If you’re a physiotherapist doing some research on how to start a physical therapy clinic, you’re in the right place. Our step-by-step guide will take you through the five major areas that you’ll need to focus on to take your dream of owning your own practice and make it a reality. There are no shortcuts to getting your PT clinic up and running but, with a clear plan and some long hours, you can successfully transition from being a physical therapist working for someone else to a physical therapy practice owner (see the inspiring story of Tessa Hinds who grew her solo physiotherapy practice into a large multidisciplinary clinic).
Starting a private practice isn’t the right choice for everyone, and you’ll have to be prepared to work hard and do a lot of learning. Becoming a practice owner is quite different from working in a practice: the hours are usually longer, and you’ll have to start thinking of yourself as a business owner and therapist, not just a therapist.
But, as the saying goes, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. To make your private practice a success you need to plan first, then be prepared to put in the hard work. So, while we can’t do the work for you, we can help you with planning how to start a physical therapy clinic.
Here are the 5 steps you need to follow to get up and running:
Step 1: Defining Your Practice
Before you can even think about the practical details of how to start a physical therapy clinic, you need to know exactly what you’re working towards. This means clarifying your business plan by researching the current market in your area, then niching down to match the opportunities that you have identified.
1. Research the Market
In general, physical therapy practices are location-based, meaning that clients won’t want to travel large distances for your services unless what you offer is extremely specialised. This implies that when doing your market research, you don’t need to look too far afield to evaluate your target market and your competitors.
Your Target Market
To get a better idea of the type of client you want to attract, these are some questions you can ask:
- Which individuals in the local community need physical therapy?
- What type of therapy would they need?
- What would make them choose your clinic over another?
- Where do they spend their time (both online and offline)?
Having identified who you want to offer physical therapy to, you need to look at your competitors. Concentrate on finding the answers to questions such as:
- How many direct competitors are there?
- How big are their practices?
- How have they chosen to structure their businesses?
- How long have they been in business?
- What makes them successful?
2. Choose a Niche for Your Physiotherapy Clinic
Now that you have an idea of the people in the community who could benefit from your services, and which niches are covered by your competitors, you can work on identifying niches that are underserviced. This could be anything from pediatrics to geriatric clients. You should also consider which types of clients you most enjoy working with.
Having a clear idea of which niche you are targeting will help set your practice up for success and you can begin reaching out to other therapists who are specialists in that area to potentially join your new practice.
Step 2: Financing Your New Practice
The money issues are often where many physical therapists begin to feel a bit intimidated. It’s completely understandable as finance probably wasn’t covered during your physical therapy studies but yet it’s such a critical part of how to start a physical therapy clinic. But, if you break it down into three steps (whether you’ll be accepting cash-only or insurance, developing a business plan and securing financing), it becomes a bit more manageable.
1. Determine Whether Your Practice Will Be Cash-Based, Medical Cover-Based or a Combination of the Two
This will take a good deal of research, and it can help to reach out to other physical therapists who have their own practices to get an idea of what works well for them. You’ll also need to research the benefits of contracting with medical insurance companies compared to accepting cash only.
Contracting with medical aid companies makes it easier to attract customers as they’re more likely to choose your practice over another that is cash-based but, more and more, medical insurance companies are decreasing their reimbursement rates, making it more difficult for physiotherapy practices to stay afloat.
Whichever option you choose, make sure that you’ve done the numbers as the success or failure of your clinic will hinge upon your ability to generate enough income to cover your expenses.
2. Develop a Business Plan
Having researched the market and your competitors, you need to secure a funding source. But in order to do that, you need a rock-solid business plan. Take your time developing your business plan outlining the services you want to offer, and how you will run your company. There are several online resources to help you get started, and you can use those guiding principles to explain each area of your business in detail.
3. Secure Financing
Armed with your business plan, you’re now in a position to secure the funding you will need to start your practice. If you don’t have the necessary funds saved up yourself, places you can approach include:
- Family members and friends;
- Angel investors.
