Building a business from the ground up can be a daunting exercise in any industry. For people looking to build their business within the NDIS, there can be a range of challenges unique to the industry that need to be addressed.
For support workers that work hard to provide a caring and personable service to participants, the added bits and pieces of business can often get forgotten. If you are new to the NDIS industry or are an experienced support worker that is making the move to self-employment, this article will help cover some influential tips to building your business.
- Policies, procedures & protection
There is no doubt that the NDIS is a heavily regulated industry and in many respects, it needs to be. For you as a business owner in the industry, navigating your way through these formalities comes with the territory.
Building up a bank of policies, procedures and documentations designed to protect you and your clients is an important foundation to growing your business. It is a little bit of a time-consuming exercise but the benefits of getting it right early on far outweigh the pain.
Here’s what you will likely get out of taking the time to document how you do what you do:
- Clear communication: Once you have a clearly defined and written documents for how you work and what you will and won’t do, it becomes very easy to clearly communicate these boundaries to your clients.
- Avoid disagreements or disputes: Without a doubt, the best way to avoid disagreements is to have a clearly written and defined set of policies and procedures. Giving these to your client’s up front demonstrates your professionalism and highlights how, when, where and why your service will be provided. It can also be used to document what happens in the unfortunate event that things don’t go to plan.
- Protect you, your business and your clients: Let’s say hypothetically you’re working with a participant that requires manual handling. Perhaps the participant has a certain process for how that should work that isn’t the same process you use. By documenting your process and making it clear how you work, it may highlight problems early on. Highlighting common concerns or circumstances in a documented process is the best way to protect everyone.
Here are some examples of the policies and procedures you may want to incorporate into your business:
- Service Agreements: These are agreements between your business and the participant you will be providing supports to. This is one of the most important agreements as it will set out the details of the supports you intend on providing. This is the best opportunity to be very clear about everything that will and won’t be included in the service.
- Safeguarding: Providing safe working environments is incredibly important, especially when the work may be undertaken in a public place or in the participants home.
- Confidentiality: When working with participants, it is common that you will have access to personal information that requires the highest level of professional confidentiality. Having clear and concise processes for protecting the confidentiality of your clients is very important.
- Intellectual property: Depending on the nature of the service you are providing, there might be intellectual property that comes into play. If this is your intellectual property, it may be worth considering what steps you want to take to ensure you’re protected in how, when and where the information is distributed.
- NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission: The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission is an independent agency established to improve the quality and safety of NDIS supports and services. They regulate NDIS providers, provide national consistency, promote safety and quality services, resolve problems and identify areas for improvement. They have a wealth of resources on their website that you can access to improve your business operations, check them out here.
The National Disability Services organisation has some good resources and templates for relevant policies and procedures, it’s a great place to start.
- Business planning & setting goals
Business planning and goal setting is one of the most powerful and yet least utilised tool to get your business to where you want it to be. Plans don’t need to be long and detailed before they start to take effect, in fact the shorter the plan or the more achievable the goal, the more likely you are to stick to it.
All too often business owners put off the task of planning because it is seen as boring and a waste of time without delivering any immediate results.
Here’s a stat that demonstrates why that ‘boring’ task of planning might pay off in the future. A study was conducted on Harvard MBA graduates that showed only 3% of the class had written goals and concrete plans to achieve them. 10 years later, the 3% of the class who had written goals and had a plan were making 10 times as much as the other 97% of the class.
If that’s not the greatest small business hack of all time, then I don’t know what is. The stats show that only 3% of businesses set and review goals but just by doing so and putting it down in writing, gives you a huge leg up on everyone else.
The frameworks for setting goals and making plans are well established and there are a range of online tools that can help.
As far as goals are concerned, the well-established SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) principle is the best place to start. As with all things it will feel new and awkward to start with, but the more you do it, the better you will get at it and the more goals you will be achieving.
When it comes to planning the options are endless and it’s easy to get lost in the maze. My strategy is to always try to keep it to one A4 piece of paper. Any longer, it’s highly unlikely I am going to review it as often as I should. I then physically carry the page around with me along with my computer and try to re-read it as often as I can.
- Pricing your services
While one of the many benefits to being self-employed is the freedom to set your own rates, there are a few considerations within the NDIS industry. One of the key factors that will affect your pricing is the NDIS price guides.
The NDIS price guides are a set price limit that is applied to some supports by the NDIA. The price list sets out the maximum amount that can be charged for specific supports and is there to ensure participants get good value for money. You can check out the price guides here to see if there is a price limit on the services you provide.
When you are setting your pricing, it’s not necessarily the price limit you want to be charging, remembering that those are capped limits rather then industry standards. Those limits apply across the board also, so if you are providing services to a registered provider and you charge them the price limit, they won’t make any money from the work.
The best method is to work with your clients and price your services appropriately depending on the type of work you are delivering and the value the participant is receiving.
- Growing the business
Growth comes in many forms and be careful if you start googling business growth because your Facebook feed will quickly be swamped with ad’s to scale your business.
For the purpose of this article I am going to be talking about small incremental developments that fit in with your plans & goals. Growth can sound attractive but if it’s not actually in alignment to what you are trying to achieve, it can have the opposite effect. It’s important to set down your game plan and have these parameters built in to help guide you along the way.
- Online presence: Building an online presence is a powerful way to amplify your message to a wider audience. The key to online marketing is to build your profile to express who you are and what you do from your customers perspective. You can start by using free social media platforms to tell your story, such as Facebook & LinkedIn.
- Brand & Branding: Brand and branding are two very different things and it’s important to understand the differences if you are going to be growing your business. Branding is referring to the physical representations of your business such as logo’s, business cards, websites etc. Brand on the other hand refers to all the intangible expressions of your business. For example, the feelings someone has when they come into contact with you or your business, the conversations that happen when you’re not there, what people think of when they see your logo. Building a powerful brand is far more important then the physical logo’s and last a lot longer.
- Building your reputation: Your clients should always be treated with the highest level of respect regardless of the industry you’re in and participants in the NDIS need the same level of care. Building your reputation can be as simple as doing the little things right, through reliability, consistency and quality of your service and the time you spend with participants.
- Managing expectations: One of the most effective ways to ensure your client is getting the service you have agreed on, is to set the expectations upfront. It’s best to have an interview in person to get to know them and their needs while coming to an agreement on the service.
- Business reporting
Being able to build your business from the ground up requires you to have a strong appreciation for what’s growing the business. Reports are essential to keeping an eye on the health of your business from a range of perspectives. It’s a natural part of being self-employed that you will have to wear many hats and having high quality reports is about making sure you can manage all those balls in the air at once.
Here are some of the key reports that will help you stay on top of the numbers as you start to grow your business:
- Invoice / Sales Report: This type of report will help you track the money you have coming into the business based on the invoices or sales you have generated.
- Debtor Report: A debtor report goes hand in hand with an invoice report to highlight which invoices have not yet being paid. This allows you to follow-up with reminders that your invoice is due.
- Expense Report: Tracking your expenses allows you to stay on top of what’s going out of the business and becomes important to have the correct records when it comes to claiming tax deductions.
- Financial Summaries: A financial summary typically takes a combined look at what’s happening in the business in terms of both income and expenses. By comparing both sets of information, this gives you a better overall picture of the business.
- Sales & Marketing: If you actively promote your business it’s important to monitor and track your activity and performance metrics. This helps you analyse where most of your business comes from and what types of marketing and sales activities are working best.