Top Tips For Building a Healthcare Business From Scratch
Making the leap from a business plan to a fully operating company with customers and employees is an exhilarating journey. There is nothing more exciting and empowering than building a business. Particularly as a woman because you have this added sense of breaking the mould or going against the statistics. With excitement, come some terrifying lows, confidence crises and loneliness. I want to make it one of my personal missions for the negatives not to scare people away.
I have learned so much along the way about how to navigate through a lot of this, and, for this International Women’s Day, I wanted to impart some of the practical tips I’ve picked up along my way to help more aspiring women take the leap too.
Focus focus focus on your users, ignore the economic buyer at first
It can be tempting to run to the economic buyer to sell your product. In healthcare, this can end up in a lot of wasted time and navigating red tape. My advice would be to figure out what your end users want first and give them a product that they can adopt easily. This may mean you need to charge a low price point or even offer it for free but ultimately, if you can create that ground-swell of users, the economic buyers will have to sit up and listen.
For me, this meant starting with GP practice managers and individual doctors. We made the product accessible to users on a small-scale by keeping the price point very low and making it pay as you go, rather than subscription. But as more and more people started using Lantum, major NHS regions bought much larger contracts with us because so many people were already using the service to manage staffing and found it extremely useful. The lesson here is that large economic buyers will take note of what is popular amongst users and are more likely to invest when you build from the ground-up. Even though it feels like the slower route, it’s actually much quicker and a more effective way to grow.
Keep close to your stakeholders
While my advice is to focus on your end users as your number one priority, don’t forget your stakeholders. In healthcare, there are multiple stakeholders who have the potential to block your project. Do not ignore them - it will come back to bite you.
Instead, map out all potential stakeholders and keep them engaged throughout your journey. Whilst you might not need them now, establishing good relationships for the future is essential as stakeholders might be policy makers, future employees or potential investors.
Find out what they want to know and update them regularly or ask what you can help them with to develop confidence and trust in your company.
Do the same with potential investors - don’t just go cap in hand when you are running out of money! provide regular updates and demonstrate you have done what you said you would or when you have hit important milestones. This will hugely improve your chances of attracting funding when you go for it and means they can skip the “get to know you” stage when the time is right.
Take the time to understand and navigate NHS budgets
Once you are ready to sell to the economic buyer - i.e. you have a product people love and people are using it repeatedly and scoring you high on NPS - then it is time to engage the person who can pay for your product.
Let’s assume they are impressed with your traction and they are keen to buy your product, that’s fantastic - but do not celebrate the work is far from over! You need to now help them find a way to pay.
The NHS is more complicated than most industries, it's a huge network of organisations that work and depend upon each other in complex ways. If you have decided to embark on building a business to help the system, you have to understand that navigating getting paid is not going to be easy. Now you know this, you can put the work in to mitigate the issue.
There is not one pot of money, there are thousands of pots all over the place, for specific and defined initiatives. Often, your potential customer doesn’t even know how they will buy your product or what pot it should come from. This creates a lot of friction, putting work on the customer and can massively slow down or even halt closing a deal.
Spend time researching, meet with commissioners (CCGs / ICS’s or Commissioning support units) commissioners are the ones who hold the funds, the more you meet, the more you will learn so build up a network and invest time in understanding what kind of budgets are available for the work you are doing. Once you have a clear understanding of this, you can take this to your customers and make it much easier for them to get you up and running.
You will also need to know about Frameworks. Frameworks are preferred suppliers lists that the NHS creates through a rigorous vetting process. The reason for them is so that buyers can buy from this list, knowing that the suppliers are trusted. The downside is that these lists only get created every few years, so if you miss the boat, it can be hard (not impossible but hard) to get visibility with economic buyers. So find out what Frameworks you should be on and apply to get onto them.
Build a support network
One thing I have always done has been to ask people if I don’t know the answer. I sometimes think maybe it's one of the strengths of being a female - a lot of the women I know and look up to are not ashamed to ask for help, more so than the men I know. In any case, gender aside, my network of founders, investors, mentors has helped me solve all sorts of problems - such as “how can I meet more investors” “when is the right time to hire a CFO” “does anyone know any expert in B2B payments'' etc. The larger your network, the more chance you can find someone who has solved this problem before. I am part of a number of WhatsApp and email lists which have been extremely helpful. Importantly - make sure I give back and answer other people’s questions too.
A watershed moment for me was taking a trip to Silicon Valley in 2016 with the Mayor’s International Business Programme. I met an incredible group of female business leaders and formed a network that lasts to this day. With experience in a range of sectors, we provide each other with business advice and personal support. With these ladies I have been introduced to new staff, investors and board members I have shared office space with many of them, and exchanged a lot of laughter, tears and glasses of wine. They have been there for me in a completely unique way, because they truly understand what I am going through as a female founder, in a way my other friends don’t.
So, build a diverse network of as many people as you can, put the time into it, give back and you’ll reap the rewards.