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October, 2011

Competitor or Associate?

Part 1 of 2 Parts

By Lawton W. Howell

Regardless of the size of your practice, you should have a plan to expand your practice with associates. As a solo practitioner, you are limited in the size of your practice. But when you have associates, you can break through the glass ceiling and, more importantly, prevent creating one more competitive colleague. The profession is filled with horror stories of the problems and failures of recruiting, employing, training and retaining associates. You can successfully impact your future when you adopt sound business principles for the associate employment process.

Failure to develop associates for your brand of chiropractic will impact the following:

  • Hamper and restrict your personal lifestyle choices
  • Affect patient-centric care access and protocols
  • Limit your exit strategy
  • Increase you inability to develop affiliate sites for your brand of chiropractic
  • Increase the number of competitive colleagues in your marketplace

Profit Center

An associate should not be viewed as an overhead or expense. In reality, an associate can function as a profit center when you construct your associate program correctly. While there are a number of ways that an associate can serve this role as a profit center and not an expense, let's examine a few:

  • You can expand your office hours to make it more convenient for patients to keep their commitments, using the associate to cover those office hours you prefer to avoid; for example, lunch time, Saturdays or Sundays, or early-morning or late-evening hours.
  • Your associate can become part of your marketing team by performing spinal screenings and external lectures in the market-place to attract additional new patients.
  • The associate can help deliver patient-education workshops.
  • The associate can administrate rehabilitation or physical therapy programs.
  • The associate can be-come involved in networking groups.
  • The associate can cover your office hours as needed for vacations or discretionary time, instead of you having to employ day cov-erage.
  • The associate can be groomed to provide you with an exit strategy at retirement, whether by choice or by force.
  • The associate can be trained to open an additional office as an equity partner to extend the reach of your brand.

Hiring an Associate: The Time Frame

The best time to begin the process of employing an associate is today, even if you don't believe you need one. The first huge mistake that leads to failure and frustration is not allowing adequate time to recruit and screen candidates for a position.

Often what occurs is that a decision is made to add an associate to the team and then there is a rush to find someone. Don't rush the selection process. Frankly, it is not uncommon for it to take six months to find the right candidate who is congruent with your brand of chiropractic. In fact, the best policy is to have a continuous process of recruiting and screening candidates.

You just never know when you will need an associate. Better to be prepared with a folder of qualified candidates, rather than needing to find one quickly.


Before you begin the process of recruiting, you must work the numbers. Begin with the associate's responsibilities; you need to develop a compensation package that will include salary, incentives and benefits.

Once you know the amount you will need to invest to employ an associate, you then must project the offsetting revenue en-hancement you expect.

Much like new equipment (you only purchase or lease the equipment if you expect it to generate more revenue than your in-vestment), people are no different. There are a number of important factors that will contribute to your compensation package, in-cluding geography and responsibilities. For example, the compensation offered to a technician associate who will primarily only perform patient care will be different than the associate that you expect to host spinal-screening events and deliver lectures in the community.


Next, develop a recruitment brochure about your brand of chiropractic and what is expected from your associates. Make sure to include demographic information and images about the lifestyle in your marketplace, and have a photo tour of your office from the exterior to the interior.

Show examples of your marketing and your community outreach support. Support this brochure with a Web site that shares your "story" and why they should have an interest in joining your practice. Include all the information in your printed brochure and you can do a video tour of the office instead of photos.

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