Step Into My Office

Running a company is difficult enough, but when a partner walks away with dozens of clients and opens a similar practice just down the road, the situation can get downright daunting.

That’s exactly what happened to Tara Long Scott, DPM, president of the Foot and Heel Pain Institute of Michigan. But rather than sit back and watch her new competitor take away market share or spend years embroiled in a lawsuit, the 37-year-old podiatrist rebuilt her company using good old-fashioned business tactics.

In 2002, Scott purchased 50% of the Southfield-based podiatric care clinic from the doctor who hired her as an associate in 1999. Open three half-days per week and bringing in about $470,000 in annual revenues, the practice specializes in conservative and surgical management of just about any ailment related to the foot or ankle. Patients, who range in age from 3 months to 106 years old, come to the clinic to cure everything from bunions and fungal nails to broken bones and tendonitis.

The practice, located in a medical building attached to Providence Hospital, benefited from Scott’s entrepreneurial spirit. “I made an effort to network, meet doctors, and interact with people who could give me referrals,” says Scott, who held seminars and lectures and participated in health fairs. Although Scott’s partner sold her the rest of the clinic in January 2006, he opened a new podiatry clinic eight miles away — taking with him 10% of the original practice’s client base.

“I didn’t protect myself like I should have,” laments Scott, who feels she could have solicited help from an attorney who specializes in medical practice buyouts. A noncompete clause, for example, could have been used to ensure that the former partner didn’t leave with her clients or open a similar practice in such close proximity.

Scott refused to allow unethical business practices to derail her. Instead, she relied on her established reputation as the only black female doctor board certified in podiatric surgery in the Greater Detroit area.

A graduate of Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine, Scott became the first African American elected chief of podiatry at Providence Hospital last year and was also appointed by the governor to the Michigan Board of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery and the Controlled Substances Advisory Commission. Both appointments raised awareness of Scott and her practice. “I got 25 new patient calls the day I made the front page of the Michigan Chronicle,” she recalls. “That more than made up for the 10% that he took.”

With 11 employees, including two other podiatrists, the clinic posted revenues of $1.36 million last year and is on track for about $1.4 million in 2006, says Scott, whose marketing strategy includes carving a niche in the diabetic foot care and education arena. Through lectures, seminars, and health fairs at local hospitals, for example, she pushes the benefits of good foot care for diabetics while building her client base through doctor and patient referrals.

Scott looks forward to putting 2006 behind her and building a practice through participation in projects that increase community