Stepping forward with opening a new business takes guidance and gumption, even for a podiatrist trained to help others walk well. Fortunately, podiatrist Dr. Lori Finn and her husband, office manager Mike Finn, had the guidance of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University, which gave them the courage to open the Finn Foot & Ankle Center on March 4, 2013 in Naples, Fla.

Their journey began when they moved to Fort Myers from Sebring, Fla. in 2005.  The couple had been discussing opening a podiatry practice for some time, but “it was just too scary,” says Lori, explaining that they didn’t know anyone in Southwest Florida.  “It [working for someone else] was easy; so I decided ‘I’ll just work for someone else.’ ” She went to work for a podiatry practice in Fort Myers to earn some money, “to get her ducks in a row,” and to work towards getting her board certification in podiatric surgery, which she attained in 2010.

But the dream of owning their own business never left.  Mike, who at the time was working in the Collier County administration building, was aware of the many start-up business programs that the SBDC offered on-site.  One day, he approached SBDC consultant Julio Estremera and said, “I think we need your help!” Shortly thereafter, Estremera met with the couple and helped them lay the foundation of a new podiatry business by putting together a budget outlining realistic costs  — costs like office space rental and the purchase of medical equipment.

But the sense of urgency to move forward did not reach a tipping point until 2012, when five of the eight staff members at the podiatry practice where Lori worked in Fort Myers all left at the same time.  “We really knew we needed to move along,” she says.

In preparation, the couple had been attending SBDC-sponsored educational events, where they met Dan Regelski, regional director of the SBDC.  During subsequent meetings, Regelski led them through the creation of a business plan and offered encouragement.” A business plan eliminates trap doors and loss that can accrue very quickly,” advises Regelski.

Empowered with the business plan in hand, Mike diligently used local demographic resources to determine the best location for the new podiatric office. With the understanding that they had been approved for a business loan from a local bank, the couple signed a lease in a medical building near the NCH North Naples Hospital campus in February of 2013.  Lori had also given the required 30-day notice to her former employer.  Two weeks later, in an unexpected turn of events, they received an e-mail saying that their business loan had been denied. 

Even though their primary funding source fell through, they opened the office to patients on March 4, 2013.  “Money started to come in little by little [from the business], which was very encouraging,” says Lori.

Regelski reassured them, and quickly worked to help the couple find other funding sources; meanwhile, they approached another local bank where two of their podiatrist friends had successfully obtained financing. “It worked out really well,” says Lori.  “Instead of a loan, we got a line of credit where you use only what you need.” So instead of taking out a $150,000 loan as originally planned, they obtained a $45,000 line of credit, which was approved on April 9, 2013 — about one month after they opened. Fortunately, their house in Fort Myers, which had been for sale for more than a year, also sold in February of 2013, providing them with some extra cash to invest in the business.

And while they are typically at the office from 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. every day, and often on weekends, the couple calls all the hard work a “labor of love.” They are happy to be able to give patients the attention they deserve, something Lori was unable to offer at her previous place of employment.

The two have also made some strategic business decisions.  “It’s an advantage to be in a medical building; we get lots of referrals,” says Mike, adding that about 70 percent of their new patients are referred by existing patients, and 30 percent come from doctors.  “We also wanted to have better relationships with other doctors for [the benefit of] our patients,” says Lori.  Mike also made the decision to weed out insurance companies known for low, and slow, reimbursements.

Profitability-wise, they describe Finn Foot & Ankle Center as being on a “slight trajectory upward.”  Mike and Lori are each full time, and they have two other part-time employees — a receptionist and a bookkeeper.

The couple credits Regelski for helping them with the business plan, which gave them the confidence that they could move forward. “Dan helped me see we could do it,” says Mike. “The shifting point is believing you can do it.  This is no minor point.  And you don’t realize you can do it until you do the intellectual work.  You’re not a victim of life — you can make things happen.”

Jacqueline Aaron, The Wordsmith Company,

“Putting Your Business into Words”

(239) 676-9793