Starting your own physiotherapy practice
6 steps to a complete business plan
Starting your own practice as a physiotherapist: it is quite the step. Because suddenly you find yourself an entrepreneur in addition to being a therapist. Running your own business generally means you've got more responsibilities, more stress and less spare time than when you’re working for someone else. Because you're no longer just a physiotherapist providing the best care for your patients, but you also need to devote time and attention to the business elements of your company.
Practical things, such as registering your business and getting recognised by insurance companies are issues you may have researched already. But what about the business aspect? We are happy to help you map out all the relevant aspects. 6 Steps to a complete business plan and a better chance of getting funded.
Step 1: Why start your own practice?
The first step is to determine why you want your own practice. What aspiration inspires your clinic? Do you want to improve the quality of your therapy, your ability to work independently or is it that you would like to generate more income? You may have many reasons to start a business - it is important to crystallise your goal on paper.
Write down your primary reason for wanting to start your own practice. Then ask yourself the following question: “Why is that important to me?” answer it and repeat the same question “Why?” a couple of times until you get to the absolute core of the matter. That core will help you make every decision you will face. Because every decision will serve to support that initial “why”.
Step 2: What type of physiotherapy practice?
You now understand your motivation for starting a practice. What type of practice matches that drive? The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) published a number of questions that will help you figure out what type of practice best suits you:
- Do you prefer to work alone or in a team?
- Do you like to have people around you regularly with whom you can discuss things?
- Do you have a balanced set of talents? In other words, are you not just an excellent therapist, but also a bridge builder, a clear communicator, good at finance, a marketing natural and a tech virtuoso? Or are you prepared to hire people to cover your weaknesses?
- Will you focus on higher level management or on everyday details? And if your answer isn't both, who will be tending to the other part of the equation?
- Have you figured out the exact design of your practice? And are you quick to adapt when things don’t go as expected?
- Do you feel confident enough do it all on your own?
When answering these questions, you may find out that although you do want to start your own practice, perhaps it is better to do it together with a business partner. A partner can help fill the gaps, e.g. by investing, through experience, a good network or valuable business skills. You won’t have to do things like administration and managing a team all by yourself and will be able to spread the load instead.
But a type of physiotherapy practice means more than just deciding whether you want to start by yourself or with a partner, and whether you want to hire a team or set up a practice independently. Because physiotherapy isn’t the only service you can provide as a practice.
You may choose to create a multidisciplinary practice where other health services are provided in addition to physiotherapy, such as manual therapy, osteopathy or chiropractic. Or you might offer a type of gym, and have your patients use your equipment regularly. You may offer your patients guidance while they are exercising to ensure the equipment is used correctly and provide a true contribution to their recovery with your gym environment. A big plus of such a practice is that it provides a constant stream of income.
Step 3: How to distinguish your practice?
Now you know what type of practice you want, it is time to consider what will set your practice apart from others. Perhaps there is no physiotherapy practice in your area yet - that would be a distinguishing factor right there. But you will usually find that there is competition from other physiotherapy practices. What sets your clinic apart?
You may already know what it is that will set your clinic apart: specialising in certain treatment methods, such as shockwave therapy or TECAR-therapy. Or the fact that your practice is multidisciplinary. But there is also a chance you may not yet know what to do in order to create a distinguishing practice.
The easiest way to start a distinguishing practice, is to offer your patients the best possible experience throughout. Make sure your practice deals with the patient in a personal, involved and memorable way. Whether it be the treatment itself, the interior design of your practice, communication with your patients - make the extra effort.
Consider who your patient is and what you can do to be of extra service to that person. Map out your ideal patient, what treatment he/she needs, the size of that target group and what the priorities are for that target group. Based on this information, you can determine what to do in order to offer your target group the best possible experience. For example, make sure you have a comfortable waiting room that is an enjoyable place for your patients to be seated. Or make sure you make contact with patients in between your appointments to show your involvement.
Step 4: What location will you choose?
Real estate brokers have three magical words: location, location and location. The same applies to a physiotherapy practice. Your practice attracts people from the local area. Make sure you take the socio-economic circumstances in a specific area into account in addition to your own “why” and whom you want to be treating.
Some things to research:
- how many people live and work in the area?
- what are their demographics (age, status, etc.)?
- how many general practitioners are located in the area (for references)?
- how many and what physiotherapy practices are located in the area?
- how often do people search for a physiotherapy practice in a certain area on Google?
- how accessible is the desired location? Is there any (free) parking opportunity?
In addition to the geographic location, it is important to consider the physical location. How much space do you think you need? You don't have to invest in a future-proof location right away. Of course, you don't want to go too small, because you need enough room for yourself and your patients to ensure a comfortable treatment experience. However, getting started in an oversized practice will inflate your monthly costs in terms of rent and utilities which will prove difficult to cover.
This is why it is best to look at smaller locations that can be rented flexibly at first. Should things not turn out as you had thought, or if you need more time to get going, this will allow you the flexibility to adapt. If you notice that your practice isn’t working out, you can swiftly change location and opt for a bigger location in the area if you need to.
