Kelly: All right, everybody, welcome to another interview in our series of real-life stories, building a private practice, and I have Nyshia Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker with us today. And you may also call her Ny. So welcome.
Kelly: Thanks for volunteering to share your story with people today. Tell us a little bit about where your practice is at currently, who you serve, and what you’re up to right now.
Nyshia: Currently, I serve a bunch of different people, but my niche is Christian families. So I serve that population specifically, although I do work with some people who don’t identify with that, but who have a desire to have more spirituality addressed in their treatment. So I kind of focus – that’s my niche, that’s where I go.
So I do traditional therapy, of course, because I specialize in anxiety and mood disorders, but I love integrating spirituality and my faith into the sessions, and so that’s typically where I get the majority of my people. Currently, I’m full-time, so I don’t have a second job, I’m not part-time anywhere, this is what I’m doing every day.
Kelly: How long have you been full-time?
Nyshia: Since January.
Kelly: Of this year. Yeah? 2015?
Nyshia: Yes, this year.
Kelly: Tell me about your process of when you started private practice, why private practice, and kind of what it took to get to the point of jumping in full-time.
Nyshia: That’s kind of an interesting story, Kelly.
Nyshia: I did community mental health for years and years since like late `90s, so I’ve been doing it a long time, but I knew years ago, like, “Oh, open up a community agency.” I could see it in my head. I never really saw myself as having my own private practice. I have a mentor who has a private practice. He’s very successful in cash-only, but he did that after he had worked at another place for many years. So it wasn’t like he needed it. But he’s very successful at it, like he’s full as much as he wants to be full. He encouraged me a lot.
Two years ago, it was just something in my faith that I kept feeling like I was supposed to do it. And so I talked with my pastor about it and I said, “Oh, I’ll do it and I started and saw a few clients,” but I found it was really much more difficult than I thought it was going to be finding the right people to go to, to ask questions and how do you do it. It wasn’t part of my grad school program. They didn’t talk about that in social work school at all. You’re geared towards social justice and social welfare and medical things, but not towards private practice.
Kelly: Right. So for you, starting a private practice came out of a spiritual kind of nudge, right?
Kelly: And something that was unexpected?
Kelly: And something that you even sought counsel for to further understand this, right?
Kelly: And I think that that’s different. Not a lot of people say, “Oh, I wanted freedom in my time” or whatever, and for you, there’s kind of like this calling that it’s how it first started.
Kelly: And then from there, I think – can you speak to – I love that what you’re saying. I had two clients, and it was a lot of work for two clients. I think when you’re first starting out, that’s what it feels like. It’s like, “I’m working so hard,” but you have to start somewhere. So how did you cope with that start-up period of the practice where you are working your tush off, and it takes a while before you see that shift?
Nyshia: I think because I still have my full-time job, it was – one of the things I’ve heard you and Miranda say, where if you’re not really doing it, it’s like a hobby, so I think I still had that in my head. It was, I was doing it, but I wasn’t pushing it or pursuing it any way. It was like that old movie, “If you build it, they will come,” and so eventually, these people are just going to know that I’m here and they’re going to show up, and they’re going to call, and I don’t have to do anything but just have a phone number.
So that was my thinking. I had that magical thinking. It was strictly magical. So I guess the coping part was I just decided to stop putting energy and time into it, really. It was just kind of, “Oh, people call, okay, and if they don’t, okay.” It was kind of defeatist. Like, “Yeah, whatever.” It wasn’t so much – I didn’t really have an ideal client or anything like that. It was just “whoever wants to see me, I’ll see you” kind of a thing. So it wasn’t focused, which I think was also more stressful.
Kelly: Why do you think that was? What do you imagine you’re protecting yourself from with that?
Nyshia: You know? I think community mental health, my full-time job, was safety. I know that was guaranteed money. I always was going to have that job. They were always going to need me. It’s not like they were going to get rid of me anytime soon. So there was no push for me. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I need it.” So I think that played a big part in it. It was kind of like, “Well, it would be nice,” but I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I didn’t have the business mind of it at all. So it was like even with those two clients, I wasn’t just seeing them for an hour. If I was honest, they were getting way more time than an hour because I only had two.
