Last year’s Cliniko survey asked allied health practitioners about the challenges you’re facing. This post takes you through the top five struggles you shared with us, and gives some tips from top industry business coaches on some steps you can take to make life easier.
We’re sure you’re great at treating your patients – after all, that’s why you set up an allied health practice – but how confident are you when it comes to running your business?
Many of the practitioners who participated in Cliniko’s 2021 survey said they’d struggled to make the leap from being a clinician to being a business owner. Their studies had never taught them business skills, and setting up their own practice meant they were suddenly thrown in the deep end – learning through trial and error, and struggling with self-doubt. This is where business coaching comes in.
A huge 33% of our survey respondents said they’d used a business coach. More importantly, 68% of those who had said they were likely or very likely to recommend business coaching to other allied health practice owners. But what exactly does a business coach do? How do you know if you need one? And, when you’ve taken the plunge and reached out to a coach, how do you get the most out of the experience?
We asked twelve allied health business coaches what it is exactly that they do, and their observations of practices over their years of coaching. This is what they had to say:
Why do allied health professionals seek out business coaching?
While there are many different reasons that an allied health professional might seek out business coaching, the coaches we chatted to have noticed some trends. Their clients often fall into three categories:
Established business owners needing help
Many practitioners set up businesses without really knowing what they’re doing, and they reach out for coaching when they start to feel overwhelmed and out of their depth. “Owners are running around each week really busy, but not sure what they are trying to achieve,” Antony Hirst observes. “They have no structures in place to measure, manage, or earn enough.” That’s a stressful situation for anyone!
New business owners looking to avoid the pitfalls
On the other hand, sometimes people want to make sure they’re on track from the very beginning of setting up their business and contact a coach to help. As Cathy Love, founder of Nacre Consulting says, “they are new to the allied health business environment and are determined to work smarter not harder to develop a vibrant business that serves them, not the other way around.”
Business owners needing a fresh pair of eyes
Wanting a fresh perspective is another key reason people turn to business coaches. Alan Zaia, who founded Osteohustle, notes that this is a valuable aspect of coaching: “Being a clinic owner can be very overwhelming. Having someone who's been where you are and can offer a fresh pair of eyes could be the boost you need to feel in control of your clinic again.” Dave James says that clients often approach him for this same reason: “Quite a lot of people I'm talking to now are looking for someone to bounce ideas off. Somebody who is not a family member or friend who they can have a conversation with.”
Which allied health professions are most likely to use a business coach?
Many different allied health professions are contacting business coaches and our survey data showed that this trend isn’t specific to any particular group – from psychologists to podiatrists, people are reaching out for business help. This is backed up by the coaches we chatted to, who’ve seen clients across all different areas of allied health.
However, many allied health business coaches were once practitioners themselves and, because of this lived experience and expertise, they tend to attract clients from that modality. Some coaches will even offer services exclusively to one profession (e.g. Alan Zaia’s Osteohustle is exclusively for osteopaths and Nick Schuster’s Ultimate Physio focuses on physios), so if you’re interested in a particular coach, you’ll need to check if they cater to you!
What is the biggest misconception allied health businesses have about coaches?
“That you only need a coach if you can’t figure it out yourself,” says Ben Lynch, CEO of Clinic Mastery. “The reality is, we don’t get taught how to run a business at health school. Given health professionals are smart, assertive, independent people, they often believe that they can do business alone. Whether it’s a board of advisors, coaches or consultants, private practice owners should have a support person or team that can help them navigate the challenges of being in business.”
Toughing it out on your own is incredibly isolating and stressful and, as Danielle Kong (one founder of Kong & Way) points out, coaching doesn’t have to be a last resort: “In my experience, business owners tend to think coaching is for failing businesses, and that needing support means you’re admitting defeat,” she says. “But in reality, while coaching is a great way to turn around a failing business, it is much more effective and enjoyable for businesses that are stable and doing well. Coaches can help you to take your business from good to great.”
Another common belief is that the expense of coaching simply can’t be justified. Alistair Way (the other founder of Kong & Way) has seen this mentality a lot: “I think the biggest misconception is that coaching is a luxury rather than a necessary component to growing a business.”
What are some of the common mistakes practice owners make in their business?
Where are people going wrong? This varies a lot, but coaches say there are a couple of errors they repeatedly see business owners making:
Your business should align with your personal life goals
“Personal life goals are critical to determining what business goals should or could be,” Alistair Way says. Tammy Guest agrees with this: “Practices forget that they have broader goals in life, rather than business, and that these need to be factored into their vision.”
