Entrepreneur Series: Tonya Cooley of Therapy Fun Zone

This special Thursday-edition of the OT Entrepreneur Series features Tonya Cooley, author/owner of the Therapy Fun Zone blog and online therapy store. Tonya is a prolific OT blogger and has some great tips on starting down that path for others.

Can you tell me a little about your business?

When asked questions about my business, it is a little difficult to answer because it is not straight forward, and it is very atypical. Therefore, I will first explain what my business is. I currently work contract for a school district as an OTR, and in my off time, I run a therapy blog called Therapy Fun Zone. I post about fun and different therapy activities to help inspire creativity. I also create therapy games and share some for free, and some are available to purchase. It is the blog aspect of my business that I will focus on since it is interesting and unique.

Why did you decide to start your business? I initially started Therapy Fun Zone near the end of my first year as a school therapist. I was a very experienced therapist, and had been treating kids for 20 plus years, but most of my experience was in a well-established setting with plenty of home program and activity resources, so I never lacked for activities and inspiration. When I started in a small school district, they had never had their own OT before, so they had no eval template, no worksheets, activities, or toys, and no home program resources. I was also not used to working with kids that were so high functioning, and needed to come up with some activities that would really challenge them. I scoured the web to find ideas and had to make some stuff of my own. Then I had a parent tell me that their last therapist only worked on practicing the same thing over and over, and she loved how I made the activities fun. That really hit a nerve, and I don't think children will fully participate in therapy if it isn't fun.

It was right after that exchange that I decided to make my own website for fun therapy activities in order to make it easy for people to find them.

Can you share a bit about the financial side of your business?

When I started Therapy Fun Zone, I had no expectation of making money. I just wanted to share ideas and connect with other therapists. I was already set up as a business though because I had invented a baby product a few years earlier, and already had a business license, business bank account, business name (TMC Adaptations), accounting software, and a tax id number. I made a lot of mistakes with my baby product (Hug n Hold) financially, and so I tried not to make those with Therapy Fun Zone. I planned to just spend my time on it, and not spend money on it.

Have you found a benefit from social media marketing? What are some of the strategies that you have used to maximize your success in this field?

Therapy Fun Zone is essentially dependent on social media as it is a blog, and I get a lot of traffic through the blog from facebook and pinterest. I would say that some of the keys to success with blogging and social media is to get on a schedule. I have been blogging on and off on other sites since 2005, and none have been successful until Therapy Fun Zone. From the beginning I had to treat it like a business even though it wasn't making any money because I wanted it to be successful even if it wasn't in a monetary way. I post at least once a week, and people can count on that. Sometimes I schedule my posts way in advance, but make sure they are spread out to once a week. I have seen some therapy blogs that post a bunch of articles all at the same time once a month. That does not work in your favor. If you have a bunch of articles, don't post them all at the same time. Spread them out and keep people coming back at a steady pace. I have also found that I can't keep up with more than once a week and get completely burned out. I also then post my blog posts to facebook, pin on pinterest, and then share other people's interesting things on facebook and pinterest.

What were some lessons that you learned in the initial stages of your business?

I would still consider my business to be in the baby stage. I am still learning a lot, am getting better and more efficient, and am learning the extra computer design stuff. Maybe in my next life I will be a computer programmer. Financially I think that I currently break even, or make a couple hundred dollars a month. It is not yet an option for me to quit my job, and if I did, where would I get the ideas for new therapy activities. I think that the website may finally now pay for the web hosting. Maybe someday it will pay for more. The moral is, if you think you can make a bunch of money by blogging, don’t kid yourself. It is a lot of time expense with no financial reward, but it has other rewards. I consider it a success because it is currently one of the largest therapy blogs out there, and gets over 100,000 page views a month. In big business blogger terms, that isn’t a lot (they get 1,000,000 hits a month), but in small OT blogger terms, it is darn good.

Button Pizza... yummy ADL
What was your original goal, the point that you aspired to reach and consider that you had "made it" as an entrepreneur?

My original goal was to share therapy ideas, and I think that I have definitely accomplished that. In the beginning, I wanted Therapy Fun Zone to not suck as a blog/website. I now think that it is pretty awesome, and I am quite proud of myself and my website design skills. I am currently working on taking it to the next level, and making it more of a joint effort. I recently added a new shopping cart that makes it so that other therapists can sell their products on my site too. I think that it could be really useful to have all of the resources that therapists make out there and available to other therapists. We will see where it will go.

What is the best thing about owning your own business? The worst? What surprised you most?

The best thing about having started Therapy Fun Zone is that it really stimulates my brain, and it keeps me inspired. The worst part is keeping track of the finances (not my thing). Most surprising is how much I love making therapy games, and that I enjoy website design. I am also surprised to find that I don’t like writing. My joy comes from creating, but then I have to write about it or no one else can benefit from what I have created.

What are some tips that you could give to OT practitioners considering starting a business?

As far as advice about starting your own therapy blog, I say just do it. Either you love it or you don't, and you never know where it might take you. Specific blogging advice would take many many posts, so I will try to work on those over at Therapy Fun Zone. If you want to try your hand at creating products, come join me and open up your own shop at Therapy Fun Zone. You could try your hand at blogging by being a guest blogger too.

Either way, you must have fun.

Thank you Tonya for your insights! Very helpful information for our next era of OT bloggers and innovators! Be sure to check out all of Tonya's fun activities on her blog, facebook, or pinterest sites. And come back next week for our last interview of 2013!

1 comment:

Katherine Collmer said...

This is such a nice tribute to Tonya, as she has really been a role model for OT who aspire to share ideas with other OTs, parents and educators. Nice article! Thanks for sharing her story wtih us.