Empowering the Health Care Entrepreneur Withinby Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP on 12/01/18
What does it mean to be a consultant, or entrepreneur as a health care professional? What does it mean to put yourself out there with a business, where you brand your unique presence, products, and/or services? I’ve pondered this through my own journey these past 15 years, and know I’m not alone in these musings. I have at least one conversation weekly with other professionals and students about the entrepreneurial path I chose, with much curiosity about:
· the role
· what it involves
· how to get started
· how to keep it going, and especially
· how not to fail.
With the holidays a time to ponder professional next steps, I wanted to share information and lessons to foster guiding your entrepreneurial spirit. This is longer than my traditional blogs, but want to provide thorough guidance.
What’s an Entrepreneur?
Well, the definition says it all:
I’ve often heard fellow entrepreneur’s say, ‘I wanted to make a greater impact, or difference for the workforce”. For me, the journey began with a desire to provide my colleagues the knowledge they needed to be successful in their everchanging roles. Being an entrepreneur involves energy, initiative, expertise, and creative vision. But, it definitely involves achieving comfort with taking risks; both financial risk, and risk to professional reputation. Each type of risk influence influencing the other; if you are unable to operationalize your vision successfully, you won’t earn any money. Inversely, if you aren’t prepared to invest a little money, you won’t be able to clearly implement your vision.
Traditional academic degrees in the health and human services don’t feed the entrepreneurial spirit; there frankly isn’t time. There might be an opportunity to weave the foundational theories and principles within your unique self, but there is no formal course on ‘forging your passion’. If anything, the entrepreneurial spirit can unintentionally be discouraged in formal degree programs. Many innovative minds enter colleges daily, yet the required content defined by academic accreditation entities takes priority. As an educator, I value the importance of theory and application. Yet, with so many non-traditional professional paths to travel in our industry, it would be wonderful to define a way to empower the distinct talents of budding entrepreneurs, sooner than later.
Starting the Entrepreneurial Journey
One of my favorite quotes is, "The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an illusion, the tunnel is” (Author unknown). This sentiment perfectly addresses the transition from full time employee to full-fledged entrepreneur. The journey may begin with the person having a traditional job. You graduate from school with your degree, and start a career. Over time, the rigor and routine begin to weigh heavily, soon taking their toll. The once, enthusiastic health care professional feels the itch to shift gears. A passion for a specific population, or even role not in place at the organization crystalize in the person’s mind. It could start with writing an article, giving a presentation, writing a blog, or being given some unique project at work. Suddenly, engaging in a different activity ignites more passion than the person ever thought possible in their current position. Visions of the possibilities dance in the person’s head, and thoughts emerge of how to turn possibilities into reality and leave the full-time gig.
Ellen’s Eleven Entrepreneurial Lessons
The lessons I’ve learned over the tenure of my own journey would fill volumes. Here are a few lessons to start you off before you hit the road. I welcome my entrepreneurial colleagues to add to the list, and hope they do!
Lesson #1: Give yourself permission to be an entrepreneur-this can be the toughest leap to make. Let’s face it, most need to earn a living. You may sit in your office and daydream for months, or even years before taking the plunge. Don’t wait so long that you see someone else come forth with your great idea. Simply giving yourself permission to consider options beyond the safety net of your full time job is where to begin.
Lesson #2: Define and own your passion-You may have a clear sense of what you want to do. For others, the idea may come when least expected. For me, a switch went off one day in 2004. I saw my enthusiastic colleagues suddenly look fried to a crisp. Organizations were cutting professional education, taking away a vital benefit for the workforce. With many conversations about how to improve health care quality, I wondered; how could any quality care occur without a knowledgeable workforce. BOOM! As a result, every contract I take, every presentation or training I give, every article or book I write, is consistent with my vision. What fun to empower the knowledge-base of my colleagues each day, plus the students entering our ranks. Remember, if you have fun with what you do, you will never feel like you're working!
