The APTA’s Private Practice Section (PPS) hosts an annual PPS Conference dedicated solely to private PT owners. This provides them the opportunity to learn, communicate, and network with other owners in the “trenches.” Yet, only 5% of PT owners attend. Why? Learn why you should attend with your host Nathan Shields and his guest Will Humphreys. Will is the CEO of In The Black. He teaches entrepreneurs the value of this key phrase: Profitability unlocks possibility. Learn why every PT owner should attend PPS. Do you question the value of it, or have you not created a business that would allow you to leave? At that point, do you really own a business, or does the business own you? Learn more about PPS today!
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You MUST Attend the PPS Conference: Your Network = Your Net Worth
In this episode, I’ve got a business partner, friend and many times, a guest on the show. Will Humphreys is with me. Will, thanks for joining me again.
As always, it’s a pleasure to be here, Nathan. Thanks for having me.
It was great to see you at PPS and catch up but also get some energy from that. Was that the first PPS you went to?
Yes, that was my first one. I can’t believe it. I have attended so many different conferences outside of physical therapy. It was a little bit like, “Why haven’t I done this?” It was cool. I love seeing you as well. It was so much fun.
Tell me what you think. There are 20,000 PT owners in the country, supposedly somewhere around there, and less than 1,000 are at this conference. It’s a conference that’s specifically set up for PT owners to address their issues and network with similar owners. Why do you think it is that only 5% of PT owners show up at a conference like that?
Unfortunately, I know all too well why because this was my first one. People don’t know what they don’t know. PT owners are the worst trained business professionals in any industry, in my opinion, after spending time outside of our industry or even in healthcare. PTs are so busy working 60 to 70-hour weeks, treating their patients as business owners. They don’t even know they should go to this thing that would resolve most of their headaches. Building the network part of development is not only the most valuable, but it’s also the most fun.
It’s like this work retreat where you get to go and connect and hang out with people. Also, if any of your readers are wanting to start a business, they should go to PPS. Think about it if you and I had gone to PPS before we opened our first practice and met PT owners, built our network and learned about different companies instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s crazy how few people go to this thing, given what it provides its students.
It’s crazy that you never went until after we sold our businesses. I had the same fear that most clinic owners do now and that is, “You’re asking me to leave for Wednesday through Friday, business days. You couldn’t make it a Saturday and Sunday. I’m going to leave my business. I’m going to lose revenue because I’m not treating. For what? To get some presentations about business?”
Now, I look back at it like, “That’s how we grew our business.” We got some coaching and consulting. Don’t you agree that one of the biggest things about getting some consulting, coaching and being part of Mastermind groups was simply networking, getting to know people, gleaning off of their experiences, talking to them in the hallways and then the exhibit halls?Physical therapist owners are the worst trained business professionals in any industry. Click To Tweet
What’s funny about this with what you’re saying is I totally agree. Financially, the most valuable thing we could ever do is build our network. The thing that we don’t know is that outside of healthcare, outside of PT specifically, it’s a known fact. It’s like gravity. If you go to these things, build your network and learn about what’s current with the terms of services, you make your job easier and you make more money. Instead, it’s the exact opposite like, “How can I give up three days of revenue?” It shows me how most PT owners are typically hanging by the skin of their teeth. They don’t understand. That’s hopefully what this show will do. Maybe the title of this show should be Was PPS Worth It?
It goes back to our mentor, Scott Fritz, “Your network equals your net worth.” When that first landed on me, I was like, “Really?” If you think about it and it goes back to the phrase, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” When you grow a big network, you see opportunities and you can leverage information and intelligence from other people in that network in ways that you would never have done yourself. You’re otherwise working on an island.
It’s so much why my mantra is, “Reach out, step out and network.” You got to reach out occasionally to some coaching to get some knowledge, but you got to step out of patient care and network because those are the three things that the most successful PT owners do. What’s funny is that the owners that are there have the time to do it, but they’re the most successful people in our business.
If you want to be successful, you should do the same things they are doing. They’re showing you the pattern. Most of the people that are there are like, “We run across our friends and our network. They’ve got 30 and 40 clinics routinely and they’re there. They’ve always been there for years.” It’s not just a bunch of one-off clinic owners going to these conferences. It’s these people that have multiple clinics and they find it valuable.
