Ronda Nelson: Well, hello, my friend and welcome to The Clinical Entrepreneur. I am so glad that you’re here. Nothing ever happens by accident, right? And that means, we are always in the right place at the right time. And I believe that you’re here and you’re listening because this podcast has something important for you. So, all you have to do is sit back, grab a cup of coffee, tea, a smoothie or whatever beverage you love, and just settle in. Because I’m going to share with you my own journey and, as you’ll see, my struggles, in getting to this point in my career as a successful clinician.
We all have stories running around in our heads, right? We think, “I’m never going to know enough about ____ topic” or” I don’t know anything about running a business” or “I’m not good at systems or accounting.” Some of us aren’t great at hiring or marketing or any number of things. And when we keep telling ourselves the same story, over and over again, we start to believe it, even though it may not be true. But when you’re in the thick of it, sometimes you can’t recognize it enough to get yourself out of it. So, I hope today, by sharing my story, will help you have a different perspective on where you’re at and the possibilities of where you can go.
As you know, I am an entrepreneur at heart, who happens to be a clinician. My dad was an entrepreneur, owning his own business for as long as I can remember. His business was a bit seasonal so there were certain times of the year where there was plenty of cash flow and other times, usually around Christmas, that the cash flow dried up.
So, as I grew up, what I saw was when you had it, you spent it. And when there’s not, you don’t. But there’s always going to be more to spend later on, because that’s how the cycle works and that’s what my little brain believed to be true. So, as you might imagine, I ended up with credit card debt which wasn’t a big surprise. Because I believed that the money would be there to pay for it all later. But when you’re an adult, things aren’t quite the same as when you’re a child. Eventually, I got the debt paid off and went along my merry way.
I was also raised in a home where we didn’t know anything about health. We didn’t know anything about taking care of yourself or the benefits of exercise. We were not an exercisey-type family. And our diets were pretty pathetic. We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese with hot dogs and peas. That was considered a pretty healthy meal, all things considered. And at the end of the meal, we rounded it out with plenty of dairy in the form of mint-chip ice cream, and a lot of it. Our awareness of or interest in eating a healthy diet was nill. It just wasn’t our thing.
So, not surprisingly, I was always on the chubby side as a child. When I got married and started a family, I continued to struggle with my weight but didn’t change my diet either. My first daughter was VERY colicky and the second one wasn’t much better. By the time my third child came along, I was starting to figure it out. But not soon enough.
In 1993, after a camping trip over Memorial Day weekend, we got some bad news. Our 10-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a type of terminal bone cancer. And interestingly, the tumor was in the exact same place as a bone fracture she sustained just four years earlier.
It’s never okay for anyone to have cancer, especially a child. And especially MY child. I instinctively knew something wasn’t right about this whole scenario.
So, at this point, I was working as a small business consultant doing bookkeeping and accounting work. And I loved my job. A business owner would hand me a year’s worth of bank statements and receipts and say, “Can you fix this for me?” I would get them set on QuickBooks, enter their income and expenses, and prepare everything for the accountant. And I loved it.
Raising three kids, homeschooling and working was pretty much the perfect life. But then this bombshell of a diagnosis happens. And now all of a sudden, I have a child who’s fighting for her life and I think, “Oh my gosh, how did this happen?”
Wanting desperately to understand what had happened and find a way to help my daughter survive a terminal diagnosis, I started researching and digging and thinking. And it wasn’t long before I realized what happened and saw the connection. When she broke her arm four years earlier, she didn’t have the right kind of nutrients to heal the fracture. And if the fracture couldn’t heal, then how was the bone going to be healthy and strong?
When that ‘aha’ moment hit me, I realized her cancer had everything to do with her/our diet. Now, we had some work to do. Our diets began to look much different. She wasn’t able to eat much while undergoing chemotherapy, but we did what we could. Multiple surgeries later, a cadaver bone or two and a transformed diet left us with a child who was still alive, against all odds and hope that we knew enough to keep it from coming back.
It became clear to me that I could no longer do accounting work anymore. I wanted to help others learn what I wish I had known – that mint chip ice cream, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese are not the best ways to feed your body or your kids. So, I went back to school, got my master’s degree, a Ph.D., blah, blah, blah, and I opened up my wellness clinic in 2004.
