The business of quoting

Quoting in the world of NDIS, it’s a tricky business but one that needs attention.

There is a subtle interplay between what you can deliver and what the person has available in their plan.

There is, after all, no point quoting for 40 hours of (what you might regard as necessary work) if the person has 12 hours in their plan.

The discussion needs a ballpark.  Something to frame what a service provider can do, and what’s available to the person in their plan. Without this, neither party can really assess what is right for plan implementation.

What is a risk, however, is that the provider shapes their support only to what has been conceived and enabled in the plan. While this may be pragmatic, it doesn’t serve the participant. It also doesn’t help NDIS planners to really understand what is needed for participants in the scheme.

One way in which I have sought to address this is to be attentive to this ethical dilemma. My own internal ethical compass has to become part of the quoting process itself. After all, the quote is not just a piece of paper – it represents the beginning of a relationship.

In the end, if there are insufficient hours to deliver a quality service, this has to be stated up front. The quote has to be specific and focused on identifying needs only.

The bulk of the work might need to be directed into a report. While this is not immediately helpful to addressing systemic or sometimes pressing needs, it gives the participant a platform on which the person can stand at their next NDIS meeting. Giving all parties, including the NDIS planner, a clearer picture on what is needed to help.

A quote is never just a quote. It’s the opportunity to start a conversation and, potentially, a relationship of support that will extend well beyond the work itself. 

Investing in good systems

From the outset, Veritable has been keen to establish business systems that will help us focus on the work we are doing directly with clients. If we are struggling with billings, accounting and records management, it will take away from our client focus.

The most challenging of all decisions has been deciding on the best client management system. Unfortunately, many systems have costly up front ‘onboarding’ fees and hefty user licence fees that continue indefinitely.

For a small start-up company, such an approach would have swallowed up our establishment budget. Personally, we would much rather spend on professional development and resources, not expensive systems. In fact, over 40% of our establishment costs to date have been invested in development.

Nevertheless, we still spent countless nights researching and trialling a robust client management system. One that could keep track of client contact, scheduling, documentation and records. While also performing well on business needs, like bulk upload billing and data protection.

At last, just in the nick of time, we seem to have come to a solution that ticks all the boxes for our business! It can grow with us, but not cost too much upfront. It’s taken a long time to decide, but is now being rolled out and modified for our needs.

In truth, we might have slightly over-engineered our solution for a small company. Despite this, it’s good to have a solid case management system supporting us. In the end, we want clients to know that we are organised and we care about providing a good service. Most importantly, we want to keep confidential information safe and be accountable for everything we do.

If you are a start up provider and want to find out who we went with, send us a message and we will be happy to let you know who made it to the shortlist and who got the blue ribbon. You could also contact us through Facebook Messenger.

The game of NDIS registration

The good news is that Veritable is now a ‘Registered NDIS Provider’ (fanfare). We can now officially hang out our shingle for providing NDIS services. This is a great achievement, but is really just the start of the road.

For those of you reading this with an interest in establishing an NDIS business, this post is more for you.

Deciding to register to be an NDIS provider is an exercise in patience. In batting any ball in your court back to the other side as efficiently as possible. For the ball will be held for a considerable period of time on the other side of the net!

We made the decision to establish Veritable in mid January 2019. We started a company, worked our way through the NDIS provider guide, and filled out all necessary paperwork.

Then we waited. After a few days, we got the all important letter telling us that we were ‘Pending State Approval’. Which we sent off immediately to the State (in our case, the NT).

Then we waited. And waited. Finally we got a referral for accreditation to a company. Diligently completed all our declarations. Pressed submit.

Then we waited. And waited. ‘Still in accreditation phase!’ was my familiar refrain. In the end, it was exactly 2 months from uploading our first document to the NDIS portal to receiving the final letter declaring we were approved and registered.

Of that time, we were holding the ball in our court for only about 2 weeks. All of the remainder had the ball in either the hands of government or someone contracted by them. And we were in the ‘streamlined’ process.

In most respects, it is very reassuring that there are robust accreditation processes. It is entirely appropriate for this area of service delivery. This is essentially all of our (tax) money, being provided for support that is fundamentally about human rights.

For those new to the world of government services, however, becoming an NDIS provider may send you a little spare. This is not a space in which the efficient ‘time is money’ processes of the corporate sector operate.

Our number one tip is: reach out for help. The local NDIS provider team in our region were great. We could ring up a direct landline and speak to any of the agencies involved in our accreditation. They patiently answered our questions or made reassuring suggestions to our ‘how long do you think this will be’ mournful query.

Equally, reach out to other NDIS providers. They’ve done the hard yards already. All the providers we spoke to were welcoming and friendly. Thank you to everyone who was encouraging and supportive along the way.

Lastly, use the waiting time wisely (because you’re going to have lots of time to wile away). Professional development. Processes and systems. Promotional material. There is a lot to get ready so that you can hit the ground running.

Time to get started. New ball, new court.

Getting started

The most difficult step to take is always the first. Establishing a new business might be relatively straightforward to some. But striking out on your own is inherently a daunting prospect. It requires role models. Encouragement. Or at the very least, a leap of faith. In the case of Veritable, a constellation of different factors came into play.

One was the realisation that the landscape of disability services was fundamentally changing. Having worked in government for most of my career, including in policy settings in Canberra and remote Central Australian Aboriginal communities, I found myself standing at the crossroads.

I could see that there were incredible opportunities for services to become more person-centred; the power of the participant, or their representative, becoming the decision-maker. What I could see more clearly, however, were the challenges of making this model work in remote Australia.

There was the clear risk (already evident in other sectors) that the market would be serviced by ‘fly in, fly out’ providers. Providers who may have their motivation based more in the NDIS Remote Price Guide than in the quality of the services delivered.

Or providers who, for all their good will, simply did not have the ‘eyes’ for remote Australia. How business here means re-evaluating entirely how work is done. Where the very act of coming in and asking questions might already have got you onto the wrong foot from the very beginning.

I was also acutely aware that the notion of ‘choice’ is just that – a notion – if there were few providers willing to step up to the challenge. The opportunity to be in there from the beginning was tempting. The only way to really see how the system works, and to shape it for the better, is to understand it from the inside.

So combined with a few fortuitous conversations, some words of encouragement, a desire to change gears in my career and learn something new, the leap of faith was taken. Veritable was created. The business plan was written. The accreditation process commenced.