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How to Deal With Failure Even When You've Prepared: An Interview With Tyler Burke

Dr. Tyler Burke, PT - Owner and Physical Therapist at Idaho Direct Physical Therapy

Continuing with season 2 of our interview series, we spoke with Tyler Burke. We met from working together in my coaching program and we always have a great time talking ...all the laughter and all the jokes every time! We’re going to learn about Tyler and about great concepts when it comes to entrepreneurship.

What We're Covering:

Catch the replay here:

Tell us about yourself:

Tyler: I had always kind of been interested in entrepreneurship and being a business owner, but I didn't really know how that was going to happen. Fast forward a bit, I finished PT school, and still thought it would be cool to start my own business. Then, after PT school like any of you that maybe went to PT school, you go through 7 years of school, and you had about a week of business education. It's a project where they give you $100,000 to build this practice. Then, you get out in the real life and you're like, “Where do I get a $100,000? Where do I go from here?”

I was always fascinated with starting a clinic, but I already had too many student loans. I didn't want to take out a business loan, that didn't interest me at all. A couple of years went by and I was practicing as a travel therapist, getting a lot of experience in different settings, and the interest in being a clinic owner grew in me a little bit more. I had some experience now so I started watching webinars, reading business books along with PT stuff, following people on Instagram who were part of cash PT. I didn't even know that cash PT existed. That was really interesting to me because I was getting jaded with insurance companies telling me what treatments and how often I could see patients, when everything inside of me was saying that amount of time or treatment wasn't going to help that patient. The cash-based practice really interested me because it allowed me to practice the best way I knew how to and provide the highest-quality that I could provide (rather than what insurances allowed). It's a lot more freedom for me, and would allow me to get people better faster. That was what I wanted to do, but I didn't know where I was going to get the money to open a clinic. I had no idea how I'm going to do this. I was fortunate enough a couple years ago to go to CSM and I saw this one class that sounded really interesting. It was about Telehealth and Physical Therapy (and this was pre-covid). I thought I would look into this a little bit more, so I got some contact information and kept researching this idea. It meant I could potentially open a clinic without going eyebrows deep into debt.

September 2020 I decided I was going to do this and I had everything set up, but I wasn't getting any traction and didn't know what to do. I then came across Morgan and we started working together. While we were talking it wasn't feeling whole yet, I didn't have that niche yet. We were talking one day about outdoors, hiking, etc, and Morgan's like, "Tyler that's your niche!" It never would have occurred to me and since then there's really no outdoor PTs that I've been able to find an in Idaho. There's a ton for different sports, general Ortho clinics, but there's a ton of people in Idaho here that are the Weekend Warriors, (working 9-5 and getting out during the weekend), That's become my clients with Telehealth. I'm not spending time driving to /from the clinic, you can do therapy in an office, a hotel room, wherever.

Morgan: Yeah! I know everyone's story is different for how they ended up here, but there are a lot of similarities. People who wanted something different for themselves, their patients, or both.

Tell us about the ultimate failures that come along, especially when you've done everything to prepare.

Tyler: I'm pretty risk-averse, I'm not one to take gambles very often. I really did my homework, I spent thousands of dollars on different classes, and really trying to make it as risk-free as possible and limit failures as much as possible. I'm still going through these huge changes in my business it feels like I can't get this right and I've been doing this for a couple years. One thing that has really helped me is that I'm a very competitive person. I think when I started working with you I said my goal is to beat all your other clients. I don't like to fail because in my head it's always been failure is final, and I'm really starting to learn that failure is not final. You just gotta keep going, One thing that really irks me now are these people who put these success acronyms together for FAIL is "first attempt in learning". That does not apply to anyone I've ever met in entrepreneurship because it should be like the 400- 500 attempts in learning because you fail constantly. There are wins obviously, it's not all losses. There are some big wins with my clients and it's why I do this. From a business aspect, having no knowledge going into this being okay with failure. Then, you grow from that. and and change your tactics. That's something that I'm going through right now and I'm sure that that probably resonates with someone else that's owns a business

What were some of your unexpected failures?

Tyler: Earlier I started getting on a hot streak right away within a couple weeks of opening my business. Then summertime came and nobody wanted to do PT anymore, and things dropped off really quickly. So trying to figure out why those people dropped off when it did and what can I do to not depend so much on Word of Mouth and growing from that. That's that's one example of a million.

