Learning Curve | Patients’ satisfaction key to success

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A leap of faith and a gentle nudge from family and friends were just what Nicola Roote needed to start her business, Nicky Roote Physiotherapy.Now, 14 years on Roote employs 12 people.Can you give me some background on yourself, and how and when you started the business?I am married to a great guy and have two sons, 13 and five years old.I was an avid runner and paddler pre-kids, but my sport has taken a bit of a back seat in the past few years while juggling my practice and motherhood.I am trying to get back into regular exercise as I know how vital it is for good health and mental wellbeing.I qualified as a physio at UCT in 1994 and learnt a lot in the 10 years I worked for other people while travelling in the UK, the US and also working here in Port Elizabeth.I opened my own practice in January of 2005.Where was business the idea born?I was involved in running, canoeing and surfski paddling, and saw the need for everyday athletes to have their injuries treated and prevented.I had a strong desire to develop and grow my own business but initially lacked the confidence to open up my own practice.It was my friends and family who encouraged me to take the leap of faith and go out on my own.What do you think makes your business unique?My practice offers patients a diversity of expertise as I have well qualified and experienced physios in many different fields, for example, sports, spinal care (including a physio who is Pilates qualified), ergonomics, paediatrics and [treating] amputees.Attention to the individual needs of the patient is our focus and I think we do that very well.If someone wanted to take one key lesson from your business model, what would it be?Reputation is key and word-of-mouth is powerful.What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before even getting off the ground?I needed to build up confidence in my ability to draw and grow a patient base so during my very first year I worked from the spare room of my home in Richmond Hill.The costs of setting up a practice are significant and as in any business, the costs outweigh one’s income in the early years.I overcame this by working in association with a colleague, sharing premises and a secretary until 2011.What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?Medical aid funding for physiotherapy is constantly changing, and one needs to stay informed and prepared for these changes (our professional society, the SASP, does a really good job of assisting us here).Inflation seems to rise at a higher rate than the patients’ annual increases in benefits so patients’ medical aids tend to run out earlier and earlier each year, and paying for physio treatments out of pocket can be prohibitive for some patients.It is costly to attract and keep experienced physios working in the practice.Port Elizabeth has become quite competitive with many new practices have opened up, so one needs to be innovative to find ways to best serve the public.What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?Spend time in your business, don’t leave it to run on its own as it needs close attention to keep it flourishing.How do you measure or define success in your business?I gain immense satisfaction from seeing someone walk out of our rooms able to move better than when he or she walked in.To hold a reputation of integrity and professionalism in the eyes of my patients, physio colleagues and other health professionals.To maintain a harmonious atmosphere within my reception and treatment rooms which stems from satisfied staff and patients.What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?Employing excellent staff in both the admin and clinical facets of my business; giving autonomy to staff members in their areas of skill; diversifying by employing physios with different skill sets; owning my own building; introducing a physiotherapy service on Saturday mornings once we saw a need for it.What kind of advertising do you do?I have made it a habit to be involved regularly in a diverse array of sports and community events, including high-profile events such as the Ironman.We maintain good relationships with our patients, the GPs and the surgeons which support referrals via word-of-mouth.We also have a Facebook page as well as a website.What are some of your highlights of running your business?Most days I experience the joy of being appreciated by a patient who feels better physically and mentally after a physio session.It is extremely rewarding to feel that one has made a difference in someone’s life by empowering them with knowledge of how the body functions and moves, and to take some of the fear that surrounds pain and injury away.I love my job and I am lucky to experience this high level of job satisfaction daily.How many people do you employ?Twelve in total.How do you motivate staff?I try to build confidence in my staff members by giving credit where credit is due.I make some flexihours possible to accommodate their needs and improve their quality of life.I give them time off to attend courses whenever they request to do so, and foster an environment of mentorship and continued learning within my practice.I show my appreciation for the way they give of themselves by engaging with them away from the work environment over a cup of coffee, breakfast or lunch.How did you acquire funding for the business?I borrowed some money initially and have continued to have the support of my family.Once you had funding, what was the first step in actually launching the business?A friend printed me 500 business cards as a birthday gift and that gave me the nudge to get started.I also got involved in running, paddling and lifesaving clubs as a member, gave educational and career talks at schools and factories, networked through the Business Women’s Association, and provided physiotherapy services at various sports and community events.I also got plenty of useful input and advice from the private practitioners’ wing of the SA Society of Physiotherapy (Physiofocus).What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?The right admin people are the cornerstone of any business running effectively.What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Port Elizabeth?The greatest challenge I face is creating and maintaining a patient base in an ever more competitive market and an advantage to running my business here is the effectiveness of word-of-mouth for marketing due to the “close-knit, networking” nature of the city.What do you think are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneurWork satisfaction, energy and commitment.

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