The Fundamentals of Starting a Private Practice

For many mental health professionals, one compelling reason to go into their chosen line of work is freedom. The allure the autonomy a private practice can offer is strong. Helping people while being your own boss? Yes, please.

Whether you’ve been considering taking the leap for years, or are just starting out, launching a private practice is hard work. No doubt it’s a risky move, but with great risk comes the opportunity for great reward. While there is no guarantee to be successful once you operate your private practice, careful preparation and realistic expectation setting can set you up well.

Gain experience first

If you’re in the boat of just starting out, consider working for an established group rather than trying to set up your own shop right away. By joining a group practice, or taking a job in a community agency or medical setting, you can gain experience, connect with colleagues and have a guaranteed paycheck with benefits. It can also give you an inside look at how to run a business. Most people who work in therapy are not given much business training in grad school, so working with a group practice can provide a good sense of the realities of the work world and ideas about how you might run my own business differently.

Develop a niche

Upon starting out in your career, or private practice, you probably need to take any and all clients. Down the line, consider developing a specialty niche, as they tend to provide the best income and make the best use of your time and energy. Consider populations you most enjoy and are best at treating, as well as what the market needs, experts advise. Where do your own personal passions lie? The more authentic your niche is to your personal interest, the more successful you will be. At the end of the day, you need to find something that's unique, in demand, and that people are willing to pay for to really stand out from other practitioners.

Be Visible & Accessible

The location for your practice must be affordable and accessible. Observe the spot that you want to rent out for your private practice. Does this place have high foot traffic? Do people need to walk in this street to get to a common busy establishment? An ideal location may be along a commercial area such as near the market or an institute of learning. Also, compelling signage with a clear and short description of your services is free advertising in a location where there is high foot traffic. Are there any other businesses in the area that are drawing people in? This may be helpful as well as make your practice become more visible to others.

Infrastructure is also important. Above all else, your office should be accommodating to clients of all physical ability. The location should also be accessible by a transport network like trains or buses. Further, if you have a website, putting instructions on how to drive to or ride a bus to your office or a map with known landmarks may also be helpful. A location with a difficult parking situation will be inconvenient for clients, and potentially a deal breaker. 

Brand Your Practice

A private practice is a small business, and a small business needs a brand. It’s a good idea to sit down and think of a mission or value statement for your practice, an ideal list of whom you'd want to work with if you decide to create a group practice, and a business plan. To develop your plan, tap experts in accounting, taxes and mental health law, and talk with working practitioners. In fact, the more private practitioners you can consult, the more accurate your knowledge base will be because of the diversity in information, both negative and positive. 

As you develop your practice plan, envision the kind of practice you'd really like to have and how to implement it. How do you want clients to feel when they walk into the waiting room? Don’t be afraid to incorporate and reflect your own personal style, interests, and sensibilities. Also, be sure to vet potential hires to make sure they're a good fit with your values and culture.

Consider Staffing

In operating your private practice, you have to be a clerk, a consultant, a marketer, and a bookkeeper. While it may be admirable if you can do all of these things and more, some entrepreneurs choose to outsource some of these activities. Deciding whether or not to staff is a big question. It might not be possible when starting a practice depending on whether or not you already have the client load to support payroll. If you decide to forgo help, it’s important to keep in mind the volume of administrative duties that will demand your unpaid attention, on top of your caseload. It’s absolutely doable, but you need to have realistic expectations about the hours you’ll need to put in without help while you’re getting up and running.

If you can afford to bring on help, consider an administrative assistant and perhaps even a part time marketing expert to help make sure you have an active online presence continually bringing in new business. If staffing isn’t an option, but you do have some budget, consider signing up for a platform like Advekit to help market your practice and take care of some of the administrative load like navigating insurance and payments. 

Remain Flexible

Adopting an entrepreneur attitude is critical to opening a private practice. You should remain open-minded and willing to learn. Not only should your outlook be fluid, the way the practice is run should be adaptive enough for it to weather changes. Whether it’s an unforeseen loss of multiple clients for various reasons, personal emergencies, or even a pandemic, your business should be able to expand and contract without dramatically affecting your clients or your income.

When the time to start your private practice is right, you’ll know, as long as you’ve done your research, saved enough capital to launch, and are ready for an entrepreneurial ride.

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