It’s interesting too when you think about there were 1,000 registrants in 2021 for PPS. Of those people, a lot of the owners were bringing their own teammates. In terms of unique business owners that were there, it might be closer to 800 or 700 and then when you consider the fact that I met at least a dozen people who had retired. This is true. I met a number of older PT owners who had sold their practices or straight-up retired. They were in their 70s and I was like, “Why are you here if you don’t own a business?” He was like, “The networking. My friends all come here. We’ve been coming here for years. We’re all retired now. I love being with my friends.”
Another thing why people don’t go to PPS is the fact that PT business owners are overwhelmed with the shoulds like, “What should I do?” You get to a point, at least I did, where I was like, “There are eight million shoulds. I should be working on recruiting and my billing.” At the end of the day, if I put my head down in the sand and treated patients, that’s the only thing I knew that made me money. From your perspective, this is me asking you. Where would you put attending events like PPS in terms of a priority? From what you know now, if you were going back to you years ago, how big of a priority would you tell your younger self to go to PPS and build your network?
I’m a little bit more on the conservative side probably. If you had ten visits a week and you’re starting your clinic, you have no excuse not to go and learn something from it. If you’re the only practitioner, take the time and learn what other people are learning. It’s going to be a whirlwind, but to gain that experience and see what other people are doing, you’re going to get insights that you never had before.
I would tell myself to go by all means. Start improving your network and getting business cards. Learn about people, EMRs and apps that are new to the industry. Do more of that because a lot of it is the alone on an island mentality. Where we got the benefit from our network is we started recognizing, “We’re not alone. We need to start reaching out and talking to other people. They’ve been through what we’re going through and we can leverage that.”
It’s the way I see it now because you and I have been coaching clients now for a couple of years. From a general perspective, there are two main paths. I’ve worked with so many people who are in their 60s and 70s who have never broken out. They don’t attend the PPS, build their network and learn what they don’t know. What they do is build a business that completely revolves around them. They’ve done it for 40 or 50 years. They don’t even feel like they can retire. It’s sad. These are the people selling their practices for pennies on the dollar without even knowing it to larger conglomerates because they’re looking for some exit.
The other option is our friends who have 30, 40 or 50 locations. It’s not that’s always the goal. They had the freedom to create that because they were willing to invest in coaching. They were willing to go and build their network. They go hand in hand. Coaching and networking are two sides of the same coin. They create the experience of development.
For me, I would go back to my younger self and be like, “Go every year. Make it your top priority because no matter how busy you think you are and how much you think this place will implode if you don’t show up, the bigger danger is that it never blows up that I stayed this successful the rest of my life until I’m 70 years old.” Hundreds of PT owners across the country don’t even know how to retire because they’ve never figured out how to make the business bigger than them.
The beauty of that networking thinking about that and you probably experienced this because we went to the same conference. Maybe we weren’t considering getting 15 to 20 clinics across Phoenix. We wanted to make more money where we were in the few clinics that we had. Once you meet the guy who has 30 clinics and he is like, “I was like you years ago. I had three clinics.”
I was like, “I never imagined I would have 30, but now that I have 30, it’s fun and we’re looking for more opportunities to grow. There are people within my company that want to grow with me. Why not provide them with that opportunity to open up a clinic and partner with them? Now, all of a sudden, I have 50 clinics.”
Networking with those types of people expands your vision like, “You weren’t perfect the entire time. You haven’t been a 30-clinic business owner your entire life. You were just handed the keys. You started where I was.” If you would ask me back when I was first opening the clinic, it was. “I will have two therapists treating up to 150 visits a week.” That was my vision.
Once I got there, I was like, “My life sucks. I’m not seeing my newborn for three days on end awake because I’m going to work before they wake up and I’m coming home after they go to sleep 2 or 3 days in a row. I can’t go on vacation without getting calls from the clinic every day. This isn’t what I signed up for, even though I achieved my goals.”
Whereas when I’m networking, I’m like, “There was a way to own your business and not have it completely dependent upon you all the time? You can leave and come to a conference like this and you’re not worried about your revenues?” Seeing people like that and knowing that’s there can expand the vision.
When you’re talking, what was present for me is how I used to think that when other people were more successful than me, that they were better business owners. There’s something about when we don’t see what we don’t know or we’re not even clear what we don’t know. We assume it’s us like our values. That might be another reason why I used to put my head in the sand and treat a lot of business owners is that they know they’re valuable there. They know their patients show up. They know that they can make an impact. They get cookies. There’s a cycle of feedback around, “You’re valuable.”
