Are you considering taking the leap and launching a consulting business of your own? Or perhaps you’ve started and are feeling a little stuck and confused? Well then, today’s conversation with Trish Williams is a must-listen.
Trish Williams has been an occupational therapist for 20 years. She explored owning and running her own brick-and-mortar private practice for many years, then eventually transitioned to the online space to help other OT entrepreneurs start, grow, and scale their businesses. In this episode, Trish shares her experience of going from occupational therapist to entrepreneur and business owner and reveals her marketing tips for healthcare professionals who want to start their own businesses. Hopefully, you’ll come away from this post with some practical steps to help you move forward.
The following post is a summary of our chat:
Q: Could you tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship?
A: I got started in the OT entrepreneur space in about 2014. I’ve taught at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and at the University of Alberta in Calgary, Alberta. I moved into clinical and I was writing a lot of permission slips to take time off to go first of all, continue to teach pediatrics at the U of A; and second, to go to my kid’s science fair and parent teacher interviews. And I put my fist on the table and I said, “There's got to be a better way.”
I rolled with this idea that I had in the back of my head which was, “Why don’t we have enough private practitioners to refer clients to?” And whenever I would ask people in the space who are more experienced than me, they said, “Well, we just don't have as many people.” It’s almost that simple that I thought, “Well, if I want some freedom and flexibility, and I'm a pediatric OT and I'm really good at my job, I think maybe I'll just try to create it.” And the very first practical step I did was I went to my bosses and I said, “This is what I'm thinking about doing, and I don't have a clue how it's going to go.” And they said, “Here are a few people we know that need your help right now.”
I believe I was an entrepreneur before I knew I was an entrepreneur. I often say that there are so many of us OTs that started businesses and didn't realize how much we'd love it, and we became accidental entrepreneurs. I mean, I certainly spent time at my JOB and quietly and positively thought, “I would do that differently,” “I wonder why they're doing it that way,” and “The system is a little broken.” That questioning piece of me has always been there. I didn't know it was a big part of entrepreneurship. I got into the space where I was then running my own business and I realized that I've always been a little independent, but it really came for me from that need for freedom. My brand is called OTs Get Paid, and really at the heart of it is OTs want freedom. And I was willing to take that risk. I felt like I'm gonna bet on myself. That actually was a very powerful shift for my whole life. Mel Robbins says one of the most powerful statements that hooked me from the very beginning, “What if it all works out?” And that was my mindset at the time.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about your transition from running your brick-and-mortar to doing online business? What are the similarities and what are the differences?
A: I thought it was going to be very different. And in fact, business is business. So in my new company, I thought that I might have to have a stream for people that were just online or a stream for people that were bricks-and-mortar. And the more I learned about business, the more I realized that I don’t need to do that because business is business.
In 2018, I was sitting on my dock in Muskoka, Ontario on the shores of Lake of Bays. I take quite a chunk of time off in the summer, I always have, even when I had my own business—in particular, when I had my own business. I didn't mind missing the money. At that point, I wasn't trying to scale, but I did a lot of CEO work in those downtimes. It actually turns out to be the most powerful time that I can spend as a business owner. And my light bulb moment was that I was going to create an online arm or a digital offering for my bricks-and-mortars Spring OT because, at that point, we had grown and had a reputation and people were messaging us from all over the world asking us for advice.
And then by spending more time in that space, what I actually heard from other OTs was, “How on earth did you build this business?” “How on earth did you also build this course?” I looked inside myself and thought, “What do I really love about this new arm of my business?” And it’s really helping the other OT entrepreneurs, so I happily made a switch to my offer.
Then COVID hit, and it really forced me to make a choice because you have to say no to something in order to say yes to something else. We stayed open for quite a while, and then we closed, and I focused solely on this. So I've been full-time in this business since 2020. And it just shows you, as you said earlier, there's so much opportunity out there all the time. Now, this is full-time and expanding like crazy.
But just to specifically answer your question about the big difference between bricks-and-mortar and digital—admittedly, I didn't have my bricks-and-mortar for a long time during COVID. However, my data suggests that there’s even more flexibility with the digital business and it's a much smaller team. It's more nimble in a way.
For me, it's really important for you to know what your zone of genius is and what your biggest assets are because you can’t play every single role in your business or else you’ll literally explode. You've got to find out what you're best at and then automate, delegate, or delete the rest.
Q: One of the challenges that many folks face is that they get tied into this idea of control that there's a certain type of message that only we can deliver because it's very specialized. How do you address that with your employees and your staff moving forward?
A: I believe it's habit and control. I believe that there's a habit, especially as we’re taught in school that we're almost the jack of all trades and that almost backfires in a way as an entrepreneur. You’ll literally explode because you're used to doing everything yourself on a shoestring, and that’s the road to burnout. It's a real experiment in learning that the CEO time that you spend has a return on the investment. You need to learn how to work ON your business and not just IN your business because that's what grows it.
Surprisingly, for a perfectionist, control isn’t my thing. I think I was lucky and also strategic in building both businesses that I got both businesses off the ground right away, and I made six figures in the first year for both. I believe that there’s an easement once I knew that my message was hitting.
And here's the other thing: your business is a machine. It really is. You pull that lever and you pull this lever at certain times, and then you have a functioning business. What I quickly learned is that your messaging doesn't actually have to be perfect at all. We certainly work on refining our message now, but our message kind of hit from the get-go, and therefore, I got out of my own way.
And we're scientists, so business is also data-driven. There's this yin and yang between experimentation and pulling the right lever. If everybody had a successful business by just opening a book and saying, “Oh, I need to do this. I need to do that.” I mean, that's what I teach people now because I've read all the books and built all the businesses. And yet, there's still a bit of, “Oh, that should’ve worked,” and it didn't, so then we go back to the data. One of the things I encourage everybody is to start collecting that data from the get-go. Get the important data. Did your message land? Did people click open that email? Did you get a sale from that? Did it provoke somebody to give you a call and they became a client?
Q: For those people who are looking to start their own consulting business, could you share some good marketing strategies to get started?
A: I would say it depends where you are in your business. If you're starting out, your only job is validation until your first at least 50k. I call it the loop to 100k, which is you need an idea, you need to market it, you need to sell it, you need to get paid for it, you need to deliver it, you need people to tell you it was great, and you just do that again and again. So in that loop, it’s specifically about marketing.
And insofar as marketing for those that are just starting their businesses, proof of concept is huge. I also believe in proof of concept and getting paid. So rather than stall and get stuck in the left hemisphere—logic, lists, language, and just doing research ad nauseam, I want you to get on the phone or get in front of your ideal client and find out what they want. And I want you to create an offer right off the bat as best you can. It doesn't have to be THE offer. It doesn't have to be THE service or the way you provide the service. I know you've got an idea down deep inside. So get in front of those people and have at least 5 or 10 real-life conversations with people to find out if your business is a good idea.
Getting in front of those people isn’t hard because you're asking them questions about how you can help them. And I pretty much guarantee that if you get in front of 10 people, at least one of those people is going to say, “So can you help me then? How much would I charge you to do that then?” And now you're getting paid to grow your business. You're getting paid to hear your ideal client.
Anything that comes out of their mouth is messaging, so write that down. Have a Google Doc or have a Trello card. And if you don't like the client you're working with or if it doesn't feel in your zone of genius, then you can do a little pivot here or a little pivot there. Just keep it really simple—that’s the number one place to start with marketing.
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