Building Your Brand
by Stephen Noonoo
It is my pleasure to welcome you to what can only be described as a star-studded issue ofPhysical Therapy Products. This month, we bring you stories and interviews by notables in the physical therapy world, like Movementauthor Gray Cook, PT, MSPT, Pilates savant Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT, CPT, and strength conditioning expert Brian Schiff, PT, CSCS, who has produced a number of books and DVDs on sports performance and rehab. Many of the PTs who participated in this issue have built specialized careers that extend far beyond their practices by building a brand that encapsulates their unique talents and passions.
Undoubtedly, almost every PT has an area of interest, but building a brand requires expertise, specialization, and an entrepreneurial spirit. I recently reached out to a few PTs with experience in brand and business building for useful advice on getting started.
“Whatever your specialty, make sure you are an expert in that area, and truly focus on that,” suggests Lee Burton, PhD, who developed the popular Functional Movement Screen with Gray Cook. “Get feedback from not only your peers, but take advice from critics to continue to improve and enhance your skill or specialty.”
To establish herself as an expert in the Pilates community, Suzanne Martin went above and beyond standard training by affiliating herself with a ballet company, teaching a public mat class at a dance studio, teaching at both Pilates and physical therapy conferences, and writing a regular column for a dance magazine. While certainly time-consuming, some of these avenues may have added only tangibly to her business’ growth. However, they provided something just as valuable: visibility.
“Exposure is the key,” she says, adding that exposure only on the Web may not be enough. “I do have social media, but find Twitter to be endless advertisements, and Facebook is a bit sketchy with my nephews posting hi-jinks. So I soft-pedal those avenues.”
Building a brand separate from one’s practice is not just a career move—although it certainly is that—but a business one as well. “Running your brand is like running a business, and it must be treated that way,” Burton says. “This takes both time and money to make it work.” His advice for brand building is straightforward: Find your area of expertise, get your message to your audience, and plan ahead of time for the infrastructure you will need to keep up with your growth. “Once you create your brand, and market it, and begin selling products and services, next come the questions, comments, and the need for customer service. This can become overwhelming, so be prepared,” Burton says.
Tying your practice and your passions together can help you build a brand by reaching those patients you most want to see, but at the same time becoming too specialized can actually be a drawback. “A mistake that business owners—not just PTs—can make is becoming so specialized that they really reduce the amount of market available to them,” says Dianne D. Stein, whose JoTo Extreme PR firm works with a number of physical therapy clients. “You don’t want to be so specialized that your entire practice is built on being a hand therapist that only sees women. You know, you’re really going to set yourself up for a rough go of it as a business owner.”
Branding takes an enormous amount of work and is a career-defining decision. But as one ambitious PT told me at a trade show last year, their entrepreneurial ventures had become so lucrative that they kept a practice open mainly for appearances. These days, much of their income was coming from teaching classes and through book and DVD sales—proof that hard work now can pay off in the long run. “It’s worthwhile for me,” Martin says of her decision to branch out from private practice, “since it’s critical that I work for another 15 years!”