Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Welcome to the first of our live interview series where I talk to all kinds of therapy entrepreneurs.
This season we have quite a few different therapists and we're going to be talking about a lot of different ways that they've gone into business for themselves. We’re kicking things off with my dear friend Brandis Montgomery, one of the absolute OG’s of this program. We’re going to learn more about Brandis, dive into the world of cash based physical therapy private practice, being a mobile therapist, and keeping everything together despite having a million things happening constantly. 😄
What We're Covering:
Tell Us About Yourself, Your Background, and What Led You to Be Here:
Brandis: I'm from Ohio and currently reside in Georgia outside of Atlanta (been here for about 12 years). I went to my graduate school at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Then, I worked briefly in Kentucky (Lexington area) for 2 years before I transferred to Georgia. I was working for outpatient (did outpatient 10 out of the 14 years as a therapist) and then a very short stint of Home Health before I got laid off in 2019. It really was a blessing in disguise because I hated it, but at the time it didn’t feel that great. After that, I really didn't want to go back to outpatient because it's very inflexible, and since I had a newborn I really needed more flexibility. Then my husband and one of my friends convinced me that I needed to open my own physical therapy private practice... which I fought very hard. But then in 2019, I started my own LLC with the help of a friend of mine. In 2020 we had the lovely pandemic so I decided to go back to work full-time because I didn't know what else to do. I worked in another outpatient setting with a friend of mine for a year and I knew by the end of that year this was not what I wanted to do. It was so stressful, I had no flexibility with my 1 year old, I was working 8 - 5, seeing 20 + patients a day with no tech and sometimes no front desk.
Then, when I got to the end of that year, I decided that I was done with this and I think that’s when you (Morgan) and I started working together. I decided to put everything into this and see if I can make it and not have to work full-time anymore with the clinic. I had started back with a PRN company 3 days a week, and two days a week working together on building my business. By the end of 2021, I gave up my part time job and went full time with my business.
Recently, we decided to sell our house to pay off our debt. Now we’re doing new construction so I’m back in the clinic working 2 days a week so my lender can see a regular paycheck rather than the income from my business. I’m working now 2, 10 hour days in a clinic and 3 full days with my business; sometimes on a Saturday occasionally if I need. It’s a lot of craziness, but I wouldn't trade it.
Morgan: I love the fact that you said you wouldn’t trade it. I couldn't agree more with you. Despite how hard, stressful, and frustrating it can be, it's so much more of an interesting experience than being stuck in the clinic. I feel like lots of different therapists look at the clinic job as being safe and stable, which I guess for the most part it is, but the last couple of years has shown us anything can happen. At the end of the day the only person you can trust is yourself.
Starting your own business is almost safer because you always have something to fall back on too. I just want to do a shout-out to Brandis because I have watched her over the last 1.5 - 2 years. Literally anything that could happen to a person I feel has happened to her in that time. It’s one of the things I admire about her. She's just like “Okay, here's what I have to do. I'll get it done despite all the other things that are going on in my life.” It very easily could be an excuse to put off this business stuff for a while, but you just do it. That is a high value characteristic of an entrepreneur, and definitely something that you have to mold your mindset in to in order to be successful. What do you think?
Brandis: Thank you! I agree. I think that's probably the hardest part of owning your own business. It's very easy to think it's too hard or that you don't have time. There are definitely moments when you feel sorry for yourself and you're going, “I don't want to do this anymore” or “I hate these aspects of it but I still have to do them”. Because yes, owning a business is not just doing the things you enjoy as a physical therapist, but it’s also marketing, and sales, and social media, and technology. Those are things that I do not enjoy, but they still have to be done. I think that was the hardest part. We fought several months about me dropping my PRN position and it was you (Morgan) going “You can do it!” And I’m going, “No I can’t!” Until finally I decided to try it one November and see what happened. There are still times when I don't know if I can do this. It's just so much nicer knowing that all of your hard work is for you and your family, not for another company. All of your hard work is to help individual people get better instead of 10 patients at one time that you're trying to manage. There's just so many benefits to it that it makes all of those frustrations better. Also, knowing that you can always fall back on PRN, part-time, or going back into a clinic if you really needed to. There's always other options if you need to complement it with something.
Morgan: I feel like there's so much you can learn by growing a business. I tell people this all the time, especially people who are learning different marketing skills. My view on that is, you're doing this right now, but if a year from now you decide you don't want to be in business for yourself anymore, you have so many more skills than before.
