Dr Qian Xu outlines the pros and cons of working for yourself versus working for an established clinic
Moving from the comforts of the hospital environment to the world of aesthetics can be a big shock to the system for most healthcare professionals. Many new practitioners may prefer to look for a familiar environment and seek a job in a well-established aesthetics clinic, whilst some who are able to make a financial investment may prefer to set up their own clinic. Like a lot of other aesthetic practitioners, I have chosen the latter. This is because I have always wanted to build something for myself to have the freedom to decide when to work and how much to work; I didn’t just want to go from one job into another job. It has been a tough six years, but it has also been hugely rewarding. This article is aimed at those starting out in their career as I will discuss the pros and cons of working for yourself, as opposed to working for a business that is already well-established within the aesthetics specialty.
A lot of healthcare professionals are drawn to aesthetics because of the thought of a better work-life balance. If you can earn more while working less hours, with no night shifts, then it’s a no-brainer. By setting up your own business you will be in charge of your own patients, you will have absolute control over when you want to work and how much you want to work. You don’t have to book patients in the evenings or weekends if you don’t want to. If you work in a clinic, you will have less choice over your working hours and workload.
Many clinics do open in the evenings and weekends, as those are the most popular times for people to attend. So, it’s highly likely that you will be required to work some of those shifts for the clinic. Having said that, working for yourself is not exactly nine to five either. Seeing the patients is the easy part. It is all the business-related activities that will actually take up most of your time. If you are aware of this when you first start and build your business in a smart way, you can ensure that your clinic will grow without it taking up more and more of your time.
If you work independently, you get to decide your own prices. Whilst some may think ‘Great – I can charge four times the cost of the product!’ you mustn’t forget that as you are running your own business, you also need to pay for other things such as rent, insurance, utility bills, advertising and training. Because of this, it can be very normal for a practitioner to not be making any profit at all in the first year, or even the second year of business, which can become frustrating when starting out.
Working in an existing clinic would be very different. You are working for someone else and will be paid a set amount of money for doing a set amount of work each month. Commonly, a clinic will pay you by the hour and there may be commission-based opportunities. If you want a regular pay cheque, then I would say that working in an established clinic is for you.
If you apply for a clinic job, the clinic location is obviously fixed. Some more well-known chains have clinics in different locations that you may be able to work from and these clinics are already stocked with everything you need; so you can just turn up to work and do your job. The patients you see will belong to the clinic. Your contract is likely to prevent you from taking those patients with you when you leave, and it may also specify that you can’t work for another clinic or for yourself within a certain radius of the clinic.
This wouldn’t be an issue if you set up on your own. If you have multiple locations, you can give your patients the choice of where to see you. There are a number of factors you will need to consider when looking for your own clinic space including requirements of the premises which would need to be explored separately.1,2
How to market your services appropriately and effectively is the thing that every practitioner struggles with; we are clinicians after all, not marketers. This is why sometimes working in a clinic can be more appealing, so you can focus on what you do best, and someone with marketing experience is appointed for that line of work. Indeed, larger clinics often have a whole marketing team dedicated to this with a much larger marketing budget than you. So how can you, an individual practitioner, compete with them? As an independent practitioner, if you try to tackle marketing in the same way as the big clinic chains, you may lose a lot of money very quickly. This is because no one knows about you or your brand. Your reputation and brand identity can take a long time to build. If someone likes you and wants what you offer, then they will buy and refer their friends. I’d recommend that networking and ‘getting yourself out there’ is the best way to market yourself. I have found that hosting and attending networking events is usually very successful as patients like to meet you in person rather than just through Instagram, for example.
There is no denying that working alone can be extremely lonely and sometimes access to supervision and mentoring is still very limited. While it is possible now to have clinical mentoring as part of the Level 7 qualification, the quality of continuous support is extremely variable. For non-prescribers, finding a prescriber to support your work can also be a huge challenge, unless you already know a prescriber.
Most people think that they would be better supported if they work in a clinic and one of the positive things about working in a clinic is that it can feel less lonely having other practitioners to work alongside, and be part of a team, who can cross-cover for each other in case of emergencies or holidays.
Usually, when having your own business (where you are the only employee), no one can cover for you, so you could get called at any time to deal with a problem. This is the risk that you must be prepared to take to do this kind of work. In reality, complications are extremely rare and patients are usually happy to work around your holidays. So, this has never been an issue for me. Having said that, I do believe that every practitioner should have an experienced aesthetic practitioner they can call for help and advice, regardless of your experience and qualifications. Knowing you have the support of your peers can only be a benefit.
There are a number of considerations you must take into account when starting out and deciding if you want to work for yourself or as part of a larger, perhaps more established brand. In a speciality where it is very common to work for yourself, I would say that although it can be daunting at the beginning, having the autonomy to decide who you want to treat, when you want to see them and how much you want to charge for your time is worth the time, money and effort that you put in.
Being an independent practitioner doesn’t mean you have to be all alone. Networking is a great way of making new friends, inside and outside of the aesthetics sector. Don’t just post in Facebook forums, try to meet people in person.