By Maree Ferguson

Have you been thinking about starting your own business or private practice because you’re keen to be your own boss?

I’ve been there — and I’d love to save you a few hassles along the way by sharing what I’ve learned.

Here are eight important considerations to think through before you take a leap into self-employment. All of these should be undertaken before you even order that first business card — or see your first client.

  1. Be realistic

Most people will tell you it takes three to five years before a business is self-sufficient. Yes, that’s spot-on, from my experience! So be realistic and set your expectations accordingly.  Unless you’ve been vigilant about saving money , or you’ve won the lottery, you may need to maintain a full- or part-time job while you set up your own business.  As an example, I worked part-time for three years before leaving the security of my “day” job.

  1. Phone a friend.

Don’t start your own business or private practice before speaking to someone who has done this themselves.  It is vital to have a mentor who has been down this path themselves.  A mentor can save you time and money by sharing his or her experiences with you.  Ideally, have a few go-to people to answer your questions – and there will be many such questions along the way!  Also, seek out fellow colleagues to discuss case studies and business ideas — this will help you feel less isolated.

  1. Make sure the numbers add up.

Reviewing your finances and creating a budget is not a lot of fun, but have no doubts: it’s crucial. Start by projecting out your anticipated expenses, such as: rent, electricity, phone, internet, petrol, medical practice software, insurance, stationery, marketing, salary and superannuation.  Also project your anticipated income [and remember this needs to be an absolute minimum to pay your bills at home, so don’t plan too low].  If there is a gap between your income and expenses, how are you going to make this up?  Will you decrease your expenses, or increase your income in some way, such as finding a part-time job? In addition, are you going to pay your own superannuation? Such budgeting is painful but worth it in the long run.

Click here to download your Expenses and income calculator.

  1. Location, location, location.

Decide if you will set up in an existing GP clinic or create your own stand-alone clinic.  Consider factors such as:  anticipated number of referrals from the GP clinic, marketing opportunities via the GP clinic, if they have a receptionist who can take bookings and payments, and the cost of rent.  Don’t forget to factor in your travel time.  How long will it take you to get to the clinic? Remember, time = money.

  1. Find your special niche.

When I ask dietitians who their target market is, the answer is usually “everyone”.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but you will be more successful if you decide on a niche, such as diabetes or paediatrics.  You will then be able to create a business that speaks directly to your target market.  If I am someone with diabetes, for example, then I am probably more likely to seek out a dietitian who specialises in diabetes than a generalist .

  1. Put serious thought into your business name.

Your business name is often the first connection your customers will have with you.  So ensure your chosen name stands out, reflects what you do (i.e. your services and products) and for whom (i.e. your target market), and is memorable.

Many dietitians ask me if they should use their own name as their business name.  Unless you are a high-profile celebrity dietitian, the answer is probably no, in my opinion.  I find it’s better to create a name that reflects what your business is about, instead. This will also be beneficial if you are planning to hire other dietitians or sell your business in the future.  And don’t forget- check that your preferred business name is available as a website domain name, and on various social media platforms, and consider registering that business name.

  1. Get clients in your door.

How will you generate new referrals?  At a minimum, have a website where people can learn more about you and your services.  Next, make the most of “six degrees of separation” (or simply use LinkedIn) to spread the word about your new business via your connection’s connections. Then, spend some time developing a marketing/business plan, and write down your short- and long-term goals.  Where do you want to be in 6 months, 1, 2 and 5 years?

  1. Insure your dream – to ensure your dream.

Take out the appropriate insurances, such as professional indemnity, business insurance and office/contents insurance, and “ensure” it suits your needs, e.g. online consults.

Yes, there will be stumbling blocks along the way, but if you heed the advice above, it should help better prepare you to pursue your passion. I wish you all the best of luck!

— Edited by Laura Byrne

Want more?

Marketing For Success, by Melanie McGrice and Maree Ferguson is full of secrets to help you stand out from the crowd, marketing “brand you” and spreading the word about your good work.

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