There’s a lot of advice going around about how to be a successful physical therapist. And while you can always trust everything you read on the internet (just kidding), we thought we’d make it easier for you to find the tips and strategies that you’re looking for—all in one place and all from bonafide leaders in their respective fields within the physical therapy profession. That’s why we set out to collect some golden drops—three (or in one case four) pieces of advice from 11 of the most successful leaders in the physical therapy space. (You know, advice beyond the obvious, “Get the very best physical therapy-specific EMR on the market”—because you already know that one, right?) Without further ado, here’s what the Greats had to say:

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On Starting a New Clinic

Brian Kunich, PT, OCS, COMT, manager of the WebPT Marketplace, says:

  1. Incorporate what you love doing into your practice (e.g., hiking, triathlons, sports groups, etc). In other words, be the expert resource on musculoskeletal care for people who love doing what you love. It’s great community outreach, it'll make it easier to promote your business, and work will never seem like work.
  2. Devise a strategy to take advantage of the fact that direct access is now available in all states. Become the primary care provider for musculoskeletal problems in your community. Your best referral source will never leave when you’re the one doing the referrals.
  3. Budget appropriately. Start conservatively with your fixed costs (e.g., rent), and initially only purchase equipment you need to generate revenue (or to substantially differentiate your practice). Being a little cramped for a short period of time while making a good profit is far better than having ample space and great equipment that you’re not using and can’t afford. Once your clinic is up and running, only buy equipment off of your wish list that you can afford with the profits you’re making each month.
  4. Make sure to attain from each insurance carrier written proof of the date you and/or your business became a credentialed provider for that carrier. Nothing will derail your practice more during your first four to six weeks of business than insurance companies refusing to pay you for services rendered. If you have your credentialing dates in writing, though, they will have to pay you for all subsequent dates of service.

On Growing a Successful Clinic

Mike Manzo, PT, MPT, owner of Atlantic Physical Therapy Center, says:

  1. Communicate clearly and often. This is important on many levels. Employees want to know what your vision is as the leader of the organization. Expectations need to be clear, and people need to be recognized for great work. They also need to be held accountable when they’re not performing at expected levels. The younger generation of workers expects much more communication and feedback than the older generations.
  2. Hire people based on their internal qualities more than their qualifications. People can acquire skills, but they cannot acquire or learn compassion or passion for the field of physical therapy. When you find someone who has compassion and passion, they will shine—especially given the right training.
  3. There is no substitute for hard work. This is an old adage that is time-tested. Nothing comes easy. If you work hard, your team will follow your lead. If you cut corners, you can expect the same from your team.

Dan Rootenberg, PT, DPT, CSCS, co-founder and president of SPEAR Physial Therapy, says:

  1. Communicate. Aim to become a conversational guru. Although this skill can never be mastered, don’t overlook the importance of conversational capacity. Lean into difficult conversations, and always provide updates—even if it’s only to say, “There is no update.”
  2. Hire for shared values over relevant experience. The first two hires of any clinic are absolutely critical; they set the tone for the culture going forward.
  3. Be relentless! Intelligence is an asset. However, grit and determination are truer predictors of success.

On Setting Yourself Up for Success

Tom Ambury, PT, CHC, president of PT Compliance Group, says:

  1. Be yourself. We are all gifted with unique abilities. Identify your gifts and develop them. It would be a shame not to give yourself to the world.
  2. Spend time with family. Family members have seen all the stupid stuff I've done—and they still love me. They keep me grounded.
  3. Seek expert advice when needed. Don't let your ego get in the way. It can be nearly impossible for you to be an expert on everything, so assemble a team of people who are experts in the areas that you’re not.

On Marketing

Gene Shirokobrod, DPT, co-founder of UpDoc Media and Ben Fung, DPT, MBA, chief content officer of UpDoc Media, say:

  1. Use video. Facebook is predicting that within a few years people predominantly communicate through video. So, start creating videos on your Facebook page, Instagram feeds, and websites. People want to see what your business is about.
  2. Track data. Want maximum ROI? Better understanding of your customers? Direction for growth? Then you need to track data.
  3. Content is king, marketing is queen, and consistency is key. As far as digital marketing goes, presence is not enough. You must share meaningful, valuable, and actionable stories (a.k.a. great content) via digital channels.

