We had the good fortune of connecting with Austen Lincoln and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Austen, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Throughout my years of practice as a pediatric occupational therapist in public schools, early intervention, and private clinic settings, it has been quite alarming to witness today’s statistics of 1 in 6 kids having a developmental delay. It has also become very clear that in order to provide the best intervention for a child with a motor delay, I have to support the parents, ensuring they felt educated and equipped to cultivate their child’s sensory motor development. When I started hearing parents tell me that getting to the therapy clinic was becoming too burdensome for the whole family, and then saw parents drop their kiddo off for therapy and take advantage of 45 minutes for errands or picking up the other child (trust me, I get it!), I knew this was not an ideal arrangement for nurturing the learning and growth of a child. It was lacking the family involvement needed for true learning and retention of new skills. So, I created a mobile therapy practice. I hit the road and did the driving for these families, eliminating the scheduling and shuffling mess. In 2016, my practice Steps 2 Grow started offering a family centered, naturalized, and flexible therapy option for families in the comfort of their own home. I guess you could say my thought process was as simple as identifying a need, and filling it.
What should our readers know about your business?
My aunt, a successful author and speaker, told me years ago to “do what you are passionate about, and the money will follow.” I followed that advice, and although money is not what I was after (I went into occupational therapy after all!), I got to a place where I could do what I love, set my own hours, and afford a comfortable life without the stress of climbing the corporate ladder from 9-5 everyday. No offense to those who do that! It may sound nice, but self-employment hasn’t always been everything it is hyped up to be. There have been so many times when I felt burnt out on driving to my clients’ homes day in and day out, the very foundation upon which my entire business was built. There were also times when I just did not want talk to another insurance company about a denied claim. And then there were times when I had too many families I wanted to help and I exhausted myself, self-inflicting the stress I was so excited about avoiding. When that happened, I realized I couldn’t do it all by myself anymore (even though I wanted to!) and I needed help. I now have 2 other OT’s on my team providing mobile OT services to families around the Portland, OR metro area. I continue to see some clients virtually, but with their help, I now have the opportunity to shift my focus to new business expansions. I am launching an online course in March 2021 for parents-to-be/new parents on how to optimize their baby’s neurological wellness and developmental success starting at birth, in an effort to prevent some of the developmental delays that we see so prevalent in homes today. I am also working on an online course for pediatric therapists that will guide them through the exact steps I took to build and run a successful insurance-based private practice, so that more therapists can get out there and support families where they need it the most. These new ventures have taught me one of my biggest lessons on this entrepreneurial journey: to just stay in my lane. It is incredibly easy to compare yourself to other business owners and entrepreneurs in the same field, and fall prey to imposter syndrome thinking things like “What do I know?” or “Am I good enough to be doing this?” or “Who’s going to listen to me?” Apparently, many high achieving and successful people experience imposter syndrome. But what I am learning is that if I just do me, just stay in Austen’s lane, and compare me to me, it helps me maintain the inspiration and motivation to keep adventuring forward. I don’t really know where the road will go from here. Maybe it will be continued growth on the clinical side, or maybe we will be successful as a virtually based support system for parents and kids. Wherever it leads, I plan to enjoy each step of the way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is far too easy to answer for Portland, Oregon. We would spend a day on the west side of the city, walking the Wildwood Trail through Forest Park up to Pittock Mansion for a hilltop view of the city against the backdrop of Mt. Hood, then stroll the shops of NW 23rd St. We would spend a day in wine country, stopping at Red Hill’s market in Dundee, OR for lunch fixings to-go (I am thinking meat and cheese board, a salad, and probably their mac ‘n cheese which is to die for – a very well balanced meal!) then visiting Stoller’s pristine tasting area in the grass and Vista Hills Winery’s Treehouse tasting room overlooking the grapes. There would also be a day at the coast strolling, shopping, and lunching on oysters and crab in Cannon beach. We would undoubtedly have to spend a day in the Columbia River Gorge, hiking Dog Moutain early in the morning and stopping for lunch and shopping in Hood River before going back to the city. But, funny enough, I actually don’t live in Portland, Oregon anymore! Although I still manage my practice there with my new team, I literally just relocated to rural western North Carolina (Wilkesboro, to be exact), which significantly changes the answer to this question. From what I know so far, I think we would spend a day hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and have lunch in Blowing Rock, an adorable little mountain town. Surprisingly, they make wine here in NC, too, so we would probably go visit 2 nice vineyards (the only ones I have been to) and if we catch it on a Saturday or Sunday, we can enjoy live music and local food trucks. Or, we could time it just right for one of their goat field trips! We would also need to spend a day (or maybe 3!) gardening, because we are growing most of our food (since the closest Whole Foods is 50 minutes away!), then hit the sauna for our daily detox and have a cup of herbal tea out on the deck watching the deer roam the woods. Another great day would be walking the miles of trails around the Kerr Scott reservoir and picnicking at the water, or rollerblading the miles of paved paths around “town” with a stop at Talia Espresso for an afternoon pick me up. Wherever I am, I crave exploration of nature’s beauty and bounty. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
In 2016, I met a mom named Lisa. She had twin girls, and hired me to provide occupational therapy to her 4-year-old daughter who had cerebral palsy. Lisa changed the entire trajectory of Steps 2 Grow. She was my very first client, and little did I know, an incredible marketer (free of charge!). Cerebral palsy is a rare neurological and motor disorder usually caused by brain damage at birth. I have come to find out that families who have children with CP are part of a very tight community that shares resources, equipment, doctor’s names, and therapist recommendations. Once Lisa mentioned my name with her distinctive fervor to the Portland, OR cerebral palsy community, business grew, and it grew quickly. Soon enough, I was totally booked seeing the kids with cerebral palsy, their siblings with slight delays, and even their friends. To this day, word of mouth continues to be my primary source of referrals. So, huge shout out to Lisa who not only put her confidence in me as an OT solopreneur and helped Steps 2 Grow become what it is now, but who also has become a lifelong friend.