How to start an NDIS business

NDIS Business Plans

A large chunk of our clientele want to start an NDIS business, many for the first time. There are several wonderful things about being your own boss, and a few not-so-wonderful … but this blog is mainly about how to speed through all the initial stages. Ideally, this blog will help you plan for profit and maintain a healthy cashflow, grow a loyal customer base, find great staff or suppliers, and maximise your presence on and offline.

The steps at a glance

Before you spend anything much!

  1. Don’t plan to fail, or fail to plan; getting your business plan started
  2. Getting your legals right

Marketing: Supports, price, online marketing

  1. Getting yourself seen and available
  2. The marketing section of your business plan
  3. Online activities

Operations and services

  1. Employing people?
  2. As an employer

Money matters

  1. Bookkeeping and accounts
  2. Getting your books started right away
  3. Start-up costs and expenses
  4. Reading and understanding the big three: profit and loss, balance sheet, and cash flow
  5. How to calculate a margin
  6. Keeping in with the ATO, getting your BAS done, and how to love your accountant

Watch-outs for NDIS business owners

  1. NDIS Supports mix

Before you spend anything much!

  1. Don’t plan to fail, or fail to plan; getting your business plan started
  • Many NDIS businesses are sceptical or ambivalent about whether they need a business plan. If you have run a successful business before, this scepticism is understandable. If you haven’t, doing a little bit of business planning (even if you don’t ever produce a document) is absolutely essential.
  • In essence, your business plan needs: a scan of the environment for an NDIS business, defining your perfect customers by using either their age, likely income or gender, or more subtle factors (such as whether they are looking for particular Support of have particular conditions that would be more profitable for your NDIS business).
  • Don’t forget, the environment includes competitors.
  • Strengths and weaknesses – only do this once you have scanned the environment and looked at the competitors. Your strengths and weaknesses are only relative to theirs.
  • Look for external opportunities and threats in that environment. For example, if there are no competitors on your types of Supports or specialisation, then that is an opportunity. A threat would be lots of those competitors, or a new larger or specialist competitor.
  • Develop your marketing plan.
  • Develop your operational plan (more on this later).
  • Give yourself some clear objectives/milestones/goals so that you will know where you are going and when you go there.
  • Do you need a mission and vision at this stage? Maybe not, but why not if you are into this kind of thing?

An NDIS business plan is not the sort thing that should be done on the cheap, as you need it when applying for certification. You must be approved by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) ; find more information on becoming a provider here. If you’d like assistance with writing an NDIS business plan click here.

Getting your legals right

  • Many clients can be thrown by this and are already well into their thinking about what they are going to sell it. They may have even figured out how they are going to make or produce their Supports or service. But they have not figured out what their legal structure will be. That is understandable, but it is still not smart.
  • Why does it matter? Basically, if your NDIS business goes under, or if we have another pandemic, you may be in a position where you are liable for the debts of your business. If you are a sole trader, you will be personally liable, and banks and other people you owe money to can come after you personally – your house, your car, or anything you own. By the way, this includes the Tax Office who can actually take money out of your bank account if they wish. If you have set yourself up as a Company, you are not personally liable because a Company is a different type of entity.

You need to decide upfront whether you are going to be a Company, or a Sole Trader. There are also tax implications, and other complexities to be aware of. If you’d like to know more about this, it’s a good start to have a look at this blog, also on our website: [Barbi, could you please insert a link to a new blog that is not on this list but will be done in the next few weeks: Best structure for a small business].

Marketing

  1. Getting yourself seen and available

Branding.; Make sure that your messages, imagery, logo, and colours, all accurately reflect your unique features and benefits to your target market customer. If your product is pink and they may hate pink, for example, don’t use a pink logo.

Weirdly, most people realise they need a logo, but they create one before they’ve completed their ‘environment scan’ of their consumers and competitors. Without understanding who your consumers are and what sort of colours, shapes, fonts, or imagery they like (and how your competitors’ logos are shaped, coloured, or what images they use), it is crazy just to take a stab at a logo idea. A recent example of this would be our many NDIS clients, who names their company or service and chose a logo, then over-use words like ‘care’, ‘we’, and ‘you’. So now, their name and logo is not doing the exact thing that a logo is supposed to do – make you stand out and look different to the competition. Please also ask a professional graphic designer for advice on colours, shapes and imagery that are contemporary. Designs change like any other style; have a think about how car design and colour has changed over the last few years.

