Being in private practice is one of the most rewarding ways to practice as a therapist, counselor or other mental health clinician. It gives a person the maximum amount of freedom to set their own schedule, be in charge of how you do therapy, and create the most earning potential with their practice. And needless to say, it also has its challenges.
Over the past 10+ years as a clinician in private practice and in my work with other clinicians, there seems to be some factors that contribute to success. The work is hard. Not so much as on the clinical side of things, but more so on the business side of things.
Most of us have received some pretty good clinical training along the way. Our various licensure requirements do a good job of making sure we know our stuff before we a licensed and “deemed” competent in our various fields. But in terms of teaching us how to run a practice and understand the business and administrative side of things… well that is, for the most part, not taught.
Here are three principles that every therapist, counselor, social worker or other clinicians needs to have in order for the business side of private practice to go well. And these three principles would apply regardless of where you are in your private practice journey.
The 3 “P’s” of Private Practice
The 3 “P’s” of private practice are simply 1.) Planning, 2.) Persistence and 3.) Patience. If a person practices these three principles consistently, they will ultimately find a great deal of success in their private practice.
Needless to say, this is probably one of the most important things anyone going into private practice, or any small business for that matter. After all, if you don’t have a plan, you will just end up spinning your wheels and ultimately fail. So what goes into planning?
One of the biggest struggles for someone starting out into private practice is getting clients. If you don’t have enough people to see, you really will fail. Having a plan for getting clients and referrals help assure growth and the ability to maintain your practice financially.
This is where you develop a strategy to communicate and advertise your practice. One mistake a lot of people make, and it is what can keep them stuck, is thinking of marketing as sales. You really do not need to sell anything. In fact most people do not like to feel that they are being sold to.
Marketing rather, is simply making people aware of how you can help them. How you will solve a problem they are having. And the best marketing comes from a place of genuine concern for people. But you do need to get your message out there and help people find you.
So a good marketing plan is simply that. The strategies you will use to communicate what your practice does and how you can help people with the specific problems they are having.
A marketing could use advertising. Things like ads on social media or other traditional advertising. But the best way, at least for now since we are so internet driven, is to have a website that is easy to find and gives people the information they are looking for.
It is important to make sure your message is clear and about the problems potential clients are having and NOT about you (as strange as that sounds) You can check out these blogs posts on that whole topic:
Interacting with people on social media is also something that should be part of any marketing plan. It’s one of the best ways to direct people to your website and help them find you. There are so many different ways to plan out a social media strategy. The most important thing though is to remember that social media is “social”. You need to post regularly and consistently for it to be effective. Again, here’s a blog post on that topic:
The other part of a marketing plan is to remember that those personal and professional contacts you have with people in your community can potentially have one of the “biggest bangs for the buck”. As it is for most anyone, having a person recommend something feels the most credible. If a person is needing the services of a therapist or counselor, they are most likely going to follow through with the recommendations of a personal friend or professional.
So being known by other professionals in your community will go a long way in building your marketing plan.
Business and Financial Planning
The other side of the first “P” of private practice is having a business and/or financial plan. You marketing plan is what will drive potential clients and referrals to you. Once you have them there, you need to know how to manage all of the interactions and transactions that occur.
Understand Your Numbers
Having a clear understanding of accounting and business practices will help you develop your business plan. A good business plan will help you know where to focus your time and energy. It will help you know how to get the greatest return on your investment. The investment you are making in terms of your time and your money.
Part of having a financial plan is budgeting your projected income and expenses. So expenses are fixed, in that you know what they will be each month. Your lease, phone costs, etc. can all be anticipated. And sometimes you will have unexpected expenses. For example equipment failure or other extras that come up. So it’s always good to have a buffer for those things.
On the income side of financial planning is again anticipating slow times or times when clients cancel or no show. Again, having a financial buffer (money saved) goes a long way in helping ease the angst during those times.
Having at least a basic operating budget will help you predict your growth and give you some benchmarks for knowing how you are doing with your practice. It can also help you track and keep tabs on places you can save money and time.
Two of the most viewed blog posts I have had the ones on business plans and business models. You can check those out here:
The way to maybe think about Marketing, Financial and Business Plans is that your marketing and financial plans will be part of your total business plan.
This second “P” is persistence. One of the things that many people going into private practice do that causes them to fail, is that they give up too soon. Building and growing a practice does take some time. And it’s important to stay persistent with your plans.
What you will consistently hear from people who have been in private practice a long time is that getting those first 10 clients were the hardest to get. And then somewhere after you reach a certain number of clients, it is like there is a tipping point in which the referrals just start coming in. It’s like you reach a critical mass and things just take off.
This is why you need to be persistent and consistent in your marketing efforts and not give up too soon. Especially for those of you in those beginning stages. But also, after you have reached that tipping point and critical mass, it is still important to be persistent and especially consistent in your marketing efforts. Because if you stop, things can quickly slow down.
The final “P” of private practice is patience. Building and growing a private practice does take a lot of patience. As was just mentioned, growth has to gain momentum. It is so important to be patient while that growth is occurring. It’s incremental at first, so celebrate the small wins.
Learn to focus your energy on things that will have a long term pay off. For example, blogging. You can only do so much in a day. So be patient with yourself and the process of building a private practice. The small steps you are taking each week will add up.
The other thing that is important to do and help with your patience is to spend some time learning from others. Find a mentor or consultant to talk to that has been there before. This will help you be patient with the process and move yourself forward.
Be patient with the plan you have put together. If you are not sure about what things to be doing as you start, build or grow you private practice, I have put together a resource that will give you steps and tips you can take each week to build and grow. You can get more on that here.
Building and Growing
You know, by focusing on these 3 “P’s” your private practice can thrive. So create a plan for yourself, be persistent with that plan and practice patience as it grows. And before you know it, you will have the private practice you have always dreamed of!
By L. Gordon Brewer, Jr., MEd. LMFT – Gordon is the President and Founder of Kingsport Counseling Associates, PLLC. He is also a consultant and business mentor at The Practice of Therapy. Follow us on Twitter @therapistlearn. “Like” us on Facebook.