Valerie Gause knows about chronic pain. After a car accident in the 1980s, she developed degenerative disc disease and reverse lordosis of the cervical spine, resulting in pain in her neck, shoulders and jaw.
Gause managed her pain with massage, chiropractic treatment, and ice and heat during flare ups, but in 2008, Gause suffered a pain flare-up she couldn’t beat. She had left her career in nursing to go back to school for a nutritional counseling degree, but she didn’t have health insurance to afford the recommended surgery. She tried to cope, but her chiropractor warned her that reliance on chiropractic adjustments could result in permanent nerve damage.
Her last-ditch effort to manage her pain was light therapy. At first, she didn’t think it was working. But after a series of visits, most of her pain was completely gone. “Had I not experienced it personally I would have never believed it,” she recalls.
Gause began to investigate light therapy technology and took a sales job so she could learn more about the devices and treatments that improved her condition.
In 2015, she opened The Rays of Hope Rejuvenation Center, the first business in the U.S. that uses photobiomodulation therapy to manage pain and inflammation.
She called upon her experience as a nurse and her passion for light therapy to build her business model. “Without that formula as a base, this startup would have been a daunting prospect, one which had a high risk of failure,” Gause says.
But challenges were waiting for her.
Starting a business in an emerging, unregulated industry
One of Gause’s biggest hurdles was regulation. “This is an industry that has sprung up from an effective technology, and there are no clear definitions as to who can utilize this equipment,” she says. “The FDA governs manufacturers and delegate the rest to the states. Each state therefore has regulations on who can operate the equipment.”
While massage therapy, physical therapy and other health-and-wellness services have credentialing programs, photobiomodulation therapy has none. “To protect the long-term plan” for Rays of Hope, “I used the strongest guidelines I could find in the most regulated states, interviewed as many individuals within the industry as I could, and built our processes to fit within those boundaries,” Gause explains.
Imagine navigating an emerging industry on top of grasping the basics of doing business? Gause also recalls figuring out how to educate her clients on this developing technology, identifying pricing that satisfied both her and her clients, and of course, funding her project. Gause kept a full-time sales job while building Rays of Hope in its first year to ensure her financial security.
Once her plans started to fall into place, Gause decided to contact SCORE. “I realized there was much I did not know about marketing and client retention,” she says.
Even a sales pro can refine their skills
Gause contacted SCORE for help with her brand messaging and sales tips. “I have never taken a formal sales course, and I thought it would be a good idea to address that weakness with a mentoring program rather than a course,” she says. Gause attended SCORE workshop “The Close: Techniques that Increase Sales” to assist her with building upon the techniques she had learned with her mentor.
Volunteer mentor Jim Dunn helped Gause work through pricing models, return-on-investment concepts and brand messaging. “He also helped me understand quality staffing and the need to delegate and be in a management role instead of a ‘do it all’ role, which was what I was trying to do,” Gause says.
Dunn and Gause met several times over the course of a few months during a period when Gause’s equipment was unavailable. “I essentially started over while it was away and reopened in August 2016,” she says.
Gause says that Dunn helped her take “the final leap of trust” and create a business model that could be duplicated, instead of one that relied on her presence. She plans to take what she learned to license or franchise her business after a few years.