While the idea of starting your own practice and being your own boss is appealing to more and more speech therapists, many challenges can stop your business from taking off, especially in the early stages. While there has never been more information about starting your private speech therapy clinic, there is also a lot more competition. And as many as 80% of small businesses fail within 5 years, with 20% failing in that first year.
We don’t say this to scare you. Starting your own business is a big undertaking, and we want to make sure you’re set for success. That’s why we decided to put together a list of tips and helpful suggestions for speech therapists looking to start their own small businesses. We hope that between your drive to help people and our help, your practice can change people’s lives for the better.
Make Sure You’re Financially Ready
As with all businesses, there are startup costs. Even if you plan on working from your home office, you need to get ready to spend money on materials, software, hardware, and even furniture. That’s not counting the costs of having your own office space, potentially hiring employees, furnishing their space, getting client resources, marketing, online presence, and all the other intricacies of a business. Always plan for hidden costs. Maybe that deal for cheap desks fell through, or you need to repaint the office or replace the printer. You also need to consider things like insurance, credentialing, and utilities. You may have to repay loans at different times, and with varying interest rates.
One thing people often forget to consider: retirement and benefits. Make sure you account for getting the benefits you need for your life (like health insurance, gym membership, and vision or dental) as well as a way to invest in your personal retirement.
Solo practitioners might want to consider the cost of outsourcing some tasks, like billing. If you’re running a small business all by yourself, you will wear a lot of different hats. If you plan on focusing on caring for your clients, you need to identify your primary bottlenecks and find ways to reduce or eliminate them quickly. Insurance billing problems can quickly pull you underwater; they’re the number one issue that causes private practices to fail. Learn more about outsourcing your billing.
If you plan on having employees, don’t forget that you will have to spend time and resources finding the right candidates, offering competitive pay and benefits to keep them, and maintaining their training and credentials. You also need to consider taxes and other expenses. But having more staff means you can make more money, whether it’s offering more services or having an administrator free up additional billable hours for you. Employees can allow your practice to grow and specialize, so they’re a smart investment.
Plan for the Long Term
No doubt you’ll be eager to get started, and you already can’t wait to get new clients. But small businesses aren’t sprints; they’re marathons. You should plan at least 3 to 6 years before your practice is comfortably established. It may seem daunting, but it’s helpful to break everything down into small, actionable steps.
Set up a business plan. How do you plan on being profitable? Do you stand out from your competition? How long will that take you? What do you need to do to get there? Things like your pricing strategy or your website might need to get updated as your practice evolves.
Make sure to plan for professional and regulatory requirements. If you need to have specific documents or certifications before getting a different one or obtaining a license, plan to get these done first.
While you may be eager to see as many clients as possible, make sure your schedule changes still allow you to complete other tasks and paperwork on time. It may take a while before you have a steady flow of clients.
When people think of networking, LinkedIn or chatting during conferences comes to mind. But small businesses need to do a bit more. Even if you decide to be a solo practitioner, don’t lose touch with your industry contacts. In addition to potential employees and referrals, they can help you stay in the know about industry trends or new techniques and technologies you may not have time to check out.
You need to create networks for referral sources. Finding clients will be challenging in your practice’s early days, especially if you don’t have much time and money for marketing. Reach out to practices that could use your services. If you have a specialty or more niche services, be sure to highlight them. You may have to do a bit more research to target clinics that would offer effective referrals.
In addition to referrals, maintain a presence in the community. Establish yourself as a resource for potential clients. If you work with children, it might be worth having business cards or flyers in local schools. Geriatric clinics should spend time in retirement homes or senior communities. Let your prospective clients associate a face and a name with your business.
You also need a network of professional services, ranging from insurance companies to outsourcing tasks like online marketing or finding applicants. You don’t need to be as “hands-on” with this network, but it’s always good to have a couple of options when you need something. That way, if something comes up, you won’t be scrambling. For example, if an employee leaves, knowing employment agencies or schools with job fairs could help you find a replacement faster. If you’re thinking of adding a partner to your practice, lawyers specializing in small businesses could help you.
Don’t forget that networking is about cultivating relationships. Make the effort to stay in touch, and show genuine interest, but also don’t forget that you’re learning from each other, not taking or using people.