When I first opened the clinic, I honestly thought people would just start calling and I would be busy right away. I remember sitting in that little office thinking, “Okay, how do I do this?” I had a phone and a computer and some books, and I knew enough to get me started. But it didn’t take long to figure out there was a lot I didn’t know.
It wasn’t long until the word got out that I was the one who had the daughter with cancer with a ‘miraculous’ recovery. So I start getting cancer patient’s which is really tough. Most had already been through chemotherapy more than once and they needed a miracle too. But I always said, ” I don’t really know how to cure cancer however, I do know how to feed your body.” That’s all I knew to do.
As my practice started to grow, I realized that I had a knack for marketing. The clinic is growing, I was able to get a larger space – about 2,400 square feet – with just myself as the clinician and two other employees. I had a six to twelve-week waitlist to get in and my client base started to change into more endocrine-related issues which I loved. I saw menopausal women, those with female reproductive disorders, fibroids, endometriosis, thyroid and plenty of digestive cases. All in all, life was super good. The clinic was profitable, I had great staff and things were looking great.
But I noticed that some women weren’t getting the results they wanted, especially menopausal women who had the ‘lower belly pooch’ that is resistant to diet and exercise. I knew what was causing it but I didn’t know how to fix it. So, I started looking for a solution. And through a series of events, referrals and curiosity, I stumbled on a non-invasive fat-reduction technology that would likely solve the problem – CoolSculpting.
So I purchased two of them to add to my already thriving clinic. Once the paperwork was signed and the equipment delivered, we got to work, helping women reduce their stubborn belly fat. And it was working GREAT! Until…..
I found out that the laws had changed in California and I was not allowed to perform the treatments. Unbeknownst to me, three weeks before the leases were signed, a law was passed requiring a licensed MD or DO to have a face-to-face conversation with the patient before the treatments could be given. That meant, I was out of business.
And now, I have two pieces of equipment that I am unable to use. And I have no way to generate income to offset the lease payments. My only option is to get out of Dodge. But what about my clinic?
So, at five o’clock on a Thursday, we backed a U-Haul truck up to the front door of my clinic, and literally loaded every last bit of the equipment into the back and headed north to Seattle. When we arrived the following day, all of it – about $250,000 worth of equipment – was put in a mini storage.
But the lease payments didn’t stop. The monthly overhead was close to 10K and I have no income to offset it. I have a profitable clinic in CA that I need to be physically present at, but now I have equipment in Seattle that desperately needs a home and some income to cover the overhead.
I’ve got a serious problem. I can’t return the equipment and I can’t close my clinic. So, I have to get scrappy. Nine months go by, with the equipment in storage, and the debt is mounting. I was in financial trouble, big financial trouble. And so, to compensate, I started to delay payments wherever I could. I didn’t pay my payroll taxes for a full year. I didn’t take a salary. I put all of my supplement vendors on a net 60/90/180/360 so I could pay for the equipment leases.
I was horribly cash poor. I had to make payroll every week but was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul which never works out well in the end. I needed to be in the clinic to keep it running but also needed to be in Seattle to open a new clinic and try to salvage my business(es) and my life. My well-intentioned idea backfired in an explosive way.
Nine months after moving the equipment to Seattle, I found a small retail space to hang a shingle and open for business. I didn’t know anyone and had zero familiarity with the aesthetics market in a large metropolitan city. And it wasn’t long before the IRS comes knocking, wanting to know why the taxes hadn’t been paid. I just couldn’t catch a break.
But now that the new clinic was open, I realized I either had to make this business work or I was going to have to file bankruptcy. My wellness clinic is suffering, and I’m divided…my attention cannot be fully on either one.
I decided to live part time in each place. I could see patients in the CA clinic but while I was in Seattle, I didn’t have a clue about how to get started. I only knew 2 people and neither of them were interested in CoolSculpting. I didn’t have money to pay for advertising, so I had to get creative. I started running ads and collecting email addresses. I had a website built. And I started being a good neighbor, connecting with the businesses around me and getting involved in the city as much as I could.
