Thinking about a GP clinic partnership? Here’s what I’ve learned

Maria Boulton

4/01/2019 3:09:15 PM

GP and practice owner Dr Maria Boulton writes about how to make sure business partnership will go the distance.

Dr Maria Boulton (right) and Dr Fiona Raciti have found sharing the same values and work ethic goes a long way in a successful business partnership.
Dr Maria Boulton (right) and Dr Fiona Raciti have found sharing the same values and work ethic goes a long way in a successful business partnership.

Business partnerships are like marriages – great when they work, but hard when they don’t. And like the property settlement following a marriage break-up, dissolving a business partnership can be expensive, tedious and stressful.
So how can you ensure your business partnership will go the distance?
I have worked as a GP for 16 years now, and have worked under numerous business setups – everything from solo owners, partnerships, non-doctor owners and now as a clinic owner.
I have witnessed firsthand successful and non-successful setups.
My business partner, Dr Fiona Raciti, and I founded Family Doctors Plus in Brisbane two and a half years ago. Since then, I have found the major benefit of a partnership arrangement is having someone else to share the load. Running a business is time-consuming work that we must do on top of our clinical duty of caring for patients.
How did I know our partnership would work? Fiona was a registrar in a clinic I worked at. As we worked together, we quickly realised the way we cared for our patients, our clinical decision-making and communication skills were very similar. We became not only friends, but trusted colleagues.
So, for me, going into partnership with Fiona was an easy decision. We share the same values and work ethic. 
We did not enter the partnership with the idea that things may go wrong, but nor were we naïve. It is always possible that something can go wrong.
The very first step in building our clinic was speaking to our accountant and lawyer to discuss what corporate structure would work.
We drew up a contract detailing everything from what would happen to the business if one of us wanted to leave, could no longer work, or died. We also included provisions in case one or both of our respective marriages were to end.
Once we had that legal understanding, we set to work on the business.
We started our clinic from scratch, building our patient base, team and brand name from the ground up. We had many meetings before we set up the business to discuss our clinic model, what we wanted the clinic to look like, who we wanted to work with, and what our point of difference in healthcare would be.
As every new business owner will tell you, the first few years of starting a business includes a lot of expenses and not much profit. There is also the financial risk that you undertake when buying or setting up a business, including loans, medical equipment, insurance, and a number of other expenses.
We were working seven days a week in the first year.
We also had to grow into our new roles of business owners and learn how to manage employees. I found that sharing the workload, risk and experience with Fiona was very helpful, especially when managing my work–life balance.
Now when I go on a holiday I can relax in the knowledge that Fiona is at work holding the fort. Our clinic has also benefitted from our combined energy, ideas and positive attributes we each bring to the business.
We have regular meetings between us and our staff, where we discuss the day-to-day running of the business. This is important to ensure we are all on the same page, and also allows us the opportunity to discuss new ideas for the business.
We also care for each other and the members of our team.
The key lesson I have learned in this journey is to carefully consider your business setup options and decide what will work best in your particular circumstances.
If, like me, you decide to go into a partnership, make sure that you know that person well.
Fiona and I are different in many ways, we have different skills. But, for the most part, we have found we complement each other.
Plus, we are similar where it counts – our values, work ethic and business aims.
Whatever arrangement you enter into, I recommend you obtain quality legal advice to help you aim for the best but prepare for the worst. You never want a business relationship to go sour, or your partner to leave. But if this happens, it’s best to be prepared.
I truly enjoy going to work every day and am lucky to have the best business partner and greatest friend in Fiona. It has been a rollercoaster two and a half years for us, and it has been a pleasure sharing that time with Fiona.

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Dr Jeanne Maree Carpenter   6/01/2019 1:03:24 PM

Very well said and valuable advice.