  1. The marketing section of your business plan

Marketing plan. Yes, I know we just said you needed a business plan, but a top-line marketing plan sits within a business plan. Think of it as a section of your business plan, and when you have more time, create a more detailed version of your marketing plan as a standalone document. The marketing plan will have: a definition of your target market, deeper analysis of your competitors, targets for your goals that break them down into bite sized chunks, strategies that get you to your targets, and a measurement and evaluation monthly step (so that you know how you are travelling towards those goals and how to get customers in the door, onto your website, browsing your e-store, downloading your app, and bombarding you with enquiries).

  1. Online activities

Online strategies. These include getting your NDIS business website up and running, search engine optimisation, using content (like this blog) to help your customers decide whether you know your stuff or not, and if your support is any good.

Online marketing. Make sure you understand all the different roles that YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Google My Business, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter play in how your customers choose you versus your competitors.

Once you do, decide how much material/content to provide to those different sites and channels, and how best to tailor it to how your customers and potential customers will want to use it.

Search engine optimisation. Key words, links, AdWords, measurement, and evaluation. If you sell the kind of product or service that people need to learn about, or are prepared to buy online, or are prepared to read a little bit about and then call, email or text you, then you absolutely must have search engine optimisation. Years ago, there were huge directories like the Yellow Pages. This is now Google Search. In the same way as you wouldn’t have avoided the Yellow Pages, you shouldn’t avoid search engine optimisation.

Electronic direct mail. Sure AdWords and Facebook advertising are vital, but electronic direct mail is still one of the most effective forms of communication if you know what you’re doing. Did you know you can buy a mailing list of almost anybody or any business in Australia and email them directly for a fraction of the cost of an expensive advertising campaign? Please think about doing both.

NDIS Supports. Making sure that your Supports are delivered as effectively and with as much care as your competitors, if not better than them, is key. Watch out, you may need to do some specific market research and ask your clients how you are doing. Clients who have switched to another Provider or from another Provider are the most valuable source of this insight.

Getting yourself seen and available off the internet/Facebook/Instagram and Google My Business! This is very commonly misunderstood by small start-up businesses, including the NDIS. They understand that they must advertise a little bit – but they don’t understand the need to be seen in other locations but not using advertising.

Operations and Services

  1. Employing people?

The employment process: always have a job description and a person description (that is – the right type of person to do the job as you have described it).

Amazingly, many people expect pink unicorns to turn up who are perfect for their small business. They are out there, and over a 20 year career I have found many, but it’s pointless leaving it to chance if people are a key part of your organisation or service and operation. For example, if you have a member of staff facing your clients, talking to them, or even emailing them, you absolutely have to describe how they should be in terms of their values, their approach, and their style, so that you can align that with the job description – (i.e. the job that they have to do).

  1. As an employer

Your obligations to them. This includes pay, superannuation, paying payroll tax to the government, playing safe with safety, making sure you give them an agreement to cover their role. Several industries are now experiencing skill shortages or having to hire employees who are sub-par for their requirements. Become an employer of choice by paying people fairly and promptly, and treat them well. They directly impact the quality of your product or service, and they help you make your customers come back.

Money Matters

  1. Bookkeeping and accounts

Setting up your cloud accounting system. Tempting as it might be to keep using Excel from when you did your planning, it is more trouble than it is worth because it is not preloaded with all the formulas, calculations, up to date tax rates, and charting that you will get in a program like Xero, MYOB or Quicken. You must set up a financial system sooner or later, so you may as well do it now. Single touch payroll, which is a reporting requirement by the Tax Office, really put the final hammer blow into traditional Excel based financials.

Create a little system to keep track of bills, receipts, and invoices, and don’t forget petty cash.

At this stage, if you possibly can, get a company credit or debit card so that you don’t mix up your finances with the business.

  1. Getting your books started right away

A lot of NDIS businesses spend money, their own money, and don’t realise they could have put it as a tax deduction. They also don’t realise that you can carry forward a loss. So, if the business is not making money and you are chipping in your own money, even if it is just for a taxi ride to go and look at a location that you are thinking of being in or at, it does not matter that you have no revenue. You are still creating a loss that will be deducted from your first lot of revenue.

