January 17, 2006 Features

Corporate Speech-Language Pathology

Is It Right For You?

Did you know that a continuous oven can produce 11,000 pounds of hot dogs every hour? Or that anesthesia machines need to have strong bottom drawers that are used as footrests during long surgeries? These were just two things I learned during a recent week while working as a corporate speech-language pathologist.

Communication takes place in all workplaces, so there is a potential to be called into service in places where you would not expect to see an SLP—in laboratories, construction sites, bakeries, churches, offices, mail centers, factories, and banks.

Companies usually request our services because a communication breakdown is taking place and they view SLPs as the experts to help alleviate the problem. In addition to seeing employees for traditional speech issues, we may also be called in to work with employees who exhibit less traditional "communication inhibitors." Less traditional areas might include foreign or regional accent modification, presentation skills, listening skills, public speaking, voice preservation/improvement, aural rehabilitation, communication etiquette, telephone skills, and cross-cultural communication.

Two case studies illustrate the type of services common to a corporate speech-language pathology practice. Mario, an information technology expert originally from Chile, worked for a software development company. His job required him to communicate with both co-workers and customers regarding software development. Mario's company wanted to promote him to a position where he would present new products to potential customers; however, his English pronunciation was inhibiting that promotion.

Jim recently started his own business and was excited about promoting his ideas to companies, but had no experience with public speaking. Presentation anxiety was an obstacle to his ultimate success.

Launching a Corporate Practice

Perhaps you already have an established practice and are looking for ways to expand your existing services. Or, maybe you are considering starting a corporate practice from scratch. Certain principles apply to any new business venture, but each business is unique and is shaped by its specialties as well as local and state regulations.

Self-employment is always a financial risk. In most cases, income will not be generated immediately and it could take years to build a thriving practice. Since several additional out-of-pocket expenditures will be incurred, many corporate SLPs continue to work in their "day jobs" as they build their individual practices in the evenings and on weekends.

Further, the area of corporate speech-language pathology is recommended only for SLPs who have several years' experience and comfort with their clinical skills. The business aspects of private practice could easily overwhelm an inexperienced professional. Consider taking a few business classes at night during your first few professional years. Additionally, it is imperative to hire a reputable accountant and attorney to help guide you through the details of your particular business start-up.

Doing the Research

As with any business, there are numerous steps you must take prior to opening your doors—and none is more important than researching markets in your specific area. To research effectively, the following steps are useful:

  • Define your area of interest and expertise. Is there a need for this type of service in your geographical area? Will the current local economy support it? What businesses in your community could utilize this type of service? Is there a local competitor in your area?
  • Learn the basics of business. As SLPs we generally have not been educated in business practices.
  • Consider taking a few business classes that focus on writing an effective business plan, public relations, accounting, taxes, marketing, and similar topics. Search your local university, community college, chamber of commerce, local chapter of the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov) or your local Small Business Development Center (http://sbdcnet.utsa.edu) for course offerings. The nonprofit Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) (www.score.org), which provides free business counseling and workshops to small business owners, is also an excellent resource.
  • Locate online resources. Several public relations and marketing firms offer free e-zines with useful tips.
  • Contact business networking groups. Talk to people about your business ideas. Devise a short survey about the perceived communication needs of the businesses these people work in. What needs do they describe? How can your business meet these needs?
  • Create an effective name. Much thought should be put into developing the name of your business. It should be business-appropriate, not medical, in tone. If your business is named "ABC Children's Speech Therapy," few Wall Street executives would value your expertise for corporate work. After choosing a name, register it so that no one else can do business under the same name.

Setting Up an Office

When setting up an office specific to corporate speech, commercial office space is not a necessity. It is feasible to work out of a home office and travel to the client's business where a quiet conference room is typically available. (Check with your county zoning office for regulations on home offices.) If space is not available at the client's place of business, with some research you can locate small conference rooms at local hotels or office buildings that can be rented by the hour or day. Or, you might consider renting conference room space from another small business on an as-needed basis.

If you already have a practice, consider how your current environment meets the needs of your corporate clients. How would that Wall Street executive view an office waiting room with toys scattered on the floor and child language development charts posted on the walls? Environment does make a difference with the client's perception of your professionalism and comfort level with training.

Promoting Your Services

One of the most important considerations when initiating your practice is development of marketing materials. You will need business cards and brochures immediately. These marketing tools need to be business-appropriate. Unless they are generic, utilizing the same business card that you use with your pediatric population is not acceptable.

Marketing is the most challenging part of this specialty. We continue to look for ways to promote our services to the public and educate corporations to show how improved communication can benefit their business. There are several methods that many corporate SLPs have tried (mass mailings, advertising, cold calls), but one of the most effective is networking. It is extremely important to network with people who could utilize your services or with people who could connect you with others that may potentially utilize your services. That means joining community groups and professional organizations. The more you talk about what you do, the better known your business will become.

