While the idea of securing an office for the beginning practitioner may seem easy enough, there are a few practical considerations that will make the experience stress free and important to your marketing plan. (Oh no, not that again!) Marketing, while it’s not at the heart of an office search is certainly one of the main components of your decision making. A few easy steps will guide you to the perfect space and attract clients. Try to look at three or four spaces to orient yourself to style and price range. Recognize your commute limitations, your need to interact with others, and the hours that work best for you. While it’s okay to change your mind after a couple of months, consistency for the client sends a signal that you are an established practice and here for the duration. Now, armed with these questions, go shopping for an office.
Where do you want to build your private practice? 10 minutes from home, center of town, near a major thruway that is convenient for all? Is parking very convenient?
Convenience and parking are key. Your typical client has a job and is limited in time. While the lovely cottage tucked into the trees has romantic appeal for its privacy and aesthetic, it’s probably not realistic for the therapist starting off. Get on the beaten track, right out there where folks can find you. Visualize your best clients and think about where they would like to spend an hour.
Who do you want to practice with? Someone who can mentor, guide, possibly provide supervision and referrals? Or someone who is a good landlord with no clinical ties?
My preference, at the beginning, is to develop your individual practice within a group setting. Later, if the relationships are solid and you are comfortable with the surroundings as well as the personalities, you can formalize into a group. This one is more important than ever. These are the folks that you pass in the hallway every hour and are there for you when an emergency consultation is needed. Respect how they do therapy, their training and their ethics. You do not want to feel uneasy about the clinician down the hall. If it’s your supervisor, be sure the rules are delineated between supervising and renting. That’s two different agreements. Ask the other clinicians: is maintenance easy to contact? Is there security in the building? Hows the temperature? Gain some insight about how they react and work by talking about the space. Do they do the kind of therapy you are comfortable with? I once worked with a therapist who did a lot of music therapy. It was fine until her client who liked only loud heavy metal came in for a session! If only I had asked.
What’s your image? Attempting to market the corporate executive, the stay-at-home parent? Is the office child-friendly? Is the waiting room professional for all types of clients?
This is a pet peeve of mine. I do not want clients to question whether they are in the right place when they encounter the waiting room. To that end, political leaning periodicals, crystals, unicorns, religious symbols should all be kept out of common space. My clients range from left leaning, radical anarchists to chairmen of the board. Sometimes they are related! I don’t want any influence in the waiting room to inform the session.
Is there room for growth? Can you grab a day at the start and then four days down the road as your practice grows? Will you be in the same office each time?
Of course, you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew, but it’s important to think your whole plan through. If you are only able to get an hour a week and it’s a crowded practice, you may want to look elsewhere or consider a satellite office.
What are the ethical considerations? Do you need a supervisor on site? Can your supervisor also be the Director of the practice?
It is often an ideal situation to have your supervisor nearby. It’s very important however to remember the boundaries of supervision. It may happen in the hallway if there is an urgent need but it should be a delineated hour with a separate payment structure. Are you working for your supervisor or are the two of you office mates? This is another important ethical consideration—and one that each license spells out clearly.
Is the atmosphere pleasant? Is the sound minimized? Is there natural sunlight? Up to date, clean furniture? Signage that clearly lets your clients find you?
After 10 years and forty hours a week, these considerations become very, very important. Ask about sound proofing, cooking privileges (I once had a client complain about the 4 pm popcorn smell that permeated from next door), and furniture maintenance. How old is the couch? And–when you spend the majority of your day sitting on a chair, it’s nice to have access to outside and the sun. Your clients need only to look to find you–signs in lobbies, outside the building and outside the door are all important.
Are the office systems available for use? Is there a separate charge or will you use your own? Are refreshments provided?
Files, legal pads, printing…these all add up. Some offices add in a nominal amount to cover supplies and refreshments. Find out if that’s the case for you and never underestimate the convenience of a printer down the hall rather than down the block. A cup of tea for the clients is a nice touch.
Can you start with a 6 months lease with a 30 day out? Are the increases in the rent clearly spelled out?
Are you sharing with others? Ask about desk and cabinet space as well as the ability to decorate, leave items in the office, access to maid service and general rules about cleanliness.
There is beauty in consistency; whether it be the color of the drapes or the position of the tissue box. If you are sharing an office of an established clinician, you may not like their decor. You only have leverage as you increase hours or claim a spot on the lease. Like your college roommate, it’s important to have the talk about whose stuff goes where and whose stuff doesn’t!
Finally, take it all in, does it feel right?
Will you be happy coming here, running into your colleagues, stopping at the security desk, walking from your car to the office? Will your clients love it? Will they feel secure, safe, calm? If the answers are yes, yes and yes; then yes, it looks like you have found a home.