The other reason to get started right away is it is much simpler to set up systems when there are very few transactions to put into them. You can get your head around a couple of receipts totalling $150 and a few sales totalling a few thousand before you must wrestle with lots of different types of expenses that need to be added in.

  1. Start-up costs and expenses

Start with a start-up budget, and the trick here is to make sure you have enough to live on while also thinking about absolutely everything you need to buy. For example, NDIS start-ups often forget to factor in the cost of a vehicle, which should be expensed to the business. Likewise, when it is time for a new car, that can also be expensed. If the car carries signage for the business, it can be fully expensed and no fringe benefits paid.

Considering how you are going to finance it – business loan, your own credit cards, leasing equipment, or giving someone a chunk of your business (equity investor, this is called).

Picking the right lender based on a term, interest rates and so on, and …

Lodging a successful loan application. [If you would like to know more about this, click here.]

What to do if you get knocked back and when to use a Finance Broker. [If you would like to know more about this, click here.]

  1. Reading and understanding the big three: profit and loss, balance sheet, and cash flow

Understanding how a profit and loss report works, doing a sales forecast and counting all your costs and expenses is really key. Tip: costs are things that go up and down depending on how much you sell, whilst expenses are things that you have no matter what. In a typical NDIS business, for example, the cost would be petrol used travelling to the clients. In any business, expenses would be wages or utilities such as the internet.

  1. How to calculate a margin

Gross profit is what you make when you’ve paid the ‘costs’. For example, as an NDIS Provider, once you have paid all the costs of travel, you are left with your gross profit. Then come your ‘expenses’. Once you have taken away all the ‘expenses’, you are left with your net profit, or sometimes this is called EBIT. For example, you take the salaries away, the cost of the internet, electricity, air conditioning, these are all ‘expenses’.

How do you know if you’ve got a good margin? Good news, the Australian Taxation Office has some samples for you and you can find these here.: www.ato.gov.au/business/small-business-benchmarks/.

How do you estimate what you need to do to break even, and how do you know when you are there? The formula is:

Fixed Costs / (Average Sales Price – Variable Costs)

The above formula is basically asking you to take your fixed costs, your variable costs, and your average price, and determine how many units or products you must sell per month. Here is an example:

Fixed operating costs: $5,000 per month

Variable expenses: $1,500 per month

Average price: $2,500 per job/unit/Support

$5,000 / ($2,500 – $1,500) = 5 jobs/units/products per month

You will break even if you sell five of these per month at $2,500 per month.

  1. Keeping in with the ATO

90% of businesses will turn over more than $75,000 and, therefore, need to register for GST. There really is no point in putting this off, the government see you making money and they jump on people who do not pay the tax on that. Their rationale is simple – you’re making money, so you have no excuse for not paying the tax on it.

However, other areas of your NDIS business are far more variable and need that bookkeeping system we mentioned above. Here you have the opportunity to make tax deductions and the more detail orientated you are, the more you will save. Make sure that your bookkeeping system and your accountant are up to date and on their toes so you know exactly what you can deduct for – you may be pleasantly surprised. Likewise, always sail on the right side of the wind here by not claiming things that are not true business expenses.

At this stage, it is vital that you split your personal and your business expenses.

You must also make sure that you get ready to pay your quarterly or monthly BAS and payroll tax so that you do not run out of money when you get that big bill at the end of the quarter.

Watch-outs for NDIS business owners

  1. Supports mix

If your NDIS business is only geared up to deliver $54 type hours, and that is the most appropriate types of support for your skillset and that of your team, it will be a lot more difficult for your business to make a profit than a competitor who has the capability to sell $60 or $80 supports. The start-up needs to look carefully at the cost benefit of having an EN or an RN, or even a specially trained care/support worker to access some of the higher priced supports.

Undifferentiated competitors – you must invest in media to tell your clients what you do and why you are better.

The vast majority of small independent NDIS Providers have chosen very undifferentiated and unprofessional branding approaches. This means that clients have no real clear signposts or messaging to help them understand who to look at in more detail for their care. The proliferation of the words ‘care’, ‘assist’, ‘we’, ‘support’ make it very difficult for clients to find a particular stand out image or brand for them to click on and look for more information. This is a great opportunity for you – a new entrant to the market!

If you want to start an NDIS business and want some help getting your business plan sorted, get in touch with us on 1300 644 853 or at info@smallbusinessplans.com.au (24/7 website chat and enquiry available).