Osteopath David Birley knows how tough it is to run a clinic. Twice, he grew his business from nothing, and we’ve got his story here for you. Check out our conversation with David and learn all you can from his powerful tale.
How does a dental student who’s allergic to animals become a mobile veterinary physiotherapist with a renowned canine companion?
For as long as she can remember, Hazel Potter always wanted to work with animals, but she was allergic to pretty much anything with fur. Horses and dogs were her passion, but clearly, she couldn’t choose a career that would make her sick every day. So, with her dreams deterred, she pursued dentistry hoping that it would provide a more agreeable work environment. But as she learned, fate is not so easily cast aside.
Time for a change
After a year in dental school, Hazel became antsy. The material was interesting, and she certainly had the aptitude for it, but something wasn’t right. She found herself drawn to learning more about anatomy and the study of movement. So, she abandoned dental school and earned a BSc (Hons) in Physiotherapy from the University of East Anglia (UK). And after graduating in 2001, Hazel landed a respectable position within the National Health Service (NHS). Everything seemed to be going according to plan.
But still—even after all her time and effort—she couldn’t shake free of her desire to help animals. It was like a beacon calling her home, and it wouldn’t be ignored. She listened to her heart and decided to fuse her dreams together by earning her MSc in Veterinary Physiotherapy from the Royal Vet College in London along with a corresponding qualification.
'I felt by becoming dual-qualified in physio for both people and animals, not only could I transfer my in-depth physiotherapy knowledge..., but from a personal point of view, I could balance my workload to manage any resulting allergies that previously held me back! You have just one life to live, don’t you?!'
Now, armed with a wide breadth of skills, she was ready to begin a new chapter of her life as a Veterinary & Chartered Physiotherapist
Getting the business started
While continuing her work within the NHS, Hazel and her trusty sidekick, Tilly (a notoriously adorable Jackapoo), began visiting clients on evenings and weekends. Maintaining a steady income with her day job allowed her fledgling business to grow gradually. It wasn’t long, though, before the demands of her new practice dominated her schedule, and Hazel eventually left her work within the NHS to become a full-time business owner.
With support from professional organisations (CSP & ACPAT) and the administrative experience she gained from the NHS, Hazel’s practice continued to thrive without the need for loans or paid advertising.
Instead, top-notch skills and professionalism powered a word-of-mouth campaign that is still going strong. When it comes to growing a business, Hazel says, '...the biggest advert is having good communication,' and, 'staying up to date in a rapidly developing field.'
Of course, she also recognises the valuable role that social media can play in the overall health of a business. She makes a point to update her Facebook and Instagram profiles as often as she can. Although, admittedly, the day-to-day demands of running her practice often limit the time she’s able to devote toward online growth.
So, to supplement her digital marketing, she’s raised her profile by giving presentations and demonstrations to vet practices and riding clubs. She’s also been a team physiotherapist for the Equestrian Team GBR for over a decade and travels internationally to provide physio support at the Driving World Championships. These extra efforts help drum up new business and solidify her reputation as an authority in the industry.
It’s a learning process
Starting a new practice from the ground up is daunting, to say the least. Hazel has made plenty of mistakes along the way, and they’ve taught her the importance of implementing efficient processes to keep spending in check. 'I initially rented a room to continue my “human work”. But I later realised it was more practical and cost-effective to carry a treatment couch in my car and be able to treat people in their own homes or stable yards.'
As a one-person operation, she’s responsible for every aspect of her business. The strategies and processes she’s developed are essential for tackling such a wide range of tasks each week. And although Tilly would gladly work for dog biscuits and tennis balls, Jackapoos aren’t known for their business skills.
In the beginning, Hazel’s daily tasks and bookkeeping relied on old-fashioned carbon copies and pen and paper. She tried to streamline her efforts and customise her paperwork as much as possible. But in the end, the outdated methods demanded far too much time and attention. She needed a paperless, mobile-friendly way to run her business. In other words, she needed practice management software.
Before choosing a platform, Hazel relied on recommendations from her industry peers. 'I knew of other vet physios using [Cliniko] in Australia and in the UK. So I had a look, and it’s made a huge difference.'
She says, 'Vets can call me when I’m out working (inquiring about a client I’ve seen), and I can access notes immediately.'
Hazel also enjoys the adaptability of assessment forms. 'There’s no limit on modifying them—my assessment, my questions ,my tick boxes. If [a question] isn’t working, then I change it.'
To ease the workload further, Hazel follows a somewhat rigid schedule. Mondays are for administrative duties like invoicing, reports and continuing professional development. The remaining days of the week can vary in length and are spent travelling from client to client. She limits her time behind the wheel by grouping the visits based on geographic location and proximity to one another.
But that’s not to say that she doesn’t enjoy the travel. 'My office is my car and the view out the window can vary from the Northumberland coast, to castles and beaches, to the Eildon Hills in the Scottish Borders. So, I can’t complain.'
A word of advice
If you’re starting a new practice, Hazel suggests using, '... [a] phone number that is business only. Don’t just start using your mobile!' Of course, your friends will probably still message your personal phone with work questions. Maybe we can all take another page from the Hazel Potter playbook. Don’t deny your passion. Follow your heart and work hard to bring your dreams to fruition. And always keep a furry friend close by.
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