So, here you are. Your license is in hand and a supportive clinical supervisor is a phone call away— you are ready to build a private practice. The problem: you need steady income and hours. Your counseling job provides all that–but the paperwork is killing you and someone else dictates your client load. Let’s assume you have waded through your employment options and you have decided that your own practice is the right path for you. Let’s also assume your financial reality and life balance will allow you to carve out at least one hour a week to devote to a client.
That’s right. One hour. That’s all you need to start your career in private practice. One client, one hour. Then, you add. Another hour, another and another. Soon, you are turning in your resignation and working for yourself. You can get started before lunch and see clients after dinner. But, how do you go out on your own? Grab your coffee and let’s go. You’ll be halfway there before noon.
Determine your Niche. Quick: you are hanging off a cliff and if you answer correctly, you’ll be saved! WHAT do you like to do in a clinical setting? Don’t tell me what you should do. Tell me what you love–you’d do it for free –the clinical subject and client that interests you the most. Still hanging? Write down a list of 20 specific client scenarios that really give you energy, then whittle from there. (1 hour)
Buy Malpractice Insurance. It’s available from a multitude of sources. We have had great success with CPH. Why? They cater to the profession. Google your license title and the term “malpractice insurance” and you can apply online. (30 minutes)
Get a Business License from your local city, town or state. You can probably do that online, too. Warning: Follow your licensing boards’ rules. If you must practice under a more senior clinician, do it. The years fly by and by the time you have finished your provisional time, you have the experience and referral sources to operate under your own name. (1 hour)
Set your Fees, develop your Financial Systems, and investigate basic Forms. Again, an online investigation will yield quick results. A search for “Average fees for YOUR LICENSE in YOUR CITY” and “Accounting Software for Small Business” will get you started. So will our resource links. (1 hour)
Make a list of 50 possible Referral Sources. Remember, you went to graduate school, did an internship and gained experience somewhere. You interacted with clinicians, decision makers and administrators. Who among those can you contact and let them know you are launching? Think outside the box: Have you had another kind of job? Are your friends working in Fortune 500 companies? Everyone already knows you are the most empathetic person they ever met–connect the dots. (30 minutes)
Develop and Practice your Elevator Speech. It has 3 components–who you are, why you love what you do, and “The Benefit and Ask”.– for referrals, that is. If you love your niche, the speech is easy. If you are ambivalent, it will show. This is the step that you might find the most intimidating. Practice with your best friend and your favorite colleague. Practice again in the mirror. Each time you do, you get better. (1 hour)
Identify a user-friendly office with an hour that’s available and a time you want to work. (Hint: mid-morning Saturday, and Tuesday evenings are the some of the most requested times by clients). Look on your local therapist listserv, ask your Clinical Supervisor, a favorite professor or a practice director whose CEU was the most interesting this year. (1.5 Hours)
Visit. See yourself there. Bounce on the couch. Ask to pay by the hour with a six month Lease. Plan to spend $15-$20 per hour. Write the check for the first month, starting one month from the visit. (1 hour)
Develop a Website and a LinkedIn Profile. In the beginning, use a low cost alternative like the Psychology Today referrals website. You can develop a WordPress Site and upgrade your Social Media later. And remember, if you have a provisional license, follow the rules. (2 hours)
Go online and order some free business cards. Try VistaPrint. Classic, descriptive and user appropriate in ALL settings (not just the clinical ones). Your name, license, a Work Description and reach information are all you need. Google phone numbers and e-mail addresses are easy. They are free! Later, you can upgrade. (30 Minutes)
Develop your Marketing Plan and your Referral Sources. E-mail your list of 50 and ask for a specific time you can talk for 10 minutes by phone. Bonus: Ask if you can meet for 30 minutes and float some ideas by them. Whether you correspond by e-mail or meet in person, have your elevator speech ready. (4 hours)
Add to your Referral List. Market your referral sources. Repeat. Set aside time every day until a client calls. 5 e-mails at lunch and 2 phone calls at dinner will produce results. (1 hour)
Now, show up at your office at the appointed hour. EVEN IF YOU DON’T YET HAVE A CLIENT! Why? Because it’s now your Business Planning Hour…to market, learn about WordPress, refine your niche, and keep up with current readings. (1 hour)
You have a few minutes left–Take a breath and congratulate yourself; you just started a private practice! The clients will come.