Are you tired of a stressful practice? It may not be your team, it may be you! How do you create a practice that you love again? Dr. Deb shares what it's like to revitalize a practice so that it thrives financially and gets your patients the results that they want.
You're listening to the Functional Medicine Business Podcast featuring Dr. Deb, one of the most creative functional medicine business practitioners in her industry. She shares the wisdom and knowledge that she has gained over 25 years of functional medicine, a pioneer in functional medicine, scheduling, leadership and Practice Management. Dr. Deb has a wealth of knowledge and is eager to share to help functional medicine become more productive. And for the practitioners and patients to live better lives. Our podcast shares the good and the bad of our industry, because Dr. Deb knows the pain you live every day building a functional medicine practice with practical tools on how to manage money, taxes and patient care. She will discuss it all with you.
I'm excited to have our conversation with you today, because we're going to talk about the difference between being a practitioner and being a business leader. How? How could those two things be so different? Right? Well, they are, you know, being a practitioner and being an expert in your field of practice is one thing, telling a patient what to do. And being confident in that and knowing your truth and knowing what you need to do? Well, you've trained your whole career for that you've gone to school, you've studied with the best, and you know what's right for your client or your patient. But being a business leader is completely different, especially when you're used to telling people what they should do. Oftentimes, as business leaders, we treat our employees the same way. We tell them what to do, we do not engage them. We don't teach them, we don't encourage them, we tell them what to do. And you know, as a business leader, I was no different. I am a great practitioner, I have wonderful intuition with my patients. And I could make an amazing relationship with people out of the gate. But my employees on the other side, well, that was completely different. And I was a completely different person. I was demanding. I thought it was my way or the highway. I thought everyone knew what I knew. Or at least everyone should know what I know. And if they didn't, well, what the hell was wrong with them. I expected everyone to be like me. And it took me many years to realize that was not the way to be a leader. Needless to say, I went through a lot of employees, somewhere my decision was to ask them to leave, or some of them, they chose to leave. So here's my mentor, who had employees that stayed with them for 20,30, even 40 years. And I couldn't keep an employee for two years. But I knew something was wrong. Should so I went to him and I said, What am I doing wrong as a leader? Why can't they just do their jobs? Why can't they just show up? Why can't they just do the flippin job the way they're supposed to? This isn't rocket science. It's not difficult. And he'd say to me, my employees got better when I learned how to meditate. And I thought, oh, hell without I can't meditate. What does that have to do with running a practice and keeping employees happy? Anyway?
What I didn't hear in that conversation was him telling me that his ability to manage employees got better when he worked on himself instead of working on them. Oh, what a concept, right? And that was truly the difference. But I wouldn't learn that for many, many years after I had that conversation. I struggled. I hired people I hired the wrong people. I would feel sorry for people. So I would hire them. I would feel sorry for their situation, so I wouldn't let them go. And I finally got to the point where I said, I'm not hiring another person. Because I suck at picking employees. I suck at trying to figure out who's the best employee for the job. They all lied to me. They all told me what they wanted to hear. And then they would show up and they don't know shit. And then it's me, and I can't fire somebody. You know. I remember the first time I had to try to fire someone. I made my husband who had nothing to do with the practice, come in. The only thing he was doing for me was a little maintenance work at the time once in a while, but I can't had him come in and fired my first employee because I just couldn't do it. I was crying. I was upset. I was having a panic attack. I couldn't fire somebody. I'm like, This is ridiculous. And he said to me, Deb, you got to get used to to this, this isn't going to be the last time you have to fire somebody. And I said, I can't become friends with them. I know their family, I know their stories, I feel terrible for them. And he said, You have to stop becoming friends with your employees.
