by Vicky Abad, co-editor of The Economics of Therapy, edited by Daniel Thomas and Vicky Abad, Apr 2017, £22.99, ISBN: 9781849056281
Many people remind me how lucky I am to run my own business. I love what I do, it is my passion and I feel very lucky indeed to make my living doing what I am passionate about and doing what I love – making music with children.
Starting a business doing something you are passionate about is a privilege and an honour, and it is also hard work. Nobody pays you to go to work except you – so you have to really believe in what you do, have faith in your ability to do it and your ability to sell it to others. You have to build something that people want to buy and this takes time and planning.
It is sometimes easy to daydream about what your business would look like but then get lost or overwhelmed in the actual reality of trying to set one up.
Running your own business isn’t all songs and tambourines (or drums and shakers for that matter either!). Yes it is fun, and rewarding, and it is also risky and challenging.
If I were to start out again, there are a few things I would do differently to get to where I am today. I have learned many lessons and found ways to do things more efficiently, not just in regards to time, but also in regards to emotional energy.
So, here is a list of the Top 5 things for getting your business started.
1- Think big – plan now – how big do you want your business to become?
Do you know what your end position is? Dan talks about this in his chapter in our book The Economics of Therapy. When I started Boppin Babies I didn’t really have an end game, I had a very immediate need that I wanted to fulfil – I wanted a music group that I felt was appropriate for my little baby to attend. I knew I could provide this service, and that it would be excellent but I didn’t plan how the business would evolve. In some ways this has been a blessing as the growth has been organic and has moved in new directions I might not have originally considered. In other ways the growth has caught me by surprise, and being prepared (having a plan for it) would have helped me manage it more efficiently.
So the first tip we have for you is – map out your business plan and envisage where you want it to end – what do you want to grow into? Then you can work backwards and implement steps to get there, and these steps will allow for greater growth, and more efficient growth as you won’t have to go back and reinvent the wheel each time you outgrow it.
2- Choose your name carefully
This really fits in with the first tip. You want your business to grow and when it does you will want it to still reflect the name you have chosen. So think of whether you want the name to be about you (Vicky Abad Music Therapy Centre) the core business you will provide (music, therapy, art, babies that bop), an acronym, or whether you want it to elicit an emotional response, experiential feeling, or maybe you want a name that is completely unrelated to your clinical work that you can generate a market for. For Dan, choosing a name for growth and expansion was core to the set up and growth of Chroma. He did not want a name that told people what the business did; he wanted a name they could grow into. For me, Boppin’ Babies very clearly reflected what the business did and how babies participated (they bop!), so I used a verb-adjective name to capture this. Adjectives can also be used in a nonsense sequence such as the Skinny Cow, or a verb like google to provide your name. You can play with adjectives and acronyms too, or stick with nouns that are logical, plain (think McDonalds), or nonsense- the options are endless!
So, our second tip for you is – take your time choosing your name and choose one that will reflect where you want to go with the business. Spend time throwing ideas around, draw up a logo; see if it matches visually the sound of your name. Invest some money and engage the services of a graphic designer and a marketing agency to help you brainstorm if you have trouble (like me) visualising what a name will look like. There is no wrong answer here, but the name you choose will direct your graphic and online marketing and the image you want to portray to the world.
3- Surround yourself with smart people who have different skill sets to yours
Chances are you are an excellent therapist if you are reading our book, and entrepreneurial in nature. I think I am excellent at my job, at being a music therapist, at engaging and connecting with families through music. I am also really good at coming up with great ideas and strategic plans, but I am not so great at unpacking the steps required to get to my end vision.
Our third tip for you is to – surround yourself with a team of experts who can help you build your business by providing different strengths to your own. This can include a finance team (or if you are small an online accounting program that does the hard work for you but keeps the costs down while you are in set up mode), HR team, PR experts, social media gurus, sales people. The list is endless!
It can be expensive to get started, and money is probably tight given you are starting up. If so, you don’t have to employ a suite of professionals, you can choose the areas you know are not your best strengths and outsource them. These days there are excellent online services you can tap into for business support including virtual assistants, apps that manage your bookings, accounting software, admin automation systems and many more.
