As a part of my interview series with prominent medical professionals about “How To Grow Your Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Karen Litzy.
Dr. Karen Litzy, PT, DPT, is a licensed physical therapist, international speaker, owner of Karen Litzy Physical Therapy, host of the podcast Healthy Wealthy & Smart and founder of the Women in Physical Therapy Summit. Through her work as a physical therapist she has helped thousands of people overcome painful conditions, recover from surgery and return to their lives with family and friends. She has been featured in magazines and websites like Redbook, Women’s Running, Martha Stewart Living, Family Circle, Health.com and CafeMom. She has been a guest on several podcasts including Entrepreneur On Fire, Hack the Entrepreneur and The Healing Pain Podcast. She lives in New York City.
I started my physical therapy career in an acute-care hospital in Scranton, PA. I never had aspirations of being an entrepreneur. I assumed I would work in a hospital or clinic and eventually work my way up to a supervisory or management role, and that is where I would stay for the duration of my career. Then I moved to New York City and everything changed. I was exposed to career opportunities outside of the traditional healthcare track. My first job in NYC was at a very high-end gym and I saw the way the personal trainers took control of their schedules. How they had their own “side hustle” outside of the gym and I thought, “If they can have their own side business as a personal trainer, why can’t I do that as a physical therapist?” This was my first entrepreneurial spark. I started slowly building my own concierge physical therapy practice — where I see patients in their homes or offices — building up my reputation in New York City. I concentrated on creating relationships and friendships with other healthcare and fitness professionals. As my word-of-mouth referrals started to grow, I decided it was time to quit my full-time clinical position and really focus on my business. I took a part-time job at a physical therapy outpatient clinic and continued to build up my concierge practice. Then one day I ran the numbers and realized that the amount of time I was spending at the part-time clinic job would be much better spent working on my own practice, and I finally let go of that last “safety net” and went all in on myself.
I knew I wanted to do healthcare differently. I didn’t want an insurance company or third-party intermediary to dictate how I can treat my clients. I wanted to spend time with each client that I, as the practitioner, felt was necessary for that person’s overall recovery and well-being. I wanted to be more than just their physical therapist but be their trusted resource for healthcare and fitness information and referrals. I knew I could not be all of these things working in a traditional insurance-based model of care. It became apparent to me that creating my own practice was the best way to achieve all of my goals. So, I created the concierge physical therapy practice where I provide one-on-one care for hourlong sessions in the comfort of my client’s homes or offices. Now, my clients and I partner to create the best possible plan of care for their recovery without being beholden to insurance companies.
Managing being a provider and a business owner can often be exhausting. Can you elaborate on how you manage both roles?
Two things helped me to manage being a provider and a business owner:
- Systems! Once I found the right systems that work for me and for my practice, my life as a provider and business owner was greatly improved. Before I implemented thoughtful systems into my business, I was all about being the provider and not really about being the business owner. This worked well for my existing clients but not so well for growing my business. It added unnecessary stress to my life and in the end was making me miserable. This was not the way to show up for my clients or myself on a daily basis.
- Setting Boundaries: When I first started, I literally had no boundaries. I said yes to everything, was seeing clients almost every day and at any time of the day. This quickly led to burnout! I have since set clear boundaries that I do my best to follow. I only say yes to things that align with my values and vision instead of saying yes to everything, even when it just didn’t feel right. Setting boundaries has allowed me to focus in on my clients in a more meaningful way. I now feel like I show up fully for them without distraction. It also allows me to really focus on what my business needs to grow and prosper.
As a business owner, how do you know when to stop working IN your business (maybe see a full patient load) and shift to working ON your business?
For me it was when I felt as if I had hit a ceiling. All I was doing was seeing a very high patient caseload (which is a good thing) but the business itself was not moving forward. Instead of being a creative business owner I was now a “tech” in the business. I was getting through the day to day but neglecting the big picture. Once you lose your creative edge as a business owner, I think it is time to take a step back and take a deep dive into your business and your life and see how you can work smarter. Once I took this step back, I realized that I can have multiple streams of income from my business that are outside of direct patient care. I gave myself permission to be passionate about more than patient care and that realization helped me to move from working in my business to working on my business.
From completing your degree to opening a clinic and becoming a business owner, the path was obviously full of many hurdles. How did you build up resilience to rebound from failures? Is there a specific hurdle that sticks out to you?
A huge part of building up resiliency for me was learning to not take everything so personally. For example: If a patient decided to work with another therapist, I used to think that meant I was a terrible therapist or that I was not good enough. I now realize that if a patient feels as if we are not a good fit or if I feel like we are not a good fit, it has nothing to do with my ability as a therapist or the way I run my practice as a business owner. All it means is that we as a team were not a good fit and the patient would be better served with a therapist that they can vibe with. There is no such thing as one size fits all in medicine or in business. That is why they make cars in different colors and sizes. If we all liked the same thing, it would be a very boring world.
- Have the skills and knowledge necessary to be a good clinician. This means reading the research, taking continuing education classes and staying humble and eager to learn. If you are a good marketer but a subpar clinician, people will not come back nor will they refer you to others. Take the time to improve your “soft skills” of listening, motivational interviewing and leading with empathy and honesty with all of your client interactions. As Maya Angelou says: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It goes without saying that people are more likely to become raving fans and refer you to everyone they know if they feel as if you changed their life!
