Starting a private practice can be the most exciting, yet most intimidating, step you will take in your career. It helps to have some guidance along the way, and it is critical to get the support you need while making this fabulous leap of faith. Here are a few tips to get you going, and keep you going.
#1: Stop putting it off until you are ‘ready’
Once you decide owning your own private practice is what you want, it’s important to be prepared for taking the leap into private practice. Few of us ever really feel ready, but that’s to be expected.
Those butterflies in your stomach will keep you on your game; they will keep you excited and wide-eyed. Being excited about your work can help you to become incredibly successful.
If you are working for someone else, probably 50 percent to 75 percent of the revenue you generate is left on the table for your employer. You do the math—how much money is it costing you each month that you put off establishing your own private practice?
The golden handcuffs of traditional employment (predictable income, benefits, guaranteed clients) can be very comforting for some, but are quite costly for those who want to own their own business.
#2: Make it your ‘dream’ practice, right from the start
Now that you’ve taken the leap, be sure you customize your practice. Take the time to dream. Where do you want to work? What will your office look like? Which days will you work? How many hours a day will you work? What types of clients will you see? How many clients a day will you see?
If you set up your practice and find yourself: grumbling about the long drive to your office; annoyed that your first client is at 8 a.m.; frustrated that you don’t have a window or that your office is not soundproof enough—you will have no one to blame but yourself.
#3: Set up your practice so that it makes you ‘flush’ as soon as possible
There is nothing more freeing than knowing that the money you make is yours (and Uncle Sam’s) to keep.
On the days you are not seeing clients, consider renting out your excess space in order to pay your rent. You can help out a couple of colleagues who only need part-time space by charging reasonable rent, and they will help you out by covering your expenses.
Perhaps you can teach a couple of courses a semester at a community college and earmark that money as your rent fund. At some universities, you can teach a couple of courses a semester and be eligible for their benefits package.
#4: Create a culture that will keep you healthy and wealthy
Many private practitioners make themselves sick with worry and paranoia that other clinicians will take their clients or take over their referral sources. They become very closed and competitive, thinking they are protecting their investment. Wrong.
A spirit of collaboration will take you much farther than that boat anchor called competition. Sad as it is, there are enough sick and troubled people to go around. Do your job—provide great service and value—and you won’t have to think about what others are doing around you. In fact, you will find that your colleagues can be a great source of referrals to your practice.
If you spend your career looking over your shoulder, you will never get ahead—you’ll just keep walking into walls.
#5: Be ‘real’ about your business
A big part of private practice is marketing. Don’t be mistaken, and don’t try to close your eyes to that fact. If you want to establish and develop a successful business, you must sell yourself and your practice.
Private practice is not for everyone. It’s an opportunity that brings with it a huge responsibility for marketing and sales. The good news is that marketing your practice does not have to be overwhelming, and you don’t have to be a “salesman” to be successful. You can learn about it on your own or with the help of a good mentor who can help you with some strategic marketing plans that will set you up for success.
You’ll save yourself a lot of time if you seek out some private-practice coaching. Find someone who has walked the road before you; a mentor or coach who has lots of experience in the business of private practice. The right person can help you identify your niche, create your marketing materials, and pinpoint ways for you to stand out among the pack of private practitioners.
#6: Make relationships that will support you for a lifetime
So you’ve accepted the fact that marketing is part of the gig. The great news is, the type of marketing that is most efficient and effective in our field involves our specialty—relationships!
Your strategic marketing will include developing and nurturing new and ongoing relationships with your clients and your referrers. People buy from people. You want people to think of you first when they know someone who needs mental health counseling, and you want them to continue to refer to you over and over again because of your relationship skills. You’ll be surprised at the things you can do to build relationships in your community that will bring you referrals again and again. Your phone will keep ringing as long as you keep nurturing those relationships.
A word of caution
Although private practice can be wonderful, it isn’t for everyone. Try your hand at part-time private practice to build up your client load, and also to see if you really do like it.
In surveys, private practice seems to be everyone’s ideal, but some counselors find being in a solo private practice very trying and lonely. For some mental health counselors, the ideal is actually a group practice that has counselors, social workers, and psychologists so that supervision can be done from a multidisciplinary perspective. And while mentors are important, life-long supervision is a must, especially for private practitioners.
Deb Legge, PhD CRC LMHC
Dr. Legge is known nationally as “The Private Practice Mentor”. Deb helps mental health professionals make more money in private practice and she is licensed to teach Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid® marketing system for service professionals. Her work has been featured by ACA, Counseling Today, AMHCA, ACA-NY, and in her website, InfluentialTherapist.com. For more information about how to get more clients and referrals, download her free Rapid Referrals Report: www.InfluentialTherapist.com/rapid