The following is a case study with Tasneem Abrahams, an occupational therapist from Johannesburg.
We speak to Tasneem Abrahams, an occupational therapist based in South Africa, about her Private Practice Growth Club and Academy for practitioners.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an occupational therapist?
So it’s funny that asked that because just the other day, I actually posted on Instagram. It was to do and world OT day. And I spoke about how I actually became an occupational therapist. I remember it very clearly. I was at Wynberg Girls High in Cape Town. And they introduced this concept into the school that in your third year we had to do community service.
So we had to do a certain amount of community service hours, anything could be anything. And we had to log the hours we worked. So my mother took me to this hospital called Princess Alice Hospital in the retreat. And I went to go and do volunteer work in the children’s ward. So I was going to play with the kids always loved kids always thought I was going to be either a teacher or pediatrician. When I was like little that was what I thought I was going to be.
I walked through passages towards the children’s ward, which is right at the end. And as I was walking down the passage, something caught my eye down one of the the other passages. I saw these two young girls in these green bottle green pants and white golf shirts. And they were busy playing with a child who at the time obviously didn’t know, but the child had cerebral palsy. And the child was sitting in this like, high seat thing, and they were playing with this child. Then I was curious, like, what are they doing? So I actually went to them and asked them, like, what are they doing?
And they said that they were fourth year occupational therapy students from UCT. I said, well, so they were telling me what they were doing. And I found it so fascinating, because they said that children at certain developmental ages, like when they drop things on the floor. That is that’s part of them, like testing the depth of perception and develops the visual perceptual skills, and I was like mind was blown. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as occupational therapy. It was also not very well known at the time as a profession. And that’s kind of what what got me interested in the profession.
From that time onward, I was like, that’s what I’m going to be, I’m going to be an occupational therapist. And I always thought I was going to be a pediatric occupational therapist. Which actually was never ended up being the case, and I have no interest in being a pediatric occupational therapist. Um, so yeah, that was how I discovered the profession and how I ended up going into occupational therapy.
Did you always know you wanted to be in a profession that helps people?
Yeah. But the interesting thing, is I’m the eldest, and I say, I have exactly half of my father and my mother. Now, my father is a very, tech guy. And he’s always been an early adopter of technology he’s always loved that kind of thing. Where as my mother’s always been the creative, artistic helper type personality. Whereas I’ve kind of always had both.
You never know how different your life would have been had you grown up in a different time or if circumstances had been different. And I always think that if I had grown up in this generation, I’d been like exploring careers. I probably might not even have become an OT. I might have ended up going into web design from the outset. When I was growing up, there was no Facebook, there was no internet, we didn’t even have cell phones that I saw. So that wasn’t something that I would have even known to consider as a potential career.
I always think that my way of thinking is very much informed by Occupational Therapy. Because we taught about Occupational Science and the philosophy of doing, being, becoming. I always say that, I look at it like that, because especially at UCT, occupational enrichment was a big thing. And I can see that play out in my life as well, that without the exposure to different types of occupations, or doing and being, you won’t know you’re capable of. And, that’s part of what I really love about occupational therapy. It’s really about helping people see and be exposed to the possibilities of what they are capable of, in whichever, area that you specialize in working.
What made you decide to start the Private Practice Growth Club?
Also, because if I think about it, when I was in grade one, I wanted to be a teacher. So I think it’s also that I do really have a love for teaching and love imparting knowledge. So the Private Practice Growth Club has kind of been the perfect combination of all of that. I get to teach, I get to help people and I get to do it, using technology. So it’s kind of like, brought everything together. And I get to talk about digital marketing, which I also love. It’s kind of brought them all together, which is amazing.
I teach about this in my academy by using the model of Ikigai to determine your niche and where you need to be. Ikigai, it’s a Japanese concept where you look at what you are good at your skills, what you love. So that’s like your purpose, what people will actually pay you money for and what the world needs. And if you can find the sweet spot that intersects between all four, then that is where true happiness lies. And that’s where you find your Ikigai.
So sometimes you might choose to do something you’re good at, and that you really enjoy doing. But it doesn’t pay money when you’re involved in charity type stuff. Or you maybe do something that you’re good at and skilled at and trained at and pays money, then that becomes like a vocation. Or you do something that people really need and that pays money, then that becomes a profession. Otherwise you can do something you really love and that the world needs, but it doesn’t pay money, and you’re not very good at it.
I think I found my Ikigai with Private Practice Growth Club.
What is Future proofing your children?
So future proofing your children? Well, I actually work with this population. So I work in a special Ed skills based high school. Our learners, do the normal caps curriculum or adaptive caps curriculum, but they leave with a grade nine. And it’s a question that comes up often in a lot of them because, they feel really bad that they’re not going to have a Matric.
