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Helping People Through Self-Employment

Austen Lincoln is an Occupational Therapist and Owner of Steps 2 Grow, LLC in Portland, Oregon. Steps 2 Grow offers pediatric occupational therapy to children from birth to five years old. Their goal is to enhance development and minimize the potential for delays through direct treatment and caregiver education and empowerment.

When and why did you join the NASE?
I joined NASE in 2020 on the recommendation of my accountant! I joined to be part of a community of small businesses to make the world of entrepreneurship a little less lonely.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?
It took me a while to figure out that occupational therapy (OT) was “the how” in fulfilling my childhood dream job of “helping people.” Multiple dance and gymnastics related injuries as a younger person drove my interest in medicine, nursing, and physical therapy. But when I heard about OT (a relatively unknown career) as an almost junior at University of Southern California, I knew that was the best fit for me and the balanced lifestyle I wanted to pursue. After practicing for a number of years and experiencing the demand for OT services, I decided to build my own practice offering in-home services to the Portland, OR area, as well as virtual services that could reach more families.

When and why did you start your business?
I started my business part time in 2016 as I transitioned out of my OT role at a pediatric clinic. When I started hearing parents tell me that getting to the therapy clinic was becoming too burdensome for the whole family, and then saw parents drop their kiddo off for therapy and take advantage of 45 minutes for errands or picking up the other child (though I totally get it!), I knew this was not an ideal arrangement for nurturing the learning and growth of a child. It was lacking the family involvement needed for true learning and retention of new skills. So, I created a mobile therapy practice. I hit the road and did the driving for these families, eliminating the scheduling and shuffling mess. In 2018, my practice Steps 2 Grow started offering a full time family centered, naturalized, and flexible therapy option for families in the comfort of their own home. Since then, I have added new services such as virtual consults and online courses to meet the varying needs of young families navigating child development all around the world. I guess you could say my thought process was as simple as identifying a need, and being the solution!

How do you market your business?
Considering my business is a hybrid of direct occupational therapy services and virtual consultative and educational resources, I use a blend of marketing strategies. As an in-network insurance provider with many insurance companies, Steps 2 Grow is listed in their provider directories. This drives most of our inquiries for in-home occupational therapy for kids. Word of mouth has also been very effective in generating interest and scheduling clients. As for the online component to Steps 2 Grow, social media and email marketing are my primary methods for connecting with families. I am very active on Instagram (@steps2grow), and my website hosts a number of free resources that invite parents to join my newsletter and email list. My next marketing project is to connect personally with professionals who interact with and care for expecting and new parents, as my online course was developed to guide them through their developing baby’s sensory motor needs.

What challenges have you faced in your business?
Self-employment hasn’t always been everything it is hyped up to be. There have been so many times when I felt burnt out on driving to my clients’ homes day in and day out, the very foundation upon which my entire business was built. There were times when I just did not want to talk to another insurance company about a denied claim. There were times when I had too many families I wanted to help and I exhausted myself, self-inflicting the stress I was so excited about avoiding by being self-employed. And now there are times when I feel completely exhausted by social media and being a tiny fish in a large ocean trying to make it in the virtual business world.

I finally realized I couldn’t do it all by myself anymore (even though I wanted to!) and I needed help. I added 2 other OT’s to my team who are providing mobile OT services to families around the Portland, OR metro area. I continue to see some clients virtually, but with their help, I now have the opportunity to shift my focus to new business expansions. One of those expansions is an online course that launched in March 2021 for parents-to-be/new parents on how to optimize their baby’s neurological wellness and developmental success starting at birth, in an effort to prevent some of the developmental delays that we see so prevalent in homes today.

I am also working on an online course for pediatric therapists that will guide them through the exact steps I took to build and run a successful insurance-based private practice, so that more therapists can get out there and support families where they need it the most.

These most recent ventures have taught me one of my biggest lessons on this entrepreneurial journey: to just stay in my lane. It is incredibly easy to compare yourself to other business owners and entrepreneurs in the same field, and fall prey to imposter syndrome thinking things like “What do I know?” or “Am I good enough to be doing this?” or “Who’s going to listen to me when that person already does something similar?” Apparently many high achieving and successful people experience imposter syndrome. What I am learning is that if I just do me, just stay in Austen’s lane, and compare me to me, it helps me maintain the inspiration and motivation to keep adventuring forward. I don’t really know where the road will go from here. Maybe it will be continued growth on the clinical side, or maybe we will be successful as a virtually based support system for parents and kids. Wherever it leads, I plan to enjoy each step of the way!

Do you have any employees?
I have two part time licensed occupational therapist contractors, and they both see a few families per week. I would love to continue growing and supporting more families, and maybe even expand into other disciplines like physical or speech therapy.

What’s your schedule like, what’s a typical day for you?
A typical day for me starts around 5:30. First thing on the agenda is moving my body, and that is usually doing a HIIT workout on YouTube, or jogging in the woods with my dog, Abe. Whatever the workout is, I do it outside and get natural light on my retinas first thing. Then I sit in the sauna for 13 minutes, take a cold shower, drink my celery juice, and have a nourishing smoothie. I love my morning routine, and it gets me excited and energized for the work day ahead. One day a week I see all my virtual clients back to back. The other days of the week I work on social media content (it is deceivingly time consuming!), networking, marketing emails, blog posts, and new projects. I like the variety, it keeps things interesting and I never get bored.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
My aunt Jill Bolte Taylor, a successful author and speaker, told me years ago to “do what you are passionate about, and the money will follow.” I followed that advice, and although money is not what I was after (I went into occupational therapy after all!), I got to a place where I could do what I love, set my own hours, and afford a comfortable life without the stress of climbing the corporate ladder from 9-5 everyday (no offense to those who do that!). I found flexibility and freedom, and have the ability to spend my time the way I want to. That makes me so happy!

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?
Tough question, because I have two different clients: the child, and the parent! There have been many parents who have texted me between sessions celebrating an achievement or a difference they have noticed in their child. Many parents have also told me I am the main reason for their child’s current success. Though compliments of my therapy style and efficacy are definitely satisfying, I think the most gratifying compliment has not been based on specific words, but based in my relationships with the kids. When I visit homes, it is a frequent occurrence to have a kiddo run out and greet me in excitement, eager to see what I brought in my therapy toy suitcase, and ready to play and learn new things. It was also typical to get birthday party invitations from them. I have always been flattered that kids often think of me as a friend they can confide in, and a playmate, rather than another adult trying to help them do what they already know they can’t do.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?
Over my 5 years of self-employment, I have learned the value in being someone’s solution. I noticed that families had trouble getting to the clinic and implementing activities from the clinic in their home. I decided to solve that problem, and took a minimalist mobile clinic to them providing simple home program ideas that could be built into their busy routines. So, I would advise potential entrepreneurs to think about what problem they are going to solve, or what need they are going to fill, instead of jumping right into what to sell. When we know what problems our target audience is having, we can figure out how to solve them, and there will be clients ready for the help!

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?
Growth Grants! I was the lucky recipient of one, and plan to continue to be a member of NASE to help support this benefit for other entrepreneurs.

Any other information you would like to share?
I love connecting with other business owners, and would love to hear from anyone who has similar interests! Feel free to visit me online at www.steps2grow.com, and on Instagram @steps2grow.

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Courtesy of NASE.org
https://www.nase.org/about-us/media-relations/News/nase-in-the-news/2021/05/20/helping-people-through-self-employment