So I was burning myself out giving away free services, and it was just, “Okay, well –” and then I thought to myself, “Well, if this is what it’s like, I still need to focus on my full-time job.” So I really didn’t put the time and energy into it. It just seemed overwhelming and not knowing where to go for help kind of kept it kind of pushed to the side for a long time.
Kelly: And what made you shift back from like, “This is a hobby. I’m going to be in mental health community forever” to “No, I want to do private practice.”
Nyshia: I think I liked the freedom of it and my mentor was pretty awesome, and he really was encouraging me and saying, “You know, Nyshia, you’re really good at what you do and you’re too stressed out in this job that you’re in. It’s just not okay,” and I remember when I was studying for licensure, you could print out these printouts of all your hours of everything you had done, and when you’re in a medical agency, you actually can print out how much they get paid per hour, and I saw how much they were getting paid for me, and I was like, “You have got to be kidding me.” They were getting paid four or five times per hour what I was getting paid, and that blew my mind completely. It was, “If I’m working this hard for you and only getting this, what if I work this hard for myself?”
Kelly: I love that. I love that you said that. What a shift.
Nyshia: Yeah. Well, I felt kind of – if you feel used like, “Oh my gosh, all I hear is how non-profits today don’t make any money and you know, you can’t do this,” and then I started hearing how our CEO makes half a million dollars a year, and I’m like, “Wait a minute. You said I couldn’t get a raise.” He makes half a million dollars. And so it was like, “Okay, I think it’s time to start taking care of myself and not depending on an agency to take care of me. They’re concerned about their bills, not mine,” and I’m working 60 hours a week getting paid for 40. So I really wasn’t even making what I was making any way.
Kelly: Right. Wow! And so from that point to January, how much time has that been since you made that kind of mental shift to going into full-time?
Kelly: So you have that mental shift until now when you’re in full-time private practice in January. What was that time in between?
Nyshia: It was a year. I decided that at that point, it was around – I want to say January 2014, and at that time was when I really started looking into finding real business mentorship because nobody – even though I had interned at a private practice, they weren’t really trying to share that information. They weren’t trying to really lead in how I did that. The mentor I had was amazing, but he was in Orange County. He has this huge church, and so his experience was going to be completely different than mine. So he couldn’t really tell me how to start it. So I started really looking into – I need to find someone who can guide me on how to look at this not just from a therapy standpoint but also from a business standpoint, because I don’t know how to do the marketing, and I was seeing everything about social media and blogging. And I’m like, “This is like a foreign language.” I understand the DSM, I don’t know what SEO means, “Did you say the word ‘blog’?” I don’t know what any of this is. It really was like I stepped into Mexico, and nobody was speaking English. And I needed a translator, and that’s how I found the webinars, and it was like, “Okay,” and that was actually the beginning of me kind of really looking at it in a different way.
Kelly: Yeah. And now, do you know what SEO is?
Nyshia: I do. I’m still figuring out how to do it, but I do understand what SEO is and amazingly enough, I had a website when I did – I think it was the launch party last March, and you guys had, for some reason, chosen me, and it was great because you chose me and you looked at my website, and it had been hacked, and that’s how I found out my website was hacked.
Kelly: I remember that.
Nyshia: Miranda had looked it up and was like, “Hey, did you see this?”
Kelly: Yes. I remember that. You’ve come a long way.
Nyshia: Yeah. I learned about websites and security and things you need to do and all of that. I would have never known any of that information because I didn’t even know they could happen.
Kelly: So tell me about your passion for Christian families. Why that?