And I'll never forget my best friend, my right hand person who stuck with me through thick and thin through the transition of my practice being sold and starting this new practice. She put in long hours with me. She got super stressed out, she wouldn't let anybody help her, her blood pressure was going through the roof. And I had patients who refuse to come and see me because of her. But then I had vendors who refuse to come and see me because of her. And I remember talking to her about this and saying, look, it's one thind when patients don't come in, it's a fricking other thing when their salespeople won't come in and talk to you, and they won't sell us stuff, what's going on. And she was overwhelmed. I was really concerned for her health. And I had to say, I'm never going to fire you. But you got to figure this out. You've got to straighten this out. We can't keep going like this. And after multiple conversations and a couple of hours afterwards, she looked at me and said, I'll make this easy for you. And I'll quit. I sobbed all the way home, I stopped for three hours after that. And I felt like the worst person in the world. I was devastated. This was my right hand person. And she was gone. And I thought, oh my god, what am I going to do? So I had to hire somebody. And even though I never wanted to hire another employee, again, I had to hire somebody. My daughter stepped in from college and took over, learn how to do everything on her own. We did the best we could but we were pissing patients off left and right. I had a biller who was screwing up our bills left and right insurance company that wasn't helping us.
We were just drowning, my AR got out of control. We were up to $250,000 in eight months with insurance not covering claims. And it looks like we weren't going to collect any of it. And I'm completely felt like a failure in business and a complete utter failure period. So I called up a friend of mine who had been in practice a very long time. And we were talking about this and I was crying. And he said, "Deb, I'll hook you up with my biller. Let's see what we can do to fix this mess. We'll figure it out. And here's what you're going to do. I'm going to take some business classes, and you're going to go learn to do this. And how do you do that, but you're gonna come back and you're gonna start fresh, pick your chin up, put your big girl panties on and get to work. See these clients, they need you. So I did that. I hooked up with a great biller, she did an amazing job for me with my AR, we were able to collect about 80% of the $250,000 that we thought we would never collect. I pissed off a bunch of patients in the meantime, lost a bunch and I swore they are they swore they'd never see me again. But thank God many stuck through with me. And once we explained what was going on, they understood and some of the ones that threatened to never see me again, came back years later, and said, I'm back because there's nobody in the area that can do what you do. I'll see you regardless of who you have as your support staff. But over the course of the next five years, I would consistently hear yammering from my client saying I only see you because of who you are. And when I heard that, it made me realize that I wasn't creating a business that was able to be sold later down the road. And I wasn't doing any service to my clients. So I'd go back to my staff and I talked to them about what was going on. And I try to explain what's going on to fix this. But we continue to have issues.
So I joined a coaching program. And I was at my wit's end, I wanted to sell my practice, I wanted to do something else. I didn't want to do medicine anymore. I said, this is too hard. We had a great problem. Our phone was ringing off the hook. And it was nothing for us to get 200 to 300 calls a day in our office just for appointments. And they kept saying "Why aren't you hiring more people to answer your phones?" And I kept saying "Because I can't find anybody to coach them through what we do. I don't have enough providers to help me." So we began to strategize how to get my practice out of this mess. And I remember saying "If I just hadn't good employees, if I didn't Just had good employees, this would all go away." And my coach said,"Well, we'll invite them to be successful someplace else." And I'm like,"What?" And he's like, "Yes, you're doing them a disservice by keeping them, you're doing you a disservice by keeping them and you're doing your clients a disservice by keeping them. If you invite them to be successful someplace else, where they can really grow and strive, they will be better people." So that became my new mantra and my new attitude. When I'd get pissed at them, I'd say, you know, you can go be successful someplace else. I was such an asshole. As a boss. For many years, I had very little patience, very little compassion. For them whining about how busy they were, when I was working from seven in the morning till 11. At night, seeing clients and doing all my charting, doing all my business work, I was exhausted, I was so burnt out, I didn't want to do this anymore. But they were all depending on me. And my clients were depending on me. And it was over a process of about a four and a half year five year period of time, I got to the point where I really didn't and couldn't be in practice anymore. It was so painful to be in the practice listening to everyone bitch, and complain and holler and talk nasty to one another. It was no place for anybody to be. And you'd walk in the door, and you wouldn't even put your coat on. And somebody is bitching at me about a client or a vendor or another employee? And I honestly couldn't take it anymore.
