A guide for medical and coaching professionals to have the business they have always dreamed of.
Running is booming, and runners need your help! Runners need physical therapists, physicians, chiropractors, athletic trainers, podiatrists, coaches, and running specialty stores to help them get the most out of running, and I want to show you how.
Whether you personally enjoy running or not, it undisputedly has some of the best benefits of any type of exercise. Unfortunately, up to 80% of runners will experience a running related injury each year and this keeps many runners from experiencing all that running has to offer.
In this article, I will outline a detailed plan of how to create a business around working with runners that is built around a team effort. I will talk about how to get the training you need, what it will take to get started, and how to grow and build your business beyond your wildest dreams!
(scroll down to the bottom if you are just looking for the steps and budget to open a running practice, or read on below for detailed instructions)
I am a physical therapist by trade, and I would consider myself a running physical therapist. Physical Therapy school taught me a lot of the basics when it came to gait and I was fortunate to have great mentors in school. However, there was still a lot left to learn before I opened Omega Project PT in 2018 to specialize in treating runners.
After leaving the academic side of research on gait analysis, I started to do a running assessment on friends and family that were training for a race. This is the first time I saw that a running clinic focused on treating running injuries and injury prevention was within reach.
I wish I could say that I went from doing basement gait analysis to opening a running clinic overnight, but honestly it took me years to refine my skills and gather the tools and resources that I needed. No matter if you are looking to work with a few runners a year or a few runners every day, the first step is getting the skills you need.
There are some great courses available for working with runners, and I would highly suggest our Certified Running Gait Analyst (CRGA) courses as a great place to start. The CRGA courses provide a movement based systematic approach to evaluating and treating running injuries. While many physical therapists, Chiropractors, and Athletic trainers take these course, they are excellent for any coach or fitness professional looking to add gait analysis services. It took me years to create these courses, and now it can save you years to becoming a running specialist.
One of the great things about working with runners is that there is always something that you can learn to help you improve your skills. Outside of courses, I also suggest you find a mentor or colleague to work with. Bouncing ideas off of a colleague or mentor will help you avoid some of the early mistakes I see many physical therapists make. (Here is our Facebook group if you are looking for a great place to start)
Don’t Wait…Here is How to Start
The only thing I would do differently with Omega Project is start earlier! I speak to a lot of physical therapists who think that everything has to be perfect before starting their own practice. The other mistake I see many physical therapists do is shoot to open their dream practice instead of starting with the basics.
Instead of talking a whole business plan, there are a few things to figure out first.
- Why does your business exist (for both you and for your patients)? What problem can you solve better than any of your competitors? Focus on solving problems for your customers, and the rest will come. This is similar to a mission statement, but I phrase the question this way because a business is not just for your customers. You also have to think about what this business needs to do for you and those that depend on you. Take the time to reflect on this question and ask yourself “Why” a few times to find a meaningful answer. Once you have the answer, you can use it as a guiding metric to make decisions in your practice.
- Who are your customers? Omega Project is a niche practice focused on treating endurance athletes from their mid-30s and older. More specifically, our typical client has a race within the next 6 months and has had at least 1 running injury in the past 12 months. Knowing this information helps us to make decisions about how we market and the services that we offer. If you try to be everything to everyone, you probably do very little for anyone. As our company grew, we also started noticing that we had more non-endurance athletes coming in, but the mentality was the same. After some reflection, we realized that our true demographic is people that “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop”. No matter what the activity (running, triathlon, golf, tennis) our clients will do whatever it takes to keep participating. The point in sharing that is to encourage you to not only think about who your target market is, but what is their mindset so that you can speak their language.
- What services will you offer? One of the best pieces of business advice I have ever read is from Donald Miller in his book Build Your Story Brand. “If you confuse, you lose” Meaning…try to make it simple for your clients to understand what you offer and how this solves their problem. Do you offer treatment for running injuries or do you focus on injury prevention? Do you offer performance services or analyze running form to help a runner reach their running goals? No matter what services you offer, make sure you can explain them simply. More is not always better. Using the Helix 3D to analyze running form was a main focus at Omega Project. We started offering VO2 max testing and realized that it started getting harder to explain who should come to see us and why. Our bread and butter was showing a runner how to prevent injury or stay healthy by focusing on individualized plans based on how they move. When we spoke to potential clients it was much easier to explain this and talk about how our 3D technology was different from other experiences they had before. Pick what you will do for your clients and then get very comfortable talking about it.
