Physical Therapist to Entrepreneur
One of the best perks of being a physical therapist is the versatility. With so many specialties and niches to fit into, anyone can find an area that matches their personality, interests, expertise, schedule, and goals. However, the multitude of options available can feel overwhelming, especially if you are just starting out in your career, or haven't been exposed to the many unique possibilities.
By interviewing clinicians who stand out in their respective fields, this series aims to amend this problem by giving new grads and students insight into the various physical therapy specialties and career options. Hopefully you will come away from the article with a new understanding of the field, some practical steps to help you move forward, and resources for further learning.
In this article, we talk with Ben Fung, the Chief Content Officer at UpDoc Media, a media development and digital marketing company specializing in the space of physical therapy. Ben shares his experience of going from physical therapist to entrepreneur and business owner, and gives his thoughts on the importance of branding, social media, mindset, and creating a business plan. Enjoy!
CY: Ben, thank you for taking the time to be a part of this series. I wanted to focus on you for this article because of your prolific social media presence, and the empire that is UpDoc Media. Through UpDoc Media, you are constantly providing quality content, stimulating great discussions, advocating for our profession, and I’m sure that our readers can learn a thing or two from you about entrepreneurship and running a successful business. To start, I would like to focus on your journey from full time clinician to business owner and entrepreneur. Could you tell us a bit about this transition? Was this something you always wanted to do?
BF: I graduated with my DPT in 2009. In 2010, I started my first position as an Acute Physical Therapist at a major trauma hospital. Impressing the right people at the right time, I got looped into PR/Marketing initiatives at the system level as well as system improvement processes at the committee level. I was featured and spoke at national health conferences, interviewed on local news, won a couple awards for corporate excellence… but, things weren’t “right.” There were still too many actionable items I wanted to act upon that the corporate environment wasn’t ready for.
In 2012, the CEO of the hospital I was working at sat me down and told me I needed to think bigger than clinical PT. This eventually lead me to beginning an online MBA program at the University of Michigan. Within a term or two, I tried my luck at a promotion into another company. Skipping lead, supervisor, and manager, I applied for a rehabilitation director position at a high end CCRC. The position would entail managing my own P&L in a program which delivered inpatient SNF rehab services, outpatient services, as well as a sub-contracted home health revenue stream. Due to life (in this case, having our first baby), I decided that family was far more important than this job. There will always be management jobs available. Your first kiddo only comes around once. Having topped out my corporate career for this segment in just 3 years post-grad, I didn’t exactly have anything more to prove.
Valuing what matters most, I took a sabbatical to recenter myself, my family, my career, and my priorities. I realized that I wanted to finish the MBA and change gears.
Clinical PT was great. I was a fair clinician, made some good contributions; but, my passion turned from hands on care to empowering the hands of others. And, in this dream, there would be no limits to whose hands and how many -- I wanted to be an accelerator of success.
Through the happenings of more life, striking out at large corporate MBA jobs, and a lot of social media, I got invited to the startup scene. The idea was UpDoc Media. From there, you could say the rest is history -- I say, it’s nothing but future.
CY: Your situation probably sounds familiar to therapists who are slowly finding themselves taking on more and more managerial responsibilities, or to those who are working in non-clinical jobs. While PT school is great for cultivating certain skills, effective management, branding, marketing, and business operation isn’t always emphasized, so it’s great to have people like you providing this service. For therapists out there who are looking to start their own practice, or improve their existing business, could you share some actionable steps which our readers can take to get to the next level?
BF: Let’s answer the easy questions first, starting with the difference between an entrepreneur and a business owner.
Examples would be comparing Ford’s auto company or Apple’s technology to your local mom-and-pop pizza parlor, or, privately owned physical therapy practice. And, to be clear, one isn’t better than the other; they simply are after different things, different goals, different experiences, and different scales of pursuit.
With a clear understanding above, we can move onto what steps to take in starting a business. To this, I’d offer that two things must be in place before you should even think about it. First, you must be actively developing a personal brand. Secondly, you must adopt, groom, develop, and strengthen the right mindset.
Regarding personal branding, there is so much to be said that I believe an entire course series could be developed out for the topic. For the purpose of this piece, let’s focus on the lowest hanging fruit with the highest returning yields: Social Media. Social media, be it Facebook, your digital embodiment. Today, it is no longer special to be on social media; it is expected, it is entry level, and if you wish to go into business (as either owner or entrepreneur) it is required. Social media is the channel to which others relate with you. It is the way people will engage you, think of you, perceive and imagine you to be. If you wish to be in business, you must be likeable. To be likeable, you must be relateable, and, to be relateable you must be social.
