As owner of OT Innovations, a big part of Nick Sidwell’s job involves running across a room and crashing into a giant bean bag. Other parts include swinging, sitting on balance balls, and spinning in a giant bucket placed on a Lazy Susan.
He’s not just goofing around, though. As an Occupational Therapist, Sidwell specializes in activities that help children, especially those with autism, develop life skills. In this case, the bean bag crashing and balance balls help autistic children get the sensory stimulation they need to be able to relax and focus on other tasks—schoolwork, for example—later in the day.
“Living life to its fullest,” Sidwell says, repeating the OT motto.
Employed as an Occupational Therapist through Davis County School District for years, Sidwell had aspirations of going it on his own. While he did some side business during this time, he officially branched off and became his own boss a year and a half ago. Since then he has grown a successful business and has high ambitions for the future.
He offers a wealth of advice to anyone looking to strike out on their own. His first piece?
“Don’t be scared about leaving your job,” he said. “Once you make that leap, you actually feel more empowered.”
Sidwell thinks the fear of facing uncertainty is what keeps a lot of people from going off on their own. It was something he dealt with.
“It’s easy to be working under somebody and just do what everybody else is doing. And when I asked myself why more people aren’t doing their own business, I think it’s because it’s hard to deal with the unknown.”
In addition to empowerment, Sidwell listed other benefits to being on his own. For instance, he has far more freedom in terms of scheduling and decision making. This flexibility in schedule has gone a long way in increasing quality of life, as he is able to take time off for family functions, vacations, and other things.
“The pay is better, too,” Sidwell added with a smile.
This isn’t to say there haven’t been difficulties. As any business owner will relate, entrepreneurship comes at a price. The flip side of all that freedom is the fact that he is on his own when it comes to major decisions. Many things are learned through trial and error.
For instance Sidwell and his partners, not anticipating the rapid growth that would happen, have already outgrown their current building. Performing around 800 therapy sessions a month, they are already looking for more room once the current lease is up.
Then there are the usual business issues to deal with, such as managing, accounting, and marketing. While he was able to handle marketing, the other two proved to be a little more problematic. His solution to this?
“Partnering with others,” he said. “That’s my secret weapon.”
Sharing facilities with two other therapists, Ashley Bonkofsky of AGB Speech Therapy and Heather Amann of Better Learning Speech Therapy, Sidwell has been able to pool administrative resources, including billing. This has helped ease some of the managerial burden.
Which speaks to another major point of advice he’d give the aspiring business owner: the importance of finding a mentor. Sidwell sought advice from a number of people—from his in-house colleagues to chiropractors to other business owners—on topics like technology and how to work with insurance companies. Their input, he said, was invaluable. Additionally, there are many small business administration programs out there.
Sidwell also stresses the importance of learning to adapt and roll with the punches.
“One of the biggest things that helped get me here was just knowing that everything that happens isn’t necessarily good or bad—that’s what we put on it. So you’ve got to be able to process any situation that happens,” he said.
“It’s really just staying neutral with everything”
His long term plans? Sidwell would love to open a type of sensory playground for children. It would contain various activities and amusements that would both entertain and assist autistic children in learning life skills.
If the first year and a half of OT Innovations’ performance is any indicator, anything is possible.
“It’s been a journey, but it’s enjoyable.”