Two-thousand-and-eight is a big year for me. I recently turned 50 and will soon celebrate 25 years of owning my own practice. While I'm not usually an overly sentimental person, I find myself reflecting on the past and contemplating what I want to do with the rest of my life.
Owning a business is a big job and it can consume your life. There are times, especially when business is slow and there is more month than money, that a business owner has to wonder if it's all worth it. Ads in the trade journals suggest that there are lots of jobs out there for hearing healthcare professionals. We can work for someone else, make a good living, collect our paychecks, and go home. So,
“Why would anyone want the responsibility of owning their own business?”
While the answer to that question is a personal one, my recent musings have led me to several conclusions about the pros and cons of ownership that may be helpful to those of you who are considering—or questioning—the virtues of private practice.
PROS AND CONS OF OWNING YOUR OWN PRACTICE
When you own your own business, you are in control of everything. While that can be empowering, it also means that the buck stops here—right at your door. At the end of the day, it will be up to you to solve problems and make sure the business succeeds.
Some people start or buy their own practice because they're tired of being at the mercy of a boss. However, they soon discover that as the owner they're now at the mercy of the business. True, an owner can control his or her schedule and has the flexibility to work around family or personal obligations, but many owners have to work many more than 40 hours a week to see patients and run the business. On the other hand, while many weeks may contain endless hours of work, the owner never has to ask someone's permission to take a vacation.
Owning your own business is part of the American dream, and it can certainly offer increased earning potential and many tax advantages. A business owner can write off things that employees can't. However, being the owner also means that you must be prepared to give up the security of a regular paycheck and, in the beginning, even be prepared to go without one. You'll never have to ask the boss for a raise, but you may not be able to afford to give yourself one. If you think you can handle this sort of uncertainty, that's good, because you will have to—every day.
Creativity and independence
Business owners are rarely bored, partly because they are forced to wear so many hats in addition to that of skilled hearing care provider. These often include marketing wizard, human resources manager, bookkeeper, secretary, and president all rolled into one.
However, you won't have to get anyone's approval when you want to revise a policy or redecorate the office. You can do things your way. This is my favorite part of owning my business. I literally have the opportunity to create the practice of my dreams. But, be warned: Dreams don't come without some nightmares!
You may be working by yourself in the beginning, but as the business grows, you'll be in charge of managing, training, and motivating employees, a job for which most hearing professionals have little or no training. You may end up spending a lot of your time on personnel matters and other areas of administration and less time on the things you really enjoy like playing golf or getting a pedicure! You may have to undertake tasks that you find unpleasant, such as firing someone or refusing to hire a friend or relative.
However, when you start a practice, you gain experience in every facet of business, and when the business succeeds you have the unparalleled joy of knowing you accomplished it on your own.
ARE YOU READY TO TAKE A RISK?
Entrepreneurs have many traits in common, but chief among them is a willingness to take a risk. Not a blind risk, but a calculated, prudent risk that you have carefully prepared for. If you are considering venturing into private practice, it's crucial to take some business courses and to find a good mentor who will agree to guide you in the beginning. Even seasoned owners have to periodically seek advice on how to improve their business.
I don't have to spend much time wondering whether or not owning a practice has been the right choice for me. It has been and continues to be fun and exciting. But I have faced enough challenges over the years to know it's not the right choice for everyone.
Unlike many professions, I believe that hearing healthcare offers a bright future for people entering the field. The incidence of hearing loss is increasing and the technology is improving, which should be good for business. With that in mind, my answer to the question of what do I want to do with the rest of my life is clear: exactly what I do now. Here's to the next 50 years!