Going into private practice as a mental health clinician takes a lot of courage. Whenever a clinician makes the decision to go into private practice it is usually after going through a process of trying to discern if it would be the right thing for them to do. For most clinicians there is very little, if any, coursework or other preparation for private practice work in graduate school. Most all of us in private practice have had to learn what we know about being in practice on our own.
There are some common mistakes people make when starting into private practice. This blog post outlines for you some of the struggles most people going into a counseling or therapy practice tend to encounter in their first few months and years. These are also some of the struggles that can tend to cause a practice to fail if not addressed.
Being patient with growth
First of all, it does take some time to build a practice. Very rarely is there a situation where people can just “build it and they will come”. On average, it takes most practices about two years to get fully established and stable. Getting those first few clients takes a lot of work. But usually, once a practice gets around 10-15 regular clients, things tend to blossom.
The other thing about growth is that it is something you have to constantly work at. When people become complacent about growth things will stagnate and dry-up. It is so important to think in terms of growth and building a client and referral base.
Getting help from others
The second mistake clinicians going into private practice can make is letting themselves get too isolated. Also trying to do it all by yourself. Finding a mentor or consultant with the expertise to show you where to invest your time, effort and resources will go a long way in making things go a little quicker.
There is a lot to navigate in the beginning. Office set-up, business knowledge, knowing how to market and general knowledge about all aspects of private practice can be daunting. Having a mentor and expert on your side is always a good investment in the beginning. One place to start is by taking part in some individual consulting or joining a mastermind group (You can learn more about these things here).
Not investing enough in the practice
In the beginning stages of building a private practice, you do need to be somewhat on a “shoestring”. It is a good idea to look for ways to save money and put the sweat equity in with a lot of do-it-yourself marketing and networking. For example, building your own website and making referral contacts in the community. A mistake people make though is not investing in things that will bring a good ROI (return on investment)
An example of this would be to spend money on things that will bring you a few clients to begin with. The Psychology Today directory is a great example of this. For about $30 a month, a clinician can be listed in this directory which appears at the top of the page for most Google searches, depending on your location. If you get just one client each month from that listing, it pays for itself.
Other things that bring a good ROI are things like, a quality website, phone systems, good office location, attractive office decor and possibly some social media advertising. Let’s look at some of these in more detail.
Branding and website development
When people are thinking about seeking counseling or therapy services, most everyone looks online first. This is exactly why you need to have a website. And your website needs to be found along with being easy to navigate. You want to be sure that when people do a search for you they can find you and then feel confident that you can help them.
Your website is your public face. Spending the time and investment to get a well-functioning and good-looking website will payoff for years to come. So put some time and effort into this. If you have some technical savvy and want to learn how to do-it-yourself, take a look at The Create My Therapy Website Toolbox. It will take you step-by-step through building a website.
If you are more inclined to have someone else do it for you, BrighterVisions is a good way to go. They specialize in helping counselors and therapists build websites and understand the needs of the profession.
Another ROI would be to put some time and effort in developing a logo and brand that identifies you and makes you unique. If you are a creative person and have a little bit of technical savvy, using applications like Canva to develop a logo. If not, it would be well worth the investment to hire a branding and marketing consultant to help with this. (Aaron at Legendary Lion was a big help to me with this website)
Along with having a website, it is so important to start blogging. This probably sounds a bit intimidating to some, but blogging helps establish you as an expert and helps your website ranking in Google (SEO-search engine optimization). It is also how people can connect with you on a more personal level.
Blogging does not have to be long and complicated. The optimal size for most blogs is about 700 to 1000 words. Write it in short paragraphs so it is scannable (like I did in this post). People will read more and it also helps with SEO.
One big tip for blogging is to do “vlogs” or video blogs. With this, you simple use video as a way to put your knowledge and expertise out there in video format. A great way to do this is with Facebook Live. You can then embed the video in your blog post as a way to increase SEO and help people make a more personal connection. (Just like I did here in this blog post).
How to Embed Facebook Live Videos
In the video post, click on the “∨” button in the top right corner of the video post. Then click on “more options“. Click on “Embed”. It will give you some code that looks something like this:
“<iframe src=”https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fpracticeoftherapy%2Fvideos%2F936381089837216%2F&show_text=0&width=560″ width=”560″ height=”315″ style=”border:none;overflow:hidden” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”0″ allowTransparency=”true” allowFullScreen=”true”>”
Copy and paste this code into your blog post. (For WordPress users, be sure to click on the “Text” tab before pasting)
Creating a financial buffer
Another big area that people can tend to make a mistake is by not being financially prepared for private practice. Moving into private practice, especially if you have been employed by someone else is a big step. You are moving from being employed to being self-employed. And it is a big difference in your employment status.
The most important thing for anyone to do is to create a financial buffer for themselves. One of the downsides of our profession is the unpredictability of clients actually showing up and it being a steady thing. No shows and cancellations are always an issue you have to contend with in private practice. There are ways to get around this, but if client does not come to an appointment, you don’t get paid.
This is why it is so important to have a buffer or reserve in place for those down times in private practice. Ideally it is a good ideas to have at least 2 months income saved or in reserve to cover your salary and expenses. Even better is to have 6 months in reserve. That way, if you have month where your client sessions are down, you are not put into panic mode.
A good plan for most people when they are starting into private practice is to start part-time. Keep your full-time job or have another job that brings in a steady income for you. Use this for your living expenses. Then take the income you get from your private practice to reinvest into the practice and build a buffer or savings.
Once you have your buffer built, that is when you can then start making the transition into full-time private practice. It is so much less painful and anxiety producing to do it this way.
Developing ongoing referral sources
As I have alluded to already, developing referral sources is an ongoing process. This is one mistake that a lot of therapists and counselors make once they get their practice established. They get complacent about bringing in new clients.
As you finish you work with current clients, you will need to have new clients to fill those appointment slots with. This is exactly why you need to develop your referral sources. To keep your practice full.
Once your practice is full and you are booked up, it is a mistake to not worry about the new people calling to make an appointment. Two things you can do about this. One is to expand your practice by adding new clinicians. It is the very best way to “level up” and diversify your income in private practice. The other way is to have a list of trusted clinicians you can refer to.
Both of these ways to handle a “full” practice helps establish you as the go-to person for counseling and therapy services in your community. People will quickly learn that you are the expert and that you will help them. In the long-run that will create stability for you in your practice.
The other part of this that can be a big mistake for new clinicians going into private practice is to see other therapists as “competition”. By far, it serves you and the profession better to develop an attitude of collaboration rather than seeing other therapists or organizations in competition. There are more than enough clients for us all.
Private practice is really one of the best way for a clinician to thrive and grow. It provides the most flexibility and potential for reaching a person’s unique career and financial goals. With private practice the “sky’s the limit” if done right.
So avoid these mistake to help you get ahead and have the practice you have always wanted and dreamed of having!
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.