Here are a few that will really help you with time management, cash management and tax:
- Get yourself an excellent accountant. There are different tax implications for self-employed people and companies. It is important you use the correct legal set up as well as understand the tax implications and the laws.
- A strong online presence will help people find you – get help designing the best website you can afford. If you are pretty good at this yourself then use online services to tweak the design you come up with
- Marketing your services is also a niche business skill. Use the services of content writers, public relations consultants and/or marketers if you can afford them in the start-up phase to get you going.
- Sales – you have to sell your services now. This is an area that really challenges many therapists. Something to consider in your planning is: are you comfortable selling your services? Can you market them or should you get help from a sales specialist?
- Look at what administrative apps you can find to support bookings, payments and accounting
4- Work with a mentor
When you start out, the whole idea of growing a business can be overwhelming. And at any time, when you are growing said business, it can be easy to get lost in the day to day detail. It can help to have someone objective (not your partner, best friend or parent) to turn to and bounce ideas and questions off, and also to hold you accountable to decisions you have to make/ actions you must take.
The fourth piece of advice is to – get a business coach/consultant you can turn to for support, advice, accountability. Therapists are used to the idea of seeking out supervision to help us with our clinical work. View this as supervision for your business work – it is just as important to have someone you can debrief with and not bring home the stress of running a business to your family. This person is also someone who can give you a kick up the pants if need be, or hold you accountable without any emotional connection the way there might be if, say, your partner were to say “how is that new contract coming along? Or why haven’t you finished that proposal? What is next on your agenda?”
5- Work on the business not just in the business
This one can be tricky at the best of times. As the business owner, you are the one responsible for driving the growth. You are the passionate one. After all, it is your baby. So the temptation to do everything can be huge, you cover shifts, take groups, do the pay run, balance the books, organise the sessions, pay the bills, attend marketing events etc. If so, you are working in the business every moment of every day, which means there is no time for you to work on the business. It can be hard to prioritise time that is not bringing in money when you have staff wages and bills to pay. But if you don’t there will be minimal opportunity for your business to grow.
My fifth top tip for you is – plan from the very beginning a portion of time each week to work on your business. You will be tempted to work in it all the time as things will be busy. But here’s a sixth tip (always give something for nothing as Dan would say) – you are going to stay busy. It will never get less busy. As you grow you will find new levels of busy to fill the spaces you create by establishing systems/ protocols/ procedures/ staff. So, from the get go, timetable each week set periods of time and even whole days where you work on your business. This can include clinical revisions, looking at your sessions plans or work load for example; and it should also include strategic planning and thinking, like identifying where the next clinical growth area will be for you, or planning to expand into a new area, meeting potential partners, and then working through how these future directions will effect staff recruitment and training, so you can plan for this extra (busy) work too. Networking with colleagues and business partners is also important and shouldn’t be underestimated.
We wish you all the very best in your new and exciting ventures of setting up your business! We have written this book – The Economics of Therapy – to support you doing just so, to tap into what you are already good at, given that you have trained in the creative arts therapies. Now you can add these practical tips and get going on setting up and growing your successful business!
Vicky Abad and Dan Thomas.
Vicky Abad is a Registered Music Therapist with extensive national and international management, clinical and research experience in paediatric and early intervention music therapy and music early learning. Vicky started her own business Boppin’ Babies in 2007, and over the years has grown it in response to client needs while balancing this with market demand and family life. She has a keen understanding of the intricacies of running an arts therapy business in today’s busy world. She has presented her research and lectured in music therapy, music early learning and business management internationally.
Daniel Thomas has been a music therapist since 2002 and started his first arts therapy business in 2005. Through the development of Chroma, established in 2013 as a national provider of arts therapy services, Daniel has garnered a practical understanding of the challenges and opportunities involved in running a large therapy business. Daniel has presented his ongoing research in Scandinavia, Australia and the UK. Chroma was awarded the Advancing Healthcare Chamberlain Dunn Learning award for entrepreneurship in April 2017.
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