You’re probably used to reading business success stories about the seeds of today’s blossoming enterprise being sown while the founder was still at high school, or how they knew from an early stage how success would play out.
Well, here's my truth: growing The Physio Co into the large, award-winning team it is today wasn’t something I’d envisaged when I started off.
My initial aim had been to find – or create – a physiotherapy job that inspired me. I hoped that once I found that job, it would naturally progress and I’d then be surrounded by other inspiring people.
But I never imagined that, in pursuing that professional goal, I’d be the one to create a business that would make that idea come to life.
From 2004 to 2008 (the first five years of The Physio Co – or TPC) I was still getting used to working in aged care and understanding the industry myself, let alone knowing how to lead a fast-growing business.
Through those first five years, TPC didn’t have a clear direction. I was a young physiotherapist who had somehow become a small business owner.
With blind enthusiasm and plenty of opportunity in a changing industry, TPC had grown in the space of five years from one person with an idea to a team of twenty-odd physiotherapists with an interest in working with older people to keep them moving and smiling. But, as a group, we didn’t have a defined direction.
By 2008, from the outside, TPC looked like a thriving practice. But on the inside I was feeling frustrated, exhausted and stuck in a job I didn’t enjoy.
On one level, TPC was thriving – but I had built myself a job that meant the entire business relied on me. I was the glue that held the place together. I was working at least six days a week, was eternally stressed and knew that I couldn’t do this forever. I don’t mind hard work, but I thought owning a business was occasionally supposed to be fun!
As a group, those twenty physios and I were delivering about 40,000 consultations a year to our clients at a small number of Melbourne and regional Victorian aged-care homes.
PHOTO: Early days at The Physio Co (from the TPC Museum)
We were doing our best, but we certainly weren’t an aligned team that could work both independently and confidently. Instead, we were a pretty reactive group who asked the boss (me) nearly every time there was any slightly out-of-the-ordinary question to deal with.
We were far from the cohesive team with a defined purpose and vision that TPC has become.
Lack of purpose
The main reason for this lack of purpose, vision and direction was because I didn’t know anything about all that business stuff, let alone making time to learn it and apply it in the clear way I do now.
In 2008 and 2009, my phone (a Blackberry – remember those?) would ring all day and into the evening because I hadn’t made it clear to anyone that they could make decisions on their own.
I wanted our team to be empowered and independent to do their jobs so that I could do mine, but I didn’t know how to give them the tools that would make that happen.
After five years, despite the success of TPC, I wasn’t enjoying leading a growing team in the haphazard way I’d created.
I wasn’t the caring, supportive and inspiring leader that I now know is needed. Nor was I taking care of any elderly clients anymore, because I’d become a supervisor of other people.
And to compound everything, I was starting to lose some enthusiasm.
I decided I either needed to find a way for our growing team to be more independent, or find someone who could do that better than I could.
Searching for a solution
So, in early 2009, I went looking for a solution. I didn't really know what I was looking for or where to look. But, I did something that was invaluable on reflection; scary, expensive and rather counter-intuitive at the time: I took three weeks off and went to North America to check out some other seniors health businesses.
My wife Kimberley and I first went to Orange County, California, where we spent time with the founder of a chain of gyms for seniors called Nifty after Fifty.
We then headed north – across the Canadian border to Vancouver, BC, where we met the founders of Nurse Next Door, a seniors home-care service.
Also while in Vancouver, I spent a couple of hours with business coach Cameron Herold, who introduced me to the concept of a ‘painted picture vision’ – a way to visualise where your business is heading.
That trip turned out to be amazingly important for both myself and The Physio Co.
The businesses and leaders I met, learnt from and still keep in touch with all these years on were all on a similar learning path to what I was. However, they were further down their respective tracks. That is, they'd each been through their versions of the growth pains I was battling with. They'd stayed strong, learned, tried new things, made progress and were now willing to share their experience with me.
By briefly stepping away from The Physio Co for a few weeks - as scary as that was - I could see we already had many of the answers to what was holding us back.
I came back inspired to ask the right questions, discover our core and create a culture-focused, values-based business like I'd learned about from my business-owner peers in North America.
Since then, by using the lessons and ideas learned from the trip, The Physio Co has grown many times over, helped about 1½ million Australian seniors to stay mobile and we've managed to have been named as one of Australia’s Best Places to Work on nine occasions.
What about you? Could you benefit from creating some space for yourself to stop, learn, reflect, recharge mentally and regain clarity about what you're wanting to achieve? There's never a perfect time, maybe your break could be sooner rather than later.