Knowledge is Power
Speech therapy is a field with constant changes, new findings, and evolution. It’s important to stay on top of the latest techniques to offer competitive services and better clinical results. Plan some time to attend webinars and workshops or read papers. If you’re conducting training sessions, don’t forget to train your employees as well.
Take advantage of resources to learn outside of your specialty as well. Small business owners wear a lot of hats. If you’re finding yourself doing a lot of your marketing, it’s worth keeping up with marketing news, especially in this shifting online landscape. Something as simple as signing up for a few newsletters or industry news can help you.
Don’t hesitate to ask for advice! Whether you’re interested in how another small business owner faced a particular hurdle or you’re not sure how to best treat a patient, reach out to your network! Being your own boss does not mean you have to self-isolate.
Stay aware of laws and regulations. For example, telehealth laws could affect your practice. Make sure you have ways to keep your business compliant and ready to navigate new regulations.
Get Tech that Works for You
It’s the 21st century, don’t even think about using pens and paper. You’re going to be using your practice management software a lot, so it’s worth taking the time to find something that fits your unique needs. If you have used Electronics Medical Records (EMRs) before, you understand how much they impact your practice. You should make a list of features you absolutely need in one column, and things that aren’t necessary but would be helpful in another. This will help you narrow your search options.
What you need might differ from another speech therapist, but it’s worth taking the time to find an EMR that:
- Actually fits your practice. Does it include speech therapy-specific resources like HEPs or documentation templates? Are their reporting tools going to help you prepare for audits? If you mostly work at your clients’ houses, for example, you need an EMR that can be used on a phone or a tablet without losing functionalities. Fusion was built for and by physical, occupational, and speech therapists, so we made sure to include extensive clinical tools and analytics that help you focus on your practice’s needs.
- Is easy to use. It sounds so simple, but as a small business, you’re going to have your hands full. The less time you need to spend training or on the phone with support, the better. Check the interface. Is it confusing or clear? Are there training courses or tutorials available? Can you speak with a human if you need help? Many speech therapists do home visits, so Fusion is web-based so that it can be accessed anywhere, at any time, from any device. And we offer a modern interface with intuitive navigation that won’t give you headaches.
- Includes strong billing tools. Private practitioners often struggle with billing insurance companies. Make sure the EMR you choose has billing tools that simplify claims posting and help you follow claims along with alerts on the way. We know billing is a pain, so Fusion includes tools that simplify billing, like click-to-pay invoices and batch payments.
If you’re not sure where to even begin when making your list, we encourage you to read our eBook on finding the best EMR for your practice. And, of course, we highly encourage you to check out Fusion, our all-in-one practice management solution tailored to physical, occupational, and speech therapy.
Sign up for a free demo of Fusion today!
Make Resources Your Own
When you start your own business, you may lose many resources you relied on during previous employment. It’s worth taking the time to look for resources like templates, podcasts, tutorials, and training opportunities. But beyond that, try to put your own spin on things.
For example, you will need templates for things like assessments, treatment plans, and HEPs. Maybe your EMR provides them, or maybe you know a few websites with free PDFs. Don’t stop there. Look for editable templates and click-and-choose documentation that allows you to deeply customize your resources according to your practice’s specialty and your client’s needs. It can be something as small as adding your logo or making language more inclusive, but these little steps can go a long way to establishing your practice.
Need to show clients how to log in to their portal? Don’t just print basic instructions. Take screenshots or film your own video. Make it colorful and easy to read.
Starting your private speech therapy practice is as exciting as it is daunting. The key to creating a small business that can withstand the many tests that will be thrown your way is to create a long-term plan you can follow step-by-step while using the resources and network you come across to become the best version of yourself. To be a small business owner, you will need to be driven and passionate about providing compassionate care to people who need you. Be patient, and you’ll see yourself rewarded with a thriving practice.
At Fusion, we want to help you help others. We know how powerful speech therapy can be, so our software is designed to help you spend less time behind a desk and more time caring for people who need you. We’re trusted by more than 36,000 physical, occupational, and speech therapists thanks to our excellent support, easy-to-use platform, and practice management tools. Let us show you how we could help your new business. Schedule a free demo to see what Fusion has to offer!