Although it can seem a daunting task, there’s a sense of achievement and satisfaction that comes from working for yourself that you can’t get anywhere else. For OTs, that can mean anything from beginning your own practice to simply working as a private practitioner or consultant.
If you’re looking to re-ignite your passion for occupational therapy or take full control of your work-life balance, then perhaps you’ll flourish as an independent OT. We’ve put together a list of tips to ensure you’ve got the knowledge to go it alone.
Plan everything out
Before you even consider stepping out alone, consider what it is you have to offer. What is your area of specialism, and do you have a decent enough market within your area to sustain you in your new, independent practice. If you’re a person who likes to make lists, it might be helpful to make one which details your goals, aims and objectives for your business. With that laid out, it gives you a visual representation of your goals; something to look at when you forget the path that you need to be on. It’s also a good idea to take a lot of time for financial planning. You’re going to need to pay for things like lawyers and insurance, and there’s always going to be hidden costs, so it’s best to have some kind of “just in case” fund. If it helps you, talk it through.
If you know OTs who have become independent, or even people who have set up their own businesses in the past, regardless of whether or not they’re OTs, it’s a good idea to talk to them about your plans. If this is your first time going it alone, you’ll want all the help and support you can get. Have people look at your business plan, let them poke holes in it or play devil’s advocate, because you’ll need a fool-proof plan. With the help of others and your plan, you’ll be ready for anything.
Understand that this is a challenge
You’re not in for an easy ride when going independent, but it’s a challenge, and if something is easy, is it really worth doing? It’ll be a worthwhile challenge, full of variety. You’ll meet lots of interesting people with interesting problems which your skillset will be ideally suited to helping rectify. You also get to work with your clients outwith the constrictive framework which may be imposed on you while working in statutory services, allowing you to expand the wealth of interventions which you are able to help people with. The key to surviving on your own is a strong basis in practice, sound assessment, and goal setting. You’re working for yourself, and you only have yourself to blame if you fail to keep yourself organised enough to succeed.
Start small, work up
You are, as it stands, a little fish in a very large pond. You might be tempted to start up your business and pay ridiculous amounts for expensive advertising. You’re going to rack up some serious costs that you may find land you in the red. That’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue advertising for your venture, however, but there may be more cost effective ways to go around it.
Starting a website might sound like a lot for even intermediate tech users, but it’s not difficult at all. For a very small amount, you can create a custom website for your business using a site like Wix, Squarespace or WordPress to give people information about your business. If you want to, you can go down the route of hiring a graphic designer or web designer to create you a website from scratch, but if you want it to look good, you’re going to have to pay a significant amount.
Social media is the absolute best method of outreach. You can use Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to engage with potential clients, build awareness of your brand, and cultivate a sense of trust towards your brand. Get involved with the weekly @OTalk_ chatroom and get your brand out there, ask questions, and answer others’ queries. Start a LinkedIn and network with other OTs, building professional relations as you go. Blog about your specialist area. There are so many ways to get your name out there online.
If you want to reach a specialist market, you might want to get into a specialist publication to reach your audience – like The OT Magazine. If you can’t afford to buy advertising, you can reach out to the editor and pitch an article. Not only will this get your name out there, but it will prove your specialist knowledge through your work.
Stand up for yourself
Once you get started, do not be afraid to take things further when things go wrong. Get your terms and conditions sorted as soon as you possibly can and know what the process is when you need to start chasing things up – for example, when chasing up clients for monetary debt. If you have to take someone to small claims court? So be it. This is an extension of the old parlance: you can’t pay bills with exposure. If you’re too afraid to chase up money that you are owed by clients, independent working may not be for you. Get your head around the legal aspects of business ownership, especially aspects like data protection and GDPR. You need to make sure that, as well as ensuring you get what you’re owed, that you know the law and how to work correctly inside it. Don’t get caught out in the financial or marketing aspects of your business.