And they’ve got this, even the parents no matter how much we tell them this is a special Ed school, and they are not going to get a Matric. When the child is in year four, they are surprised when we say they’re not gonna have a Matric. Because there’s so much of this emphasis on having a Matric. So, what I always tell them, you know, when I was in high school, we didn’t have Facebook, we didn’t have internet. But I say to them, if there’s anything that I’ve learned over time, is that you make plans, but life makes other plans. And if, anything, COVID taught us that this year, right?
You can only plan to a certain extent and do the best you can but you need to be open all the time to opportunities. You need to be aware of things and changes that’s happening around you. And you need to kind of think a little bit out of the box and be willing to also start down at the bottom. You have to be willing to if you really are passionate about something to find what you are really good at naturally. And we say it doesn’t have to be something like maths or English.
Think about are you good at making friends? Are you somebody who’s a natural leader, like maybe you always the popular one, people don’t tend to think about those things as skills. But if you are really good at making friends and you enjoy being around other people, then think about what are the kinds of things you can do that can harness that power? So yes, you have an intellectual disability. But you have so many other things that are great about you, how do you identify those things. And then follow those natural skills and look for activities, occupations and hobbies that use those positive attributes. It will inevitably lead you to something that is meaningful, and that pays, but you have to be open to the changes.
And you kind of have to look outside of what your parents are saying you need to do. Because their frame of reference is what was they don’t know what is going to be. You are actually the ones that are shaping the future. So a lot of the times what they think you need to be doing isn’t really where the future lies. Because they still thinking in the old model of you go to school, you get the metric, go study further, then you get a job. Where as nowadays people are starting businesses. By being self taught, I’m self taught as a web designer, I didn’t go to web design school. So you know, like you, you kind of have to just be willing to hustle and put in the work and follow your passions.
The famous Gary Vee says that this generation, has the entire world in the palm of their hand through their cell phone. And even if you don’t have a lot of money for data, these days, children do have access to the world, which we didn’t have. Like we only had to see the world through the eyes of the TV and the media that was feeding us what they wanted us to see. Now we can go and look for our own truths. We can go look for information, find out how to do things. That’s kind of what I say,I think children just need to be allowed to explore and be exposed to new things. Do what they really enjoy and play to the strengths that can never you can never go wrong if you play to your strengths.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your academy?
So last year, June, I would not have known the private practice growth club would have even existed. That’s how quickly that happened. But what had happened was, I had digital engage, which is my digital marketing business. And I was kind of repivotting the business because I wasn’t doing well. Then I pivoted and started to grow in a different direction. And a lot of the mistakes that I made in my digital marketing business, was because of my health professional brain. I was running my business like a health professional.
And when my my youngest one went to grade R I decided, well, maybe it’s time to go more into my profession. I’d always been like contracting, then I’ve worked for WITS, and I’d done some Locum work. It’s kind of just, I’ve always just been my own boss, and I thought, okay, well, maybe it’s time to go into full time employment. And, see how it is maybe I want to want to do that.
And because I went back into the profession, I rejoined all these Facebook groups. More for the clinical kind of connection, which is why most of us joined, right. While I was in those groups, I started seeing a lot of the same questions come up from private practice owners. What practice management software must I use? How do I get invoices? What ICD 10 code must I use? How do I market my practice? All of those same questions kept coming up.
And I started to see the similarities in the mindset of private practice owners in what had in my digital marketing business that actually caused my digital marketing business, to not generate profit. Revenue was increasing, but my profits were almost like going in the opposite direction. It was bad to a point where I actually considered closing the business. And I joined two coaching programs and through those programs, I learned from the coaches who were very business minded how to think like a business.
It wasn’t even about the tactics. It wasn’t even about how I marketed or anything, it was literally about how I felt about money. How I thought about my customers and how I ran my business. I didn’t have to do everything myself. And I started to see that those were the same mistakes that people were making in their private practices.
This is where the idea came from and I started the Private Practice Growth Club Facebook group. And it grew like really quickly, like a lot of people started joining. Over time, I realized there needed to be a way to share the knowledge that I had. Especially in terms of social media and marketing. With the understanding as a professional, what are some of the fears around not being unethical in marketing. But I didn’t want to just focus on the marketing because I realized how much of a big issue mindset is initially.
And so just thinking about it, I kind of took a lot of the things I learned in my coaching. Combined with the lessons I learned in my failures in business, and what I know around the tactics of business. Put them all together to create this three module course, which then became the Academy. And so that’s how the academy actually then was born out of Private Practice Growth Club and practitioner groups.
What advise would you give to someone thinking of going into private practice?
Something that I talk a lot about with private practice owners. Is if you don’t start with a where do you want to be and you just starting here. You’re going to make decisions about where you are now rather than where you want to be. And it’s totally fine if you don’t have money now and you want to start off by just doing your own books and doing everything yourself. As long as you don’t start like that, and not have a plan of how you’re going to get out of that.
