Mark Goffinet, MS, CCC-A, FAAA
Being a business owner is one of the big aspects of the "American Dream." Private practice in audiology provides the audiologist with a vehicle to achieve that dream. As a business owner, the professional can be rewarded personally, professionally, and financially. The audiologist has complete control of all aspects of career, business and personal goals.
While private practice can offer a very satisfying career path, there is much work that needs to be completed before the shingle is hung and the doors are opened. Success in private practice takes planning as well as implementation of the plan. The purpose of the following information is to provide a basic starting point for those interested in pursuing a career in the private practice of Audiology and is designed to provide a very general overview of the steps needed to begin an audiology practice.
One of the most important, and sometimes most difficult, areas to explore is for the professional to honestly evaluate themselves to determine if they have what it takes to succeed. Are you a risk taker? Are you self directed? Are you willing to work long hours? What are your strengths and weaknesses? One should be highly motivated to set and achieve goals. How many years of experience as an audiologist do you have? What is your professional philosophy? To be successful, the audiologist must commit to providing the best services possible to each patient regardless of any inconvenience. As a business owner, the saying, "the customer is always right," takes on critical meaning.
Self-employment means self-responsibility. The private business person is the planner, implementer, and benefactor of all decisions, good or bad. Therefore, be honest in the evaluation of your skills. Realize there is no need to be an expert in all aspects of business and be willing to allocate certain tasks to the professionals qualified to implement the task. For example, a good accountant can be invaluable. In general, one needs to feel confident that they can stay the course until goals are achieved. Self-employment requires hard work with delayed gratification but, ultimately, it can be highly rewarding.
Of course, in order to achieve goals they must first be set. This is where one of the most important aspects of any business begins, the business plan.
The business plan is the roadmap to success for any business. The plan provides guidance for the owner as well as prospective investors. By beginning work on the business plan, goals are set and decisions are made regarding the formation and operation of the business. Questions such as: Should an existing business be purchased or should this be a new business in this market? What areas of audiology should be the focus of the business? Should the business be incorporated or would another type of entity be more appropriate? Many of these questions can be answered as work begins to develop the strategic business plan.
A standard format is generally used for the plan. This is the story of the business, including the services to be provided and a background on who is providing those services. An industry overview as well as a review and market survey of local competition is important. Describe how this practice can successfully compete in this market. What niche in the market will you fill? For example, you might provide a full range of amplification devices and diagnostic testing to patients, family practice, internal medicine, and pediatric physicians, as well as hearing conservation services for small industry in your area. Or perhaps you have specialized in diagnostics for all ages including otoacoustic emissions, balance testing and central auditory testing.
One large area of any business plan is the marketing plan. The marketing plan evaluates and describes the size of the market, the segment of the market your practice will focus on, and how the practice will bring this market segment into your office. The marketing plan should describe start-up advertising goals and long term marketing ideas, as well as patient retention strategies. A comprehensive plan should include at least a year of marketing, advertising and patient retention goals, as well as a timetable for implementation. These plans and goals should be reviewed and revised periodically.
Another important aspect of the plan will include financial goals. These would focus on projected revenues and expenses, start-up capital, and cash flow requirements to include a salary for you until you begin making a consistent profit. If capital is needed to start the business, this part of the plan would state the requirements and how the practice will provide for repayment to lenders or investors.
The action plan is also important. This refers to a timetable for implementation of all aspects of the business plan. For example, when each component will be started, completed, and who will be responsible for implementation and monitoring. This area of the plan should be specific, but you must realize it should also be dynamic. Your goals should be realistic and achievable. There will be bumps in the road and adjustments will need to be made along the way.
A business plan is a living document. It is not intended to be done one time and filed away. The plan should be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that overall implementation of the goals is on track. If some areas of your plan are not progressing as expected, adjustments and decisions will have to be made. This is the purpose of the plan. It is your roadmap to success that can be followed and changed as required.
There are also many resources on the Internet. Doing a search on business plans will produce a tremendous amount of information. Also, two good books are available; Audiology Practice Management, edited by Hosford-Dunn, Roesner and Valente and Business Plans for Dummies available at Amazon.com or any major bookstore.
Most audiologists are not well trained in business management and implementation. This is why it is important, from the beginning, to seek the advice of professionals more qualified in those areas. It is important to have good legal advice as well as accounting advice. At the minimum, a lawyer and an accountant should be obtained. Ideally, these would be professionals specializing in small business operations. The best source of contact for these professionals is a referral from other small business owners.
Some area universities or colleges offer advice for those interested in starting a business. Contact the area chamber of commerce to determine if help is available. Many times, retired business people will donate their time to assist others in starting a business. Many hearing instrument manufacturers offer business development guidance. Professional organizations such as ASHA also provide material available to assist in starting a practice.
Private practice in audiology can be a very rewarding career path. Be honest with yourself about the requirements of being a business owner. Do the research and develop a business plan that will be a guide to success for the practice. Seek the advice and expertise of others in formulating and implementing the business plan. Be flexible in all aspects of development and implementation. Above all, enjoy the adventure. Private practice can be the most satisfying experience audiology has to offer.
Mr. Goffinet has more than 30 years of experience in private practice. During this time he has also been an instructor of audiology at Central Missouri State University. Mr. Goffinet is in private practice and works with Phonak, Inc., as a clinical educator to support their programmable products as well as a practice development consultant. He has presented at several state and national meetings on the topics of hearing instrument technology, the successful application of digital/programmable systems, and practice development issues.