One year on in clinic - Starting a small business
Starting my own clinic has been a very steep learning curve, both professionally and personally. When starting any small business the challenges do not really revolve around your area of expertise. It does not matter if you are a hairdresser, a gardener, a cleaner or a naturopath, the tricky part is learning the art of business.
When starting a business we all believe we are good at our chosen field or we would not be going into it, the complicated bit is if we are good at running a business. This is an entire separte entity to the career choice.
So what have I learnt in the last year? ALOT
I am still constantly learning and maybe we will revisit this page in 5 years and see how I am faring but for now I have some tips for people thinking about starting out.
1. Research, research, research. - When you decide to start your business always look at your target market, the demographics of the area you want to start up in, competition nearby, car parking (if having a bricks and mortar presence), nearby referrals (people who could help support you) and anything else you can possibly think of relating to your area of expertise. Has there been previous attempts in the area? Why did they fail? What can you do different? How are you different?
In this section I would also say DO YOUR BUSINESS PLAN! There are many free examples on the net with business plans etc. Do not overestimate your client base and growth as this will miscalculate if you can actually afford to run your business. Remember to allow for holidays, sick days, bad weeks, cancellations and be realistic with your goals.
The more time you put in before you actually do anything allows you to be more prepared for the curve balls. It gives you a deeper understanding of what you are trying to achieve and who you are trying to reach.
2. Utilise free business mentor services. - The best thing I ever did was to contact my local council and find out about what they can do to help small businesses in the area. They in turn put me onto Polaris Business and Innovation Centre. This business offers free advisory sessions, free digital marketing sessions and also helped me with my website. They offer nurmerous events that are either free or very cheap and are worth every penny to attend. If, when you first start out, you cannot afford to pay people to do your marketing or webistes (like me!), trying to navigate these areas is complicated. There is so much more than just getting a facebook page, instagram account and a basic website. A business needs to know all the tricks in advertising and getting found by google. The fact that Polaris can help you with this for free is awesome.
3. Work on your business as much as you work in your business - We will all perfect our area of expertise while working in the job. I have learnt so much more about being a naturopath by the people who walk through my door. I have been challenged on every level but have embraced this challenge. I am constantly learning and trying to educate myself about the natural health world but as the same time I am always focused on the business side of what I do. How can I ensure that clients get a great service, that I am time efficient, that I control my stock levels, my marketing etc. I ensure that I am across everything financially, I know where every cent goes and have realistic expectations of profit and loss.
4. Marketing - Do not just do a couple of facebook posts, instagram posts and expect people to flood through your door. If you are lucky this will gain interest but if you are not selling a product but a service this is not enough. Selling a service relies on work of mouth and people identifying that you are the person they want to see. You need to reach these people, they need to think "that is who I want for....." and how do we do that?. I have read that most people need to see something numerous times in numerous forms before they will commit to contact. In that case we do need to do social media, but we also need to reach other people via other forms of marketing. Newsletters, brochures, business cards, free talks, blogs, google ads etc. Whatever you can think of to have your name on multiple forms of advertising.
5. Have your systems in place - I use a software program that makes my life so much easier. It incorporates booking, financial, note taking, stock assessment and much more. Every business needs to have systems in place so that at any given point in any day you know exactly where you are at. When you first start out you scrimp and save on monthly expenditures but there are some things that you cannot afford not to invest in. With a good system, you look professional, your contact with clients is professional and you feel confident. There is no point in having the system and not using it to its full capacity so learn the software/system backwards!. With a good client management, stock management and financial management system, your business will be streamlined and you will not be wasting prescious time trying to find stuff or missing orders, or losing bookings.
At the end of the day you are no different to whoever else is out there in your area of business. What will make you different is understanding your business inside out, investing in yourself, having realistic expectations and having professional rapport with your clients. Do not run before you can walk. Start small and ensure that you are the best you can be before you try and involve others or branch out. Its tough out there for small business at the moment and we all need to help each other, so my final piece of advice is simple.
Surround yourself with people who support you, lift you up, motivate you and who just listen. Find people who don't just want something from you but are genuinely interested in what you are doing and.....................
PAY IT FORWARD, help others, reach out to people who are starting in your chosen field. If you can offer any advice or anything you have learned do it!. The more we support each other the better all industries are.