Find ways to utilize your local press. Several corporate SLPs have appeared as guests of radio or television shows talking about areas of our expertise. We also frequently send press releases to newspapers and magazines about our accomplishments. The idea is to keep your name in front of the public so when they realize they have a need for your service, your name will be the one that comes to mind.

Some SLPs with a corporate practice advertise in the yellow pages or magazines. Although print ads can be expensive, these have shown good results in some parts of the country. Many of us have Web sites that describe our services.

Pricing and Payment

Most corporate SLP businesses are cash-based and do not bill insurers. Companies frequently pay for employees through their training budgets or individuals will pay out of pocket. Several factors must be taken into consideration when determining what to charge. What one region will support, another will not. Obviously, rates would be higher in New York City than in a small Midwestern town.

Frequently, our services are packaged and not addressed as an hourly fee. For accent modification services, most providers in corporate practice give a price for the full program which might include up to 25 hours of services. This cuts down on billing procedures and bookwork.

Realize that if you price your services too high, you may scare clients away. If you price your services too low, the customer may wonder what is wrong with them. Most companies are looking for quality services and not only the cheapest service available.

Is it Right for You?

The decision to start a corporate speech-language practice is not to be taken lightly. There are financial risks and continual lessons to be learned in the business world. It differs significantly from the educational or health care world of speech-language pathology, but when the time is right, this can be an extremely rewarding career.

Barbara Christensen, a speech-language pathologist, is past-president of Corspan, and president of Speech Advantage in Madison, WI. Contact her at barb@speechadvantage.info.

cite as: Christensen, B. (2006, January 17). Corporate Speech-Language Pathology : Is It Right For You?. The ASHA Leader.

Mario and Jim: Training Procedures and Results

Mario's Training

Mario was seen for intensive accent modification training over a four-week period. Three eight-hour sessions were held in a private conference room at his place of business. Mario also had frequent brief communications (via phone, e-mail, or audio sound files) with the SLP to answer questions, practice new skills, and encourage carry-over into conversation. Mario was instructed to practice one hour per day. Training focused upon finding patterns in his speech such as final consonant deletions, de-voicing, consonant cluster reductions, and specific vowels. We also focused upon voice projection, intonation issues, and rate of speech. We heavily targeted pronunciation of his professional vocabulary.

Mario's Results

Comparing pre- and post-training speech, Mario had a 59% improvement in his production of sounds in words and paragraph reading. His rate of speech had been reduced from 179 words per minute (wpm) to 122 wpm. His understanding of intonation patterns improved from 35% to 80%. Mario reported practicing three hours per week during the month of training. He reported increased confidence in speaking and fewer miscommunications. He felt his new communication skills helped him to be more productive.

Jim's Training

Jim was seen for six one-hour sessions over a five-week period in the SLP's office. Video recording was heavily utilized. We frequently talked about his fears of public speaking and how to reduce them—or reduce the  audience's perception of his fear. Voice projection was essential along with teaching natural body movements such as smiling or moving while speaking. Emphasis was placed on utilizing the downward inflection at the end of sentences so he sounded knowledgeable instead of "questioning" as he spoke. Jim was extremely motivated.

Jim's Results

Jim reported success with the speeches he has given to promote his business and obtained a large contract as a result of a speech. Jim now has so many clients that he books appointments a month in advance. 



Resources

Corporate Speech-Language Pathology

Corporate Speech Pathology Network (www.corspan.org) offers specific information on this area of  practice and networking opportunities.

Breakey, L.K. (2005) Fear of public speaking—the role of the SLP. Seminars in Speech and Language 26, 107–117.

Schwartz, Katie. (1999) Talking on the job: the world of corporate speech pathology. Stow, OH: Interactive Therapeutics, Inc. www.interactivetherapy.com/

Private Practice in Speech-Language Pathology

An online professional consultation packet compiling ASHA position statements, guidelines, technical reports and other resources relevant to private practice in speech-language pathology can be found on ASHA’s Web site at www.asha.org/members/slp/ppresources.htm

Golper, Lee Ann C. & Brown, Janet E. (Eds.) (2004). Business matters: A guide for speech-language pathologists. Rockville, MD: American Speech-Language Hearing Association.

American Academy of Private Practice in Speech Pathology and Audiology. www.aappspa.org

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2005). Guide to successful private practice in speech-language pathology (Rev. ed.). Rockville, MD: ASHA. Available from ASHA’s Product Sales,  888-498-6699.

Accent Modification

A list of readings on accent modification can be found on ASHA’s Web site at www.asha.org/about/leadership-projects/multicultural.htm

Related practice documents, resources, and definitions of terms such as "accent," "dialect," and "social dialect," can be found on ASHA’s Web site at www.asha.org/about/leadership-projects/multicultural/issues/ad.htm

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2004). Accent Modification brochure. 



  

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