- Go to industry and non-industry conferences and events. I am talking about in person with other human beings, not online! This is where you will meet like-minded folks who want to help you grow your business. In the physical therapy world the Private Practice Section of American Physical Therapy Association has an annual conference that is all about the business side of physical therapy. Not only will you network with other professionals, but you will learn from them on how they built up their practice. Then you can take that information and apply it to your current situation. Another example: I was a keynote speaker at a conference in The Netherlands and was able to meet some amazing physios from around the world. One of the physios has since referred clients to me in New York City and we are looking to collaborate further in the future. My advice is to get yourself to conferences, show up with an open mind, network and follow up because you never know where that connection will take you.
- Have a solid digital footprint. I realize this is a broad topic, so I will go through a couple of items I think are the most important. 1) Have a clear, easy-to-navigate, responsive (meaning it works on a mobile device) and unique website that speaks to your ideal client. You want your website to showcase what you do, who you are and how you can help. 2) You also want your website to have high SEO (search engine optimization). You want to make sure you are using keys words in your website copy and that the back end of your website is indexed properly. I am no expert at this but there are a lot of people out there who are. If it is not your thing, I highly suggest hiring someone to work your SEO. It has been a game changer for my website and business. 3) Register your website with Google My Business and be sure to update it frequently by adding posts to your Google My Business page. Once I started doing this regularly my search results went up from the 4th page of Google to the first in less than two weeks! 4) Be active on social media, blogs, podcasts etc. All of this will improve your digital footprint and showcase you as an expert in your field.
- Start a podcast (or if you don’t want to start one, pitch yourself to get on as many podcasts as you can). I started my podcast, Healthy Wealthy & Smart, a number of years ago and it has helped to position me as a leader in the industry. As a direct result of the podcast I have built a national and international speaking career, generated revenue through advertising and have had patient referral from around the country and the world. This year I am also featuring local physicians, healthcare professionals and fitness professionals on the podcast to create win-win relationships, share valuable information with my audience and hopefully create a wide referral network. It is a great way to market with meaning!
- Get comfortable with public speaking. As a private practice owner, you are part of your local community. A great way to build your reputation in that community is to give talks to various groups on topics they are interested in. For example, if you like to treat runners, reach out to your local running group and volunteer to speak to the group on a topic they would like to hear about. Then you can offer a free screening for everyone in attendance. Speaking can showcase your relatability, vulnerability and authority all at once. Once people feel as if they know you and trust you, they are more likely to book an appointment with you and refer their friends and family. This is one of the best ways to grow your practice locally.
Many healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization”. How did you overcome that mental block?
This was a mental block that I struggled with for a long time. For me a big part of the monetization aspect of the business came down to having the confidence in myself to charge what I (and my services) are worth. After years of working on myself, I now know that the services I provide are valuable, they help people get back to the lives they love and they require a unique skill set that only I can provide. It is my responsibility to share my knowledge and services with the people who need it and not be afraid or ashamed to be compensated fairly for it. In fact, if you are not making money, you can’t stay in business and you can’t help the people in your community.
I hit the gym! Since childhood, physical activity and sports has always been a mainstay in my life. As an adult, I suffered chronic neck pain for about eight years. During that time I was not as active because of my fears that working out would increase my pain. Then I had a huge mindset shift and realized that exercise needed to be part of my recovery. Not only does exercise keep me healthy and strong, it also helps to relieve stress, focus my attention, improve my mood and enhance my creative process.
I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career — None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
One of my biggest mentors is a physiotherapist and educator based in Australia named Dr. David Butler. He is not a business coach, although he is a very successful entrepreneur. He did not give me specific business advice, although everything I learned from him I have applied to my business. He is an expert in the neuroscience behind pain and his research, books and mentorship helped me to dig myself out of close to a decade of persisting neck pain. I have taken the research, information and lessons I learned to heal my persisting pain and channeled that into my business. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that you can’t rely on one person to “fix” you and your pain. You need a team to support and guide you, but you have to put in the work and make the ultimate decisions. You can’t sit around and be a passive audience to your care. The way I adapted this to my business was I realized that doing it all was keeping me small. I need to have a team around me to support and guide me, so I reached out a hired a virtual assistant, an executive producer for my podcast and interns to help me grow the business. Now I have my team to guide and support me. I have learned to do the things I do best and delegate the rest. Without this lesson, I would have been burnt out and miserable years ago!
What resources did you use (Blogs, webinars, conferences, coaching, etc.) that helped jumpstart you in the beginning of your business?
I utilized the Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association, Marie Forleo’s B-School course, Selena Soo’s Impacting Millions Course, local entrepreneurial meet-ups in new YorkNew York City, and my patients, who were great sources of information and support as I have been growing my business.
What’s the worst piece of advice or recommendation you’ve ever received? Can you share a story about that?
When I first decided to create my corporate entity, I was told that I didn’t need a lawyer to help me with that process.
I created the corporate entity with the help of only an accountant, and as it turned out, the entity I chose was not the right one for me and my specific situation. This created havoc with my taxes and the legal side of the business. Luckily, I found a lawyer through an entrepreneurial group I was a part of and she helped me to dissolve my original corporate entity and create a new one that made sense for me and my situation. In the end this piece of advice cost me time and money!
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
Instagram: @karenlitzy (https://www.instagram.com/karenlitzy/)
Twitter: @karenlitzyNYC (https://twitter.com/karenlitzyNYC)
Facebook: Karen Litzy Physical Therapy, PLLC (https://www.facebook.com/KarenLitzyPT/)
For other incredible interviews, please check out our podcast: Healthcare Heroes.
A special thanks to Dr. Litzy again! The purpose of this interview series is to highlight the entrepreneurs, innovators, advocates, and providers inside Healthcare. Our hope is to inspire future healthcare providers on the incredible careers that are possible!