According to the American Psychological Association, more than half of practicing psychologists are primarily independent practitioners. It’s no surprise that so many psychologists — and therapists, too — prefer to operate on their own terms.
Running your own practice means you have full control over things like hours, fees, practice areas, and even your personal brand.
However, running a therapy practice also means running a business. Therapists and psychologists generally chose their careers in order to work with people, not crunch numbers. They may be surprised at just how many pitfalls await them once they enter the world of running a business and making ends meet.
Before you make the leap to starting your own therapy practice, note some of these common mistakes to avoid!
Mistake #1: Failing to Make a Careful Financial Plan
Any new business requires a significant upfront investment, especially when office space is required. A solid business plan will help you reduce the risk of your investment by taking you through the steps of making sure your practice will be profitable.
There are plenty of guides online about making a business plan (here’s a good one), but they all generally boil down to calculating your expenses and projecting your revenue in detail.
Make a careful account of what your costs will be, including the less-obvious costs like testing materials for your sessions, insurance for your business and your space, legal fees for incorporation, monthly fees for billing and scheduling software, and taxes.
As for your revenue, that will depend in large part on the fee you decide to charge your clients.
Of course, the going market rates for your type of services and your level of expertise will affect what fee you can charge. But you’ll also need to consider these factors as you choose your fee:
- How many clients will you be able to see in a week? This will affect how much you can earn in a month and whether or not you’ll be able to cover your expenses at a certain rate. Consider how many appointments you will realistically be able to book starting out, and how many appointments you can realistically take on with the time you have available.
- At any given fee rate, will you be able to afford to take vacations and other time off? You should know how important time off is for mental health, and you don’t want an unexpected emergency to put your business in jeopardy if you can’t practice for a while.
Mistake # 2: Going Full-Time Right Away
Certainly, some therapists may be able to jump into running their own practice full-time right away. But it’s also a great option to start to take private patients on the side before you jump into full business ownership — especially if you’re struggling to find the money to open full-time or are worried about other financial risks — or simply want to keep other options open.
Keri Riggs, an LPC who has been in and out of private practice and working for other organizations and nonprofits throughout a 25-year career, shared her experience in this article in Counseling Today. She often contracted through agencies or under other therapists or had a solo practice while still employed, and she wishes she had kept that employment when she started her own practice.
Looking back, she had the following advice: “I … regretted quitting my part-time agency work while building my practice. I only made $17,000 that year, and it was the toughest year ever,” she says.
These days, starting out your therapy practice part-time may be easier than in the past. The coworking trend that has been so popular for remote workers has also found its way into the medical and mental health community. Starting up on your own part-time is much easier financially when you can share office space with other practitioners at a space like Therapy Space.
Mistake #3: Failing to Find a Place in the Market
You’ve probably heard the saying that if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. That wisdom applies to your therapy practice, too. It will have a better chance of success if you focus on providing a service that’s especially helpful to a specific group of people. Ideally, you’ll choose a specialized service whose demand is growing.
When it’s time to choose a niche, start by falling back on your own experience and observations from your years of therapy work. You can consider which needs your existing patients have had, whether you feel those needs are being met within the market or even within a specific geographic area.
You can also draw on which types of practice you’ve found the most fulfilling, and which have resulted in the most referrals for you in the past. (Having this experience to draw upon is a good reason to get some other professional experience under your belt before you start practicing on your own.)
Don’t worry too much about getting locked into one narrow specialty. Your specialty can evolve along with the market as it changes in the future. You might even decide to bring on other practitioners in the future who can specialize in complementary niches to the one you’ve chosen.
Mistake #4: Failing to Dedicate Enough Energy to Marketing
It’s a mistake to assume that new clients will find you on their own.
Just like any entrepreneur, new solo practitioner therapists will have to work hard and spend some money to start getting recognized and getting referrals.
There are many ways of getting your name out there. As we wrote in our post Marketing for Therapists: Get Your Practice Noticed, a few of the best (and most cost-effective) options for marketing a therapy practice include:
- Paying attention to your practice’s search engine visibility
- Leveraging the power of social media
- Cultivating strategic community partnerships and speaking engagements
Expect to invest in marketing regularly and for the long-term — and don’t forget to include the expenses in your business plan.
Mistake #5: Not Paying Enough Attention to the Client Experience
New solo practitioners may be tempted to skimp on what may seem like luxuries in an attempt to keep financial risks low.
It can be a significant expense to furnish a new office, including the waiting room, and keep it clean, comfortable, and private.
However, making your clients feel at ease is one of the best ways to keep them coming back and referring their friends.Making your clients feel at ease is one of the best ways to keep them coming back and referring their friends. Click To Tweet
A big part of removing potential inconveniences and discomfort for visitors is making sure that there’s no confusion about when their appointments are scheduled. Scheduling software for therapists can play a big role in making this work. Visitor management software for therapists can also help by allowing visitors to check in quietly and privately.
For more on how to create an inviting office space, check out our full post: The Best Visitor Management Practices for Therapists.
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