What does an allied health business coach do? Twelve industry coaches recently chatted to Cliniko about what makes business coaching successful, the most common misconceptions people have, and the nitty gritty of what you need to know if you’re thinking of working with a coach.
Even if you love your job, working in allied health isn’t always easy. The responses to the Cliniko 2021 survey revealed that allied health professionals are facing some common challenges. This post examines the top five problems you reported to us and shares some advice from allied health business coaches to tackle each one head-on!
1There’s not enough time to complete admin
Admin can feel terribly endless. Even after you’ve finished seeing patients for the day, there’s somehow still a pile of work that needs to be done. How do you find the time in your busy schedule to get it done? Here’s what the business coaches had to say:
You don’t need to do it all! Bring on support to help you with your admin and delegate where you can. Alan Zaia, founder of Osteohustle, believes this is crucial: “One of the most common mistakes we see is the practitioner attempting to do everything themselves. A great piece of advice I got was to create a list of admin tasks. First, highlight the tasks that can only be done by you, then assign those that can be done by a virtual assistant or virtual receptionist. Many professional virtual assistants and receptionists offer an affordable hourly rate, making them a fantastic option, saving you hours and letting you focus on doing what you do best, helping patients.”
Don’t call it admin!
The word “admin” isn’t always a very helpful term – it’s vague and often carries negative associations for people! “Admin used to be the word on our swear jar when I had my clinical business,” Cathy Love, founder of Nacre Consulting, says. “It means that you haven’t figured out yet what you should specifically be getting done.”
Ben Lynch, CEO of Clinic Mastery, has a similar view: “If you’re a business owner, never have ‘admin time’. Specificity is key. It’s either ‘marketing’, ‘team training’, ‘client experience’, or ‘finance time’ (perhaps you can add some others). We see too many clinic owners schedule ‘admin time’ only to jump into their email and lose hours without being productive.”
Make an appointment with yourself to get admin done
Treating your admin tasks as an appointment can help motivate you to get them done – block out the time in your calendar and commit to it. As Jo Muirhead says: “most clinicians are appointment driven. When you make an appointment with your admin tasks you are more likely to get them done.”
Ben Lynch also suggests changing your mindset around admin: “You wouldn’t cancel on your clients regularly, so stop cancelling on your business by not making the time. Productive use of one hour will be worth more to you in the long run than the revenue of the consult you could have otherwise delivered – so don’t see it as ‘lost income.’”
2There’s not enough time for everything
But admin isn’t the only thing that can be time-consuming – our survey respondents also expressed a general sense of feeling overwhelmed by all the things on their plate. If no matter how hard you try, you always seem to be short of time, consider some of these strategies:
Just as with your admin, it’s crucial to delegate for other tasks as well. As Tammy Guest says: “automate, delegate, or eliminate. There is only one of you, and your unique gifts and talents lie with helping the person in front of you. Someone else will be way better at the admin, socials, bookkeeping, rebooking, reminders etc. You don’t need to do it all.”
Nick Schuster, founder of Ultimate Physio, shares this view: “sometimes we get very comfortable doing things that we know well, are good at, and have done thousands of times before. But these can and should be done by others in our business (with the right training of course), so we can focus on the most important activities that clinic owners do – determining the vision and direction of the business, recruiting, team-building, coaching, and implementation and optimisation of new strategies and systems.”
Automation can be another way to claw back a considerable amount of time. “By integrating automated processes (including treatment reminders, invoice collection, patient recalls, marketing etc.) over the span of a year, once set up, each process will save practitioners’ time in the long run,” Alan Zaia says. Keep browsing for software and technology that you could incorporate into your practice – we’d of course recommend looking into practice management software if you aren’t already using it!
Prioritise the important things
According to Ben Lynch, prioritisation is key: “You’ll never have enough time for everything. Stay focused on the meaningful goals you have – that helps manage the shiny ball syndrome to want to do everything. It’s likely you need to hire, delegate (not abdicate), outsource and automate if you feel like there’s not enough time. So, use your business development time periods to ‘buy-back’ your time by doing those things. Effective time blocking, prioritisation workflow tools e.g. Trello or Asana, clear and meaningful plans, plus a team of people to help are some good starts.”
Be mindful about how you use your time
It’s all too easy to lose time without even realising it! Dave James encourages business owners to be more conscious about how time is spent: “Define how you want to spend your time. Are you doing things that you don't need to be part of your business?” If you know how your time is being used, you can start to make adjustments.
