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.