Opening a Private Practice in Occupational Therapy
Starting an Occupational Therapy Business
Disclaimer: There are links throughout this article that will lead you to Amazon products. Buffalo Occupational Therapy may receive a portion of the fee if purchased but Amazon in no way supports or endorses Buffalo Occupational Therapy as a business.
There are many factors to consider when opening an occupational therapy private practice. There are many occupational therapy practitioners in 2021 beginning their OT businesses and each one may look different. To find out more about my journey, you can look at my brief bio. As an occupational therapy practitioner (OTP) your scope of practice is huge. You can do so much with your education, but where do you begin? Do you want an occupational therapy private practice? Or do you want another type of OT business? Your potential as an occupational therapy entrepreneur (OTpreneur™) is endless. This article will be about those of you who want to start a private clinical practice, but know that you have the ability to expand your private practice into many alternative deliveries of occupational therapy services as well. The possibilities are endless, and it does not need to be scary or intimidating. You can take it one step at a time, you just need structure and access to someone who can give advice (at times) when you need it!
Business planning is an essential component of every OT business or occupational therapy private practice. Two types of business planning (1) The traditional Business Plan and (2) Providing structure and framework for the business you will be designing. This is an essential component of every business foundation. Yes, it will change. You will modify these things, but putting them down on paper (or computer) is essential to success. Just as occupational therapy practitioners use a plan of care to keep the therapeutic process pointing in the right direction while adapting to daily changes, so much an OTpreneur plan for their business.
You can find business planning templates through the small business association, they have many resources that may be beneficial to your business! This stage of your business will and should take time!
Some things you will need to determine for your business plan
- Business Structure (Partnership, Sole Proprietorship, PLLC, LLC, PC)
- Great Resource to determine what your structure will be
- Name and availability of that name
- Check state databases, local databases for DBAs (doing business as), and trademark databases to ensure it is available at all levels. When you submit, they will also run these searches and it will delay the process if they don’t like it. Remember that your state’s office of professions must ALSO approve your name so ensure that you have reviewed those regulations. Remember when choosing a name to avoid vague names! If you are going to be a niche practice, make sure your niche is represented in your name! People should look at your name and think – “oh, yes, I need to go to them for that.”
- Your niche and mission
- You must drill down. You can NOT be all things to all people. I can’t stress this enough – you must pick an emphasis. Doing multiple services is like starting multiple businesses at once! You will be exhausted and get nowhere.
- Market/Competition Research and Analysis
- Who is in your area that is providing the same/similar services or resources and targeting the same demographic? Compare them with you, in detail, and save this analysis! The OTpreneur program walks you through this, but you can find great resources on market analysis here.
- Costs/Revenue Streams
- Financial framework is a huge reality in beginning a business. The phrase “It takes money to make money” is the truth. I went into my journey deluded in thinking that I wouldn’t have any huge investments, but you will be paying for a lot of things before you ever make a dime. That’s the reality. You will determine your start-up costs and running costs and break down those costs by monthly, yearly, and one-time financial commitments. How will you sustain that plus your personal expenses for 1+ years? Write down the plan! Then, discuss what services/products you will be providing and at what price point. This will be the first question your future client will ask. It all comes down to money! Make a list and be confident with it! (My start-up costs are included in the OTpreneur program)
- Marketing Plan
- I would recommend reading about guerilla marketing techniques. I read Guerrilla Marketing by Houghton Mifflin and it was very helpful to get my wheels turning for how to approach marketing on a shoestring budget. I would also recommend reading a book on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to ensure your website is highly searchable! Having a plan on how you will get the word out is what will bring you clients! Remember, this all falls on you! People aren’t just going to magically start coming to you and asking you to perform services! The success of your business is directly proportional to how much work you are going to put into it.
These are just some components of the business planning stage, there are many more microcomponents that must be accomplished, so get started! Little by little each day, and you will succeed! You do not have to have this finished before you begin getting the word out about your business! The earlier you start marketing and broadcasting your intentions, the better!!!
Now that you have done the research to determine your organization structure for your occupational therapy private practice, it’s time to make it official. There are many elements of this step and most of them will be unique to your business, your structure, and your state. Any OT Business you begin must have a structure and many of these components, but this article is specifically about private practice. Please keep in mind that opening an occupational therapy private practice may be unique for each person, but this will get you started!
