Your education and training taught you what you need to know to be a successful counselor. Now you face whether to work for someone else or start a private practice. A counselor should weigh the pros and cons of owning a counseling business when making this decision. It’s not a choice to take lightly, and it’s a decision your mental health training may not have prepared you for.
Having a private practice offers many benefits and limitations for a counselor to consider. About 40% of counselors have a private practice, and most do enjoy being a small business owner instead of working for someone else at an agency.
Pros of Having a Private Practice
- Control of Workload and Schedule – You have much more control of your workload, including the days and hours you work and how many patients you choose to take. You also can decide how you want to perform your work. Would you rather see clients via telehealth? Do you want a hybrid setup where you do telehealth on some days and work from the office on others? It’s all up to you.
- Price Options – You can choose pricing tiers to serve clients while meeting your financial needs. You are in control of how much you charge, whether you accept insurance, and whether you create payment exceptions for clients who can’t afford your fees.
- Client Selection – You can focus on and help a particular type of client overcome their challenges. You can choose to take clients who identify in specific ways or who need certain mental health services. You also can decide what clients not to accept.
- Independence – You can choose whether you want to be alone in your practice or if you want to recruit other mental health professionals to be part of it or share office space.
- Financial Reward – You won’t have to pay your employer about 30% of your billable hours like you would working for someone else.
- Forging Your Own Path – As you continue your practice, your interests may lie in a different therapeutic approach. You’ll have the opportunity to explore new approaches and apply them to your practice.
As you can see, there are a lot of positive aspects of owning a counseling business and this list isn’t comprehensive. Some people are just made to be in charge of things and want the utmost autonomy. But owning a practice isn’t for everyone. And even those who thrive in ownership are likely to have some challenges.
Cons of Having a Private Practice
- Financial Requirements and Risks – The risks of owning a business can be too high for some people. You need the funds to launch your business, pay operating expenses, and support your continuing education.
- Legal Requirements – You’ll need a business license and you’ll need to file annual reports for your business. Both must be renewed annually. You must also know the laws surrounding your practice and understand what to do if you need legal assistance.
- High Competition – The counseling field is growing, with new clinicians entering regularly. Competition may make it challenging to build your practice as much or as quickly as you’d like.
- Lack of Benefits – Having a business means you need to get insurance and create your own retirement plan without company matching. You also won’t have a base pay someone else provides or paid time off if you need it.
- Time Commitment – It takes time to make decisions, market your business, contact referrals, complete billing, etc.
- Learning Curve – There’s a lot to learn when you’re the boss or sole employee. You will do the marketing, billing, filing, contacting clients, etc.
- Stressful – Although the field can be rewarding, it can also be stressful as you help clients through their challenges. In addition, you make every decision when you own a business. When one aspect of your business needs more attention, it’s up to you to handle it.
- Isolation – Having a private practice can be lonely. You likely won’t have colleagues to bounce ideas off of or have quick chats around the water cooler.
- Marketing – You’ll spend a lot of time marketing and growing your business, and those aren’t billable hours. You’ll need to both learn how to market and spend time executing tasks.
- Fluctuating Income – There are ebbs and flows when people seek counseling services, meaning your income will fluctuate in seasons when clients don’t attend sessions regularly
- Undesired Duties – You’ll have to do the work, even the stuff you don’t like.
Just as essential in learning what it takes to own your own counseling practice, it’s important to know why businesses fail, so you can work to lessen those risks.
Risks of Owning a Counseling Business
- Failure to Learn – You’ll learn valuable lessons when things go wrong. It’s essential to accept that things don’t go as planned and why, so you can make changes in the future.
- Poor Planning – As they say, people don’t plan to fail. They fail to plan. Create a strong business plan. Work with consultants and advisors.
- Failure to Delegate – You can’t know or do everything. You need to find experts in areas where you lack knowledge, skill, or time.
- Unwillingness to Change – The world is ever-changing, be prepared to change your practice with current demands.
- Forgetting the Finances – You must monitor your expenses and income to ensure you’re working within your budget.
- Not Asking the Right Questions – When you don’t know what you don’t know. Research and ask others who have launched their private practice what they wish they knew when starting their small business
All Counseling offers the tools to start your counseling business and help you keep it on the right track. As entrepreneurs and counselors, we know the unique challenges counselors face. We have the practice resources you need to get started and the tools you need to run your private practice. We also have online profiles you can claim and augment to help obtain additional exposure online.