Morgan: I like that's something that is probably more common than you think. There are a lot of us here that are in the newer phases of things. Some people strike gold immediately, they get all the patients and that's great. But then sometimes it's a little bit overwhelming to the point where you forget that you need to be setting up other systems and putting other things in place. Word of Mouth is great, one of the best referral sources because someone trusts their friend who has worked with you, so it's similar to having the testimonials and reviews but you can't control it (a referral source). All you can do is be a good PT and hope and pray that they'll talk about you. I just want to put out there too that people who seem like they're struggling maybe in the first few months of opening, it almost gives an opposite result of figuring out that outbound lead stuff and then Word of Mouth comes in. Everybody has different experiences and you end up learning a lot of lessons.

What made you pull the trigger? What was the catalyst that made you start doing this?

Tyler: Probably a few things. I finally got to the point where I realized I was dragging my feet long enough. There's a reel I did about this, and I talked to a friend of mine who is really big into leadership and he has a podcast, He interviewed somebody that I have a lot of respect for and the advice that was given during that podcast was you just got to put a shot clock on it. If there's something you're thinking about doing, maybe you want to run a marathon for the first time, you want to open a business, you want to quit your job or whatever, there's always a reason not to. Before I even heard that advice I like basically did that to myself, I just had to put a shot clock on and do it. It is something I knew I always wanted to do. I would rather do it and fail at it than never having done it at all. The other pieces that were catalysts, I stumbled onto that class at CSM and weeks before CSM we had our first son, so it was kind of a combination of those things. I realized it's not going to get any easier when he's older. It was more about "you just got to do it". I think a few of those things kind of came to head and and I finally pulled the trigger.

Morgan: That’s what everybody says. Whoever comes on this livestream/podcast. Everyone’s advice is just do it. Sometimes it’s ok to dip your toes in before you fully get into things, but I hear a from people

  • “Oh I’ll wait until this”

  • “I’ll be more comfortable when this happens”

  • “If I just take more classes”

  • “Let me get my first 10 patients first and then I’ll do something.”

I get it, but I think my advice for people would be maybe give yourself one of those things. If you need to wait 30 more days to feel comfortable like you said, a shot clock, to get yourself together then ok. But I think it’s a dangerous place to be if you find yourself saying “it’ll be better with this or that” because that day will never come.

Tyler: It’s like having a baby. You’re never going to be ready. This is kind of like having another child I guess: your business, right? You’re growing it. It’s terrifying.

Morgan: Yeah, good times, bad times, exciting. That’s something I always talk too, life is never dull. You have so many other opportunities, you learn so many things, it’s just a higher quality thing than being trapped in an outpatient clinic from 8 - 6, 5 days a week.

Tyler: For people kind of thinking about it, you don’t have to quit your job and go all in. I know there are some people who say “just do that”. That is not my style at all. So you can take some time. For example, home health is a little more flexible. You can see patients, if you’re doing home health in your area, take a part time job, PRN jobs. Something where you have some security, you can still afford your mortgage or rent, you can have insurance for your family if you need that, but you can also build your business up. I think once you get to a certain point where things are working for your business, that’s another jumping off point where it’s like “ok i just gotta go all in on this and leave the security net behind.” You don’t have to do it all at once I don’t think.

Morgan: No, I don’t think so either. I like to see the progression. Of course not everyone can do that, but going from full time, to part time, to PRN, to business only. That would be great in an ideal world, but I’ve heard stories from people who are similar to my story where my full time job was making me so incredibly miserable all the time that I had to leave. Just for my own health.

Unfortunately, I think that happens to a lot of us where your full time job is so physically, mentally, and emotionally draining that you’re kind of giving your entire life force to it, and what’s the point of that? There are a lot of ways to getting into starting your business and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The other thing too is that success looks different for everyone and that’s one thing I like to remind others as well. Maybe success is seeing one patient a week, maybe it’s seeing 40 patients a week in your own practice. I don’t recommend that, but for some people that’s where they want to be and that’s ok too.