Going back to the talk about quitting PRN: I want to congratulate you on that. I gave you a goal in October of finding 5 clients in November, and then the first week of November you had 12 appointments.
Brandis: I don't even remember how they came about. I think I said I couldn't do it so it happened. It was like God needed to prove me wrong or something like that.
Morgan: The universe is like, “Okay you quit your job, obviously you’re ready for a full caseload, so here you go!”
Brandis: I guess part of that time is when I picked up some contract work at the end of last year so that helped. I think I had 2 or 3 of them. Which is another opportunity that you can do when you're trying to build your business. It has been so helpful to have contract work because I still get to choose my schedule, where I place my patients, I still see them in their homes. However, I’m getting paid from another mobile PT and he's getting paid from a doctor. Now I know that I have this stable money coming in that can pay the bills, and I can work on focusing to build and grow
Morgan: I think that's a really good point to bring up because that's definitely something when I started my practice I wasn’t familiar with. Even if you are just getting started with your own business, there are going to be a lot of other things that you can do to supplement your income as well. It doesn't have to be a full-time job or nothing. There's a lot of in between and lots of different opportunities depending on what you need.
What are 1 or 2 Big Struggles, Physical or Mentally, That You've Been Through Since 2019? How Did You Overcome Them or Learn From Them?
Brandis: I would say the first struggle was probably not doing my PRN stuff because at the time I was working full-time and my husband was working part time. I didn't know how to stop paying the bills. I was very nervous about transitioning that position to him going to work full-time and me being able to decrease my hours of work and consistency of pay. It was difficult to get into the mindset of “Just try it.” I could always go back to PRN or full-time. I think we even talked about a 3 month trial to see what happens over that time. The biggest part of that was having my husband on board and being supportive. The other part of the mindset is just try it and then what's the worst that could happen? You have to go back to work full-time. Who cares? That was where we kind of left it.
Then setting goals really helped us dive into it. The goal was the first week having 5 clients, and we killed that. Knowing you have these goals, and having you (Morgan) make me have these goals helped. I would have said I’m only getting 1 client, but you said 5. Having someone else to push you to know you’re better than you think you are is very helpful.
Then, probably the next big struggle was increasing my price. I still have a very hard time with that. I started at $125/visit and then we talked about increasing to $150. I was having a hard time selling $125. I feel very confident about my skills. I feel very confident knowing that I'm the best physical therapist that is out there. However, trying to convince patients to not use their insurance and use me instead was where I was struggling. We've done a lot of talking and working on my sales pitch. Again, knowing what's the worst that could happen? They say no and you move on. That’s helped a lot. Tell them how great you are. Tell them how you’re going to get them better. If they say no, then just walk away. I really have to sit back and tell myself that. Most patients are like, “Yeah, you're right. Let me look and see if I can fit this in my budget.” That's the worst I hear. Otherwise it's, “Let's work with it.” I am getting better at it. I am not by any means great at sales, but I feel like it's getting better.
Morgan: I really like that you brought that up because so many of us get all heebie-jeebies with sales, but it truly is learning to step up to the plate and be the professional that you are. It definitely is a situation where it's kind of “fake it until you make it”. Because you are the professional. You almost have to have that kind of attitude, body language, and tone to be like, “Here is the plan, do you want it or not?” Even if on the inside you're unsure of yourself. In the beginning of 2020, I distinctly remember an evaluation I did for a guy who had a shoulder issue. Little business owner me at the beginning was like, “You know what, I'm just going to pretend that I'm the boss here. I know all the things!” I had an authoritative way of speaking, and my patient was all for it. It feels silly talking about it, but it makes a huge difference. Why would we go into that conversation doubting ourselves first, and then hope that the person in front of us is going to say, “You seem unsure about it, but I guess I'll pay you thousands of dollars.”
To a Newer Business Owner Who is Feeling Uncomfortable With Sales, What Advice Do You Have For Them?