When they think about the idea of breaking free and going to a conference or hiring a coach, it turns into this thing like, “What if I’m bad? What if I take time away from my practice?” They may not even be conscious of it. This was me on some level was, “What if I do these things and I still suck and my business doesn’t grow? Because I took time and money away from my business to do this, what if I hurt my business? It’s the one thing that is telling me that I’m valuable.” It’s an interesting mindset because when you were talking about it, it was like, “Why wouldn’t someone do it?” Then I’m like, “Why didn’t I?” That’s what came to mind.Financially, the most valuable thing you could ever do is to build your network. Click To Tweet
It’s not that I’ve overcome this, but I wish I could go back to my former self and say, “Let’s change the question. Can you go to PPS or not?” If I’m a younger person with that mentality, I’m like, “No, I’m going to lose business because I equate my worth to the patients that I see and collect so many dollars per hour with each visit. That’s my worth. If I don’t go, then I’m losing money.”
Changing the question simply starts expanding the possibilities like, “What would you have to do to make it to PPS and not lose any revenue? What would you have to do in your business to do that?” That’s almost like the challenge I want to put out there to a lot of people who didn’t go and have those same concerns. PPS 2022 is in Aurora, Colorado, from November 2nd to 5th. It’s at the Gaylord, which was an amazing facility in Dallas. This is at the Gaylord in Colorado.
What would it take for you to get to PPS next year as a symbol? There’s some value in being at PPS and networking that we’re talking about, but as a symbol that you created a business that allows you to leave for 4 or 5 days and not lose any revenue. You got a year to do it. Why couldn’t you? Could you create something like that? What would you have to do to do it? Once you open those possibilities like, “If it’s up to me, is it a yes or no question? Are you going to go or not or should you?” It might land on no.
Rather, it’s opening up the question to, “If I’m telling you it’s valuable and you should be networking, then what would it take in your business to leave for 3 or 4 days?” That’s when brainstorming kicks in. That’s when we start thinking about, “Maybe I could plan ahead 2 or 3 months in advance and find an on-call person to help me out. I move my schedule up and tell patients to come in Monday through Wednesday. I’m going to take Thursday and Friday off and be okay with it like any other holiday and get my team prepared for that.” Changing the question will help and would have helped me when I was younger.
When I hear you talk about it, you’re like, “Working with people and saying change the question and think about it, that’s going to help a lot of people.” For the people who are reading who are a little bit thick-skulled, get off your butt and go in 2022. I’m not saying that as a judgment. Sometimes I need to hear it clearly. For those of you who have to hear it clearly, it’s stupid not to go because of all the reasons we mentioned.
Here’s the other thing is I see people go. The only wrong decision is not going. I don’t care where people are in business. We’re not getting paid by anybody to do this. I’m emotional about it because I get emotional over everything. The other thing is I get clear on what would have served me. This would have been huge. It would have cut some corners for me and made it more enjoyable to own a practice.
It’s one of those things where there’s no question that there’s a huge value there. The way people go is different. Some people want to attend all the classes. Some people are excited about the vendors and learning about solutions. All those things are great, but the biggest thing is going and meeting people. If you’re not an outgoing person, it doesn’t matter. They build in all these events where you organically meet people. People are approaching you to talk. You’re in the elevator.
That was one of the places I met the most people because I was on the ninth floor. The Gaylord Convention Center was off the hook. I wish I had brought my wife. It was that cool. They had an indoor lazy river walk and all these cool things for Christmas. In the elevator going to the ninth floor, they had a PPS thing around their necks. It was like, “Where are you from?” I made some business that way. It was like, “This is what I’m doing. I need some of that. You own a billing company. Tell me about what your headaches are.” In the elevator, you start networking.
No matter what we go for, networking is always the most important piece because then you have a community of people who are committed to not being that 78-year-old. I can say this because none of those people are listening to your show. They’re too busy and too old to be in a place where they have the energy to start this journey. It doesn’t matter our age. I want to be clear on that. Any age or stage of business will be benefited by going to PPS and starting to break free. I love your phrase. What was it again?
Reach out, step out and network. It’s a year away. It could be a symbol of your business’s growth to say, “As of November 2022, I’m going to have a business that runs without me. I don’t have fears about lost revenue if I leave for three days. If you want to take it to the next level, my team will handle everything without calling me. I will be completely off the grid.”