Some action steps:
- Ensure your professional license is in good standing
- Business Name (You can choose to be yourself! Ex. Susan Smith, PLLC or PC)
- Establish your EIN number (This does not cost money online!!! Please make sure you are clicking the right links!)
- Submit your application to your state’s office of professions for ‘group’ (the same place you needed to submit your OT license).
- Once you receive this, you will need to submit all of that information to your state’s division of corporations
- Once you receive a verified copy of this, you will re-submit to your office of professions where they will send you a sealed copy of verification.
- This is what you will use when applying to be a Medicaid participant for insurance purposes.
- Establish NPI number for yourself and your group (if applicable). Ensure you are an authorized representative for your group.
- Set up your business banking accounts
- Sign up for Personal/Professional and general liability insurance. Proliability and Hiscox are what I have used for years, great companies and great prices.
- Look into your state and local specifications on any other license or registrations you may need to call yourself a business in your area.
Branding and Marketing
Branding your occupational therapy private practice is the fun part! You get to explore colors, images, social media templates, the types of images you will use to identify your services – branding is everything! How will be people know you? When they see something, will they know it’s your business without having to see your name? This is the goal! If you aren’t a marketing professional or graphic designer, this may take some time to figure out. You may even need to revisit and make modifications, Full disclosure, I had no direction for a while. It took years to figure out the right “look and feel” for my OT business, but that doesn’t have to happen to you! You can do it right the first time! The fillable business planner is designed to help you keep track of all the particulars of your branding, but you can start your own document of all of these items as well! I have been using picmonkey for 8 years now and they are AMAZING! They have everything and are constantly evolving. I would highly recommend them!
- Color schemes
- Social media templates
- Types of photos you will use to identify your services
Marketing your occupational therapy private practice is where it gets tricky. You don’t have the luxury of other businesses to just hang flyers, send out mailers, use radio ads, google ads, or put up signs. It is rare that people outside of the profession are searching for occupational therapists near them. In fact, I did a google keywords search once on occupational therapy near me vs physical therapy near me. OT received 10-100 searches a month, PT received 1,000-10,000 searches per month. Words can’t describe to you the sick feeling I felt as I looked up multiple OT keywords for the same outcomes!! That said, not impossible. But, you are on the ground floor so you will be getting a lot of facetime at booths, LIVES on social media, presentations, one-on-one meetings, networking events, etc. Education and verbal communication will be key for an occupational therapy practitioner in private practice.
There are in-person marketing opportunities and virtual marketing opportunities, you must learn to leverage both for the health and wellness of your occupational therapy private practice. The more you are in the public eye, the more credible you will be. Your future clients want to get to know you and your business. They want to know what it will be like speaking with you, what it will be like working with you, and what the environment will be like. Start from the very foundation-building phase! Open an account and go LIVE throughout the process allowing them to take the journey with you from conception to functioning practice! Make a HUGE deal about everything! Get Public.
Client Acquisition and Conversion
You have established your marketing plan based on the aforementioned information in this article. You know your client or your ‘ideal avatar’ because you have chosen your niche and now you are ready to implement these strategies. You must convert the general public that is watching you into paying customers, consumers, or clients! You must build your clientele! So, how do you convert your viewers/followers into paid customers? This will be specific to your niche! No article or general program can identify this approach for you! I don’t care what their claims are on social media, this is specific. This will take a lot of trial and error! Be prepared to fail at this….a lot. Over the last 5 years I have adjusted my conversion method substantially. I have tried many pitches and methods….it all depends on the audience! Who is listening? Who are you trying to convert and for what?
Some tips for client acquisition and conversion in your occupational therapy private practice:
- Be prepared to give away value for nothing! Yes, you have a bottom line to meet. But, nobody will know what you can do for them if you refuse to tell them. I promise you that nobody will give you money if you don’t show them that you and your products/services are with their hard-earned money. Give them value, and they will trust you (or, begin to trust you.) I still do presentations, seminars, and consults for free at times. I still give away value! I still give extra time for free. Always going above and beyond without expectation of anything in return is the secret to success in entrepreneurship.