Flexibility: Learning to bend and not break

Tyler: My business is Idaho Direct PT. I came up with that name long before I opened my doors and I thought that I wanted to work with lower complexity, low back pain, I wanted to be an outpatient clinic, but as Telehealth. I thought thats where things were and we niched that down a bit to working with people who love the outdoors, camping, hiking, etc like I do. A couple of years went by and I had my website up for about 2 years and I go to Google myself. I’m literally sitting in my office and I’m not showing up as a PT clinic near me. I’m a pretty good PT, but I’m obviously not a web designer or a branding expert, so one of the things I had done was join a business networking group, (if you haven’t I recommend it so you can make great connections with people). One person I made connections with is a branding experts. We’re working on a new rebrand, new name, new feel, and hopefully speaks better to the clients I want to work with. I love working with everyone, but especially those Weekend Warriors, those outdoor adventure types. We’re changing things up, we haven’t released the name yet. That’s an example though. I was set on that for 1 - 2 years before I even made a business, and I’m just not speaking to the right audience. My friend who is doing the rebranding suggested a name change. We worked through some things and it’s been a great process, I’m excited to launch that probably next month. That’s an example of things bending. Things weren’t working out, so how can we change things without folding it in and going home?

Morgan: I really like that you brought that up because I think of course there’s flexibility with your business, but even with patient care. Another question I get asked a lot or fears that are brought up, “how do I treat this person if they’re paying me cash?” Which isn’t a dumb question. It’s something foreign to a lot of us and it’s similar that you would do in the clinic, ya know? I just think that being open to seeing how you already have some experience, but there is going to be a little bit of a change. Treatment is still the same whether it’s online or in person. You’re still going to treat the person the same, but making some changes in your mindset around that and maybe ways you can communicate, those are going to change and that’s ok. Change isn’t always bad.

Tyler: It’s hard though, right? Like I mentioned, it’s like your baby. You started this business. I don’t want to change it. It’s perfect the way it is, but it’s not putting food on your table so maybe it’s not (perfect). You got to make changes sometimes and having that openness, which I didn’t initially have, and taking that feedback from what your audience is or isn’t telling you. If you’re not hearing anything then maybe it’s time for a change. Having that mentality that this is a learning process whether you’ve done it for 2 weeks or you’ve done it for 20 years. I think that good businesses are constantly changing. If you’re not moving forwards then you’re moving backwards. Having the mentality: We’re going to bend but not break and not give up our values. Patient care is the highest priority and I think it is for most people that have a cash practice and so certain values I’m not willing to sacrifice, but other things like a logo … yeah. Even if you get use to it and you love it, you may need to change it. I think having that flexibility and mindset helps a lot, because I didn’t have that when I first started.

Morgan: I think that sometimes that fear around changing something is you're fearing that people will judge you for whatever you’re changing it to, or what if it doesn’t work right away. You don’t know. If people are judging you, it doesn’t affect you. That’s a huge note that I like to point out to newer business owners. Just because someone asks to see you, does not mean you’re obligated to see them. If you talk to them and you don’t get a good vibe, you don’t have to work with someone and that’s kind of nice as well.

Tyler: A couple of people have found me and it just wasn’t a good fit, so I really try, if I can, to set them up with someone that would be a better fit. I think that putting that good will out to the universe is always a good thing to do too. Like you said, you don’t have to work with them. It’s better to do that up front rather than get 4 visits in, they bought a package, now you have to figure out if you’re going to reimburse them. Its much better to have a conversation up front to decide if you’re going to work well together and see if it’ll work well for your skills. Don’t be afraid to turn people away… do it nicely. You can’t take on everyone and you don’t want to. You opened your own practice, you don’t want to have to take everyone. There’s certain people you know you work well with and others you know you don’t.

Morgan: Absolutely. Pay attention to your intuition. Even if you can’t pinpoint why they’re not a good fit, if you feel weird, don’t do it. The other thing I wanted to point out that I like you brought up with the story of the rebrand (being flexible), is being ok with asking for help. Even if you are a solo practice practitioner, you’re not alone. Tyler you're great at identifying your strength and weaknesses, and being ok with asking for help with things you don’t feel comfortable with or something that somebody else would do better. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with doing that and it doesn’t make you a worse business owner. I don’t know about you Tyler, but I feel like a lot of my own feelings like that, a lot of them come from the practicals we did in school where you had to be perfect. You need to know everything otherwise your life is over.

I shouldn’t joke about it, but I feel like I have PTSD from that. Worrying about what are they going to think. I still remember sitting out in the hallway of one of our lab rooms to go in for a practicum and my heart rate was 120 beats per minute. I think one of the best things I’ve learned in the last year is whenever something happens and you start feeling a certain way, see if you can take a step out of it and learn to respond to it without initially thinking everything is ruined.

Tyler: It’s also important, and this is hard for me too, to take the constructive criticism as it is. It’s intended to help you, not let yourself get defensive right away because that’s hard to do sometimes. It’s important to think it over at least. Usually people aren’t trying to criticize you just to criticize you.

