In many professional service industries, from dentistry and allied health to hairdressing and architecture, it’s common for small business owners to start as a solo practitioner. Then, as clientele builds, the practitioner begins to grow the business, adding ancillary staff and more practitioners.
This was my path as a physiotherapist. I started with one clinic, built my clientele and added more clinics, hiring more practitioners and establishing a brand before realising that Physio Inq was ripe to become a franchise.
Until recently, however, I drew franchisees only from a pool of practitioners who were ready to step up and become business owners. I held a — since debunked — belief that these practitioner leaders had a unique insight into running a physio clinic that would not only enable them to offer a certain quality of service but also maintain the integrity of the brand in a way that a non-practitioner couldn’t understand or uphold.
I was wrong and this is why.
What a business needs
Running a business and being a good practitioner are two separate skills. Some practitioners have what it takes to provide excellent service to a client and lead a business at the same time, but there’s no reason why a franchisee needs to have a practitioner background to be able to support good practitioners in the business.
Clients generally care most about the individual practitioner they deal with and the service they receive. There’s no added prestige if that practitioner is also the business owner.
This means a business owner must have the skills to drive excellence from their staff to ensure quality of service is replicated across the organisation. It does not help if the business owner is a good practitioner but is unable to build a positive culture among other practitioners on their staff; if that’s the case, they would have been better off remaining a solo practitioner rather than turning the practice into a business.
A business also needs to have direction, structure and a system that works to maximise quality and profit. A visionary practitioner may provide all that in the time they have left over outside of undertaking their core service, but this is where the benefit of having a non-practitioner as a business leader comes to the fore. Coming from outside the practice they can see what the business needs at a macro level and service those requirements.
A practitioner serves the customer; a business owner supports the practitioners to do the best job possible of serving the customer.
Being supported by a franchise structure bridges the gap between practitioner owners and non-practitioner owners. By its nature, a franchise sets the guidelines for the provision of service, which means a business owner — whether or not they have practice experience — can understand and implement a benchmark standard as well as train and work with staff to improve and exceed that standard.
The training is not at the level of serving the customer, as that’s where formal qualifications fit in, it is to do with cultivating an attitude of striving for excellence at a personal level.
What leaders must give
One of my franchisees was a chef in a previous life. He changed careers to become a physiotherapist but only practised for 12 months before he decided to step up and become a business owner as well.
Although he wasn’t very experienced as a practitioner, what he brought to the franchise as a leader was his ability to connect with people. He was able to instil the franchise values and moral integrity into the business and to lead with emotional intelligence, which is central to a business that focuses on people’s health.
When I first converted company-owned clinics to franchises, I was initially thinking about capacity: if a team member left, the practitioner owner could step in and pick up the workload. Now I realise that the more hours a practitioner owner sees clients, the fewer hours they are focused on the whole business.
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This does not mean they will fail; far from it. I have some successful franchisees who perform a 40-hour week as a practitioner and work on the business outside of this for 20 or so hours a week.
The former chef, on the other hand, practises 16 hours a week and spends the rest of the time on the business. So, his ceiling for success could be a lot higher than the heavy practitioner model because he has more time to dedicate to marketing and staff training.
As I’ve matured business-wise, I’ve realised that a good leader is a good leader regardless of whether they have experience as a practitioner. At present, the biggest issue in my case is convincing the allied health sector that non-practitioners have the skills and attitude to do this and it’s likely businesses in other industries also experience this.
So when you’re looking for someone to lead your business, don’t just focus on the best practitioners — define the leadership qualities and outcomes you’re looking for and evaluate contenders by those.