Come with batteries installed: Brad Cote invests in people first
By Don Quinn Dillon
Brad Cote spent a lot of time developing the culture and expectations when he opened his facility, Link. The facility included five personal fitness trainers, two registered physiotherapists, one massage therapist, two reception, a person each in sales and administration, and Brad, himself a massage therapist and osteopathic manual practitioner.
The business grew to seven-figure earnings in just 18 months. “I had developed a lot of momentum, contacts and leverage,” Cote explains. “I understood the ‘patient success journey’ and cultivated a network of people I could hire quickly.” Cote formed symbiotic relationships with other practitioners, developed multiple streams of income, and invested heavily in marketing. The business grew so quickly that demand exceeded supply, and Cote had to reconfigure processes to ensure patients received excellent and prompt care. Cote now runs the “back end” of the North York facility and is currently looking to open a second in London, ON.
Cote was born and raised in St. Thomas, ON. “I’ve always been entrepreneurial.” As a youngster, Cote would buy candy then re-sell it to local children at a markup. He initiated snow shovelling and landscaping services in his neighbourhood. As an adult, he went into liquidation arbitrage (buying end-of-stock or out-of-season salvageable merchandise then reselling to outlets in the USA). Always interested in fitness and sport, Brad set his sights on physical therapy as a vocation.
An early experience in a “PT (physiotherapy) Mill” soured him. “People were not getting better…I wasn’t seeing a lot of change.” A fellow personal trainer, trained in manual osteopathic technique, was getting better results than physiotherapy could offer. “That pushed me to look at how to provide more comprehensive treatment” and Brad began his tutelage studying a variety of manual therapy techniques while maintaining personal fitness trainer services. Brad bolstered his education with a Kinesiology/Health Science degree from Western University, and a business management education at Fanshawe College.
“I find most practitioners are not happy where they are,” Cote reflects. “It’s often not about how much money is earned. (What’s more important), many practitioners want to be part of a team.” Cote prefers hiring practitioners as employees rather than managing independent contractors. “Employees are more accountable, and they feel more part of the team.” Before Cote opened his facility, he spent three months interacting with many local practitioners and got to know their capabilities and personalities. He sent targeted messages to recruit them to his team, and now has a large pool he can tap into when he requires more employees.
Cote invests heavily in “onboarding,” a 90-day training process for newly hired practitioners. Cote believes it’s more important to hire for attitude and character traits. “Technical skills can always be taught.” He looks for people who “come with batteries installed.” With every candidate, Cote looks for the quality of attitude. “Can you be coached? How have you demonstrated this? Can you be held accountable?” Cote developed a scorecard to measure Key Performance Indicators (KPI) such as the conversion of prospects into patients on a care plan, quality of communication and telephone skills, and feedback received from patients. The KPIs are tangible, for example, booking appointments for at least 10 patients/week after the first month of practice. Cote espouses four tenets of his work culture, “be a professional, help others, continuously improve, and have fun.”
Cote often records training modules. He demonstrates the skillset he expects the practitioner to develop, tests them for successful adoption, then adds all-new skills to the scorecard. After the 90 day onboarding/training is complete, he sets appointments to review the scorecard with each practitioner weekly. If the practitioner presents with a poor KPI on any of the variables measured, Cote asks them to offer solutions. Cote proffers that many facility managers are making a mistake with they don’t train, test and then measure for KPIs.
In addition to his education and real-life experience in business, Cote reports he “learned a lot” from studying the pursuits of Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, and Gino Wickman, author of Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business. Cote recommends, to scale up your business, look outside the massage therapy field for ideas.
In his private practice, Cote offers what he terms a “private niche, experience-based practice.” He works primarily with active people on athletic performance and injury recovery. He observed his experiences in other practitioner settings and often found them “Sterile…medical.” Brad wanted his patrons to be excited to visit, so he provided varieties of coffee/beverages, comfortable chairs, and media content in the waiting room. Cote pushed to curate a remarkable experience. When he travelled, he would book appointments with other practitioners to observe their process. He noticed a majority would not provide a plan of care. “This is a fundamental fault. If the patient doesn’t fully understand the purpose of the care plan, they won’t complete it, negating successful outcomes.” Consistent communication is a continuation of the care plan.
Cote is quite sophisticated in his marketing efforts. He taps online and offline marketing, and develops strategic partnerships. He pays money for some marketing and other types are “paid with time.” He incorporates website, Facebook and Google/YouTube ads, direct mailings and newspapers, although the latter provides a “higher barrier to use/costs more money” than other tactics.
Cote partners with other disciplines and facilities to offer monthly workshops on common conditions to the membership, or sometimes just for club staff. Cote emphasizes quality of marketing to convert interested prospects to paying patients, “many put out content…it’s essential to provide context.” Cote recommends three marketing principles: 1) position yourself in a prospect’s mind through the quality of communication you use; 2) ask the right questions, really understand the person’s needs and curate the experience towards them; 3) be omnipresent in your marketing…be seen everywhere to project expertise. He adds, “you attract or repel with your marketing.”
Cote observes many practitioners are random in their efforts to seek referrals…the bread and butter of building a practice. Cote recommends regularly asking for referrals. Strive to be remarkable in your quality of care so patrons easily refer. Cote applies what he calls “reactivation” – targeted communications to people who’ve fallen off their care plan. Cote makes a check-in phone call, with an offer to continue care. Regular and effective communications that seek to educate, he asserts, go a long way to retain patients.
If you’re not in an ownership position, but instead employed or contracting in the practice, Cote affirms there are still things you can do to boost your perceived value in the minds of your patients and the business owner. Cote recommends you write articles containing helpful information to send to patients, and curate an exceptional experience. Learn all the business skills you can, and invest in yourself. You’ll gain priceless experience you might apply to your own enterprise someday. “Realize most business owners are busy…work with [them] towards beneficial objectives and treat the business like your own. You will make compound interest on your actions.”
Donald Quinn Dillon, RMT is a practitioner, practice coach and author of the self-study workbook Charting Skills for Massage Therapists. He has spoken at MT conferences across Canada, and his articles have appeared in professional publications such as Massage Therapy Canada, Massage Therapy Today, AMTA Journal, and Massage Therapist (Australia). He produces the broadcast On the Table, in conjunction with Massage Therapy Canada magazine/Annex Business Media. Dillon’s website www.DonDillon-RMT.com provides a variety of resources for massage therapists