And after about 18 months, our little clinic was the number one exclusive CoolSculpting clinic in the Seattle. It was a HUGE accomplishment. I was relieved and proud all at the same time. But I couldn’t let up. I still had nearly $500K of accumulated debt I needed to get paid off as quickly as possible.
It would have been easy to get comfortable with the success and stop working so hard. But I had to stay focused on the goal. And the goal was to reduce my overhead, increase my sales and pay off the debt so I could actually make a real profit.
And two’ish years later, I did it. All the debt was gone.
If I could tell my pre-CoolSculpting self what I know now, this is what I would say.
- Stay in your own lane. Do what you know and do it well.
- Don’t try and do or be everything to everyone. Better to refer to someone else who is already in their own lane.
My lane was never in the aesthetics world. I was very comfortable and happy working with women who had endocrine dysfunctions. And I could have easily referred them out for CoolSculpting rather than try to do it myself. Bring home a paycheck every week in exchange for all the hard work is an awesome benefit. But when you work so hard and only see a mountain of debt looming in front of you, it sometimes feels hopeless.
The realization that I did this to myself wasn’t the best-tasting pill to swallow. But I couldn’t get mad about it because it just is what it is. Now, I still have a CoolSculpting business in Seattle that is thriving and I’m not going to walk away from all that hard work. But if I had to do it all over again, I would have stayed in my own lane and I would have devoted my time, energy and mental resources on growing the business I was already in and keeping it profitable. Because that’s what I know how to do.
That’s why I’m so passionate about having these conversations around how wellness practitioners can grow profitable businesses and earn an income that serves you and your lifestyle. You are most likely an amazing clinician. But after traveling and teaching seminars all over the country, I’ve found that clinicians are typically not great at running a business. And that’s completely understandable – it’s not what we went to school for. But taking good care of patients and helping them solve their complex health issues is what we are good at.
If your financials are a mess, you don’t have a bookkeeper, you can’t seem to hire the right staff, your schedule isn’t full and and you’re barely scraping by every month, that’s not ok. It’s time to own it and then do something about it.
The business-side of our clinic is like the soil and the clinical side is like the tree. It’s easy to go to clinical seminars, trying to learn how to better serve your patients. This is like gluing more branches and leaves on your tree. But when you invest in the soil by creating systems, processes, and having a clear idea of who your ideal patient is, the business growth – i.e. the tree – will be faster and provide a better harvest than if you try to do it the other way around.
You and I can change this scenario. You have every ability to grow a thriving, healthy, beautiful, robust and profitable tree by recognizing where you’re at and then looking for information that will help you nourish your soil.
Just like with my daughter – the soil in her little body was depleted and her tree was sickly and feeble. But when we began feeding it, providing the nourishment it needed, she was able to thrive. In fact, she beat that terminal diagnosis and is now 38 years old with 4 children, owns a successful online business and has a pretty amazing life.
I took a stand on behalf of my daughter and said, “This is not going to happen. I am not going to stand by and let this happen.” But I had to get really clear on what I knew and what I didn’t know in order to have a successful outcome.
Ronda Nelson: So, my friend, I’ve got your back. When you come back to the podcast and listen in, I’ll be sharing what I know, what I’ve learned, some insights, and my best tips to help you create the soil that your business (tree) can thrive in. You deserve this. And more importantly, there are people out there that need what only you can give. Your people love you. And my people love me. And that’s what makes it so wonderful when there are so many different types of practitioners. It’s not about competition, because we can’t fix all the sick patients anyway. But in order to take care of them, we need to have businesses that are thriving and profitable so your clinical skills can start to flourish. You will have an even greater impact on the people around you so you can have a life that works for you. And that’s what I’m here for and that’s what I’m committed to.
So, thank you for listening. Thank you so much for sitting down and just hanging out with me today. I don’t share this story very often. This is the first time actually on this podcast, that I’ve shared the full story with all the details. For more information on where to find me and other resources, check out the show notes. And wherever you listen to this podcast, be sure to hit the subscribe button and the next episode will be downloaded automatically. And thank you again for spending this time with me. I can’t wait to see you or hear you or be with you next time. Talk to you soon. Bye.
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