Tell us about the success and enjoyment you've had creating reels on Instagram:

Tyler: I’m not a social media guy. I’m not one that thinks anyone really cares what I have to say everyday or sees my dinner plate every night. I was putting up blogs all of the time and I wasn’t getting a lot of traction on Facebook, my business page, my personal page. I’m thankful to people who looked at it and read it, but it wasn’t a growing audience. I decided that I needed to do something differently: trying IG (crazy right?). This is another nod to the networking group I’m part of, there’s a realtor there who does fantastic stuff on Instagram. Hilarious videos, really engaging, and I couldn’t figure out reels to save my life. I knew that I needed to do video content because I don’t want to sit there to read a bunch of stuff either. Honestly, you’re going to watch a video before you go to someone’s website and read a 1,000 word blog. I started doing that. I worked with my friend and she helped me out. I started generating some reels and what I’ve found is if it’s something that resonates with people, you could get several thousand people watching your reel vs. you putting it on Facebook and 5 - 6 people that see it. I’m grateful for those 5 -6 people, but you need to generate more of a viewership to grow your business and get those leads. I started doing that way out of my comfort zone, that was when my friend said do a shot clock. Consistency is something that is really important with getting that traction and getting people to learn about you. Majority of the time if I’m doing business with someone, it’s not necessarily that I think that AllState is better than StateFarm, but if I know someone that works for one or the other then I’m going to go work with them because I know them. I think that’s important to show your personality and show what you’re interested in. Try to connect with potential clients because they're not going to get to know me by seeing my still framed picture or reading a paragraph about something. However, if I’m out hiking and I make a tutorial on how to wear a backpack properly, I’m talking to the outdoor type and it’s something practical. It's somewhere where my skills as a PT comes in, so it blends together nicely. That’s something I’ve been working on. I’m not an expert, but certainly something that has gotten easier over time for someone who doesn’t like to be filmed, I promise it does get easier. It sucks for the first 25 times you do it, but you get use to it.

Morgan: I like what you brought up about people want to work with you because they know you. I think that is key when running your own business especially as one person and being a private healthcare professional. People will work with you because they feel comfortable with you and they feel like they know you and so they trust you. Video content is so great and it’s only continuing to become more and more helpful with digital marketing. I like it because you can easily make it into video, audio, written quickly, so it’s really efficient. You can also learn from somebody's voice and body language if you like them. People really do get to know you. You don’t have to be perfect either! This podcast/ livestream that we have right now is minimal preparation : ) but that’s ok. I mean we've had a great time chit chatting and viewers/readers get to know us. I think that’s really great and I wanted to ask you about it. You’ve been putting out such great content on Instagram and I see it all the time. I’m so proud my little graduate.

Tyler: To give some background that people don’t know, when I started working with Morgan she asked “what do you think about using your personal Facebook page for your business stuff?” I didn’t think it seemed liked something I was going to do, but if Morgan said to do it I was going to start doing that. It’s really been a pretty big change over the last couple of years of getting more comfortable with putting myself out there because that’s scary too.

The other thing is I’ve learned is: don’t spend too much time on these videos. I think the first couple of videos I filmed 2 hours worth of footage and I didn't like anything. The ones that have done best I’ve filmed in 3 minutes when I’m on a hike. One reel that did really well was on failure. I was in the parking lot, and my wife ran my son in to daycare real quick. While she was taking him in, I filmed that reel real quick and 4,000 people watched it. If you’re spending an hour on a reel or video, you’re taking too long. Just scrap it and go back it it the next day.

Morgan: I understand wanting to have good production value and that’s all well and good, but a lot of the times people just want the story/information/suggestions/advice that you have to share. Doesn’t matter necessarily whether it’s a well produced video. I do the same thing. Whenever I’ve made those shorter videos, I spend maybe 10 minutes on it. There’s no pre-prep. When I put videos on Youtube, all I usually do is download it, upload it to my editor, take out the silences, export, and then put it up on Youtube. I love that advice Tyler. That’s super helpful and I think it will definitely make a lot of people feel more comfortable getting started with everything.

Do you have any other marketing advice for all of the "young padawans" here?