Nyshia: Well, spiritually, it was what I was pushed for, and I end up getting a lot of people and my job at the community mental health job that I worked at. They knew my faith and they knew who I was, and so I was in management there and they’d come and talk to me, and I ended up doing unofficial counseling all the time. Everybody would want to come in and talk to me, and things are going on, and “Well, can you pray with me?” and things like that. And so then, it actually started happening at church all the time, and people had questions, and people that I’ve been around, who are Christians, struggle with counseling, the idea of it. You get told it’s bad. “You shouldn’t have to do that.” “You should be able to pray your way through it,” even though they believe they really do struggle with seeking out help for things. So it was a way to kind of say, “Hey, you can seek help, and I respect your faith and I respect your values, and I’m not going to give you therapeutic advice that goes against what your faith is telling you to do.” I get a lot of people who go see therapists, and I was a very traditional therapist. I got my master’s degree at Cal State, Long Beach, and anybody who knows Long Beach knows that Long Beach is pretty liberal. I was very, very liberal.
So it’s not to say that traditional therapists are bad or anything like that. It was just – it’s a whole different arena when you have someone who’s coming to you because they’re pregnant and they don’t know what to do, and abortion is not an option, so you can’t even talk about that with them. You have to talk about, “Well, what does God want me to do, and how does this impact my family, and what is my pastor going to say?” It’s a whole different set of [cross-talk]
Kelly: There are other factors.
Nyshia: Yeah. And so I felt real passion for that. It was like, “You know what? They’re just like me trying to figure out how to do everything you have to do every day,” but then, also figuring out, “How does my faith play a part into it?” and I’ve been there. So I wanted to be there for other people.
Kelly: Right. I think it speaks to you being comfortable with who you are.
Kelly: That’s where a niche always starts. It’s like knowing you, and that is a part of who you are. I know like when I’ve talked to you before. I can sense that it’s in your language, it’s in the way you carry yourself, it’s in the way you talk about your work. And so really, it’s interesting like that’s how your practice even started, was from that spiritual place and then it gets integrated, and I think, too, about your ability to navigate the stigma and shame of people that need your help, is important. Can you speak a little bit to that about – because like you’re saying a lot of Christians feel that like shame about going into counseling when God should be enough for whatever that is. So how have you kind of worked with that in terms of reaching out?
Nyshia: Well, one of the greatest things about me being in the Bootcamp was understanding if I was going to push the niche at least, you just go all in. So initially, it was, “Well, I didn’t want to make anybody feel bad or exclude anybody,” and then I remember you guys saying, “Well, just go all in. You just have to push and just go forward.”
And so now, it gave me the confidence to kind of say, “Well, you know what? Let’s just talk about the Bible then,” and I bring it up and we talk about it and how that’s all the Bible is, is a bunch of people going to other people saying, “Hey, I need help.” There are prophets in there, there are counselors in there, there are spiritual leaders in there. The Bible is just a big story of, “You can’t hear me, but I’m going to send a human being to come talk to you, and you listen to them and get some help from them.” So that has really helped with that because I didn’t kind of tiptoe around the niche. I just said, “Look. It’s in the Bible. Everybody sought support. Everybody sought counsel. Everybody wanted help, and God would send them people, and I get to be one of the people that God is sending you. And I’m trained in therapy, but we share the same faith,” and I push that part too, and so, “you get the best of both worlds.”
Kelly: Yeah. And I love – I went to seminary as well, and so kind of learning about there are lots of ways to integrate your faith, and I think you found what was clearest for you and most authentic. And if you go to your website, it’s pretty clear.
Kelly: What is your website address?
Kelly: Yeah. It can’t get more clear than that.
Nyshia: No, you really can’t. And I actually found that most people, when they look for me, when they’re looking for counseling and they’re looking for that and they actually type Christian counseling in. So it makes me very easy to find.
Kelly: Yeah, awesome. So what kinds of things have you done to build the practice so that you could go full-time?
Nyshia: One, I keep doing the Bootcamp activities. So I did the – oh gosh, and I forget the name of it. The Perfect Day exercise. Really, it was like that big thing for me to sit down and say, “What is my perfect day going to be?” and creating that, it was like, “Oh, wow, okay.” And that’s what I push for, is how can I make that a reality for myself. So I really focus on that a lot.
