You’re thinking about starting your own counseling business. It’s not surprising that you want to. After all, about half of professional counselors work in private practice. Establishing a practice is a significant milestone for counselors. Aside from feeling ready, this post provides practical tips for starting your own counseling business.
Gain Critical Experience
It’s probably not a good idea to finish your degree and credentialing requirements and immediately open your own practice. Instead, work for an established group to gain experience, connect with other counselors, and have a guaranteed paycheck.
Working with a group also gives you an inside look at how to run a business. You’ll learn which practices you want to mimic and which ones you want to leave behind when you start your own practice.
Once you’re ready to start your practice, you may consider doing so part-time. Starting a practice is expensive, so you’ll need to save enough money to set up your business. And it could take months or years to have a large enough clientele to pay the monthly bills.
Keeping your full-time job and starting your own practice part-time is an excellent way to guarantee your income while working toward your goal. You also may consider renting a shared space with another counselor until you get a steady flow of clients. Sharing space helps you save on all the expenses associated with setting up your own office.
Other benefits of starting your private practice part-time include:
- Time to Learn: You need some business knowledge to start your practice. Starting part-time gives you time to learn as you go.
- Niche Testing: Having a part-time practice allows you to focus on your niche to see if you can find clients.
- Increased Savings: Because you’ll have two incomes, you can continue building your savings to help with your full-time private practice.
Identify a Niche and Create a Business Plan
When you are a new counselor, you may feel the need to take whatever clients need your help. Although, we learn in graduate school to take only those we feel equipped to help. But as your practice develops or you move into private practice, consider what specialty niche you may want to serve. The best income and the most rewarding counseling careers often result from serving a population you enjoy and are best at treating.
It’s not a good idea to decide to start a private practice and jump right in. Instead, you’ll want to do some planning, including creating a business plan to guide your decisions.
Consider the following for your business plan:
- Mission Statement: Who do you serve? What do they need? How do you fulfill that need? These are the essential components of a mission statement. Answering these seemingly simple questions in a short, focused statement can help guide all of the decisions you make for your practice.
- Goals: What do you want to accomplish through your practice? Write it down, then assess how realistic your goals are and how best to achieve them.
- Clients: Understanding everything you can about who you want to serve is essential in finding and identifying your ideal clients.
- Location: Where will your new practice be? What opportunities or challenges does the location present? How will you take advantage of opportunities while solving challenges?
- Budget: How much will it take for you to run your business? Consider start-up costs and monthly expenses. Some budgetary considerations include office space, utilities, employee salaries, supplies, equipment, furnishing, insurance, taxes, and marketing.
A private practice is a small business regulated by local and state laws. You may need to hire an attorney or other expert to help you legally establish your practice. You want to make sure your business is compliant with all local and state laws and regulations.
Laws and regulations to consider when setting up your private practice include:
- Zoning Codes: Zoning codes regulate the types of businesses that can use specific spaces and how you can use or alter the physical spaces.
- Building Licenses: Some cities and counties require business licenses to give you authority to operate your business.
- Professional Requirements: Do you need special certifications or licenses to practice in your counseling niche? Check your state licensing to make sure you have the necessary credentials.
- Insurance: You’ll need malpractice insurance before you accept clients. You also may want liability insurance to protect you if a client gets injured at your office. Oh, and you’ll want to make sure the physical location of your business is insured for things like weather damage.
- Taxation: Be sure you are aware of and have budgeted for all business-related taxes in your area.
Develop Business Skills
Unfortunately, the knowledge and skills that make you a great counselor aren’t all you need to run a private practice. You’ll need to learn business skills. As you develop your business plan, you’ll likely recognize areas you need to know more about, like all of the legalities mentioned above. Study these areas so you feel comfortable making decisions related to them. If there’s an area you think is beyond your understanding, like the types of insurance you need to protect you and your business, hire a professional to help you.
Set Your Fee
You became a counselor to help people. The desire to help may make setting an hourly rate for your services uncomfortable. But you have to charge an appropriate fee to keep the doors open and continue helping others.
Advice for choosing the right fee for your private practice:
- Consider Others: Review what other counselors in the area charge for similar services. Reviewing others’ fees will help you understand what’s standard and what clients will pay.
- Don’t Undercut: You are a professional. Don’t choose the lowest fee in the area. Instead, consider your clients and services, then set your fees accordingly. A good starting point may be to set your fees to match the top half of other local counselors.
- Do Math: How much do you need to make from each client to meet your financial obligations? Review the budget in your business plan. Be realistic about the number of clients you can see in a week and how easily you can book them. For example, if you can only book one client a day, you aren’t ready for a full-time private practice, but you may be ready for a one-day-a-week part-time private practice.
- Be Consistent: Charge all of your clients the same fee. It’s less confusing for your clients, office manager, and yourself.
- Adjust: Your fees are not forever. Many counseling services raise their fees a small percentage each year to keep up with increases in costs like insurance and utilities.
Decorate Your Space
The way your office looks and feels to clients is essential to your private practice’s success. You want to make your office cozy and welcoming so clients feel comfortable and want to return. You don’t have to allocate a huge chunk of your budget to your office space, but you should consider how it looks and feels.
Colors and smells touch our senses and can either create a welcoming space for clients or turn them off. So, when choosing these details, be very thoughtful.
When decorating your office space, consider:
- Function: Provide clients with comfortable seating. Consider comfortable chairs instead of or in addition to the stereotypical counseling couch. Have a place for them to set their belongings and a coat rack for them to hang their coat or store their umbrella. The goal is to make the space as functional and stress-free as possible.
- Tone: Consider the tone of the office. Again, you want it to be relaxing and stress-free. Decorate in relaxing colors, like blues and greens. Put plants and calming art in the office. Allow as much natural light into the space as possible. Use lamps instead of overhead lights for additional lighting.
- Make It Official: Help clients feel confident in your expertise by hanging your diplomas and other credentials or honors on the wall.
Create a Marketing Plan
You can’t create a private practice, even part-time, and expect clients to discover it magically. Instead, you’ll need to advertise your counseling services. To build a marketing plan, you’ll need to determine the clients you want to reach and how best to connect with them.
When planning marketing for your private practice, consider:
- Launching a Website: You want a strong, professional online presence that introduces you and your services to potential clients.
- Writing a Letter to Physicians: If you establish yourself as a trusted mental health resource with a specific medical practice, the doctors will send you patients. A marketing letter to physicians helps you introduce yourself and your practice. It also provides an opportunity for you to tell the doctors more about what you do and the patients you serve.
- Enrolling in Directories: Enroll yourself in various online therapy directories, like this All Counselors directory.
- Using Google: It makes sense to use Google if you want people to find you via Google searches. Create a Google My Business account. The account will include a business listing, a free business profile, and it will make your service appear in Google maps. Google My Business listings also appear at the top of search results.