Can you imagine? My head would have exploded with that possibility years ago when we got started to think that, “Is that possible? Can that happen?” Part of it also is not to get back into the discussion because we’re putting a bow on it. Part of it could be like, “I’m the guy. If I’m not there, then it can’t run.” It’s where your team is probably like, “It would be nice if you weren’t around once in a while and set some expectations for us.”
I love how you say that. I was talking a little bit about that mindset of not even being present to the idea that all of my selfish feedback is coming from my patients and like, “Who am I without it?” I think about that mindset of like, “What happens if I leave?” If I could go back in time, I would tell myself, “Stop using your patients to fill your insecurities because that’s what we’re doing.” We’re like, “If I leave, who is going to treat so-and-so because no one treats them as good as I do?” We don’t say that but we all believe it because we hire PTs and most of them aren’t as effective as we are because they’re not owners. They’re not incentivized to care as much as we are.
I’ve had lots of coaches but one mentor, a guy named David Berg that you know. He is a healthcare professional who ended up going a full-blown business owner in healthcare. He owns hospitals. He oversees surgical centers and family practices. This guy has been wildly successful and I’m very grateful to have him in my life.
In the first conversation, he pissed me off. He was like, “Tell me about your business.” I told him about my practice. I had one location. He was like, “Do you still treat full-time and you’re a business owner?” I was like, “Yes.” He goes, “You’ll get over that thing that you think treating patients is the best use of your time.” I remember being so angry. I was like, “You don’t get it. I am this amazing. If I don’t show up, then things go to pot. You don’t know my situation. I’m in a rural community. It’s hard to recruit all these ineffective ideas that ran my world.”
It changed it because I realized now and I hope people hear this as judgment. I was being selfish not building my network, which made it more fun and made it more about a team of people and helped you find better therapists. The thing that I did that was better for my patients was making me a better business owner. PPS is the only event that I know of because CSM isn’t like that. None of the other physical therapy conferences are specifically for business owners the way that this is.
It’s specific to PT owners. Don’t get me wrong. I still have my issues with some of it. This is my limited outside perspective. I don’t think they were addressing the other 19,000 owners as well as they could be, especially the one-off clinic owners that are newer that could get some benefit from it. I don’t think they’re advertising and promoting it more and maybe creating courses that would be specific to a newer owner. Besides that, simply the networking involved and what can be learned as it’s constituted is a huge benefit and is worthy of every owner going.
You’ve got me thinking critically of PPS. I look back as to, “Why are we, such poor business owners?” It’s crazy running a B2B business now and I’m interfacing with other practice owners. None of them are any worse than I was, but the majority of them are fear-based compared to other industries. I’ve worked gratefully because of Entrepreneurs’ Organization. I’ve networked with business owners for fifteen years outside of healthcare. I have never seen the overall fear and ignorance that drive our industry.
A part of me goes like, “Who is responsible for causing it and for helping fix it?” We have to look at both ends. If we’re going to say what’s causing it, as much as I love my education system, I look at those first. As a student, I was bombarded by teachers who never owned private practices, telling me that my license is my livelihood and if I don’t dot every I and cross every T, I’m going to get crucified one day by Medicare or go to jail or get raped.Any age or stage of business will be benefited by going to PPS. The only wrong decision is not going. Click To Tweet
That was an exaggeration but it was in the actual vein of what I thought was going to happen to me possibly. If I’m being honest, I’m being super authentic now. I remember working for you back when I first became a PT in Medicare billing. I didn’t know if I was over or underbilling. I would always chronically underbill. I remember even then being worried like, “What if I get audited and go to jail?” That was my fear of what I said earlier. This face doesn’t do well in prison.
I’m making light of it. That’s what I would try to form, thinking about some mornings and feeling sick to my stomach. If I’m thinking it up, other people are too. That was a seed planted in me by my teachers. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. What if the teachers were like, “Your license is your possibility and opportunity. Protect it. Don’t overbill?” What you can do with your license, imagine what’s possible. It would maybe shape me differently as a business owner.
You look at the private practice section. We have to give them kudos for what they’ve created because it is massively successful. We still challenge it as members of that group. That means that we should start running for office or whatever that looks like if we’re serious. The point is if we’re evaluating it, it’s failing. If PPS’s vision is to get private practice to thrive in the United States, it’s failing. With the number of clinics, companies are going from 20,000 to 25,000.
I’m not criticizing the leadership because it’s the leadership that produces the value that is there. The problem might be too big for one organization. If we’re being objective, like a private practice section in terms of its mission to promote successful private practitioners, it’s failing at large because our industry is run by and large by single-clinic practice owners who don’t have a home-life balance who are developing heart conditions.