The other part is the script that you guys gave. That changed things for me immediately because I realized when I was talking to people, I don’t think I was confident. I think I was just kind of, “Well, what do you want?” and “I can do that,” or “What do you need?” and it wasn’t very focused. And so now, when I talk to people on the phone, I am very focused. I know who my ideal client is. I’m speaking to that. I root out people that don’t fit. So that’s a really big thing. So that helps me to be okay because if I’m just taking anybody, I’m stressed out because I did that in the beginning where I was taking people that did not fit, and I’d be overwhelmed like, “I don’t know what to do with you. You are a mess, but not the mess I want to help.”
So I ended up spending a lot of time researching how to help the people that didn’t fit what I needed, so those two things would really push me in the direction of being able to go full-time seeing that I could connect with people over the phone and book the sessions and not feel like, “I don’t know if they’re going to call back,” because I knew how to finish the call. I knew how to have the call and guide them through to where they wanted to pay and book right then.
So being confident about what I’m able to do also set in doing the business plan and starting to look at, “Okay, this is how much money I need to start setting aside. This is how much I’m going to need every month. I’m a very safet-oriented person. I needed to know this is what I need to make to make at least what I make at my agency,” and that really helped me to feel comfortable going full-time because – and I knew how many clients I needed to get to.
Kelly: Yeah, right. So what has been some marketing successes and marketing flops for you? What has worked and what has just been not the best for you?
Nyshia: Well, the listing sites, initially, it didn’t really work. I learned that I really need to pay attention to which site I decide to list on for my ideal client, and I didn’t know that. I knew about Psychology Today. I was with them for about nine or ten months. I got about like two or three clients. I got a lot of calls for people who weren’t my ideal client or wanted free services, and then I remember we were on one of the chats on Facebook and everybody was, “Did you try therapy?” and so I was like, “You’re like – it’s more faith-based,” and that actually has been a much better fit for me.
So actually looking at not just who’s listing, but if they actually attract your ideal client is one of the things that I learned because – and that was a big lesson because that actually contributed to my kind of, “Oh, it’s not going to work because I’m not actually getting calls from people.” Nobody who I really want to work with is calling me, but it was also I wasn’t marketing in the right area for myself.
So that one was a really big one. That first was a flop. The other was I did a big even in my local area, and I was looking forward to it for months. They have hundreds and hundreds of people, and I just prepared for it, and nothing in me decided to go, “What type of people come to this event?”
So it’s right there and I had prepped all this stuff, and I had spent all this time, and it was a good learning experience, but none of my ideal client was there. These were people who did not work, who wanted free services, and did not really want to invest in their mental health, and so it was like, “Yeah, I learned how to be there all day,” but I didn’t do the research to make sure it would be beneficial for my practice.
So that was one of the bigger flops for me, was planning for months to be at this all-day event and spending money and doing all of this and not having the return on investment. The biggest positive thing was finding the listing site that worked well for me, which has been amazing because it really gets me seen and noticed by the right people.
Kelly: Cool. What kinds of relationships have you built as you’ve been building your practice? And we talked a lot about building connection. Where have you found the best connection to be for you?
Nyshia: The best connection for me, honestly, is the Facebook board, because everybody is always talking and encouraging me to do stuff, and I get really inspired by other people. And so so many people on there are just doing amazing things and great things and they haven’t done them before, and that gives me a lot of motivation, and I get to communicate with them all the time, because nobody else in my world is doing what I’m doing.
And then what I found up here is people would want to connect on LinkedIn, but they don’t want to meet. They’re very competitive. So the online community has been really important for me. They’ve really kept me going and have kept pushing me like, “Hey, what happened with that?” and “What did you do?” and “Why don’t you try this?” and “You could go over here,” and “Oh, I did this. Let me show you what I did.” And so that really has been my lifeline amazingly enough. It hasn’t been out here. I was able to connect with some local pastors and stuff, and it didn’t work out initially, and then I had people on the websites. They will go again, “Don’t give up.” “Go do it again.” “Call again,” and so I’ve actually had a few more meetings. They actually met with me. And so I’ve had meetings with some of the biggest pastors in my area and like thousands of people at their church. And so it was like, “Oh, okay. But I wouldn’t ever be going back,” because it’s like, “We don’t have any answers.”
