Customer Wise: Flexibility paves the way for growth

Michelle Di Gangi
Posted by Michelle Di Gangi
Small Business Banking

To look at Greg Swart’s business, you’d think he is marching to an aggressive growth plan based on steady investment in Yakima Avenue Medical Clinic: hiring, acquiring another practice, and upgrading technology.

Greg Swart in the lobby of his clinic; a patient is seen reading in the background.After deciding to expand beyond a sole proprietorship several years ago, Greg, an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner, says, “Growth kind of fell into my lap.” The success of Greg’s practice in Yakima, Washington, over the past six years is a lesson in being flexible to expand a business in ways that cultivate dedicated employees and loyal customers.

Q: How would you characterize your growth strategy? A: Initially, I didn’t have much of a strategy. It was, “I’m going to start my own practice and work for myself.” But I slowly decided it would be better if I built a business rather than being an individual practitioner — not only for revenue, but also for my staff and my patients. Slowly I took on practitioners over the years, and I brought in more patients.

We were in a small building, which didn’t provide much room for growth, so I decided that we’d look for another building. Then we made the decision to go ahead and buy out another practitioner’s business in December last year and take over her lease. My growth kind of fell into my lap.

A lot of your growth has been opportunistic. Talk about the importance of flexibility as a business owner.

You just never know when opportunity might arise, so it’s good to be ready and open for change at any time, always looking to the future. I’m already looking at how can I expand if I need to. But right now, we’re very comfortable where we’re set up. I feel like we’re maximizing our profit with the space and the staff. And we?re able to take care of patients, which is really key.

What has been your goal as you’ve invested in your business?

Investing in the business means investing in not only hard assets but also people — making sure we have quality staff and the staff is working in an environment that is conducive to great patient care. You take care of your staff, and they’re going to take care of you. You take care of patients, and they’re going to pass it on.

In the past 12 months, where has the investment focus been?

As far as assets, it’s been acquiring our building. And getting a new EMR (Electronic Medical Records system) and the expense for setup. Then we hired a new physician, which involves credentialing, malpractice precautions, and advertising. So our investments were in new equipment, new office space, and hiring staff.

When making a significant technology investment, as you’ve done with your EMR system, what words of wisdom would you give other business owners?

It is really difficult to evaluate EMRs, because there are so many. And as great as these programs claim to be, there are always issues. So I’d say to any other small business owner that’s looking into a particular technology program: Make sure you’ve researched the options well before you make the final purchase.

What sort of growth do you expect in the next 12 months?

I would say 10-20 percent growth. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I expect the growth to continue. I’ll look for opportunities, and if I think if we can add another provider and increase revenue and take better care of patients, then I’ll probably go for it.

Reflecting on your early decision to grow, what tips would you give to someone grappling with the idea of growing beyond a sole proprietorship?

Growing scares a lot of people, and I think they sometimes make decisions that sabotage efforts, which stunts growth. I suggest first decide what size of business you want to run. Do you want to be large? Or do you want to be small? It’s important to ask yourself that question before you move on and decide what path you’re going to take.

Next, you probably can’t do it on your own. One thing I would tell everybody interested in business, and especially growing: Have a great support staff, have a team. That’s the way to become successful.

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