I figured out the answer was an office manager, let's hire an office manager, they can take care of everything. I'm done. Don't anybody talk to me anymore. I just want to see my clients, I want to go home. And I'll run the back end of the business. But I'm not talking to anyone about anything anymore. Well, that works for about a month, let me tell you, and I'm sure there's people out there listening to me that are understanding and believing that this is where they've been out to. And at first, I was so relieved. I was like, "Thank God, I don't have to listen to this complaining anymore." And literally, what I did was handover a problem to an inexperienced office manager who didn't know who we were, didn't know what we did, didn't know how we served. And I set her up for failure too. And I didn't realize it, and a year and a half into our relationship, she decided to leave. Three months before that my right hand practitioner the Friday before Christmas, decides to leave. A couple of weeks later, another employee decides to leave, and they're all bailing on me. And I'm feeling like what the hell did I do to deserve this for everyone to abandon me everywhere and just walk away from what we're trying to create? It was such a devastating time for me. And I remember turning to my coach and saying what did I do wrong. And he said, "You didn't care enough. And you honestly didn't do anything wrong. But you're setting the practice in a direction that these people are not willing to go. And if they're not willing to go with you in that direction of where your practice is headed. You don't want them on the ship, let them go." It was a very trying time for me. It took me well over a year to get over this, my daughter and I tried to run the practice again. And for a while, it was okay. But we quickly realized we had gotten so busy, there was no way we could do it all. So we embarked on hiring another office manager. And this was a little more cautious for us this time. But I also decided I needed to do something different this time than the last time I need to make this office manager, my partner, I need to set her up for success because we need to go forward, not backward. So talking about all the past talking about what happened was not coming forward. We're moving forward, we're not bringing dirty luggage into this new relationship, which made a huge difference for us. We made sure we explained to our staff what was going on, and what we were doing and what our plan was, and they could stay on board. Or they could go but this is where we're embarking next. We wanted all of them to stay. We appreciated all of them, we were going to invest in them, we're going to train them, we're going to give them the tools that they need to be successful. But moving forward was going to be a little difficult. And we were not going to look in the rearview mirror on everyone's mistakes because we all made them. And we were all guilty of that. So we came from a completely different attitude than we had before. And this new office manager had a completely different attitude very positive, but also stern with, you know, she didn't take excuses. She knew we were headed forwards and that's where we were going. And this is the way it was going to be. We would listen to our employees, we would encourage them but at the end of the day the decision was ours no matter what the decision was they could sway us, depending on the situation. But it wasn't a given. So with a brand new manager, a brand new outlook, almost a brand new staff, we embarked on this new way of practicing this new way of doing business. And the model was amazing. And now, I would love to tell you that from that point, everything is awesome.