Because that’s what happens to many private practice owners and business owners in general. That’s what I did was you start like that, and then you end up in this, rut? And it’s so difficult to get out of it because you’re in the survival mode of thinking. Because you need to get the next invoice in, in order to pay this and then you pay this and then you need the next invoice. It’s like it never ends you in this hamster wheel and you keep running and running and you can’t get off.
Whereas if you have a plan that you say, okay, it’s fine. I’m going to start as a sole proprietor, and I’m maybe just gonna do my own billing because I only have a few patients. But my plan is that in X amount of time, I want to have at least 10 recurring patients, which means my revenue should be roughly Y. And that means I’m going to allocate that portion of expense to maybe a billing software. Now I’m going to sign up to a software so that my invoicing can be quicker. But as soon as my revenue rate reaches X amount, I’m now going to upgrade it to a full service or a practice manager.
But if you don’t have a plan and you don’t know what your key performance indicators are then you’re always going to stay on that hamster wheel. And I think part of the big problem is that health professionals, don’t like to think about money, they don’t like to think about profits and processes. One thing that I’m trying to drill through everyone’s mind is that revenue does not equal profit.
Because like I said, in my digital marketing business, I was making revenue. I thought I was getting rich. But actually I wasn’t, I couldn’t even pay myself, because I was running my business so poorly. I was making all this money but because I was running my business so poorly, the money was seeping out.
Unpaid accounts was a biggest cause of that. Cash is king. And if you don’t have good cash flow, then your business is failing. So it’s because we as health professionals, have this thing of, we mustn’t want to be rich. And nobody’s saying you must be like, Kim Kardashian here. We just saying you need to be able to have profit and there nothing wrong with wanting to have a profitable business. Because otherwise, then you are charity, then you might as well just be a charity. And make your mind set, right that you are now a charity.
What is your advise regarding marketing a private practice?
I think a lot of healthcare professionals think of marketing as selling. And selling, makes you feel like all sleazy and salesy is like, I want people to think I’m just after their money. Because I feel if I’m marketing my services, I want you to buy my stuff. And I don’t want to feel like that.
But in terms of wanting to get more patients you mustn’t think of marketing as selling. You actually re-frame it, and think of it as serving. Because if what you are offering is going to help somebody and what you do or offer is going to help them you it is your ethical responsibility to make your services known to them. And that is what marketing is at the end of the day.
And I think if you re-frame it like that, the way you do your marketing will be ethical. that is the whole point of the Health Professional Council’s ethics guidelines. It’s to serve the public, if you serve the public with information and guidance, and let them know that their problems can be overcome. If they, use certain services, then you are serving the public. And in that way, you will be ethical in your marketing, and you will get more business.
We all know that saying you can’t pour from an empty cup. And professionals are like the priests of that saying. They tell all their patients that. But then you need to take your medicine and as well you also can’t pour from an empty cup.
So now you start your business and you close because now you’re not profitable. Then who are you serving, you’re no good to anybody. If you if you’re going to close or if you’re going to be miserable, then you’re not going to be a very good therapist. If you’re a psychologist treating somebody with depression and you’re depressed because, your life is falling apart because your practice is in a shambles, then how are you serving your patients? So absolutely. I think it’s all about framing and perspective and how you think about something.
Did you have a mentor or someone to show you the ropes?
I think that different people play different roles plays different roles in your life? So my parents first of all, because they’ve always been the kind of parents to be very open to trying new things. So I think my parents have been a huge influence in being open to new things. And like I said, my mother was always a giver. So that’s why I’m why helper archetype.
So if I think like in at UCT, there was a lecturer there who exposed me to this whole concept of occupational enrichment, occupational deprivation. And that further kind of like, influenced my thinking in how, you need to explore your different interests, nobody’s uni-dimensional you need to expose yourself to different kinds of occupations and activities and ways of being. So that was in my formative years as a student.
And then I think my coaches as well, so I had two different coaches at different stages. The one was a high performance coach, and that was more around like developing confidence. It might seem like a confident people come across confident but it doesn’t mean that they are confident. So even though I’ve been an OT for years, I still feel like I don’t know, how I passed my exams. And I don’t really know what I’m doing when I do actually is just, that’s how I feel. And so that one coach was really big in helping me, I still struggled with it. But now I have the tools to kind of overcome it when I recognize that I’m experiencing that.
And then the second coach I had was more about business, online business and lot around money mindset. So there were different people at different stages that had an influence on how I think and feel.
And then I would also say that it’s so important to have what I call a Bus bestie. So I have a friend who is also an entrepreneur, and we are business besties. We don’t hang out and know each other’s families and all that. But we on WhatsApp all the time, if something happens in my life or business, I can, sit on a soapbox and leave her a 10 minute voice note. And she doesn’t have to reply, it’s fine. I celebrate wins with her. Because nobody is an island.