With Friends Like These
“Private” in “private practice” should not mean insulating oneself from other practices and other practitioners. Put yourself out there to serve others and help them grow—and watch your practice reach new heights.
By Eric Cardin, PT, MS, MCSS
It is hard to start a business. It is even more difficult to sustain one. Moving from “I think I want to…” to “Whoa, I’m doing this!” and “Why am I still doing this?!” is a roller coaster of good and bad choices, mistakes and successes. Few get to “success” on their own. As in the Beatles’ song, we “get by with a little help from our friends.”
One of the most important yet most challenging things to consider when starting and sustaining your own practice is the notion that our piece of the “pie” is bigger than we think. Our portion of the local patient population is important, but even in an area where competition is tight, the total number of new clients needed to sustain a practice including one, two, or even three physical therapists will be in the hundreds, not thousands. Part of due diligence prior to opening or taking any step toward independent practice is knowing your local demographics. How many people work or live near me? How old are they? What do they do for work? Do they have to drive by me? Once you understand who you are serving you can figure out how to serve.
There is a human tendency and natural competitive spirit to stake a claim in a market and begin to build a practice. Going out on your own can be a self-fulfilling prophecy with the independent owner taking a do-it-all-myself approach. This can work. It can also lead to your family putting out an APB for you.
Rather than risk finding a cardboard cutout at your seat at the dinner table, let’s think about ways to challenge your instincts. The first and least likely place to start? The competition.
As with all relationships the first meeting is the hardest. Meeting a potential rival or at the very least someone who may not share your vision can seem like a big hurdle. As you sit in their parking lot questioning whether or not it is a good idea, remind yourself that at the very least you will get an idea of who they are as people and business owners. It may seem crazy but knocking on your competitor’s door and introducing yourself, talking about why you went into practice for yourself, can potentially create opportunities.
Connecting with a fellow practice owner may open doors to referring patients who might not be in your target demographic. As a new or established practitioner you may have found that there are certain patient populations that you just would rather not work with and that may be true for your competition as well. You’ll never know without asking. Breaking down that barrier and creating a relationship is a critical step.
This same concept works for other health care providers as well. A 2008 study of nearly 25,000 US adults found that 38 percent of the study participants access alternative or complementary medicine.1 Over one-third of the adults in your demographic are reaching out to acupuncturists, chiropractors, Reiki providers, massage therapists, and other nontraditional healers. Oftentimes these folks are not making a choice in exclusion of another method but rather they are seeking a more holistic and multifaceted approach. Knocking on the door, or even partaking in the treatment your local alternative provider offers, can enrich your thinking and create a new referral source. Asking to refer your patients to them shows you are confident and dedicated to the patient’s experience. Some may find that sharing a lease is the key to success. A long lease or just the monthly obligations of opening your own space can prohibit many practitioners of all disciplines from entering the market. Creating a small space for rent on the cheap can incubate a new business and build a dedicated partner.
The recurring theme here is one of building relationships. This is the cornerstone of your marketing plan. Too often we are consumed with marketing to traditional referral sources. Even the word source (a place from which something comes or can be obtained) focuses on the notion of what you get–not what you give. What we can get lost in is the pursuit of what someone can do for us. What referrals can you send to me? But what we should be thinking about is introducing ourselves, getting to know people, and letting them know what you can offer them. “Hello fellow leader in health care, welcome to the table!” This is the secret sauce.
Connect with folks personally; show them what value you add to their experience. Grow a network of likeminded professionals dedicated to patient care.
1 Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin RL. CDC National Health Statistics Report #12. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007. December 2008.
Eric Cardin, PT, MS, is executive director of South County Physical Therapy, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.