Brandis: As far as sales? I think, and I say this semi-jokingly, but I really mean it. One thing that I tell my husband all the time when he doesn't ask for advice, but I just tell him anyway what's wrong with him. I say “I’m the best doctor that you're ever going to meet”, and I really do feel that way. There are so many medical doctors that have a little bit of information about everything, but they don't know a lot when you really think about it. I mean, how many of our patients get diagnosed with shoulder pain and it’s like, “Oh that was tough, thank you.” What if your medical doctor came to you and said, “Well it might be this, but I’m not really sure” or “You might not want to use me. You might want to go somewhere else. I don't know, but it might cost this much.” If you had all of these concerns or inconsistencies, then you wouldn't want to use them either. However, no medical doctor is like that. Everyone thinks they know everything. They're going to tell you exactly what it is whether they really know or not, and you’re going to listen to them because they're the medical doctor. Having the mindset, “I am also a doctor, and I know what I'm talking about. I have a lot of school under my belt.” Then, give your professional opinion. I think when they understand that you’re a professional, it helps.
I also try to educate a ton, because they’re not getting educated anywhere else. Doctors aren’t educating them. They're telling patients they have stenosis and the patient thinks they're dying. Meanwhile I’m explaining that stenosis is a very broad word, and I'm pretty sure their stenosis is going to change once I put them in flexion. There's just so many things that they don't get taught. When they come to see you, that's the most anyone has ever talked to them. It's the most anyone has ever educated them, so if you do all that education and then present your plan of care and cost, they're much more likely to go for it. They go, “No one's ever explained this to me.” I don't know how many times people have told me that and thanked me. This should have been done step one. We should go in there with this idea of “I am a doctor. I have been educated over and over on all these things”. Then, using that education to really get people to buy in.
Morgan: They trust you because you’re trusting yourself. I think that's a really good point to bring up. I had at least 2 or 3 patients come in for evaluations and 90% of our first visit was them telling me their story. Unfortunately, it includes a lot of fears they have about whatever is going on in their body. They've been to a doctor or had some kind of imaging that says something and then they think everything's over. Being able to provide a space for somebody as a physical therapy private practice provider is so invaluable. I've experienced a lot of not-so-great encounters with different medical providers, so being the best space for someone to feel safe with what they have going on is part of my mission. Like you were saying, to take the time throughout the session to explain what is going on, it’s so important. Everyone has a right to know about their body, and they deserve to have a guide and leader in that process.
Something else I know patients appreciate, if their PCP or surgeon recommends a procedure and they don’t explain it to the patient, I’ve gone out of my way to do the research myself. I provide research, pictures, and info to a patient so they can make the most educated decision possible about the procedure. That means so much. If I were the patient, I would feel so much more comfortable with this person who sees me rather than just being another number. We do a lot more work and offer a lot more benefits than meets the eye. That’s what people want, to be taken care of, and if you try to apologize for how often you should see them or your price, that doesn't provide that safe space that they need.
Brandis: I think when they understand what you're going to do for them versus what they pay somebody else for, it might cost less but they’re getting way less care. When I educate them on everything, go over the plan and goals, and they see how much time that I spend with them, it makes it easier to see why I'm charging you $150 versus their copay of $50. It’s such a different experience.
Morgan: I think it's important to help lay out all the options on the table and help your patient make this decision that's best for them in the long run too. So everyone reading this… you need to amp up your attitude when you talk to your patients. : )
Brandis: Be very confident. Make sure you give yourself a mental talk in the car even if you feel like you can't do it like me. Mental talks are the best because you may not know how to say something right, but as long as you tell yourself, “I'm the best doctor. I know what I'm talking about. I'm going to show them how this is worth it", then you can go in and kill it!
How Would You Answer the Common Question, “How Do I Find Patients?”
Brandis: I would say be very patient finding patients because, unless you already have a referral source, it takes time. Being patient has been the hardest part for me because I'm worrying about making money and paying the bills. We have done a lot of work though with Facebook/social media (my least favorite friend) that I have to do every week, consistently. It's all about consistency, and it probably took almost 6 months to really start seeing people engage with my posts or having new followers. There are now people reaching out to me that I don't know from Facebook. For a long time it was like, "I'm getting engagement on my posts, but it's everyone I know from Ohio." Finally, people that I don't know are reaching out asking questions or making comments. Sometimes they're completely off-the-wall, but at least they're seeing me. It's a lot of work to do social media and one day I will pay someone to do it for me, but not right now. Being really consistent is so important with those things
Then, we also have been doing some Facebook ads. You (Morgan) have been helping me with those because I don't know how. Morgan has been awesome helping me do those things, but for all of you out of there that have some technology skills feel free to do Facebook ads because they have been huge. They’ve been helpful with getting hundreds of leads and at least 3 plans of care. It’s well paid for themselves. We’ve been doing them for 6 months. You don’t have to put a ton of money into it. I think we’re at $400 per month, but that's only the last few months. Even $5 - 10 a day can really get a lot of leads. We’ve been doing the free ebook which gets a tons of leads but when we do free assessments… not so much. I would definitely recommend them and Morgan has been awesome with helping me.
