a physical therapist? I had an amazing anatomy professor who made me want to learn and become a health professional. I also read a book that would change my life, Rise and Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story. This was a true story about a professional football player who became paralyzed, and physical therapy contributed to him being able to walk again.
What catalyzed your decision to grow a private practice? I have been a physical therapist for 16 years. I spent 14 of those years as a clinician in an outpatient orthopedic setting. I have been a runner for more than 20 years, and wanted to specialize and work with runners. I attempted to build a running clinic in conjunction with seeing a full caseload. During this time, I contacted a human performance company about utilizing wireless electromyography with my runners. I quickly became overwhelmed and chose the wrong strategies to manage everything. I failed to maintain my basic job requirements and was rightfully terminated. It was not until that moment that I began to think about starting my own cash-based practice. I decided to continue working with runners and combine human performance technology with my specialty knowledge, and thus JumpStartRunning was born.
Have you sought the mentorship of any other business professionals or private practice owners in the growth of your own business? I strongly believe in mentorship, and as a new private practice owner, I know that I need to rely on it now more than ever before. I have reached out via several different avenues—research, private physical therapy practice, and cash-based physical therapy. For example, I have had several key “running researchers” that I have looked up to over the course of my career. They have paved the way for the next generation of “running specialists,” and I wanted to find out more about how they got to where they are. So, I contacted physical therapist Bryan Heiderscheit who allocated some time to answer my questions. That is the key—ask questions. In 2015, I went to the American Physical Therapy Association’s Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) and saw that the Private Practice Section (PPS) was having an informal get-together. I did not know anyone, but when I showed up, I signed in, was greeted like an old friend, and realized that this is where I fit in. The third aspect for me has been learning from the cash-based pioneers. This again was predominantly from the programming from CSM, but I have also learned that there is a podcast group that is specific for cash-based practitioners (thank you, Jarod Carter). I believe in learning from as many different avenues as possible.
How would you compare growing a niche, cash-based practice to a traditional reimbursement-based practice? I had a former patient ask me one time, “What are you going to do for me that is different than what I can get from my insurance?” I have always tried to keep that question in mind as I continue to create my business. Knowing that someone is going to be coming to see me and spending their hard-earned money, there had better be value in it for them. I spent years taking extra continuing education courses and reading on my own to create my knowledge of runners, and I was confident to say I have become an expert. I also know that I am using technology in a unique way. This does not mean that I do not believe in traditional reimbursement-based practice; as a matter of fact, I continue to refer some of my clients to clinics, because there are services that a client will often need that I do not provide. It is not about competition for me, it is about collaboration. I have had physical therapists refer their patients to me as well—it is about serving the needs of the patient/client and how we can best help them. It is a similar model of seeing a family physician and being referred to a specialist. I know more physical therapists are specializing, and I think this is a wonderful way to elevate and grow our profession.
How do you market yourself in your current niche? Through trial and error, I have changed the format/market of my business. I was not clear who I wanted my target audience to be and I realized that if it was not clear to me, it could not possibly be clear to those around me. Therefore, I redid my website to focus on runners and those who work with runners. This allows me to market to a wider audience that includes runners, physical therapists, coaches, trainers, and movement specialists. I have spoken at specialty running stores, physical therapy clinics, and am now starting consulting for practices that want to establish a running program. With regard to retaining my clients, this was another weakness that I did not think about. It goes back to the basics of connecting with people: Get in touch with them—call and email them. Let them know that you care and they matter to you. They will then do word-of-mouth marketing for you. That is something we all have learned as physical therapists, but I think sometimes we can forget about the fundamentals.
What are some opportunities you plan to pursue in the next year? Having just returned from CSM this year, I am always energized by new ideas, contacts, and the people there who inspire me to push to the next level. I just completed my first online mobility program, which I’m proud of because I’ve been working on it for a year. Completing that goal showed me the value of focusing on one thing and getting it done before starting the next thing. I’m connecting more with the Running Special Interest Group (SIG), as there are many private practice owners within that group as well. I’m planning a few speaking engagements and will be attempting to make some corporate connections as well. I do not know what the outcome will be, but I have learned that unless I ask, the answer will always be “no.” The rest of the year promises to be an exciting year, but I am trying to remember that as technology changes and as our profession/business changes, there is a constant: People are the most important thing, and what a privilege it is that as physical therapists, we have the honor of making a difference in someone’s life.