No Progressive Tax Story #4: Denise Smith of Smith Physical Therapy

For 20 years as a physical therapist with a large corporation, Denise Smith worked hard to help hurting people.

She loved working with people, but when she began climbing up the corporate ladder into managerial work, she missed seeing patients and helping them progress.

Even when she could schedule time with her beloved clients, she was rushed by corporate industry goals to get more of them in and out. It just wasn’t why she went into physical therapy (PT).

That’s when Denise saw an opening, and decided it was her chance to head in another direction.

“I left my job in 2015 – burned out. I was seeing 25 patients a day. I saw that my life was going to be a middle management thing, not practicing PT like I wanted to and not giving patients what they deserved. So I thought ‘Let’s give it a shot’ to start my own business and it worked,” she said.

For the last five years, Denise has been working hard, building the Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy in Crystal Lake that now also offers a second office in St. Charles. Today, she has six employees – a typical small business in Illinois.

It wasn’t easy to make it work. Denise had managed clinics, but she wasn’t prepared for the business part of helping people become healthier.

“I know physical therapy, but I didn’t know business much at all,” she said. “I relied on friends to help me that had more business experience. It was hard.”

She was just hitting her stride when COVID-19 hit earlier this year. The one-on-one patient treatment her clinic provides was restricted, and that led to major struggles for a business dependent on that personal interaction.

The day that Denise had to tell her staff they would be forced to furlough during the COVID-19 crisis was one of the toughest she’s experienced as a business owner.

“There were a lot of tears shed that day, and the staff was so understanding – it was hard,” she said. “But we had hope they would be back soon. I worked long hours here alone, helping first responders that were putting in long hours caring for seriously ill patients. I not only provided physical therapy, but it became very emotional for us all. But it was worth it to hear they were sleeping through the night, or their shoulder or back pain had subsided.”

On June 1, Denise was able to bring back one of her therapists, and she’s bringing back the other one this week. Then she’ll finally be back up to full staff. She explains that being a business owner rather than a corporate employee dramatically changes one’s perspective.

“Working for a corporation, I had the image that someone at the top made a lot of money, like CEOs trying to line their pockets. You know, the ‘big bad business’ view,” she said. “Now, as the business owner, I’m not even paying myself. I’m paying my staff and take whatever scraps are left over.”

Sometimes, especially in a business’ early days, owners are just working to pay their employees. It really changes why they work, Denise said. So the news that she may be forced to send more of what little she’s making to the state if the progressive tax amendment passes in November was devastating.

“I’m an LLC – a pass through business,” Denise said. “The progressive tax plan could put an extra 60 percent tax hike on LLCs. We’re just getting our feet planted and any money coming in the door we make, we put back into the business.

“After the COVID-19 crisis, I am just now beginning to pay myself – and it is minimal – although I know people think we’re rolling in the dough. My PTs make twice as much money as I do, although I work a lot more hours. I’m not complaining, this is my choice,” she said.

More small business owners tell why they oppose the Progressive Tax HERE: