Starting up any kind of business is a daunting challenge for many and an audiology practice is no exception. A private practice demands attention, knowledge and stamina as its focus isn’t only for clinical purposes, but for financial too. Apart from the clinical aspect, many of the other factors were either only briefly addressed or, in some cases, not taught at all in grad school.Although the internet is brimming with how to start a business, comprehensive guides on how to start an Audiology business are scant. Private practice considerations, such as how to register or market your practice, aren’t always common sense.
So, let's jump straight into the first 6 tips on how to set up an audiology practice.
Set Up A Business / Sole Proprietor Company
This is the first step you should take and it could also be the most tedious of them all. You can choose to register as a Company or a Sole Proprietorship. Registering as a sole proprietor is the simplest kind of independent business, as it doesn't need to be registered as a legal entity. You can only choose this option if you're a single owner whether or not you employ or contract other people during the course of your work. A sole proprietorship is often the ideal choice for a professional in private practice. However, get an advisor, ask around and make a decision that is best suited for you and one that you won’t regret in the long-run.
Find A Mentor
You are not the first to go it alone, so don't. There is a lot of value in experience and many have done exactly what you are planning to do. Find someone you look up to, ask around to see who has seen success with their practice and build a relationship. If you don't have direct access to someone you consider to be a mentor, create a virtual one. Search online and follow people or practices that you can learn from and could possibly emulate.
Businesses are made up of many components so it is possible to have many mentors that help you with each business discipline. For example; online marketing and social media will help to build your client base or productivity gurus who can help with efficiency. There is a veritable glut of this information available online from very successful specialists in each field. In each case, a fresh (non-audiological) perspective may be the difference you need to succeed where others have not. Always be learning.
Location, Location, Location
So you’ve got this great idea and perhaps you’ve seen the perfect location, however, have you thought about the practical considerations when choosing a location? Your location can make or break your business. Good location selection is vital to your businesses success while impractical or overly romanticized selection criteria can prove to be an expensive mistake.
Before making the big decision, do your research, call a friend or physically walk around and see the traffic patterns of the area at different times of the day. Research how many practices are in the area and what those practices get right and even what they seem to miss. Identifying a ‘gap’ in the market is important to help you formulate a strategy on how you intend to fill that gap.
A beautiful location may be an attractive option and if the price is low, even more so. But, when you take into account that the reason this location has a low price may be due to low footfall which will limit your opportunity for walk-in business, it may not be the best choice.
Other points to consider are; will you be renting or buying? How much space do you need for your reception/waiting room, your consultation area and if your equipment will have enough room. So take your time and explore your options before you commit and remember that as a start-up your mission is to get started and to become profitable as quickly as possible. Extra costs will only delay your success, so spend carefully and with success in mind.
Tooling Up With The Right Equipment
If you want to run a successful audiology business, you would need to invest in the best equipment out there. You don’t have to break the bank to get a great piece of equipment, but you do have to shop with intention. The operative word there is intention. You should invest your time in getting as many quotes as you can from as many suppliers as you can. Ask your colleagues, get demonstrations, do as much as you can to determine the best equipment for your practice. This is a big investment and one that should not only set you up for success in the short term but for the future too. Look for technology partners that are able to grow with you and help you succeed.
Below we will list the very basic equipment you would need as a start-up. It is important to note that when looking to expand your practice, you may want to look deeper into other equipment, such as an OAE for pediatrics.
Audiology Equipment checklist:
- Diagnostic Audiometer
- If your chosen audiometer is not a KUDUwave you will need a sound booth. For this, you will need to ensure your premises can accommodate the booths size. Depending on the premises and booth chosen, your practice may be limited to the ground floor of a building due to weight restrictions.
- Impression material & syringe
- Practice management software
- Laptop or PC computer with Windows OS
- HiPro programmer or Noah programming link (Many manufacturers of hearing aids offer tools to program your hearing aid directly such as the Beltone airlink. This may limit your ability to service and program and service a wider range of devices but is still a worthwhile option for your new startup)
- Appropriate infection control products (i.e. gloves and disinfectant)
As a start-up business, picking the right personnel is critical. You need individuals you can build with and most importantly those you can trust. So start small and get the help you really need. You don’t need to employ 10 people right away. Rather start with those you really need.
For example, a receptionist will help you to schedule appointments and handle calls while you are seeing patients. A caretaker/cleaning assistant or service may also be necessary to keep your new practice in ship shape. Decide whether you want to permanently employ, or outsource certain services. But keep in mind, that your team have the potential to make or break your business.
Register with the Relevant Associations & Medical Schemes
In a South Africa, for example, you would need to be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and the Board of Healthcare Funders of South Africa (BHF). This is to ensure that you can practice independently, can be registered as a healthcare professional and obtain a practice number from the BHF. Each country and, in the USA, each state has different requirements so be sure to consult with your local association when starting up.
In terms of billing, you could opt to run a cash practice, although this is not advisable as the high cost of hearing aids will mean that many patients will prefer to claim from their providers. You will have to register with each medical aid/insurance individually and many audiologists will chose to register with the top 3 providers at first and add to the list when necessary. Another option to keep in mind is billing through an electronic medical billing group such as MedEDI, however, shop around and get the best software at the best value for your needs. What is most important here is to get set up quickly so that you are able to practice and bill accordingly without wasting valuable time on admin you may not need right away.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
My advice is no different. Love what you do, take the leap of faith, start that business. We will be on the grandstands cheering you on.
Keep a lookout for more in this series of blog posts where we will dig deeper into the details of starting an audiology business.
As always, please join the conversation with comments, questions and suggestions and in doing so, help others to take the leap into independent private practice.