I am not a lawyer or accountant, so take this with a grain of salt. Long before I even started looking for a location for Omega Project, I started an LLC and got liability insurance. I knew that I wanted to protect myself and my family and also do things the right way. It is beyond the scope of this article to talk you through this, but I would suggest don’t wait. It is a low cost investment compared to the protection it provides.
Build Your Team
Even if you plan to be a sole provider, you still need a team. Find a good accountant that understands small business and a lawyer that understands your type of business.
You are likely not the first to do this type of business, so learn from what other people have done (even if you are unique). Physical Therapist mastermind groups have become more popular and offer great resources and education to reduce the time you need to spend getting your business together. For Omega Project, we used a mastermind group to help us learn best practices for cash-based physical therapy. This saved me a ton of time and neck pain starting at a screen to try to create this all myself. Worth an investment for the right group. Many groups also offer marketing services that can also save you time and money from learning how to do this on your own. Not in the physical therapy space…find other professional groups or create your own!
No matter what business you are in, you should develop a strong referral network. Figure out who a runner in your community goes to for advice or questions and connect with that person so they know about the services you offer. Personally, running coaches, running specialty stores, and Athletic Trainers have been a great network for my business.
It is not just about people sending you clients, you also need to know where to send a runner when they ask you questions. Being a wealth of information for runners is very helpful, but you can’t know everything. If you have shin splints or plantar fasciitis, I’m your guy! Need a dry needling treatment for a running related injury, no problem! Need help with pelvic floor dysfunction, I have just the person to send you to. You will find that if you can send someone a client, they will likely do the same for you. Even if they don’t, the runner that you referred will be appreciative and look to you as their go-to professional.
I have found it way more enjoyable to start a business with a partner than going at it alone. Find someone that you are compatible with, but that also compliments your skills. I remember when I was building RunDNA and brining on a new COO that we did a personality test. One of the measures was aesthetics (basically how important was the look of something to you) and another was science (how important the function of something was to you). I scored a 2 on aesthetics and a 98 on science. My COO was a 97 on aesthetics and 12 on science. We complimented each other well and also knew who would decide on the look of a new logo or website! (Not me!)
Find Your Tools
Now you have a basic idea of what your business is and who will be a part of it. The next step is figuring out what tools you need. Most of these will be digital or technology based.
This is your first impression to many people. Take your answer to the 3 questions above and make sure that your website conveys that to your audience. I have used a few different services for this and landed on Wix for my clinic site because it is easy to design and has overall good integrations with my other tools. A single landing page is a great start, and remember to put your customer as the main focus of your website, not just about you!
Schedule and Payments
You will need a way to schedule patients or customers and a way to collect their money. Square offered us a good all-in-one solution when we first started on a lower budget. As we grew, we needed a more robust scheduling and EMR system, so we moved to Jane. It is best to make sure that whatever you use will sync up with your website!
Another lesson I learned (a little slower than I would like to admit) is that you should start collecting email addresses ASAP! There are simple/free tools with room for growth and I feel like I have used them all. Mailchip, Aweber, and Hubspot to name a few. Each offers their own feature set that you can customize to what you need. Use the free trial and see what one makes the most sense to you. You should be writing a weekly newsletter with helpful tips and tricks that your target market needs. A big part of marketing is staying relevant and front of mind. This should not be about sales (most of the time) and having a strong email list will help you achieve your goals. (A great read for anyone interested 1,000 true fans)
Most of the time in the Running Specialist space, client management refers to sending an exercise or tracking run training. There are options for every budget, and here is my advice on how to keep your clients engaged. Remember that the most important resource you have as an entrepreneur is your time. Before we created the RunDNA app, I spent a ton of time creating and sending custom exercise programs. I would spend 20-30 min after every gait analysis putting together everything I needed in a way that I knew the patients would use. Now, I do that in the click of a button and I never do the same work twice. Each time I create a program I have the chance to use it again for other patients.
