Shortly after New Year’s in 2015, Renee Frank bypassed the usual resolutions attendant with the turn of the calendar. Instead, she and her husband, Adam, were thinking bigger. Both physical therapists, they had seen an underserved population — individuals well enough to be discharged from home health care, but unable to get to therapy as needed — and when coupled with their dream of building something on their own, the pair decided to take the leap.
Thus their mobile physical therapy practice, Energy Rehab Wellness and Training, was born — and with it, a new life as small business owners.
“It was good timing for us,” Renee said. “We started out with this idea of filling this gap and now we’re kind of seen as providing a different kind of service that might be better for some people.”
Originally registered in August 2014, the business didn’t start seeing clients until January 2015, laying the groundwork to launch in the intervening months. That homework included a class hosted by the Penn State Small Business Development Center, Renee said, and was a starting point for the company.
Michael Ryan, a business analyst with SBDC, advises prospective entrepreneurs in those early stages. Timing, he said, is often part of the discussion.
“We always see an increase in new clients at the beginning of the year, as well as attendees at some of our workshops,” he said. “I think it is because a lot of people do set those New Year’s resolutions that they want to step out and do something they’ve wanted to do and never had the guts to do before.”
But the type of business matters, he added. For example, with the holiday shopping season over, January wasn’t the best time to get into retail, he said.
Yet for businesses like gyms or bookkeeping services, the beginning of the year can be a boon. For the Franks, it was the perfect time to start something new.
“We knew summer was always a bit shaky that with people taking vacations and physicians taking vacations, referrals tend to drop in June and July,” Renee said. “But then in the winter, kind of the flip side happens when people might make New Year’s resolutions to finally get that shoulder pain taken care of that they have been putting off. Other people just decide that they want to be healthier so they start to look for ways to do that.”
Winter also makes it more difficult — and less appealing — for clients to get to therapy. So the Franks just go to them.
Then there’s back pain from shoveling, she said, and the rise in cold and flu season.
“So there’s a large push to keep people moving through the system,” she said. “So that kind of generates referrals that time of year.”
Kim Bingaman was thinking about starting A Place For Everything, her bookkeeping and professional organizing business, around the same time as the Franks began seeing clients. In January 2015, she left her job as a newspaper editor and consulted with the SBDC. Two months later, her business was up and running.
“The best time to start a business is when you’ve got the fire to do it,” she said.
The new year also brings about promises to clean up the house. According to Nielsen, “getting organized” made the top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2015. From January 2016 to October 2016, digital marketing company iQuanti found “getting organized” was the second-most searched New Year’s resolution on Google.
“In professional organizing there are busy times of the year, especially after New Year’s,” Bingaman said. “If I hadn’t started it when I did, I probably never would have. I had the motivation, I had the situation and I had the drive to do it then.”
But while passion is vital, Ryan said, left unbridled it can derail even the best of hopes. He said at least half of his clients decide to not move forward after analyzing the costs and benefits.
“But that’s a win for us,” he said. “We stress the importance of doing homework because you want to know what you’re getting into so you can manage those odds and maximize your chances of succeeding.
“Because failing is not fun,” he said. “When you start a business and it fails, it can be a very expensive learning experience.”
For the Franks, it’s been a learning experience and more. Renee said she never knew about things such as human resources, website development and labor laws before starting the business. But after meeting with Maria Spencer, her business consultant at the SBDC, she was put in touch with the right parties, she said. The organization connected her with a student law club at Penn State that helped develop the company’s policy and procedures manual, and another class at Bucknell University that designed Energy Rehab’s website as part of a semester project.
“Those kind of things would have seemed insurmountable to me if we hadn’t had that kind of help,” Renee said.
Now the company has seven employees. And best of all, she added, they can focus on the reason why they started the business initially: the client.
“To us, it’s sort of a throwback to the doctor with the black bag,” she said. “We carry more than a black bag, but health care has become so expensive. What we’re finding is that people who pay large co-pays in particular, they want more for their money. So the fact that they get to stay at home and get one-on-one care with a licensed therapist rather than go to a gym where there’s a lot going on, it’s more concentrated, quality care.”