Tyler: I think another thing I’ve done, and I’m hoping to do more of it, I’ve been reaching out to other businesses that we may have a similar niche but we’re not competitive. For example, a local camping store. Same exact niche, but not competitive at all. I was talking with them and we had a great conversation, hit it off, and they invited me to do a workshop. We called it the Happy Camp Workshop where we talked about camping with back pain and ergonomics during camping. Doing more workshops like that has been good to at least get my name out there and meet other people. I’m not going to say I’ve gotten super rich off of it, I’ve only done a couple of them. It’s something I want to do more of because you develop that relationship. We talk about developing a relationship on Instagram, but it’s like it’s on steroids when it’s in person because you can chat face to fact with someone for 10 minutes and then 6 months later if they hurt their back they remember you. I think that is a scary, but beneficial thing to do. Just trying to meet as many people as you can, especially when you’re a solo practitioner. People want to do business with you, they don’t care about your business. They want to work with you. If they don’t know you then they’re not going to to work with you, so I think that’s really important.

Morgan: Absolutely, I think that’s a really good example of going to where your audience is and participating in that community before saying, “I want patients from this group.” The same thing happened at both of the gyms that I worked out at. I went in to it with the intention of wanting to work out there and get to know people in the classes, and it took maybe 4 - 5 months of me consistently going. People then end up walking up to you and talking about their problems. For you, being in the camping community, investing that time into that workshop, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if 6 months down the road you have a return on that investment because you took the time to really invest yourself and getting to know people.

Tyler: Even if it doesn’t come from that one workshop, if you do a good enough job, then maybe that business will ask you to come back later and do it again. They may even know someone doing an event and they invite you. That’s lead me to a lot of different opportunities. Most of being a business owner (I’ve found), is sort of indirect (marketing-wise). It’s not directly going to someone, “Hey, come see me”. You’re doing all of this other stuff and people learn about you and then they come to you. It’s not something that is going to pay off this week. It’s the long game. If you want your business to go for a long time, then you need to play that game and not looking to get patients through the door today. Which is frustrating.

Morgan: It breaks my heart a bit when I talk to practice owners who say they’ve been open for months or years and they haven’t had any traction at all. However, then when I ask what they do to find patients, it’s nothing. It’s having a website and then hoping people call. You have to remember, just because you put up a website, doesn't mean people care. You have to invest in relationships and then that will pay off down the road. I think that’s also a really cool way of looking at marketing. It doesn’t have to be so difficult or scary. A lot of the time it’s “what do I like to do?” and “who do I like to work with? I’ll go do that activity.”

Tyler: You do this with CrossFit. I don’t know if you look at it this way or not, but if we’re going on a hike or something, I’m going on a business trip that I really want to go on because I’m getting so much content. I’m going to take pictures anyway when I’m on the trail, I might as well record some videos and figure out a way to put that together that someone might be interested in enough to learn about me. It definitely is a long game. I don’t know the trick to getting 20 people through your door tomorrow, but if anyone out there does, let me know. I’m definitely playing more of a long game making those relationships. Hopefully those things will start to pay off in the long run.

What do you think are key concepts for new practice owners that are thinking about doing this?

Tyler: You’re going to fail multiple times. Don’t let that keep you from moving forward. Keep your eye on the “why”. Why are you opening a practice? I think that’s really important.

The other thing is really hone in on: What’s really important to you? What are the values of this business? Because you may be the only person running it, your business is separate. What is really important for the business? Make sure you don't break those, but be willing to change other things. As long as it doesn't change the heart of what your business is or what you want it to be, don’t be afraid to change everything out. Be open to change and knowing that things are not going to work out no matter how prepared you are, as long as you continue to learn and grow from that. I know it sounds cheesy, but its what I found to be true. If I quite the first 1 or 2 times I failed, I wouldn’t be sitting here on this podcast right now because it’s going to happen a lot.

I guess a third would be, get out there. Meet other people. Ask for help. You don’t have to be perfect at everything. It took me a long time to swallow my pride after working for years on my website to realize I wasn’t good at it. Find someone who is good at it. Pay someone to do it well. That’s just one example. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to other practitioners. Those are my top 3 that I’ve learned so far. If you ask me a year from now it’ll probably be totally different.

Morgan: With the change thing too, maybe it could help someone who is feeling scared or nervous about jumping in because I feel like people go into this and they want to do one thing at a time and only do it one time instead of being open to changes. One thing to think about as well is to go into it expecting things to change, because if you set your expectations like that then when things do fail or change it’s like “ I’ve planned for this, so it’ll work out just fine”.

How to contact Tyler:

Catch the interview here on my podcast!

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