Having a good client management tool also allows you to provide additional complimentary services. Because the RunDNA app tracks runners and allows me to put both strength/rehab exercises and run training in one place, I can offer coaching services that provides extra revenue and keeps patients engaged outside of the time I am treating them. Find a tool that not only saves you time, but multiplies your value.
Unique Value Proposition
A surprising question we often got when we first opened Omega Project was “what makes you different from any other physical therapy clinic?”. Having technology really set us apart. When a potential patient would ask this question, I would flip it back to them and ask “have you ever had a 3D gait analysis?” Most often the answer was no. I would explain that we get way more information from 3D than traditional 2D and can use that to provide them a plan to know exactly what they need to do in order to improve their form. If someone was on the fence about coming in to see us, technology normally set us apart.
When that client eventually comes in for physical therapy, they can see that we have way more to offer than just our technology. However, the shiny new tech is what often gets them in the door. The clinician in me loves all the data I get from 3D, and the business person in me loves the ability of 3D to bring clients in the door and give a physical therapist automatic credit.
Design Your Shop
Now the fun part…buying what you need! I am going to show you what you need to get started from your basement and eventually build the business of your dreams built around working with runners.
The Basement Business ($616.90)
Before you even have a website or anything fancy, start using your gait analysis skills. Friends and family are your first customers, so don’t worry about being too fancy (yet!). You can likely use text or email for scheduling and can use Venmo for collecting payments.
- Portable Table – $144 Cheap and essential to save your back from leaning over as you check out how a client moves. A yoga mat is a low cost alternative if you are on a tight budget.
- Video cameras or An iPad ($419) can work just as well as higher speed cameras, but make sure whatever you are using has at least 60 frames per second and allows you to review what you see with your client.
- Tripod ($27) – If you are not doing 3D, make sure that you are at least being consistent with your 2D assessment by using a tripod and setting it up at the same spot each time for accurate assessment.
- Super band ($21.90) – bringing some exercise equipment with you will help you demonstrate proper form. You can also use this super band for resisted running, a great gait retraining tool
- Dowel – ($5) for PVC pipe at hardware store. Cheap and a great tool for gait retraining. (Check out Level 2 to see how I use this effectively with some of my top runners)
A great way to step up your game and start doing more gait analysis is teaming up with a local gym, especially if they are associated with a running or triathlon club. See if you can pay per use of treadmill or pay an hourly rate. Offering a screen night (a 15-20 min gait analysis appointment) is a great way to get exposure to a new group of clientele.
- Client Management App – (RunDNA is $400/yr for up to 150 athletes) Essential for providing a better touch point to new clients and saving yourself time
- GPS Watch – ($199)You can get great running metrics like cadence, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation from most GPS watches now to provide more data for your analysis
- Website – ($264/yr) You will need a digital footprint so that people can check out what you have to offer and how to book a session.
- Square or Stripe account for online transactions
- Bank Account
- Credit Card – Make it easier to track expenses
Startup Running Specialty Shop
As you get busier, you may be ready to dive in and open your own space up. I began Omega Project with a 900 sq ft office that was perfect for 2 physical therapists. Rent is one of your biggest expenses, but can be worth it in the right area. If you are still building a following, paying more for a spot in a high exposure/traffic area is worth it. If you have clients already knocking on your door, find a very convenient location with affordability and possibility for expansion.
- Treadmill – This budget can range, but my personal philosophy was that if I want to be the running expert that I need the best tools. These manufacturers all have great treadmills for variety of budgets
- Helix 3D
- Permanent Tables
- Recovery Boots
- Coffee Table
- Kettle Bells
- Plyo Box
Growing Running Specialty Business
- Squat Rack
- Knee Extension machine
- High Low Table
- Hex bar
- Weight Plates
- Dynamometer- I’ve found a recent cool system called Kinvent that does a great job with objective measures from hand held dynamometers and force plates
Ok…enough planning! Let’s get you started. Hopefully you can see from this article that the most important thing is to offer extreme value to runners and have a clear message about how you can solve a problem for them. There is never a perfect time to start a business, so why not now?!
I am always willing to chat about your business and you can email me directly at Doug@RunDNA.com if you want to chat. Our whole goal is to elevate the running community around providing great service.