Marc Eskander is not the first person you’d expect to be running a highly successful, highly original psychology practice. An optometrist by training, Marc took over the practice in 2018 with a vision (see what we did there?) of bringing this unique and impactful model of therapy to more people who need it. He saw it as an opportunity to continue in the healthcare field, but with a different focus – working in a way that continues to be completely unique in Australia.
With a team of 8 psychologists, Walk Different is the only practice in Australia that offers outdoor-only walking therapy. Their psychologists all have a full caseload and they field enquiries from potential new clients on a daily basis. When asked why their practice is so popular, Marc responds “Clients come to us because of the outdoor option. It removes the awkwardness of seeing a psychologist in a traditional setting – it’s not nearly as formal or confronting.”
Providing a relaxed setting is at the heart of the Walk Different offering. You can choose from different locations, and get sent an email with a consent form and an intake form. Then you make your appointment and go for a walk with your psychologist.
As Marc points out, “there is a lot of evidence for side-by-side therapy, whether you have social anxiety, have had a bad experience with psychologists in the past or, for any number of reasons, struggle with a more formal therapy session.”
There is also a growing body of research that supports the inclusion of exercise and spending time outdoors as an effective strategy for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Exercising in-session is a physical demonstration of this and helps to get the client out the house. It’s an opportunity to walk the talk and motivate the client.
And what about the psychologists on his team? Well, in Marc’s words “I think what they do for clients is so valuable. They’re pretty fit, and there’s no uniform because it’s a casual outdoor work environment. It’s a good role for a specific kind of person, one who loves exercise and flexible hours, working in beautiful locations, and is interested in a better working lifestyle.”
Walk Different switched to Power Diary in February this year after Marc’s exhaustive investigation into the psychology practice management software options available on the market. He describes their previous software as difficult-to-use, glitchy and buggy with poor support. And, because it didn’t offer the functionality that the practice needed, they were working with several different programs at the same time. Marc explains that “automation and software is a big part of what we do. The way our practice works means that we need virtual solutions to ensure everyone is fully in the loop at all times, and it needs to be as efficient as possible.”
For this practice, messaging, communication and email needed to be in the same system. When narrowing down their choices, Marc looked at all the major practice management software options on the market and found Power Diary to be the most user-friendly. “Power Diary is overall the easiest to get started with, offers the best functionality, meets our key criteria, and is the most cost-effective option for our practice. The direct SMS functionality has helped a lot, and improved visibility of outstandings has allowed us to reduce the number of unpaid invoices. We also use the treatment note templates.” Marc also adds that
“Power Diary has allowed us to streamline our processes as we no longer need an additional SMS tool, or an email-to-fax tool, that is all handled by the software.”
For Marc, the shift to psychology practice owner has been a significant change. The field of psychology is very different to optometry; “there’s no product and no cost of goods. It’s fully people-focused and all service-based. It’s my first time owning a business, and while I’ve learnt a lot, it’s been a steep learning curve and I know that there’s still lots more to learn.”
Reflecting back on his key insights from the last two years, Marc has three pieces of advice to offer to smaller practices that are looking to grow: the first is on attracting clients: “word of mouth has been big for us. Make sure from start to finish that the whole client experience is the best possible. Clients are not just there to be helped; it’s also very important to them that they are treated well. Almost all our feedback is along the lines of how lovely and kind the therapists are, much more so than how they were helped.”
The second is about the importance of building a strong team. “You have to figure out what your psychologist wants in a role. At the end of the day, people will look for a practice that aligns with their values. Your team limits your growth which means you need to hire psychologists if you are serious about a growth trajectory. So, get your values right, and you’ll attract the right team. What we look for is people who are down-to-earth and humble. We’re focused on providing a relaxed calming environment and want to build a team of psychologists who are going to treat our clients with the utmost respect, kindness and care. When it comes down to it, our values as a business are simple. We aim to be humble and compassionate. It’s a privilege to be allowed into our clients’ lives and walk alongside them on their journey to mental wellness and wellbeing.”
And lastly, processes and systems. “You have to automate; there is only so much that you can do manually. You have to sit down, get comfortable and drill down into each process. Drill down, then optimise and automate. If you’re not growing, check that you aren’t being held back by old-school processes and manual data entry. Then spend time looking at the software and technology that supports your practice. Review what you’re currently doing and see if there are better alternatives on the market. This is a vital process for any practice owner. For a small time investment upfront, you will save time, money and a lot of stress in the long run. You use your software 8 hours a day, five days a week, make sure that whatever you’re using that it’s the best fit for your business.”
“For us, the user experience was a big thing, and that’s why we chose Power Diary.”