In the world of tasks and to-dos, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as completing a checklist (amirite?). I certainly believe this is true—which means, I can check “being right” off of my list of to-dos for today. Cha-ching! But, enough about me. If you’re starting a physical therapy clinic, you’ve probably got enough tasks floating around in your mind to make a list a mile long—and that list has to cover all of your bases. Feeling overwhelmed? I totally understand. And to help ease some of that stress, I whipped up a little housewarming—er, clinicwarming?—gift for you: a checklist of everything you need to accomplish before you open your clinic’s doors. (Fair warning: You may end up with some serious hand cramps from checking all these boxes.)
Speaking of fair warnings: Please note that this is general information only, and we do not intend for you to use any of it as legal advice or guidance—nor do we intend for you to use it in lieu of seeking appropriate legal counsel. In fact, if you want to be sure all of your ducks are in a row—or if you’re not a fan of checklists—you can hire an attorney who specializes in business formation to handle a lot of these tasks on your behalf.
□ Create a Business Plan
To start, let’s assume you’ve done your research and decided it’s feasible to open a clinic in your area. The next step in the process is to create a business plan. What’s a business plan, you ask? Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC/L, explains that “a business plan is a formal document that contains every detail about your business—including market assumptions; operations, sales, financing, and hiring plans; and your values and goals. This document will serve as the foundation for your business as well as the driver. It will act as a baseline for monitoring your growth.” Thus, this is a step you can’t skip. Every business owner needs to craft a plan before he or she moves forward—especially if the business has more than one founder (e.g., a partnership).
□ Finance Your Business
If you want to open a new physical therapy practice, you’re gonna need some cash money. And if you don’t have enough money in savings—which is understandable—you’re likely going to need to take out a small business loan to fund your dream. (For a comprehensive guide on how to secure a small business loan—as well as reviews of several popular lenders—check out this resource.) In this Forbes article, the author explains the perks of going this financial route: “If you need a significant amount of capital to fund your business, a small business loan can provide hundreds of thousands of dollars at a relatively low interest rate.” To get the best rates, this same article suggests looking to a local lender, rather than a larger corporate bank.
□ Determine a Location
When realtors tout “location, location, location” as the most important factor in property value, they aren’t kidding. And that’s certainly true in the private practice world, because where you decide to set up shop can make or break your business. To figure out where you should put down your PT roots, ask yourself the following questions (as adapted from this guide):
- What will you do to set yourself apart from competitors in your area?
- How many potential patients are in your ideal location?
- What are the tax implications and fees for your area (state, city, and county)?
- Will you receive frequent referrals from providers in that area?
- What’s the demographic of the population in that area?
And finally, as you’re looking at potential spaces, make sure you consider how much square footage you’ll actually need for treatment. If you can make do in a smaller space—or if you have the option of subletting a space from another health professional—you may be better off doing so.
□ Claim a Business Name
Picking a name for your business is one of the most exciting parts of starting a new endeavor. But, before you go to Kinkos and print yourself 1,000 business cards, you really should do some research (womp, womp). That’s because picking a name that reflects your identity—and ensuring that name is properly registered and protected—is crucial for your business. And this process may take some time. Don’t forget: you also have to consider the online availability for your business’s name, too. So, how do you go about selecting a business name the right way? Here’s what you need to do:
- Think about how you want your name to look and sound—and what emotion you want to convey with your brand.
- Search the Internet to see if your awesome naming idea has already been claimed.
- Use this tool to verify whether your chosen name is already trademarked.
- See if your ideal website name is available using this resource; then, claim your domain.
- Create your social media handles, and set up identities for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
- If applicable, register your “Doing Business As” (DBA) name with your county clerk’s office or state government. (To learn more about when it’s appropriate to file a DBA—and when it’s not—check out your local government website.)
It might sound like a lot of work, but putting in your due diligence before you commit to a name is beneficial in the long run: you’ll avoid getting lost in the shuffle, making multiple name changes, and paying any costly fines for trademark infringement.
□ Review Your Lease
Before you jump into signing a lease, you’ll want to thoroughly review the associated documents. Even if you consider yourself a legalese wiz, the APTA explains that “it is still advisable to consult a real estate attorney when negotiating and before signing a lease.” In addition to identifying potential legal concerns, you make sure you nail down details like:
- lease length,
- prior building renovations,
- building accessibility,
- proximity to competitors, and
Essentially, before you sign anything, make sure you understand every word—and seek out appropriate professional advice—to avoid any potential complications.
□ Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
According to the IRS, obtaining an EIN is the first order of business for a new business (get it?). Unlike most things you have to do through the IRS, though, applying for an EIN isn’t as complicated as you might think. In fact, you can “apply for an EIN in various ways,” including online. It’s free—and you’ll receive your EIN immediately. However, keep in mind that obtaining an EIN is just the first step toward ensuring your business is operating legally. Each state has additional requirements for starting and operating a business, which you can find on your state's website.
□ Select a Tax Year
When it comes to paying taxes, you can either pay based on:
- Calendar year: the period of 12 consecutive months from January 1–December 31, or
- Fiscal year: the period of 12 consecutive months ending on the last day of any month other than December.
Not sure which option to select? This Inc. article explains that “most U.S. businesses report their taxable income on a calendar year. But in some instances, they might find it preferable to report on a fiscal year, a 12-month period that ends sometime other than December 31.” Regardless of your decision, once you’ve adopted your tax year, you can’t change it without IRS approval. To review the entire process, check out the IRS website.
□ Choose Your Equipment
Purchasing equipment doesn’t have to cost you a small fortune. For example, in this WebPT article, Jack Sparacio, MSPT, COMT, CFMT, explains how he started a practice for under $8,000. One of his main pieces of advice: Make smart decisions. For example, he says, “Why spend $3,500 on a high-end Ultrasound-Electric Stimulation Combo Machine when you can buy separate portable ultrasound and electrical stimulation units for about $100 each? You will have a lot of choices to make. Just make the more efficient choice.” Regardless of what equipment you decide to purchase, be sure to shop around for the best prices. Remember, if you're a WebPT Member, you can find everything you need to furnish a new practice at up to 35% off retail in the WebPT Marketplace.
□ Make a Hiring Decision
Many small practice owners choose not to hire any employees—at least to start—and that’s totally fine. Now, if you do decide to hire help, make sure you are aware of, and adhere to, all applicable hiring laws. To hire employees, The US Small Business Administration (SBA) explains that you must:
- Verify employee eligibility to work in the US.
- Report newly hired and rehired employees to the state.
- Get workers’ comp insurance.
- Display the required posters that explain employee rights and labor laws.
- File your taxes according to federal and local regulations.
- Stay informed and get organized.
Now, this advice is just the tip of the hiring iceberg. You can review each of these steps more in depth on the SBA website.
Opening your own physical therapy private practice is exciting. And now that you’re armed with this handy checklist, you can do something even more thrilling: mark the box next to each tackled to-do (just kidding). In all seriousness though, this list should help you stay organized, so you can focus on the most important task at hand: getting up and running quickly.