Starting a Counseling Practice Part 4: Choosing an Office Space
Once you have your business plan in place the question remains, where are you going to do business? This is really the first thing many of us want to rush towards first above all else. Based off of your business plan, you might have an idea of where your clients reside or work. With the researching your area, you will also learn of who else is serving through private practice. Why does this matter? This is where you get to establish what sets you apart. (More on that later when we talk about niche later in this series).
Most of us start out with subleasing. If you have a full time job and are starting to move into practice this is a great option. A therapist that has their own office, allows another therapist to use their space on a per hour or per day basis. If you choose to sublet, know that you may not have creative control of the space. This is a question to ask, can you bring in some items that are your own to use in the space? Per hour is where you pay when you use the office only. Typically offices that do this have a calendar with other therapists using the space, therefore you may not be guaranteed consistent hours, however this can offset the initial investment of startup.
If you rent per day, it is common for the owner to charge a flat fee for a full or half day of use for the entire month. For example, I sublet out my office for $150/per day for a month. One therapist uses the office on Saturdays and pays me only $150 per month. The other therapist that uses the office twice a week, pays me $300 per month. This allows you to have a guaranteed slot and schedule. You pay whether or not you use the office, however.
There is also another option of using executive suites. This has become more popular for therapists. You rent per day or per hour, a receptionist is provided as well as other features some times such as security, lobby refreshments, etc. If you go with this option find out when the building is locked up. Executive suites can have a 9-5 schedule and if you see clients after hours, you may have to let your clients into the building. (not always the case, but something to ask about)
Some choose to invest in a full time office. When you set the intention, it can be quite motivating to fill the space with sessions. Leasing your own office allows you creative/decorative control of your office. In essence, it is your space and that is a lovely feeling. You need to evaluate your budget and your needs. Can you adapt to others’ spaces or is it imperative that you have your own space in order to feel comfortable and do your best work? Match your needs to your budget.
Yep, budget. You need to consider what you can afford. No one likes to think about start up costs, but they exist and if you did your business plan, you are aware of that now, even if it is just the deposit on a lease.
When looking at your budget and comparing options for office space check into additional costs you may incur such as utilities, parking fees or furnishing requirements. Not all subleases come with furniture. Also consider the size of the space. Look at the price per square foot. This is how you evaluate getting the best bang for your buck. But even if the size is great, is it functional?
Look at the needs of how you practice. If you are a play therapist, do you need a playroom and a separate therapy room as well? If you run groups or seminars, is there space for this? An office has to be functional for your work. Consider as well the hours you will be working. Some buildings shut off the heat and AC after normal work hours. I recommend 24/7 control of the AC and heat. Trust me.
Do you need wheelchair accessibility for yourself or for clients? How is the parking? Does it have a call light system? Where are the bathrooms? What about soundproofing?
Let me say a little bit about sound, a lesson you can learn from my mistake. My first office, I checked it out when no one was in session. It was a multi office suite. You need to go by the office when people are around. Why? Because some offices, do not have sound proofing. My first office seemed great, until my first session. Another therapist was in the office next to me with a client and I could hear every single word. They might as well had been in my room. So quickly I grabbed my laptop and downloaded white noise and propped it up against the door. Not the best solution and honestly, a little embarrassing for me. So go evaluate the sound proofing of the room. Even if it is a single office, you want to go in and see if other offices in the building are loud.
Just like purchasing a home, really get to know the office and the area. Go by at night and during the day. Test your commute and common traffic times. Really take some time to understand if this is the right fit for you. Because when you get into a lease, most are a year minimum and some are cheaper the longer the length of your lease. You want a space you can feel great in because this does impact your love for your work.
Need some help staying organized? Download this checklist to keep track of what you are looking for and what you find as you search for your office.
Higdon, K. (2014). Starting a Counseling Practice Part 4: Choosing an Office Space. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2017, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/kickstart/2014/12/starting-a-counseling-practice-part-4-choosing-an-office-space-2/