Step 3: Setting Up Your Physio Practice
Setting up your physical therapy practice is where it all starts to get a lot more real. At this point, you’ll want to get some legal advice, secure a location, get your paperwork in order, perhaps find staff, and purchase equipment and furniture for your practice.
1. Understand the Legal Implications
Every country has different legal requirements for physical therapists and this is a vital area for any practice. You need to understand the legal liabilities involved in how to start a physical therapy clinic, and how to indemnify yourself and your practice.
If you have the finances available, meet with a lawyer who specialises in private practice law. They will be able to help you get your legal ducks in a row, and prevent costly legal fees in the long run. They’ll also be able to share additional resources so that you can read up on to investigate the legal obligations of owning a practice.
2. Find a Practice Location
Having worked out the financial details of setting up your practice, you should have some idea of how much you can afford to pay for rent. Begin researching possible options that are in the area and match your budget, and keep these considerations in mind:
- Rental structure:
- How long is the agreement?
- When (and under what conditions) can you terminate the lease?
- Size of the space:
- Is there room to grow?
- How many practice rooms are there?
- Will there be passing foot traffic?
- Is it easy for your target demographic to access?
- Is there nearby parking?
- How much parking is there?
- Is it safe?
3. Negotiate the Lease
Here it would help to have input from your lawyer as you don’t want to find yourself locked into a contract that you can’t afford. Conversely, you also don’t want a short-term lease that, once you’re settled, can be raised and you have no other option but to pay the increase or find a new location. A lawyer will be able to look at your finances, help you determine what you can afford, and assist with negotiating a lease that fits your budget.
4. Get Your Paperwork in Order
This is the step where many would-be practice owners come unstuck. The volume of paperwork and necessary requirements can be completely overwhelming. Working with a company that specialises in setting up new businesses can be invaluable here. Choose one that has worked with medical practices in the past and handover the responsibility of getting your paperwork in order to them. They will:
- Finalise and register your business name;
- Ensure that you have an up-to-date therapist license;
- File the necessary paperwork with the government;
- Apply for tax numbers;
- Purchase practice insurance.
Working with a company that has experience will ensure that you don’t accidentally skip a step in the process which could have serious legal implications further down the line.
If you’re starting our as a sole practitioner, you can skip this step, but if you want to establish a clinic with administration staff and/or other physical therapists or related health professionals, pay attention!
When you decided on your target market it’s likely that you had a few therapists in the back of your mind who you’d want to join your practice. You might be wanting to establish a multi-disciplinary team, with occupational therapists, massage therapists, and others, or a specialised physiotherapy practice. Either way, start putting out feelers, let college classmates know that you’re starting a new practice, as well as colleagues that you’ve worked within the past.
Depending on the size of the practice you’re building, an office manager or receptionist will help to create a professional atmosphere as well as taking care of the paperwork so that you can focus on seeing your clients. Keep in mind that they will form an important part giving a good first impression of your practice so, in addition to being good at their job, it’s also important that they are friendly and professional.
6. Equipping Your Practice
When clients arrive at your practice you want them to feel that they’ve made the right decision. This means that everything, from the waiting room experience to the physiotherapy equipment you use, needs to set your clients’ minds at ease.
Design Your Space
The way you set up the physical space is a direct reflection of your practice. If it is not neat and professional, clients will quickly form the impression that the services you offer aren’t up to standard. Working with an interior designer will ensure a cohesive, professional design flow, but if your finances can’t quite stretch to that, visit other health care clinics to see how they are set up and replicate the best elements in your own practice.
Purchase Physiotherapy Equipment
Here you can get creative. Make a list of the equipment that is essential and start shopping around for the best deals. You might be able to pick up a lot of what you need secondhand, or from an online store that offers good discounts. Once you have all the basics in place, you can add to your equipment slowly, purchasing non-essential but useful items over the next few months.
Furnish Your Reception Area
This means office furniture and supplies, comfortable waiting room furniture and a pot plant or two. If you’re purchasing a computer, consider getting one that’s fast and has the latest software to keep waiting times to a minimum as well as ensuring maximum uptime and enhanced productivity.
