Irish Women in Business: The Inspirational Lorraine O’Reilly Of Physiofusion
For the latest in our series of features focusing on Irish Women in Business, we’re talking to Lorraine O’Reilly owner of Physiofusion in Dublin City Centre.
Here, the talented 35-year-old explains to Her.ie all about starting up the business, how she got involved in the area, working with the FAI and how the last five years have been.
Tell us about yourself and how you got an interest in this area.
As a teenager, I was always very interested in sports- both through participation and also watching every type of sport on television. I thought that the team physio had a fantastic job, working with elite sportspeople, experiencing the dressing room dramas and being involved in sport on a day to day basis.
I also did some work experience with some physiotherapists and loved how they understood so much about how the human body works, and how they could treat pain with their hands and no drugs.
How did you turn this interest into a career?
I completed my Bachelor degree in Physiotherapy in UCD in 2001 and went on to work in a Cork hospital for two years before travelling to the University of Queensland in Australia to complete a Masters Degree in Manipulative Physiotherapy.
This was the best career decision I have made to date, as it is a highly-regarded degree which opened many doors for me on my return to Ireland. I was fortunate to work with many inspiring physios over the years who have helped me with my career development.
I have worked as a rugby team physiotherapist for eight years, and then switched to football with the FAI in 2010. I travel with the women's underage international teams to European championships and other fixtures. I like to think it keeps me young, although I haven't worked out the tap peak of Snapchat yet!
When did you establish the business?
We began the background work of setting up the business in 2009 and opened our doors to our first clients in January 2010 just off Upper Leeson Street, at 16 Warners Lane in Dublin.
What was the inspiration behind the business?
The concept behind Physiofusion was to 'fuse' several different aspects of physiotherapy. I had a huge interest in the treatment of sports injuries, and my business partner Audrey's main clinical interest area is the management of osteoporosis as well as general rehabilitation.
We both have considerable experience in the treatment of neck, back, shoulder, knee pain etc, and so a general clinic which offered specialised services was the concept behind the name.
I had trained as a Pilates instructor while in Australia, and I saw the huge benefits which it held for people who had previously been experiencing recurrent back pain. I wanted to work in an environment with studio space where I could synchronise or implement both 'hands-on' physiotherapy with exercise based rehabilitation and pilates.
My business partner Audrey was also keen to change direction and as women, we both wanted more autonomy in matters of work/life balance, the environment that we worked in, and to have the opportunity and space to provide classes which would synchronise our pilates teaching with our physiotherapy knowledge.
At the beginning, what was your aim for the business and have you achieved this?
At the beginning, our original goal was to build up the clinic to a point where we could employ both administrative and physiotherapy staff, and to introduce new services for our clients such as specialised back pain, osteoporosis and pregnancy pilates classes.
We aimed to grow our reputation as a high quality physiotherapy clinic through client recommendation and referral, and to eventually be in a position where we could design a working week that could accommodate a home life and attain some work/life balance if we were to have children down the line - which we are now both fortunate to have.
Did you ever expect that this idea would turn into a successful business?
We were confident that we were offering a high quality of patient care, and we approached our planning with that mindset from the beginning. Looking back to 2009, we were very innocent and naive about the precarious position a new business would be in during the height of the recession.
However we were conscious that even during a recession, people continue to get injured, develop back pain and will need to seek pain relief, so through hard work and long hours we built up our client base to the busy clinic we have today.
How did you get to this point?
We have been very fortunate to have fantastic and loyal clients, who have referred many new clients to us through word of mouth. Word of mouth is very important in healthcare, as people in pain feel vulnerable and want to go to someone they trust from the outset.
We have also benefitted from developing relationships with local GPs and orthopaedic consultants who now refer many clients to us. It is just as well really, as we have not had time for marketing and advertising as we had originally planned for in the business plan!
Having exceptional staff is a requirement for a small, service driven industry such as ours, and we have been very fortunate to have built up such a fantastic team at Physiofusion.
How did you find building up a business from scratch?
As physiotherapists, we had no background in business training, and so it has been tough developing the skills necessary to run our own business. Both Audrey and myself attended the FAS 'Start your own business' course, however it was a drop in the ocean of what is really involved. When you run your own small business, you have to be Head of Accounts, Head of HR, Head of Payroll, Head of Maintenance, Head of Procurement, Head of Business Development, Head of Marketing and much more!
We have found it frustrating at times to learn business lessons the hard way, and we have not found any support at policy level for the self-employed or small business owners. The rates of Employer PRSI are quite punitive for small businesses and are a deterrent against job creation.
What is a normal working day for you (does it even exist)?
A normal working day involves roughly six hours of patient contact: physiotherapy sessions and pilates classes. We work shift hours of either 8am to 2pm or 2pm until 9pm. I have a seven-month-old baby now, so I get up at 6.30am, shower and have breakfast, drop her to the childminder for 7.30am and see my first client at 8am.
The day can be exceptionally busy and although I try to schedule two short breaks during the working day, these are usually filled with phone calls, emails, liaising with the clinic manager re: ordering equipment, client enquiries and administration. I tend to eat very regularly during the day as we burn quite a lot of calories as it is a physical job!
I leave the clinic to go straight to the childminders, and often spend a further two to three hours at home writing exercise programmes and letters to GPs.
What has been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge to date has been trying to keep on top of business development amidst a busy clinical caseload. It is easy to get caught up in the day to day issues of treating patients and running the clinic, and to lose the focus of developing the business to reach its full potential.
What has been your best moment to date?
The best moment as a business was hiring our first employee! It was a sign that the business was growing and developing, and was a significant day in our history.
Working at the London Olympics and on the South African Rugby team have been career highlights.
What do you think makes your business unique?
As a physiotherapy clinic, we have tried to set ourselves apart by employing only highly-experienced staff, who we feel 'fit' the friendly and personal level of care in Physiofusion.
Lee, Jen and Sarah Jane who are our physiotherapy colleagues in the clinic all have Masters Degrees in Physiotherapy - which is rare to find in this industry.
Many clients have commented that the reason they recommend our clinic to others is that we offer a very personal service. Our clinic manager Samantha is the cornerstone of the successful smooth running of the clinic on a day to day basis and she knows almost all of our clients by name. I am convinced some people arrive early for their appointment just to chat with her! A good clinic manager is worth their weight in gold.
What is the best thing about the work you do?
It is extraordinarily rewarding to see the effect of your work as a healthcare professional in improving the quality of life of people who have been in pain. My working day flies by as I spend it with a wide diversity of clients, from Ironmen competitors to the active osteoporosis class members, and working with people is a fantastic way to spend the day.
I wouldn't do anything else.
What comes next for you as a businesswoman?
We are looking to expand our additional services at the clinic this year. We have just introduced new Mother & Baby services at the clinic, including Caesarian Section Pilates classes, as well as Baby Massage and Baby First Aid workshops, so we will need to focus on marketing those areas, as well as the new vestibular rehabilitation services.
I am aiming to resume my work with the FAI in the coming months, working as team physiotherapist with the Under 19 Women's Football team who were so successful last year in the European Finals.
With my business partner Audrey expecting her second child in May, it will be a busy year ahead for us all!