Step 5: How to design a professional practice?
You’ve researched locations and know how much space you want to find in what area. Once you've found your location, it is time to decorate it. Got an idea of how to design your practice? Two decision are key: what software you'll use and of course what treatment equipment to choose.
What software do I need?
The right software will give your practice a kick-start. There is a lot of software out there for you to research. The most important thing about software is that it does what you want. You won’t need huge software suites for a small clinic, but you do want to make sure your software offers all the functionality you need. Consider your services and needs and make sure you opt for software that will help keep your practice organised.
That said, every physiotherapy practice will have to deal with the following matters:
Complete this list with your specific requirements and find your perfect software.
What equipment do I need?
Your equipment will help you turn your practice into a success story. Good equipment requires an investment but it will last for years and support you in providing the best possible care.
Equipment can be divided into two categories: 1. must-haves and 2. convenient tools. When running a fledgling practice, it is best to focus all your attention on your must-haves, even if your financial means are sufficient to buy more. Build up your equipment arsenal gradually based on the needs of your patients.
Invest in quality equipment. A first impression comes only once and your treatment equipment is an important part of that first impression. As your patient comes in, he/she must find the equipment looking clean, reliable and professional. It is vital to keep the equipment comfortable and hygienic both for the patient and the therapist.
Still figuring out the best products for your practice? Gymna’s professionals will be happy to discuss options with you.
Step 6: How to begin marketing myself?
What is a physiotherapy practice without patients? Attracting new patients and retaining current patients is one of your core tasks. Although references and word-of-mouth are important elements, they will likely not be enough. You are after all a new player. Many of your potential patients are currently going elsewhere, or have gone elsewhere in the past, and will have to make a conscious decision to change therapists.
This is where your distinguishing capability comes in. Why would a patient opt for you instead of that other, much older practice? Perhaps your practice offers longer office hours, home visits, a more professional feel or better hygiene. The next question is: how to let people know that you offer these distinguishing elements?
This will require a marketing strategy. The foundation of a marketing strategy is this:
- Who: who is your target audience, how to best reach this group?
- When: when is your target group most susceptible to your message?
- Where: what channels will you deploy for your campaign?
- What: what content does the target group prefer?
- How: who will take care of marketing? How will that person keep track of what is working and what is not? How often will you adjust course?
In any case, your marketing plan will provide the following output: business name, visual identity and logo, and communication guidelines including how to interact with your target audience and with what type of message. The German magazine for physiotherapists, pt_Erfolg, shows that the logo is an important part of marketing a physiotherapy practice. Though a logo doesn’t make a brand, it does often function as the image people remember you by. It is symbol for quality and professionalism. The aim is to design a logo for life. You might refine it over time or design minor modifications, but the foundation of your logo is meant to last forever (consider Coca Cola, who have been using their characteristic curly font since 1906.
When creating your logo (and its style that often permeates throughout your visual identity) it is important to determine what symbols, signs or logos appeal to you, choose font and colours and elaborate details in order to create the best possible representation of your practice.
Once you've determined your visual identity and logo, it is time to determine what resources you will use to show your brand to the public and offer your services. You may want to create a website combined with an active social media strategy and an online advertisement plan. It is also important to explore whether you can find partners who will be referring patients to you - referrals can be a good source of patients.
It is vital that you gear your marketing strategy to your potential patients. Where are they at what moment in time and how can you best reach them?
Convert your ideas into a business plan
All these steps combined will give you a pretty clear picture of your practice. You have determined the why, what, who, where and how. That gives you a pretty good idea of your concept and the costs you will be making. Bundle all this information in a business plan. You can then present this business plan to legal authorities in order to get your business registered and financed - plus it will remain a useful document for you to fall back on.
A business plan is an elaborate document consisting of text and numbers. The plan answers important questions, which you have addressed throughout the previous 6 steps. A brief summary:
- Business summary: a one-pager with your mission, vision and goal.
- Target group: where and to whom do you offer your services
- Competition: who is your competition and what sets you apart
- HR: who runs the company and what other team members do you need (team)
- Equipment: what products and services do you need in order to start your practice
- Marketing plan: what does your brand look like and how do you ensure that your ideal patients will show up
- Finance: how much start-up capital do you need, what do you expect to earn and what are your fixed costs for the first three years
Are you looking for an extra tool to help answer these questions? The Balanced Scorecard (BSC) might be the thing for you.
From business plan to funding
You need to make sure that these things are fully elaborated in a representative document so you can present this business plan to a bank, letter or subsidy. If you need financing, ask the bank for information about the desired procedure. They will often have special departments or consultants responsible for business loans. You are often required to submit a business plan prior to getting an appointment.
A conversation will be conducted where the bank will ask you about the details of your plan, such as an explanation of how you reached the income and expenditure forecasting for the first three years. If you are able to answer these questions properly and if you have got at least 20% of your start-up capital to contribute yourself, there is a good chance you will be granted a loan - and you can finally start creating your practice!