3You cannot meet patient demand
It can be stressful to have to turn patients away because you’re just too busy or to find yourself dealing with super long waiting lists. However, having too many patients also means your business is doing something right! The coaches suggested changing your mindset around this problem – as Jono Heath, founding director of The Hive says, “this is a good challenge because it’s an indication that patients are getting value from your treatment, and it also means there are different opportunities available to move forward.” As for solutions, there are some clear steps you can take:
Create a referral network
Referring excess patients to another practice ensures that no one misses out on care, while also creating connections and goodwill between your practice and other clinics. “Get a great referral network and don’t be afraid to refer,” Tammy Guest recommends. “It takes a health village to help a person heal themselves, so become part of that village.”
Be more selective with patients
If you’re in a position of having too many patients, Danielle Kong, founder of Kong & Way, points out that you can afford to be a bit pickier about who you see: “You don’t need to accept every client that comes your way, use it as an opportunity to work with target clients.
Shannon Dunn, founder of Thrive Factor Co, suggests increasing your fees: “Put your prices up! Seriously, this is so overlooked. It won’t change your demand necessarily, but it means you can be better positioned to afford help for all the things you are doing that are likely not the best use of your time and resources.” Upping prices can be a difficult step for people to take – so give yourself permission to go for it.
Recruit new staff members
Ben Lynch says that you might need to bring on more staff: “recruitment is required and it’s about sales and marketing. You’re ‘selling’ your clinic as a place to work and for someone to spend most of their waking hours with you. You need to position your clinic as the go-to place to work.” Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done, as Ben acknowledges: “Attracting quality talent with a short time to hire is a competitive undertaking.”
4You’re having difficulty attracting new patients
On the other hand, finding new patients can be a challenge too. Especially if you’re just starting out, it can be hard to make yourself visible to potential patients. The business coaches had a few suggestions to increase your numbers:
Build capacity in your team
Jo Muirhead says it’s important for practice owners to understand how to attract new patients themselves, rather than outsourcing it: “Invest in learning how to connect with your prospective clients through your marketing. Do not delegate this – you as the business owner must know what works first.”
However, if you have staff working for you, Jo also suggests bringing them on board to assist you: “Build capacity in your team so that everyone on your team is contributing in some way to new client acquisition (this is so much easier than it sounds and no it doesn’t mean everyone has to write a blog).”
“Be authentic!” Danielle Kong advises. “Find your style and voice, instead of trying to be everything and service everyone.” Patients that are a good fit for you will gravitate towards your unique offering if you let it shine through.
Nurture your existing patient base
Antony Hirst notes that happy patients are likely to be great for your word-of-mouth referrals: “look after the ones you have, treat them like gold, let them become your best advertisement.” Patients that love what you do will spread the word about your practice!
5You’re struggling with late cancellations or no-shows
Your time is valuable (and scarce!), so dealing with patients who cancel at the last minute or don’t show up at all can be extremely frustrating. If this is a habitual problem in your practice, you might want to re-evaluate how you communicate and enforce your policies.
Have clear policies and enforce them.
Having clear policies (which you’re prepared to stick to) is important for everyone. Healthy professional boundaries aren’t just good for you as a business owner – they’re also key to the well-being of your team members and help your patients understand what’s expected of them.
Jo Muirhead breaks down exactly what you need to do and why it’s so important: “Discuss your cancellation policy and no-show expectations at your intake interview; don't just ask people to read a piece of paper – they won't. Enforce your policy. If you don't, what message are you giving your patients and your team members? That message is, our policies don't matter, because the boss won't enforce them. Have a process for following up people who didn't show up to find out why, and then reinforce your cancellation policy – this will mean building capacity in your team for them to be able to do this in a way that contributes to the culture of your business.”
Don’t be afraid to charge for missed appointments
Antony Hirst emphasises that it’s important to know your worth: “Bill them! Without hesitation. You will treat the types of patients that you attract.”
Find a strategy that works for you
Tammy Guest suggests settling on a consistent strategy that suits you: “Some people find taking a 50% deposit works, others find health programs that have payment plans work well, others just have well-worded and clear expectations in an automated email reminder. Whichever way you go, stick to it for everybody.”
Maintain your empathy
However, as Jo Muirhead reminds us, it’s important to maintain your empathy at the same time: “Please for the love of everything holy, remember that people reaching out to you as a health professional are scared, are vulnerable, are likely to be anxious or in pain. Treat them in every point of contact as though you understand this.” You can have boundaries – and enforce your policies – while also being compassionate.
We’d like to thank the coaches who kindly gave their time to contribute to this article: Shannon Dunn, Tammy Guest, Jono Heath, Antony Hirst, Dave James, Danielle Kong, Cathy Love, Ben Lynch, Jo Muirhead, Nick Schuster, and Alan Zaia.
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