Rachel Wilson: Tips from an Independent OT

April 22nd, 2014

Rachel Wilson: Tips from an Independent OT

Why did you decide to start your OT business/start working as an independent OT?

I am passionate about OT and its underlying philosophy. I really enjoyed the majority of my work within statutory services; however I became increasingly frustrated and felt stagnant in my roles. I didn't want to develop into management, and clinical specialities in my areas of expertise were almost non existent. I tried a few emerging roles and rediscovered my love of 'real OT' rather than just the discharge planning roles I had fallen into. On my second maternity leave I applied to a well renowned company to start medico-legal work and found, unexpectedly, that I was actually very good at it! This spurred me on and over the following 2 years I started dabbling more and more in independent OT and finally took the leap into full time self-employment in June 2012! It was the best thing I have ever done! I sometimes miss the team work from statutory services; however I have maintained my old relationships to ensure I stay informed of local policy and changes. I have also developed links with new peers and ensure I maintain these professional networks on a regular basis for support as well as professional camaraderie.

How did you take your first steps to starting a business/in independent OT?

I researched different options in addition to my medico-legal work, including locuming, private clinical work and joining OT consultancies. I opted for working as an associate with a few consultancies after researching the ones that followed a similar ethos to mine. I also became a little more 'passively active' on social networking sights such as Twitter and LinkedIn, where I gained a few additional pieces of work.

From that point, I started marketing with local commissioners, including GP practices I had developed relationships with over the years, offering' something different' and 'complementary' to existing services in the area. This is still a slow process with fits and starts of work; however one that I wish to pursue.

Word of mouth remains my biggest referral source in private practice of my own.

Have you found a benefit from social media marketing (twitter, facebook, google plus, etc)?

As noted above, I use Twitter and LinkedIn for business; however I tend to be a passive user, following others and responding to comments at present. I am keen to become a more active user as time allows as it is a fantastic free networking opportunity and a great, quick and easy way of joining in international debate and contributing to CPD. I need more guidance on what and how to write for such active participation however, as I am keen to share information of importance rather than writing for the sake of writing!

What were some lessons that you learned in the initial stages of your business/working for yourself?

  • Manage your time!
  • Be the best you can be!
  • Learn to say no!
  • If they want you they will wait - don't 'just squeeze it in' as it never works and you don't have sufficient time to follow up to your best ability/quality.
  • Get over your fear of charging (I still haven't mastered this!) It is very hard to charge after working in statutory services and providing a service free at the point of delivery. COTSS-IP have good advice on establishing fee structures; however anticipating all costs incurred in independent practice is difficult in the first few years. You do have to expect to sometimes work for nothing whilst learning and developing, and remember you don't get annual leave, study leave, sick leave etc; however on the grand scale of things it works out pretty well.
  • Remember not all independent practitioners have the same ethos or level of standards as you, and this can be frustrating. Maintain your professionalism and communication to the highest standard though and you can work through this.
  • It is great to have flexibility within your work; however it can be difficult to separate home and work life when working from home. They can encroach into each others' space without you realising and leave you feeling drained, frustrated, and sometimes guilty. The benefits outweighed the limitations for me but I am always mindful and have improved the situation by taking on some specific office space.

How long did it take for you to turn a profit/how long did it take to achieve a steady flow of work?

Because I had established myself in medico-legal work before going fully independent, I managed to earn a steady income completing this work. This in turn replaced my 'employed' income and my private OT work continues to grow, adding to this income. My plan is to increase my private practice to be the most profitable of the two, but this is still a work in progress as I am so busy with the medico-legal work and marketing the other stuff!

What was your original goal and have you been able to achieve that vision, if not how have things changed?

I was a bit naughty and had a huge and unfocused goal for my private practice, and to some extent I still do. The benefit of the medico-legal work means I know the bills will be paid so I tend to go with the flow; however I am reaching the stage with my private work that I need to develop a more structured and focused business plan in order to head in a specific direction.

With the work I have done to date however; I have widened my horizons and am competently completing work I never thought of when I first started out. As a result of this, I do not want to become so focused that I cut out exciting opportunities. There are so many opportunities out there for independent OTs, it is an incredibly exciting time!

What is the best thing about owning your own business/being an independent OT?

Autonomy, flexibility, creativity, limitless opportunity, ability to choose what and when to study (although funding suddenly catches up with you!), wider professional networks, increased knowledge on 'what is out there' etc etc. There are so many positives...the list is endless really!

What are some tips that you could give to OT practitioners considering starting a business or working for themselves?

  • Be prepared! Have a plan....but not too tight... And expect it to change.
  • Talk to others who have done it.
  • Attend COTSS-IP's Look before you Leap session.
  • Keep your options open.
  • Start slowly and build up..... Unless you have serious capital behind you to jump straight in.
  • Sign up to consultancies if you are going it alone.
  • Sign up to a select couple of locum agencies so if things get too tight you can access temporary contract work as a locum to bring in the cash (I still maintain these links but have never had to use them yet).
  • Develop a sound CV (and personal statement) and adapt a couple of different slants on it depending what work you are wanting to sell yourself into. It is okay to have different versions for different clients - the content will be similar but the focus will change depending who it is going to - ie the general public, a solicitor, a case manager, a Housing Association, and what specific role you will be doing with/for them.
  • Develop a basic web presence, even if it is just a single page with who you are, what you do, and how to contact you. Also build a professional social network, even if it is just to follow others at first to see what the hot topics are and what's in demand.

Rachel is a private Occupational Therapist covering the Lancashire and Yorkshire areas. To find out more about her experience and background visit her profile here.