Step 4: Developing Your Marketing Strategy
Your marketing strategy should align with your business plan, and the focus should rest squarely on attracting and retaining clients that need your services. Developing a well-rounded strategy designed to cultivate multiple lead sources will diversify your risk as well as helping you hone a strategy based on which referral sources perform the best (Read our Complete Guide to Physical Therapy Marketing).
By focusing on who you want to attract to your practice, it’s easier to decide on branding and where to allocate your marketing budget. Your marketing strategy should cover:
- The purpose of your marketing strategy;
- How it aligns with the goals of your clinic;
- Who you are targeting;
- Strategies for reaching your target audience;
- A breakdown of the budget;
- A definition of how the success of your marketing efforts will be measured.
Take the pressure off yourself to get your marketing strategy perfect the first time around. Some ideas will work, and some won’t, and you may need to add additional marketing activities after a month or two. The idea is more to give yourself a plan for the next 6 – 12 months that will keep you accountable, ensuring that your marketing efforts don’t stall due to a lack of planning.
The two main elements of branding are your logo and your colour scheme.
Your logo should communicate in some sense the services that you offer, as well as defining the ethos of your practice. Then, take a quick at what your competitors are doing to ensure that your branding will appeal to your client demographic, but that you will still stand out from other practices in the area.
This will be used on your website, social media profiles, the décor of your practice and staff uniforms, as well as any printed marketing materials. Shades of blue and green are popular choices for healthcare as they convey a sense of peace and wellness.
2. Getting Setup Online
The online space is an exciting opportunity for a new physio practice, because it offers a level playing field, making it easier to compete against more established practices in your area. You need to set up a website, social media channels, and directory listings so that your practice can be found online by people searching for the services you offer.
A simple website that covers the essentials such as who you are, what you offer and how to get in touch is all that you need to get started. Make sure that you can easily add a blog at a later stage so that you can begin positioning yourself as an industry expert.
It can be tempting to try and build the website yourself, but it’s going to take you months if you don’t know what you’re doing and even your best efforts are going to look amateurish compared to a design by a professional website developer. Remember that your website is often going to be the first time that a potential client learns about your practice and you want to create an excellent impression.
Your website design at a minimum should:
- Be branded with your logo and colour scheme;
- Be optimised for mobile;
- Load quickly;
- Have your contact details and links to your social channels;
- Include a blog page;
- Have SEO basics in place (such as a meta title and description for each page).
The importance of having a presence on the top social media channels cannot be overstated. Worldwide, around 45% of the population uses social media, nearly two-thirds of all Americans use Facebook and the average user spends over 3 hours a day on social networks and messaging.
The three top social networks for a physio practice are:
The two most important directories are Google My Business (GMB) and Yelp. Google My Business is a free, easy to use tool that allows you as the practice owner to manage your online presence across Google including Google Maps and Google Search. There are three basics steps:
#1 Create an account;
#2 Claim and verify your practice;
#3 Optimise your listing.
GMB forms an integral part of any local SEO strategy as potential clients performing a localised search for a service that you offer will be shown your practice in the results. Learn how to set up your Google My Business.
Other national directories such as Yelp can also become a potential source of new clients as you grow your reputation and encourage clients to leave positive reviews, although there is a cost if you want to add more information.
3. Building Offline Referral Sources
There is a lot of space to get creative if you’re looking to build referral sources offline, but this approach doesn’t come naturally to everyone. You have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone, connect and chat with strangers, and put yourself out there. If this feels a bit overwhelming, start slow. Join a local breakfast networking event for business owners in your area or send a few emails to local GPs to find out if you could pop in to explain a bit about how your practice could benefit their patients.
Build Relationships with other Health Professionals
Don’t underestimate the importance of visiting local health practitioners and sharing about what your practice offers. Have business cards and flyers available that they can give to patients that they refer to and make it easy for them to schedule patients with you by having a patient referral form on your website. Building relationships takes time so you may need to visit referral sources every couple of weeks. To get the most out of this strategy you’ll need to set aside regular slots in your calendar to grow your referral network.