- Be consistent – Do not start this process, become public, and disappear. People need to trust that you are the real deal. This takes time! People are watching! They may not be interacting with you, but they are watching! They do see you! If you tell them you are here to provide a service and then you disappear, they aren’t going to trust you as a credible business. It takes time.
- Follow-up – If someone says “not right now”, that’s okay! It’s okay if they don’t need you at the time. It may feel like rejection, but ‘the fortune is in the follow-up’. Don’t take it personally! Believe in your product/service and follow-up on the meeting, follow-up on the presentation, follow-up on the ‘pitch’ opportunity! If you have patients that have been discharged already, follow-up with a card to let them know you are thinking about them! If you did a presentation, follow-up with a card every three months to remind them that you are still there! Follow-up is key for conversion and building rapport.
Integrity & Follow-through – Deliver what you say you will deliver. If you are making claims on services you provide, be prepared to provide those services with excellence. Always go above and beyond! Whether it is an audience of one or an audience of 100, be prepared to offer exceptional service and deliver on the promises you have made to someone. If you say you will e-mail, e-mail. If you say you will call, call. No matter how small, follow-through. People will remember this.
Service delivery expounds on integrity and follow-through. Always deliver exception service. Always go the extra mile. Always humble yourself to the client or customer. Have grace with your clientele and lean into giving more than is expected. Working in excellence when it comes to occupational therapy service delivery is what will set us apart, and it’s what sets occupational therapy apart from other professions. We give solutions to questions our clients don’t even know they should ask because we are gross functional performance and look through a lens that incorporates both medical and social science. We have the ability to deliver more and so we should.
What are some things that will lead to excellence in OT service delivery?
- Mission and Culture of your Business/Practice – It all starts with you! Even if you are a one-man-band! You are your mission and culture. When your business grows to 10-20 employees and 3 locations what do you want the culture of your organization to be known for? These are the vibes you will have from day 1. What are your work habits and values? What is your vision? What is your mission? The answer to all of these questions will lead you to developing your business culture.
- Service Quality – Every conversation or interaction you have could lead you to your ‘big break’. Every conversation and interaction you have is an opportunity to represent your businesses and service. The quality of your service should reflect your mission and core values. Always be authentic because people can see right through a facade.
- Customer Service and Experience – The customer service experience is what will keep your customers coming back and it is also what will lead to word of mouth. Word of mouth is how I grew my business. I was determined that whether I had a non-paying client or someone paying me $120+ dollars, I was going to give everyone the same experience. I was going to ensure that every single customer/client benefited from my best. Our work culture is excellence and anyone attached to the Buffalo Occupational Therapy name will work in excellence and that includes communication with clients, building handouts and home exercise programs, ensuring all materials are based in research and clinically appropriate, documenting treatments/notes, and submitting billing. We always go the extra step because that’s what sets our occupational therapy clinic apart from everyone else.
Continued competency is an essential component of being an occupational therapy practitioner, now multiply this by 10 as an occupational therapy business owner. If you are delivering clinical practice autonomously, you must ensure you are competent in service delivery always. Research is constantly changing and so are best practices for every diagnosis in restorative medicine. People will be depending on you to deliver excellent services without oversight and therefore you are held to a higher standard. As a practitioner you are ethically responsible for continued competence. Furthermore, all eyes will be on you because you are in an emerging practice area. You are on the defense at this point in outpatient practice as an occupational therapy practitioner. Again, this is not meant to deter you from occupational therapy private practice, but to help you so that you don’t get into this thinking its ‘insta-success’. It’s 110% necessary for more OT practitioners to start adult mobile and outpatient brick and mortar practices, but we will be at the ground floor for many years to come because major OT organizations are not helping us grow. We are doing this on our own.
The OTrepreneur Program through Buffalo Occupational Therapy
The OTpreneur program is designed for an occupational therapy practitioner (OT/OTA) who wants to begin an OT business or private practice. When I started my Occupational Therapy Consultant business, I wish I had support. I wish I could have someone who did all of the things I was going to need to do and would be able to just answer my questions. That is why I designed this program. This program allows you to go at your own pace and allows you to ask questions as they come up and receive real responses. Responses that don’t sugar coat the process of OT entrepreneurship but one that tell you exactly what to expect. Having someone to commiserate and celebrate with is something I wish I had when I was beginning this process! The OTpreneur program offers you this opportunity.