Tell Us About Thumbtack:
Brandis: It’s awesome because you set the words you want it to look for to find leads for you. When it finds a direct lead, (meaning it's using all of your important words), if you accept the lead, it charges you. If you don't accept it, then it doesn't charge you. We learned words like "personal training" weren't working so much, so we took that one away. However, now I know if someone's finding "physical therapy" that it's probably going to be a really direct lead. Also, they already know your pricing because you have to put your rates on there. They know where you're located, you can set all the boundaries. It's wonderful. They contact you saying, "would you like to look at them?" It gives you all of the information because the person has to fill out a questionnaire about what they're looking for. You can look at it and say yes or no. The most I've been charged was $32 for a lead, but most of the time they're less than $10. I think I've gotten 3 plans of care from Thumbtack. They're looking for you, so if you get an email from Thumbtack, someone is wanting your services. They already know what you charge which is the nice part. They found and they knew you charge $150, so you don't have to worry about the sales part. Then, you chat with them on Thumbtack or you they'll give you a phone number and you can contact them on the phone. I usually chat and then ask them if they want to talk on the phone, so it's been awesome.
Morgan: I think it could be a really good channel for somebody who's just getting started because like you said it's not like Facebook ads where you pay to play. It's only if you accept them. Don't quote me on this, but I think the policy is that if you accept someone and they end up being a garbage lead then I think Thumbtack will refund you. It's so cool though. I set it up for Brandis and it might have taken me 30 minutes to set up her profile. Then, it just runs on its own in the background.
Brandis: You can even go searching for leads if you want. It will tell you if people are looking for something similar in your area where it pulls up words that might not be physical therapy (but something similar). You can go searching for those leads and then if you contact someone then I think you pay for it.
The other places I'm getting leads from are events and then I also set up in a couple of gyms. Those are nice because it's easy, quick money. I don't do full sessions, but I will do recovery sessions, taping, or injury assessments. Then I charge them $30 to come over and I'll look at them, stretch them, or do soft tissue work, etc. The last tournament I was at I made $600. It was quite crazy. I like being at the volleyball tournaments because when you aren't seeing people you can sit and watch. I also have a couple of gyms that I work with where I'm either there if they need me to be, or I have another gym just contact me if they have people that are interested in services. I just set up plans with them. I usually just 30 minute sessions with the gyms. It works good and it's a nice way get your name out there, and other people can recommend other places, so word of mouth is huge.
One more Facebook thing, I've joined groups of areas around me and people so often are talking about how they need a physical therapist or are talking about pain. Just putting your information out there, I don't even tell them I physical therapist, I put my suggestions out there and say, "If you have questions let me know." I haven't gotten any leads that way, but a lot of people ask questions and then they know you're out there and can remember you for next time.
Morgan: There are so many ways to do this. It's day by day, the awareness in your area will continue to grow. Like you were saying eventually people who message you are going to be really hot leads. Then you build a lot of know, like and trust (<-- marketing concept) within your community. There are all sorts of ways that you can find clients and it's really important to remember you can experiment with everything, but then you have to start to narrow things down a little bit to the different channels that work versus things that produce zero action.
Thank you so much for sharing all of those. It's really helpful to have specific examples of what to do for marketing because I know that's something that a lot of people struggle with (marketing). We know we have to do it. I see different post and things online that everybody wants help with different ways to market, so it's nice to hear these really specific examples.
What Pieces of Advice Do You Have for People Who Are Getting Started or They're on the Fence About Whether to Go Into Business for Themselves?
Brandis: I would say the keywords here are persistence and patience. That's been the hardest part when you're thinking, "I have to pay these bills but somehow grow this business." We want it to be very quick, but it's almost more steady if you can gradually build and learn as you go. Make sure you're being really persistent to do the social media. I'm not a fan, but I do it every week and every week I put things out there to just make it consistent.
How to Contact Brandis:
*Her website: onthemovempt.com
*Find her on Facebook
*Find her on Instagram
Catch the interview here on my podcast!