Join Community Events
As a local business owner, it’s important to get involved in the community. Consider offering your services to a local football team, or joining other businesses in the area when they meet up at networking events.
4. Collecting Positive Reviews
As a new practice, one of the most important things you need to do is build trust, and you need to do it as soon as possible. Your practice is brand new so potential clients don’t know the level of service that you offer and online reviews from satisfied clients can make all the difference. When potential clients are looking for a physio in their area, they’re likely to Google it and, if your practice comes up with a number of positive reviews, there’s a good chance that they’ll choose you over your competition. So, go out of your way to give your clients an excellent physical therapy experience then ask them to leave a review of your practice on Facebook, Google My Business or Yelp.
5. Running Online Advertising Campaigns
If you’re serious about getting your practice off the ground, one of the quickest ways to reach your target market and grow your clinic is through online advertising. Google Ads and Facebook Ads allow you to drill down and only target potential clients who are interested in your services, making it a laser-focused method of reaching the people that are most likely to become clients.
In short, online advertising is:
- Quick and straightforward to set up – you can easily have a basic campaign up and running within a day;
- Measurable – you can quickly see what’s working and what isn’t;
- Scalable – you determine how many people you want to see your ads depending on your budget and availability.
Step 5: Running Your Practice Effectively
Now that your practice is set up and you have a clear idea of how you will start building your client base it’s time to iron out some of the details of running your practice.
1. Choose Practice Management Software
This decision will form the backbone of the day-to-day running of your practice, so choose wisely. While there are many different software options available, you’ll want to choose one that can scale with you, is easy and intuitive to use, offers the functionality that you need, and is affordable.
At a minimum, the software should have an appointment calendar, automatic appointment reminders, client management, integrated invoicing and payment processing, and financial and operations reporting.
Keep in mind that you’re going to be working very hard for the first few months and you need a practice management software solution that will make the job easier, not more complicated. For this reason, many new physical therapy practices choose Power Diary because it offers:
- Easy appointment scheduling;
- Appointment confirmations;
- Clinic note templates;
- Customisable invoicing and payments;
- Competitive month-to-month pricing;
- A money-back guarantee and limited support.
2. Get Help with Your Finances
For most practices, a bookkeeper for day-to-day finances and/or an accountant can help to keep your books in order and ensure that your spending is limited to match the money coming in. They can also assist in making financial projections so that you can keep a good grasp of the financial health of your practice going forward. If like many physical therapists, your background is not in finance, you might be doing the books yourself and when your finances get too complicated or overwhelming, you simply bury your head in the sand. An accountant who has experience helping small businesses or health practices will be able to give you all the financial advice you need, as well as helping you sleep better at night knowing that the money side of the practice is completely under control.
3. Keep a Growth Mindset
If your practice is growing and attracting a steady stream of new clients, you should continue to cultivate a growth mindset. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily activities of running a practice and seeing your clients, but you don’t want to lose momentum.
A good way to keep focused on growth is to keep returning to your business plan, and the ideas that you had initially for your practice. This might mean hiring another physical therapist, or other health professionals that offer complementary services such as an occupational therapist. Or, it might mean focusing more on marketing to quickly ramp up your client volume.
With so much to do, it can seem a bit daunting when you start investigating how to start a physical therapy clinic. But help is at hand and there are a number of excellent online resources that can assist you at each stage. The most important part is having a clear blueprint of everything you need to do to start your practice, and the five steps we’ve outlined above offer exactly that. Then, it’s just a case of filling in the blanks. From registering your practice to designing the perfect logo, you’ll be able to find the right people to help get you set up quickly and affordably so you can make your dream of owning your own physiotherapy practice come true.
Do you know a physio that’s thinking of starting a practice? Why not pass this resource on to them – it might be the nudge they need to finally take the plunge!