Lesson #3: You don’t have to go from 0-60! It is ok to start slowly. Perhaps you keep your full-time job and do some consulting on the side. Get a sense of who you are, your unique talents, and how much time and energy you want to invest. You may not be ready to be a full time entrepreneur. For example, write a blog on a topic of interest, or give a presentation. Who knows where it will lead!
Lesson #4: Organize and focus your efforts- Passion can easily run amuck and take us in many directions. I’ve seen colleagues embark on their entrepreneurial journey with all the passion and purpose in the world, but become overwhelmed trying to tame the energies newly unleased. Start small, and focus; then you can go global.
My first article on Professional Resilience empowered the workforce to think of professional self-care from a new lens. Big thanks to Linda Grobman, Catherine Mullahy, and Suzanne Powell for unleashing and helping me temper my writing passion. Without them I might still be spinning my wheels!
Lesson #5: Tout your clout!- Use social media to inform the industry who you are and what you do. Be organized and strategic. Create a website with clear messaging unique to you! Consider, how is what you do is different from others? Who is your target audience? What do you want them to know about you? Leverage your messaging and your presence!
In addition, since being an entrepreneur is not just any job, develop a 30 second elevator speech. That way when someone asks what you do, you are prepared to respond. I often say, ‘I empower the health care workforce through professional training, mentoring, and consultation”; succinct and to the point. What’s would your elevator speech be?
Lesson #6: Being an entrepreneur takes a strong work ethic-Organization and consistency become your mantras; end of discussion.
Lesson #7: Never underestimate your value and worth-Consider what to charge for the services you offer. Ask around and do some investigating. See what is realistic for your region, or specialty. You may decide to do a schedule of options, offer professional courtesy, or even some pro bono opportunities; your business, your vision.
Lesson #8: Develop and maintain a network of mentors-Being an entrepreneur gets lonely. Surround yourself with colleagues you can trust for their guidance, plus unconditional support. They have to be honest with you, even if you don’t like what they have to say. Also, don’t forget to join professional associations that will foster your connection with others with like minds!
Lesson #9: Set limits and a sound schedule-Once you find your passion and love what you do, it becomes tough to stop working. I remember hearing, I could work longer hours since I set my own hours; so very true. You can burn out by being an entrepreneur, as readily as you can in a ‘regular’ job, so be mindful! Beingan entrepreneur comes from the unique energy within you. Nurture that inner soul and energy, first and foremost. Without it, your passion, purpose, and patience will surely fade.
Another key way to set limits is learn to say no, as well as negotiate the date of deliverables. Back to that financial risk topic; you get paid when you work, or perhaps engage in successful products that will reap royalties. Fiscal worry can make it tough to say no to projects or offers that may not be best for you. You can find yourself taking on too much work, or work that you wish you hadn’t. Be mindful and practice saying, NO. Practice saying, “I’d love to do that project for you, but can only do it in March vs. January.”, or, “I only want to give you a quality product, and will need an extra week to do that. ”.You are in charge of your destiny!
Lesson #10: There will be peaks and valleys-Financial scheduling is important so prepare for an inconsistent income. You want to be proactive vs. reactive, so opt to diversify your business to allow for a few different revenue streams. In my case, I have contracts of different types and payment schedules to provide a cushion when I need it.
Lesson #11: Be open to all possibilities-Our passion is a blessing and curse. As readily as it can expand our opportunities, it can easily limit our scope. An opportunity that may at first not seem right for you, could easily turn into an important project.
I never thought of writing a book; articles, yes but not a book. After writing three articles on the same topic with my colleague, Teri Treiger, Suzanne Powell said, “you should write the book.” She guided us, and COLLABORATE for Professional Case Management was born. I’ve just finished my first solo book, The Essential Guide to Interprofessional Ethics for Health Care Case Management (publication March 2019), and will soon begin writing my next book on the Social Determinants of Health: Case Management’s Next Frontier (publication June 2019). Who would have thought it!
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