Like being in control? Try being your own boss!

Self-employment offers many benefits

It seems that a number of occ-health professionals are interested in going into business themselves — so many, in fact, that Carol Santee, RN, COHN-RS, COM, owner/consultant, Tri-County Occupational Health Consultants in Cary, IL, teaches an entire course on the subject. At the recent AOHC meeting she taught a session, "So You Want to be Self-Employed?" She also regularly teaches a similar course at a local college.

Why is self-employment so attractive to some people? "Most people do it because they love what they do," Santee says. "And they can be independent, and have the opportunity to make a profit."

Naturally, each individual will have his or her own special motives, but Santee believes the idea of control is at the heart of self-employment’s allure. "It’s definitely a control issue," she asserts. "You can control things much better, although not 100%. But you have control of your schedule and better quality control; I’m doing my own work, not someone else’s."

With control comes flexibility, she adds. "If I know I’m going be tired after several days of hard work and do not want to do quite as much that next day, I can do that and not have to explain myself to anyone," she notes. "In addition, there’s a high level of satisfaction in getting through the day having done what you wanted to do and also having helped people get where they wanted to be. And of course, there’s the money!"

Is self-employment for you?

Of course, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. Santee says there are a number of ways to determine ahead of time if self-employment is the right path for you to take. "I use a tool that I have compiled to teach the class at one of our area colleges," says Santee, noting that the tool, when completed by the participant, gives a good idea as to their state of readiness. "Basically, it’s two pages of characteristics, each ranked from 5 to 1," she explains. "You add up how many points you have to determine if you are ready."

For her own part, Santee has a clear idea of the most important characteristics. "You need to be a self-starter," she insists. "You also need to be able to function with different types of individuals; you have to be flexible, and respect the different personalities you must work with. You’ve got to be directed — have a vision of what you want, and where you want to be five years from now."

Finally, she says, you must have patience and flexibility. "If I was just doing what I did 22 years ago [when she started her business], I would not be in business," she shares. "I dropped some services that were not so profitable and broadened others." Once you have your list of services, you also need to be a salesperson, says Santee. "You need to sell clients on your vision," she explains.

What role to play

Once you’ve decided that self-employment is for you, you still need to determine exactly what kind of role you want to play and what services you will offer. "There are several different categories from which to choose," Santee explains. "For example, there’s clinical testing, where you’d perform all the services an occ-health nurse normally does; health and wellness, where you provide services such as screenings and education; safety and environmental, where you deal more with toxicology; case management; or you could be an independent consultant, which covers a little bit of everything."

How do you decide which option is best? "You have to look at what your skills are — what you do best," Santee advises. "In our course there is an evaluation process, where you prioritize 10 things they you most like to do and match them up with what they will do for the client. (See Skill Matrix.)

When you’re out in the real world, she explains, some of the things you may not like will still be good for the client. "You’ve got to be very willing to go out and learn to fill holes," she says. Of course, success is never guaranteed. When you go into business for yourself, you can lose money — even go out of business. "There’s a misconception that when you start you own business you can work from 10 to 3 and make a million dollars," says Santee. "You do work long hours; after all, it’s your business."

One of the real keys to success, she says, is to learn to say no. "If it’s not your area of expertise, don’t step in it," she warns. "You can put an assignment off to a different time, you can refer the client to someone else; or, you can use contractors."

If you accept the right assignments and please your clients, ultimately you can build your business through referrals. "At this point I am at a 75% referral," Santee says, which means that three-quarters of her business comes from clients who call her after being referred by a satisfied customer.

And how do you make clients happy? "Meet the needs of the client at a price they’re willing to pay," she advises. "I do a free evaluation first to assess their needs and to give them a menu of options. Even if they don’t choose every option right away, it may plant a seed for things we can do down the road."

[For more information, contact:

Carol A. Santee, RN, COHN-RS, COM, Owner/ Consultant, Tri-County Occupational Health Consult-ants, Cary, IL. Telephone: (847) 639-1377. E-mail:]