They may have to go recruit these PTs who are coming in and being taught by these social thought leaders that I’m aware of that drive me crazy saying, “You’re getting taken advantage by your PT practice owner because you’re not making six figures.” The PT practice owner, the men and women, are the only brave people in our industry. They’re handicapped by ignorance and the fear that gets installed in them by the educational system. I’m done talking.
I was thinking, “You’ve got a good soapbox going. Nice job.” It’s not to make light of the fact. My friend Marc Moore mentioned this, “The PT owners that learn about their business and do it well are good business owners because our margins are small. We have to manage every dime. We have to be so intricate with our documentation and billing. Otherwise, we do get maybe metaphorically raped by the insurance companies.” It makes us better business owners.
I talked to friends now who are outside of healthcare altogether and they don’t know half the stuff that I know because I’ve made myself into a business owner that does watch the details and knows more and has to know more in order to be profitable. There are so many great businesses owners within the industry.
It’s unfortunate that’s not seeping in and getting out to the other single practice owners who are stressing and straining day-to-day, looking for that moment to either 1) Get bought out because I’m sick of it and I’ve got the headaches or 2) Maybe they die off and that relieves their concerns altogether and 3) It’s like, “When I’m done, I hang up my coat, lock the door, walk away and nothing to show for it.” You don’t want that to happen. There are opportunities out there as an industry. As an organization, we need to push that forward.
It’s funny that you mentioned that. I was told by my mentor, who has owned multiple healthcare businesses, but he has also started some outside of healthcare. He told me the same thing, “If you can run a successful physical therapy practice, that makes you a leader of leaders of business owners.” It’s the opposite. As PT practice owners, most of us are insecure about being business owners, so we get lost in that patient care.
It’s hard but anyone can do it. That’s something I believe. I believe any physical therapist can do it and should. Every PT that even calls them a little bit should open their practice. I wish that they would do it with the right support. The bigger thing is we’re getting there. The PPS is evolving. It’s getting better because of the leadership and other people to make it more effective. There are all these private practitioners. There are more coaches.
When you and I started, I would doubt there was a single coach part of 1 or 2 larger groups. Now, you specialize in very specific areas that help. I specialize in different areas. There’s a whole slew of services that can help people learn what they don’t know and become wildly successful. It all starts by going to PPS and learning, “What is it that I don’t know? I don’t need to figure it all out. I need to know what it is in general what I don’t know. There’s a solution for marketing, billing and coaching.” It’s all out there now.
“Am I following HIPAA guidelines?” They’ll have a presentation about that. “How do I withstand Medicare audit so I can minimize that fear in the future?” That’s there too. You wouldn’t think about, “That’s why I want to go to PPS,” but when you see the titles, you’re like, “I could learn more about that. I could probably take something from that.” That’s the beauty of it. You make yourself available to those opportunities.
From 0 to 10, 10 being crazy recommend and 0 being like, “Don’t go at all costs,” what would you rate the PPS experience for you personally and for people who are reading?
For me, I love networking. It is an option. I don’t have to go because I’m not a business owner of a PT clinic. It’s an eight. It’s closer to 9 or 10 if it’s someone who is reading and has a clinic. How about you?
Nine. The only reason I don’t give it a ten is that I believe there are a lot of opportunities to upgrade it. If someone is in a business and they’re working 70 hours a week, it’s a 20 out of 10. It’s funny because most of the people there, it’s more of an 8 or 9 for them. If you have 40 clinics, they know almost everything there. They’ve got their own solutions. It’s only about the networking and that’s still incredibly useful, an 8 or 9. They’re smart enough to make those networks in a lot of different places.
We ended up on a topic that we didn’t plan on.Stop using your patients to fill your insecurities. Click To Tweet
This wasn’t why we got on the show. We’ll have to do that another time.
When we talk next, a little teaser, we’re going to talk about The Great Resignation.
We’re going to talk about why people are leaving and what we can do about it.
Thanks for talking with me. I appreciate it.
That was a lot of fun. Thank you.
About Will Humphreys
I am a father of 4 boys, married 20 years and am passionate about healthcare entrepreneurship.
Teaching entrepreneurs how to maximize their income, profits, and net margin is what I do, but helping them change how they think, reclaim their freedom, and discover what is possible is who I am.
I teach the value of this key phrase: Profitability unlocks possibility.