The Business Owner: Dr Seth Rankin, London Doctors Clinic
Operating a private chain of GP practices, Dr Rankin talks funding, marketing, and how his charity in The Gambia helps over 5,000 people
Founder: Dr Seth Rankin
Company: London Doctors Clinic
Proposition: A convenient and affordable chain of private GP practices
Size: 9 clinics in central London. Nearly 20,000 patients so far and growing by over 20% a month.
How is your business different from what’s already out there?
“If you want to see a doctor at 10 o’clock today London Doctor Clinic is your only choice”.
The uniqueness of this selling point cannot be overemphasised. There is probably not a single Londoner that has not on occasions needed an appointment at certain time to fit in with their schedule. We provide that appointment for the very many Londoners for whom a convenient time is their priority and choose to use us.
We offer a very easy direct online booking system as well as by phone.
All of our locations are dedicated premises within minutes of major transport hubs. We do not operate out of the back of NHS surgeries, pharmacies or other businesses. We are our own brand.
We have a great price point. At only £55 for a 15 minute appointment you don’t have to be rich to see us and so many of the things we do are simply not available for free on the NHS anyway – like certificates to say you’re fit to run the Paris marathon, fit to drive a minicab, fit to jump with a parachute, too sick to sit exams etc.
Finally we are just incredibly convenient. We dispense medications, write letters, take bloods and everything else you could need from a GP all in the same appointment and follow up by email or phone if needed. If you work (or live) within half a mile of any of our clinics it is truly a 30 minute desk-to-desk experience to come and see us. The return on investment for any busy person (or their employer) to see us, rather than take a day off to see their local GP, is a no-brainer.
How did you finance your business?
Sourcing investment was challenging although watching the money come in after the investment was secured was almost certainly the most fun! I was very lucky to have a lot of interest when I launched and it was difficult to decide which offer was best but I had great support from Andrea Reynolds via Growth Accelerator.
I ultimately settled with Oakfield Capital Partners because they offered the most (and I like them) and this has worked out very well. We started with £1m and then went on to raise another £820,000 via Crowdcube.
Raising investment is hard work but incredibly valuable in honing your understanding of your business. What is right for one company isn’t necessarily right for another so always get professional advice.
If you’re lucky enough to get someone to trust you with their money, take it and say thank you very much. I’ve seen a lot of businesses fail due to preciousness. You have to give away what you have to give away to get your business working.
What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?
Cash because without it you’re not a business.
What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
There are two equal challenges. The first is getting doctors to work when patients want to see them. Naturally enough doctors are not overly enthusiastic about working weekends and evenings which is when many patients want them. However we’re making great progress on this.
The other is letting people know we exist. The need for our services is universal but only a tiny section of the population know about us as yet.
About 20,000 patients a day try and fail to get at appointment with their NHS GP and there are 30 million overnight visitors to London every year – none of whom have any access to the NHS other than walk-in-centres and A&E.
This is not really the NHS’s fault. It does a great job with limited resources and mushrooming demand and as a public service it should not be expected to care whether a busy commuter or visitor can see a GP and still fit in their day’s other appointments.
I don’t believe private healthcare should ever replace the NHS, but they should work closely in parallel to give patients choice. The NHS looks after you when illness is your prime concern. LDC looks after you when it is convenience you need most.
What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?
Online marketing – PPC, SEO and social media integrated with agile and enthusiastic PR support is essential. We have a great in-house team of three on the digital side and a very effective agency getting me onto all sorts of great media outlets.
We’ve had some incredible publicity over the past 12 months, which lead to a nomination for Entrepreneur of the Year (still truly humbled to have been nominated for that!).
It’s an ever-evolving landscape requiring multiple interventions on many levels every day and am amazed by how clever and skilled my team is at keeping us ahead of the pack.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?
I would love to export our product and will try to do so as soon as feasible. Obviously the bigger the market the better so long as you can maintain your profit margins.
Having said that we support a charity called Darsilameh Medical Charity which I set up in the Upper River Region of The Gambia a few years ago. We pay the salary of a nurse and provide the medications to deliver the only healthcare available to over 5,000 people of Darsilameh Village and its surrounds.
This is an export that has no profit margins – entirely the opposite in fact, so any support would be warmly and gratefully received.
What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?
Heydoc! (Heydoc.co.uk) It is our fantastic clinical management system. Cloud-based, quick, intuitive and most importantly entirely free!
Describe your company’s culture in three words?
What would you like the government to do for small business?
Bring back Growth Accelerator.
Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?
My wife Flavia. She is a serial-entrepreneur, who started a number of businesses against huge odds and is making each and every one of them a success. She is a true inspiration to me.
Where do you want the business to be in three years?
We want everyone to think “London Doctors Clinic” whenever they think of needing to see a GP in London.
We hope to have a clinic within easy reach of every Londoner and in every major urban centre in the UK and perhaps a few overseas.
The need for convenient affordable access to a GP is universal. We want to be there when people need us at a price point they can afford.
What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?
Promise quickly, pay slowly. By that I mean always lead with generosity but always look very closely at the bottom line before you actually commit.