SCORE Awards: Spinal Health & Wellness

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (MainStreet) -- Dolly Garnecki, owner of Spinal Health & Wellness and winner of this year's SCORE Outstanding Veteran-owned Small Business award, says the biggest lesson she's learned as an entrepreneur is knowing who and when to ask for help.

Spinal Health & Wellness is a health care, chiropractic and physical rehabilitation business Garnecki launched in December 2008. The clinic has three employees and several more subcontractors.
Dolly Garnecki, winner of the SCORE Outstanding Veteran-owned Small Business award, works with a client at her Spinal Health & Wellness in Charlotteville, Ga.

Before opening her business, Garnecki was a lieutenant, earning her flying wings as an Air Battle Manager in the U.S. Air Force for five years. She served in Iraq, typically flying long missions on uncomfortable seats, and the rigors of flying eventually took a toll on her spine, according to her website. After a serious car accident, she suffered so much pain she finally saw a chiropractor in Oklahoma, changing her life with treatments to get her spine healthy again.

Garnecki was so impressed that it was where she decided to take her own career, despite the promise of a healthy signing bonus from the military to renew her contract.

By the time Garnecki was ready to launch the business, though, the recession had set in. The first few years were tough for Garnecki, she says.

"We started at the height of the recession. It's something that the military and college doesn't exactly prepare you for. If it wasn't for SCORE, we may not be in business today," Garnecki said upon accepting her award at a gala hosted by SCORE on Thursday.

Last week, Garnecki answered a few questions about her business from TheStreet.

What does this award mean to you?

Garnecki: It's been a tumultuous business launch and growth during formidable economic times. There was a point within our first year of business that we weren't certain we could meet our overhead and continue as a business much beyond the first year. We were so close to having our dream -- our passion for creating a specialty niche within chiropractic and rehabilitation -- completely shattered and spending the rest of our working lives paying for the business loan. I've flown in combat during the Iraq War facing the uncertainty of whether or not I'd return home from the war. The stresses of war and combat missions pale in comparison to the constant stress and uncertainty of launching and running a new business during an economic recession.

This award isn't just a notch in our business belt or yet another glowing accolade. Rather, it's a milestone. We can look back at where we were during our first year to where we are today, and we can breathe a little more relaxed. We can hope expectantly about our passions and goals for positively impacting our community and profession because we know we'll continue to press onward. We're so thankful to the Charlottesville community -- such a strong and supportive place to grow a woman- and veteran-owned business -- as well as to the SCORE Foundation for recognizing our achievements in business.

What has been your biggest lesson learned as an entrepreneur?

Garnecki: When I went to chiropractic college to learn how to become a physician, I didn't learn the details of launching and maintaining a business. The biggest lesson learned has been to know when and who to ask for help. I don't have all the answers for how to effectively treat every patient and condition that enters my clinic, just like I don't know all the strategies for running a business. It's a learning process, and part of that education comes from calling upon colleagues -- other physicians and business professionals -- to ask for help in areas I lack expertise. I was introduced to my SCORE mentor in my first year of business. Her knowledge and wisdom augmented my own, enabling me to increase productivity, create better customer service and increase my marketing footprint. You have to be willing to look another person in the face and admit you need help. It isn't easy, but it's completely necessary.

What advice would you give to startups?

Garnecki: For new startups in chiropractic or health care, I'd recommend keeping overhead low -- gradually let it increase as your business grows at a pace you can maintain. Learn every aspect of every job in your business or clinic so you can successfully train and set expectations, because you know the inside-out details of the job. For the tasks and projects you can't support with payroll or effectively manage due to lack of skill or expertise, hire out to subcontractors or negotiate trade agreements to secure the services you need from your preferred providers. Seek out a business support team of colleagues and mentors to help you in your areas of weakness.

SCORE is a great resource for startups who need help with crafting a business or marketing plan, and it's completely free. In addition to SCORE, get involved with organizations in the communities that support your industry, profession or entrepreneurship, such as your regional Chamber of Commerce or business advocacy groups.

What's been the toughest part of the past year (given the economy)?

Garnecki: This has been our strongest year in business to date; however, our growth has been slow and steady. There are so many restrictions in health care due to state and national legislation. The health insurance industry handcuffs health care practitioners and raises rates to patients, which has negatively affected the rate of expected growth since we launched.

Have you been able to expand? How so?

Garnecki: In January, we expanded from a 700-square-foot facility with shared common areas to a 1,500-square-foot facility that's solely occupied by our company. Instead of offering seminars and workshops only in Virginia, this year we were invited or hired to teach seminars at multiple venues both within Virginia and internationally, which led to increased visibility and word-of-mouth referrals -- our most effective means of attracting new clients.

Additionally, our other marketing efforts seemed to take root, such as our social media campaigns, our targeted professional networking activities and our scoliosis screening programs in regional schools. All of this effort culminated in our ability to expand.

Are you hiring? If not, do you plan to in the next 12 months?

Garnecki: We're not hiring any other employees for payroll, but we are seeking to hire or arrange trade agreements with subcontractors for various business-to-business services, particularly website restructuring and public relations.

What are the overall challenges of running a small business?

Garnecki: It's a challenge to balance remaining focused in the niche of chiropractic and natural health care for pregnant women, scoliosis patients and young athletes as well as remaining targeted and effective in all the aspects of running a business, including marketing, networking, team motivation and leadership. There's a constant checklist to not get "tunnel vision" with a single focus, such as working with patients, but to keep an eye on the big picture of the business. I have to ask questions such as "What's working well? Why?" and "What's not working well? Why? How do we improve?" If I spend too much time on any one aspect of the business something else suffers, so maintaining the balance is a challenge.

What is your impression of President Barack Obama's jobs plan? What sticks out as most potentially beneficial for you?

Garnecki: The government isn't very successful at micromanaging businesses -- especially health care. Nor is it the scope of government to do so. I think the job market is where it still is today because of government interference. I think the best thing that can happen to the Obama jobs plan is for Congress to reject it and let the free market and business owners get things rolling without interference or "stimulus plans" that will continue to perpetuate the economic stagnation that our nation is facing. The free market will have a sharp, but quick correction, and soon be back on its way toward growth.

What are your plans for the company?

Garnecki: The short-term goals include partnering with other businesses to teach professional seminars on noninvasive scoliosis corrective treatment techniques at multiple locations both within the U.S. and internationally.

Long-term, I'd like to grow the business such that one day there is a multidisciplinary aspect where we can draw in a team of like-minded health care providers to focus on women's and children's wellness and health. I'd like to teach interns the scoliosis treatment techniques and protocols so that this type of care -- where patients can reduce and improve scoliosis -- can be more widely available within the U.S. as well as in other countries.

Previous: Gary Bickford, of Healthy Life Clinic, winner of SCORE's 2011 Outstanding Small Business Launched by an Individual Age 50-Plus.

Next: Rachel Weeks, of School House, winner of SCORE's 2011 Outstanding Woman-owned Small Business.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To follow Laurie Kulikowski on Twitter, go to:!/LKulikowski

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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