The short answer to the question about when do you need help as a health business owner is that most of us will benefit from help in some form most of the time. When I started my practice in 2004, I had no knowledge of how to run a business. I had an idea of what I wanted to create but did not have one clue on how to go about it. As I outlined in a previous blog, I did have enough awareness about my lack of skills to know that I could not realise my vision alone and found a business partner who had experience in running a business to help with those skills. She shared my vision and values, and this made us a great team for 5 years.
In 2004, there was not a lot of useful help around. There were few health business advisors or mentors, there were no leadership courses and few business courses. There was little accessible information via websites such as Fairwork Australia or the Privacy Commission. The APA Private Practitioners Group provided members with a large manual that briefly covered a range of things you might encounter as a physio practice owner. It was not comprehensive and did not account for many complexities of starting and running a business.
Running a health business has undoubtedly become more and more complex over the years. There are increasing levels of compliance in every area of practice, from registration, local government obligations, insurance, privacy and record-keeping, risk management to the ever-changing requirements of third-party payers, medicare, the NDIS and private health funds. These are the minimum and extensive requirements of any practice regardless of scale. The information seems to be continually changing, and it is challenging to keep up with it all. It has become even more difficult in the times of Covid when the health information is changing, sometimes daily.
Then there is the critical financial and staff management side of the business. When I think back on my recent blogs about “busy and running out of gas”, I wonder how many of us are going? Surely we are seeking help? I am not sure that juggling all of these balls is at all possible or healthy over the long term?
I recall a colleague of mine who ran a practice with about 5 clinicians. A group of practice owners would have a monthly dinner that served the purpose of peer support, an opportunity to get things off our chest and brainstorm. This particular person would often arrive late with the apology that she got held up doing the pays or trying to catch up on some changes made by the tax office in the past month or so. She told us about a complex system of spreadsheets, etc., that she would use to ensure that everything was in order. During the dinners, she would often have questions about recent updates to the tax laws or contractor versus employee etc. We could answer her questions because we had assistance from accountants and bookkeepers that we paid to help us with areas that we did not have the knowledge, time or desire to focus on. Thereby giving us time for more important things such as mentoring staff or building our practices. When I think about this situation, I ask myself many questions about the why? Whilst it might seem to be a measure to reduce costs in the business, I am not convinced that this is a reasonable or even savvy decision. I wonder whether undertaking all of the day to day tasks of running this business might be a subconscious control issue or a lack of confidence in others.
Having an accountant and even a bookkeeper (dependent on your business model) will allow practice owners to focus on the business, on their particular strengths and not overburden themselves with needing to know complex tax law (GST) or be up with the continual changes to payscales. A good accountant will help you review your business and provide information about your financial position so that you can make solid decisions. Having people with appropriate skills overseeing the financial management of the business is the best investment by freeing up your time, providing strategic information, updating you on any changes occurring within the legislative framework and managing risks. It is essential that you are compliant and that you will be comfortable should you ever be audited.
An accountant is a non-negotiable for your business. If you do not have one and are doing everything yourself, ask yourself why? What are the risks and benefits (some of which are outlined above)?
Some advice about finding an accountant:
- Find an accountant who works with small businesses and is not just geared for big corporate work.
- Ask lots of questions. It is okay to acknowledge the areas that you are unsure of and ask for their help.
- Find someone who is interested and takes their time to explain to you.
- Ask about their response times and how to best communicate with them.
- Ask about how they charge and what their costs are, so that you do not get any rude surprises.
If there are any alarm bells with their communication style, then find someone else.
Just in case you need any more convincing: https://www.ignitespot.com/blog/cheap-online-accountants (and financial nightmares)
Dianna Howell CMgr MIML MAPA