On Designing an Effective Training Program

Bradley LaFave, training manager for WebPT, says:

  1. Training is not a checkbox you can simply cross off your list. You must understand that training is a cycle, not a process. With that in mind, think of the end-user experience through every piece of what you design. See and feel the training from the learner’s perspective—make it engaging, interactive, and fun.
  2. Perform a needs analysis. Understand what you do great and where the opportunities for improvement are. Having a realistic goal is a must; think about the outcome or behavior change that needs to occur.
  3. Evaluate effectiveness and embrace future iterations. Find an evaluation methodology that works for you (Kirkpatrick's Four Levels is a personal fave). Measuring success is often one of the hardest parts of training, but one of the most important. A lot of time and money goes into training, so make it a point to understand what your ROI is.

On Developing Employees

Bridgit Finley, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, founding partner and CEO of Physical Therapy Central, says:

  1. Invest in people from the beginning. Take time to get to know your people and connect with them to build trust and relationships. Nothing matters to me more than our PT Central family and our people-first mentality. The business is secondary.
  2. Enjoy the ride—and remember to have fun along the way. Don’t wait for success or growth to begin building fun into your culture. Take time to play and have fun at work.  Happy employees = happy customers.
  3. It will never be perfect, and you will never be ready. At some point, you just have to take the leap. As a new graduate, you will jump into patient care; as a new manager, you will just have to jump into management. Let your passion override your fear—and jump.

On Advancing the Physical Therapy Profession (a.k.a. Advocacy)

Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC/L, co-founder and president of WebPT, says:

  1. Be a change advocate. Change is important for any profession, because without change, businesses can lose their competitive edge and fail to meet the needs of their patients. Change means progress. Plus, it will happen anyway, so why not be in control of your own destiny?
  2. Surround yourself with a great team. Be honest about your strengths—and then find others to help round out your skillset. Your people are the most important asset you have in your company. Hire slow; fire fast.
  3. Be an active advocate for our profession. Get involved at the state or national level, and know what’s going on in our profession—everything from political and regulatory changes to the latest research and evidence-based practice. Take on students and serve as a clinical instructor; write a note to a legislator; and—most importantly—be proud of yourself as a physical therapist. Tell your family and friends what you do, how you do it, and who you can help.

Justin D. Moore, PT, DPT, CEO of the APTA, says:

  1. Build relationships. Relationships matter. Get to know your legislators at the state and federal level, and plan to be engaged for the long haul. Legislators value these relationships, so don’t be afraid of getting to know the decision-makers who are impacting the profession and your practice.
  2. You are your own best lobbyist. Nobody is going to advocate better for the issues that matter than you, yourself. Know your issues and get comfortable with being able to articulate the value of physical therapy and how it positively contributes to health care and patients’ lives. Know how your practice contributes to the community and advancing health care in general.
  3. Better together. Advancing the physical therapy profession requires the constant care and attention of a community of advocates—not a single organization, practice, or business entity, but a robust and diverse community centered on a common mission. Work with APTA, its sections, and your local chapter. We can help point you to resources that will make a difference in your advocacy. We can collaborate with you on building your case to impact your practice and the future of health care.

On Optimizing Payments

Elizabeth Warren, director of the WebPT Billing Service, says:

  1. Collect payments from patients at the time of service. It’s no longer enough to know your contracts or top referral sources; today, successful billing also means collecting payment from patients at the time of service.
  2. Verify benefits and patient responsibility—and double-check data-entry. Front-office staff must verify a patient’s benefits and eligibility prior to his or her initial visit. That way, you’ll be able to notify your patients of their financial responsibility, so they come to their sessions prepared to make a payment. (Also, it doesn’t matter how good your verification process is; if you’re data entry isn’t accurate, you’ll run into problems later.)
  3. Monitor TOS collections. Your goal should be to collect more than 95% of TOS payments weekly. This includes applicable coinsurances and deductibles for commercial insurance plans.

On Being Compliant

Rick Gawenda, PT, founder and president of Gawenda Seminars & Consulting, says:

  1. When you first start a private practice, outsource your billing.
  2. Pay a small fee to a compliance consultant now versus a large repayment to an insurance carrier later.
  3. Be involved. As the owner, you are responsible for everything that occurs in your practice.

Looking for some more advice from the greats? Get your fill at Ascend—the ultimate PT business summit, which is coming to Fort Worth, Texas, on September 9–10. Registration includes breakfast and lunch both days, up to nine CEUs, and ample opportunities to learn from—and network with—the best and brightest rehab industry professionals. Last chance; registration ends on September 6.

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