Leveraging Connections as a New Occupational Therapist
Written by Steve Flathers, Published on October 17, 2016
For new OTs, the idea of building your professional brand can be daunting enough. Starting your own practice can seem unfathomable at times. However, building a caseload and finding reliable referral sources depend primarily on your willingness to put yourself out there as an expert in the field. They also hinge largely on your organization and willingness to follow up on leads.
Because the process can be so involved, many of us are tempted to simply do nothing. It’s all too easy to let those business cards and slips of paper with contact info wind up in a drawer, never to be thought of again.
When you’re first out of school, it’s the best time to be making connections with other professionals. Before you’re tied down with family obligations or simply too tired to go out on a weekday, make the most of whatever you wind up doing after work. Do you play on a soccer team? You may find a physical therapist on a competing team and find that your treatment philosophies line up. Does your partner’s boss have a child with special needs? You may have a future client! Your gym, your house of worship (if applicable), your favorite brunch spot, and even a birthday party can all be places where you can network.
When you’re trying to keep track of people you meet, it’s best to keep everything in one place electronically. Several companies have begun to offer free services that go beyond acting as a virtual Rolodex, though. For example, Swellby.com is a cloud-based program that functions as a virtual back office. Not only can you keep track of the people you meet, you can also connect with other professionals, forming a network of referrals. You can even schedule patients on the cloud, which is convenient for those of us who work at multiple jobs and aren’t at the same workstation all day.
Using software can not only save you time, but it can also help you find and patch the holes in your "networking pipeline". Understanding where you are missing opportunities is crucial, and software can help! Why do you think SalesForce is a $50 billion dollar company? Because it helps large enterprises organize and manage contacts, find opportunities, and make more connections (and more profit)! SalesForce is a complicated software that requires programming knowledge and that's where newer, more specific options like Swellby.com fit in. New software makes it simple, and has you up and running for your specific needs in minutes!
It’s best to reach out to someone within the first 2 days after meeting them, but don’t let time’s passage stop you from contacting someone you met awhile back. Make sure that you remind them of who you are, how you met, and your area(s) of practice. Interestingly enough, you may need a reminder yourself to follow up with people. Utilize the power of software to stay ahead of the curve, setting up reminders, and following up in a timely manner. You will gain a lot of respect from people by just being on top of things. Trust me - not many people are taking the effort to stay in touch. So, when you do, you'll stand out from the crowd!
Remembering the Big Picture
Your career is what you make of it. Making connections happens every day, and maintaining ties with people within your field (as well as potential clients) can never hurt. Even if you plan to work for a company for your entire career, you can use sites like Swellby to keep track of connections you make, simply as a way to keep your finger on the professional pulse of your community. And if you’re currently working for someone else, but you just want to see patients on the side, you obviously don’t want to spend a fortune on back office software; for this reason, free software such as Swellby.com is definitely the way to go.
I've seen this mistake made so many times (and made it myself while I was a student). Thinking that networking and keeping in touch is not going to be important both for considering relationships with your patients and with your colleagues is a mistake. Start now, because eventually you will want to and building your network of patients and colleagues is a snowballing process that takes time. If you start today; by next year you can have, let's say, 500 well-organized contacts and relationships which you can tap into when the time is right. In 2 years you can have 2000. If however, you start when you really need it (next year, in 2 years etc...), you will find that you have 0 contacts, are starting from scratch, and may miss opportunities due to the lack of preparation.
What do you think? How have you leveraged connections as a fresh OT?