Now, regarding mindset. A business oriented mindset needs severe reorientation to several ideas. These ideas are: risk versus stability and failure versus success. Physical Therapy, as a profession, is inherently risk averse. We are a conservative healthcare/medical profession with tools that are, by nature, conservative. This is the first mental barrier. Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky is credited with this quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” It is easy to let the risk become overwhelming. However, to get started, you must get over that fear. Losing stability is part of the business journey. There are no guarantees except for the ones you give yourself. And, the key here is understanding calculated risks versus unreasonable risks. Our discussion then moves into failure and success. I credit my partner at UpDoc Media, Dr. Gene Shirokobrod, with saying that entrepreneurial success is best viewed through the lens of baseball.
If you are successful 30% of the time, then you are an all-star. This is a very different mindset from the academically-over-achieving mindset of graduate school where anything less than 85% is practically a failure.
To this, failure isn’t failure unless you fail to learn how to fix it the next time around. In fact, most businesses fail because they chose to stop, not because they truly failed.
So now, with the right mindset, we ask the questions of timing and the steps to take. Well, I can tell you this, the time will never be right. There will always be better times, better situations, more stability, a better emergency plan, a larger savings account, etc. If you have to do something, if you cannot accept anything less than full control of your destiny, if in your core you are compelled to do more… then, do it! You must start with something… anything. Again, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. So, you have to start. How?
Start with a sketching out an idea. Mold your idea into a conceptual framework. Then, test that framework against a market entry analysis. Does your idea have an economic viability? Is there a customer base? Will there be? Is there a need? Is your idea going to add value to society in any semblance? Is there a reason for your idea to matriculate into existence? If so, then it’s time to sketch out “How.”
Start with an official business plan. Sit down and grind out an executive summary, market analysis, an operational framework, financial requirements, capital needs, run a break even analysis, slate out projections, growth phases, and time points when investors can/should be contacted. Highlight potential partners, advisors, investors, allies, competitors, substitutes, suppliers, vendors, etc. Then, start testing the market with your idea!
With all this in place, let’s finally talk about the drive, the reason, the “Why.” Going into business, whether as an owner or entrepreneur, requires strong direction, resilience, patience, and grit. It also requires balance. Work-life-balance has been a huge topic of discussion lately; and, I feel that we’ve gone about it all wrong, for too long. How many times have you heard the phrase, “I’ve got too much on my plate.” Plates are flat. They are two dimensional. They balance poorly, especially when spinning. And, they can get elements mixed, stacked up high, mushed together, and truly out of whack. Instead, I think the best way to achieve balance is by viewing life as elements stacked on top of each other like a tower. So long as everything is vertical and not falling, you have balance. This also means you square with the reality that you will never be able to give “even” or “equal” time and attention to all the aspects of your life. HOWEVER, you CAN give balanced time to each aspect. Give 100% of yourself during the 20% of the day you are with your family. Give 100% of yourself during the 5% of the day you are working out, training in the gym, or sparring on the mat. Give 100% of yourself during the 60% of the day you are doing your job. Give 100% of yourself during all those times. THAT, is how you will find balance. That, is how you will keep your drive alive.
CY: Ben, thank you again for taking the time to be a part of this series. You are providing a great service through UpDoc Media, and I’m sure our readers have appreciated your thoughts on formulating business plans, the essentials of branding, cultivating an online presence, and finding the right mindset. Any final thoughts on the topic?
BF: I have a mess of a career path. I don’t expect my story to be anywhere near the norm. It’s not a good thing, nor is it a bad thing. It just is. What I do hope, for myself and for you, is that we learn something from it. I took more corporate rejections as a DPT/MBA than I ever did during my less credentialed times of my career. With the right mindset, I saw that “failure” as an opportunity to find success in another direction as an entrepreneur. This path isn’t financially, mentally, or emotionally easy. You work way longer hours than 9-5; but, all the hours you “work” are yours. Honestly, I see what I do as more play, fun, creating, accelerating, and growing. It all starts with mindset. It all follows with action. And, it completes with the will to never give up.
Ben Fung, PT, DPT, MBA, is the Chief Content Officer at UpDoc Media, a media development and digital marketing company specializing in the space of physical therapy. Ben received his DPT from Azusa Pacific University, his MBA from the University of Michigan, and currently lives in sunny San Diego, CA. He loves all things Disney & Star Wars, is a humble student of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, likes to cook, loves to eat, and, is driven by mutual growth & accelerated success.