When a child is given a special education designation, it can be overwhelming for the parent. Every parent’s first concern is getting the proper services for their child as they navigate what can be a complicated system. The end goal is to end up with the right services and the right provider. For children in Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Yonkers and Katonah, Smile A While, founded by Joanne Oates, is a valuable resource.
Joanne started Smile A While in January 2018 in Mount Vernon to provide occupational therapy (OT) services to preschool children. At the time, Joanne was still working as a hospital-based occupational therapist. She had a vision for a local facility (based in what traditionally has been an underserved area) and the goal of expanding into physical therapy (PT) and speech therapy as well.
A provider offering a community-based service has the same concerns facing any small business - costs, capacity, revenue generation, building a business. But once you get past the fundamentals of running a business, the concerns diverge because special education services (at least in New York State) are arranged through local school systems, with funding coming from state, county, and local agencies. To complicate matters, one acquires clients by referral from local CPSE (Committee for Preschool Special Education) chairpeople, and reimbursements often lag provision of services. This is not a walk-in off the street, pay-as-you-go business. Joanne also hoped to expand into the K-12 market, managed by local CSEs (Committee for Special Education).
With so many variables and considerable uncertainty, Joanne sought out TAP for guidance. Joanne noted that, in the past, other therapists in the area had not been able to build a sustainable business but, she believed she could. After an initial conversation to understand Smile A While’s unique business model, TAP and Joanne agreed to focus on three areas. 1. Creating a system to monitor payment for services,, cash flow and profitability; 2. Networking with gatekeepers who assign cases; and 3. Hiring occupational, physical, and speech therapists.
TAP worked with Joanne to develop a financial spreadsheet that would capture current revenues and expenses and track cash flow. This template has given Joanne a clear way to monitor her current business and to project growth. TAP consultants also created a goal setting worksheet to pair with the financial spreadsheet, helping Joanne crystalize her objectives, including increasing her caseload/students, hiring additional therapists, and marketing her services to CPSE and CSE coordinators.
One of the hardest things about being a sole proprietor is not having the time to do things that will help grow the business. TAP consultants served as an extra set of hands, conducting research into the industry, reporting on trends and issues facing Smile A While’s competitors, and obtaining some of the critical information that Joanne needed to take her next steps. Part of this process was facilitated by leveraging TAP’s network of consultants. Something as simple as setting up face to face meetings with CPSE/CSE coordinators has helped Joanne develop relationships with those individuals responsible for matching students with service providers.
Joanne began in 2018 with 8 cases. By the fall of 2018, her caseload had grown to 15 cases. Now in March, 2019, Joanne has 23 steady cases and contracts with a number of other therapists. As she seeks to grow her business, she continues to balance caseload with staffing but with financial guidelines and a marketing strategy in place, she is poised to continue to grow her business and equally important, provide much needed locally-based services.
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