But it wasn't, we were together as partners for about a year before COVID hit. And we embarked on COVID and have let several people go in the practice was not from a financial standpoint, we let people go because it was time to let people go. And we were looking at where we were headed, and who was on board and who wasn't. And who was going to benefit from not being in the practice with COVID, because of different life things, illnesses. And so once again, we completely changed our staff. And this was a very difficult time for all of us, because we didn't want to let people go anymore. We wanted to truly build a team. But we were still struggling with some of our team members, and not having some of the right team members in the right seats. And so we still didn't have that cohesive team. We knew we had to make some really hard decisions again. And whenever you let people go, it really sucks, it doesn't get any easier. And I never want to have to do that again. But things continue to happen. And as you start to realize that as things continue to change, one or two particular individuals may not be the best fit for you, if you can't change their philosophy and their outlook on things. And so those were the individuals that we decided to let go. But somehow you always end up getting rid of people. And everyone else complains about that. And so we looked very hard at where we were going and what we were doing and who we wanted to be and what was our team going to be look like, made those tough decisions. And I want to tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, within an instant of making those decisions. We both both knew at our core that this was the right choice for our business to move forward. And that's the hard thing to say because as people you love them all, and you love they become a second family to you. But sometimes in your business structure, it's not the right fit, and people aren't moving in the same direction as you. And you have to make difficult choices. And that's what we ended up doing. And I will tell you for the first time in 11 years of practicing, I feel like we have an amazing team. Now my team members are laughing and they're joking with one another. They're smiling, and they're working hard. But they're also having fun. And there's complete respect amongst everyone in my practice, from the receptionist, to the providers and down. There's just such a different atmosphere, I don't walk in holding my breath anymore. When I open the door, I say let's make a great day. I don't sit at my desk and cringe when somebody comes and knocks on my office door to say "Hey, can I talk to you", all of that is gone, every bit of it. And I never thought this would be possible. But what it has taught me is that anything is possible when you have the right mentality when you've changed. Because you have to do a lot of inner work, I had to change my attitude about employees, I had to change my attitude about what I thought of them. And what I felt they should be giving to me. I had to change all of that.
I also had to change what I was putting out to the practice with my employees. I had to be honest with them about where we were going and what we were doing and how we were doing it. I had to invest in my employees so that they could be successful and everything I wanted them to do. without them being trained, they couldn't be successful. And I thought they should just learn by osmosis before. And if they didn't learn by osmosis will dammit they should go home and on their own free time, they should start learning like I had to do. Well guess what? That's a wrong attitude. And I've learned that very quickly. But once you understand where your employees are coming from, and where you're coming from, and where you want to go, and where all these feelings come from the first place for you t his belief system can come and change. Now you can move forward, you can build a team that you want. And once you have the team you want, you can be productive, you can be successful and it doesn't actually feel hard. And you're not working so many hours. It was great. I was seeing tons of patients. My schedule was full and I was loving it. But the rest of me was not loving it. The me that missed my kids football game, the me that didn't work hard enough at just work. I've worked all night long at home and every weekend for me that traveled every other weekend teaching, because that made me feel good as a whole person that may had to change. And when that began to change, so did my practice. It was an incredible shift. It was an incredible gift.
Would I change anything that I went through building my practice over the last 11 years? Honestly, I don't know that I would, other than I wish I would have learned sooner than later. But God has planned for us and the universe has everything in play. And before we even know what happens, that's what I believe. I need to tell you that the lessons that I've learned today, and looking back, I wouldn't have given up any lesson that I learned. Because if I did, I wouldn't be where I am today. Because where I am today is who I want to be. I'm successful. I help people every single day. I'm training people to be successful business owners, I'm training new functional medicine doctors, and I'm doing what I love. I'm living in my dream house, I'm helping patients. And I'm on track for selling my practice and retiring in the next 15 years. I'm here every day doing what you guys need to do. What all of us are here to do. And I'm loving every moment of it every day. And I just really want to encourage you that if you're on this track, and you feel as though you're in a position that I was at some point in my journey, take inventory of your life, take inventory of where you are, where you want to go. Write down a list of all the things that are getting in your brain, write down a list of all the things you've got going for you. And let's figure out how to get you what you want. So you can be successful, whatever that definition of successful means to you. Maybe it's not having a practice that's full five days a week. Maybe it's a practice being full two days a week or three days a week. Maybe it's just enough to pay your bills. Or maybe you want that multimillion dollar practice. Maybe you want to own a practice, but not run a practice. Let's figure that out together. So write some of those thoughts down. And what I want you to do is look backwards to figure out how do you get there, because that's how you change and make a difference in the world.
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, and you'd like to help support the podcast, please share it with others. post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. To catch all the latest from me. You can follow me on Facebook at FM bi, join our free group where we support one another and share our struggles. Thanks again and I'll see you next time.