So what should you be working towards? Nick Schuster, founder of Ultimate Physio, gives the following advice: “there is almost no benefit in going straight to working on making a business more profitable, trying to exit it, or make it run without you, without first learning more about who you are, what you want, what stops you, and how to get what you want in life.” In other words, having a clear idea of the bigger picture of what you want to achieve for yourself will help you run your business. These two things aren’t separate – they’re interrelated.
Running a business requires a different mindset to being a practitioner
Transitioning to owning a business can be tricky! You might’ve had a lot of experience working with your patients but being responsible for keeping a business afloat is a very different role. Cathy Love often witnesses her clients struggling with this: “They overlook the need to shift their focus, role and learning from being a clinician to being a business owner.” Making the move from one role to another will take some adjustment.
What does coaching involve?
The approach that each coach uses will be quite different, so it’s hard to say exactly what coaching would mean for you. Some coaches run group programs you can join, generally lasting for several months. These programs will vary, but may include online training, group accountability calls, and in-person get togethers.
Another option is to work with a coach one-on-one. This means you’ll get an individually tailored program, created to achieve your personal goals. A coach will look at where your business is at and where you want to end up, then help you figure out how to get there. This might mean improving existing systems or finding new ways of doing things. They will work with you to come up with a plan and then actionable steps to implement it, providing support along the way.
How long does coaching usually last?
The duration of business coaching also varies a lot – according to the coaches we chatted to, clients will attend sessions from anywhere between 6 months to 5+ years! Where your business falls on the time spectrum will depend on what you want to work on and the kind of support you’re looking for. The time commitment involved is definitely something to chat about with any prospective coach before you get started.
How much does it cost?
You can expect to pay anything between $150 AUD – $2,500 AUD per month, depending on whether you're participating in group coaching or one-on-one coaching. Each business owner’s needs will be individual, and price is likely to differ according to your goals.
What limits the success of coaching?
Coaching is an investment – of time as well as money. To benefit from the experience, you’ll need to be prepared to make space in your busy schedule for coaching sessions and homework, as well as understanding that seeing results from coaching can take a while. Both parties need to make a commitment. “If you’re considering taking on a coach, improvements won’t happen unless you commit to doing the work,” Jono Heath, founding director of The Hive, emphasises. It's also important for you to be on the same page as your coach in terms of expectations you have of each other – communicating this clearly from the beginning is helpful for everyone.
What is the most important thing to be aware of when looking for a business coach?
Overwhelmingly, coaches say the most important thing is to find someone who’s a good fit for you. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind during your search for a coach:
Trust is essential
You’re in for some vulnerable moments with your coach, so they need to feel worthy of your trust. Danielle Kong says, “my biggest advice for finding the right coach is to choose a coach whose values align with your own. You’ll be sharing intimate details of your life and business, so it’s important to select someone who is not only experienced in the allied health industry but also makes you feel comfortable and supported.”
Give yourself a few different options
“It's worth your time to shop around,” Alan Zaia recommends. “I'd suggest speaking with at least three coaches who have helped people in your profession before. Explain your situation and ask them to put together a plan for you. Pick the coach who fits your values, provides realistic solutions, is transparent with you and who you feel you can trust.”
Choose a qualified and/or experienced coach
“Coaching is an unregulated industry,” warns Shannon Dunn, founder of Thrive Factor Co. She has witnessed the downsides of this: “Anyone can call themselves a coach – this does not mean they are appropriately qualified or experienced to successfully coach a practice owner or team regarding business specifics.” So make sure you take a thorough look at the backstory of any coaches you consider!
Don’t make a long-term commitment straight away
Avoid rushing into a coaching contract before spending some time with your prospective coach. Antony Hirst advises a cautious approach: “My advice to someone thinking about using an advisor is just spend a few hours with them. Do not commit to some long-term deal without working a bit with them first.”
Dave James agrees: “Coaches that are worth their salt will sit down and have a conversation with you and they'll give you some value and something to take away. Then they'll decide whether they're going to give you a proposal for coaching.”
We hope this has given you some more information about coaching and whether it’s the right fit for you. If you choose to find a coach, we hope your experience is helpful for you and your practice.
And a warm thank you to the coaches who made this article possible: Shannon Dunn, Tammy Guest, Jono Heath, Antony Hirst, Dave James, Danielle Kong, Cathy Love, Ben Lynch, Jo Muirhead, Nick Schuster, Alistair Way, and Alan Zaia.
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