But because there were people on the site who were like, “Well, did you call back?” “Well, what did you do?” “Well, go back again,” and “Why don’t you try again?” And so, “Okay, I’m going to do it.” And so that’s been the best link that I’ve made and staying on that board consistently and checking in with people to keep myself accountable.
Kelly: You know, from the beginning of your journey, you had a mentor and then getting connected in with a community of people that support you has been really key. I love that, and I stressed it a lot about like surrounding yourself with successful people and the like-minded people can really help you grow. So what kind of advice do you have for people that want to make the leap from a full-time employment to self-employment?
Nyshia: Well, the advice that I would have would be to definitely get the support that you need about learning about the business of private practice. It’s not just doing therapy. There’s a whole business side to this that I think originally overwhelmed me, but now that I understand it, it’s helping me to kind of really keep good boundaries with myself and knowing this is business and I have to treat it like a business and I have to have the attitude of a business owner, and I can’t be soft. When I worked full-time, it was – I didn’t do the billing, and I didn’t think about the money, and I was never the one taking care of any of that stuff, and that can be the scariest part about moving over is because we’re not used to taking money and we’re not used to being the one to say, “Hey, you owe me money,” or “Pay me for my services,” and then you have to get used to saying, “You know? I’m going to have to charge you and you have to pay me and it’s worth it.”
But I think allowing yourself to understand that it is a business, it’s okay for you to say that it’s a business, and to move into that mindset was the biggest thing for me and then clearing up my own issues surrounding money and asking for money and my fear about all of that really got me where I was okay. I think dealing with your own personal stuff before you start your business is really important. If you go into this fearful and having issues with stress and money management, you’re going to really freak out. So you want to definitely deal with your own personal issues before you go and leap. Deal with that stuff first so you can be really focused and successful.
Kelly: Yeah. What kinds of tech tools do you use? Do you have any kind of favorite things that help ease your workflow?
Nyshia: SimplePractice is, well, the biggest life saver ever. I actually invested in that when I only had two clients after Bootcamp. I was like, “Okay, I don’t know if it’s worth it, but I’m going to do it,” and it has been one of the best investments. I know where my money is, I know how it’s coming in, I know who owes me money, it tracks my schedule for me, and I just love that thing. And they have an app and I can pull it up and I can look at things, and that has been one of the bigger things for me to be able to make this leap. Because if I had to do this in Excel or QuickBooks, I don’t think –
Nyshia: That I’d do it. I really don’t think I could do it, and so that has been my biggest technology right there, is, “Okay, that,” and starting to learn Google Analytics and what that means and getting on the pages and what SEO is, but I guess my practice management software is my most favorite tech tool. I’m on it every day.
Kelly: I love it. That’s great. Well, any other kinds of tips that you have for staying afloat, moving forward, and keeping the motivation going? I experience she’s a very energetic person. And so where does that come from for you, and how can you share that with others?
Nyshia: You know for me, I think the biggest thing – and it’s crazy, I was so stressed before I left full-time employment. Everybody who knows me knows I have an adult son and I love him to death, and he keeps me energetic because he chases me around a lot, but I keep myself grounded, and I love not having to work so much.
And so I actually have a lot more energy now because I have a lot more free time. So it gives me a lot more ability to just go do fun stuff and do self-care and make sure I have good boundaries, and I’ve had to tell people, “You know what? No, I can’t see you that late,” or “No, I’m not working on a Saturday. I’m sorry. Even if you’re going to pay me, you got to pick another day.” And that has really helped me, too, because I didn’t, in community mental health, understand how to turn off work, and making sure that I am doing and that I’m spending family time and I do go to church and I don’t get distracted and I take time during the day to eat – like I made myself eat lunch today, like eat, and so I ate.
Those are the things that are really keeping me going. I think when we get really busy, we neglect ourselves and we could become very tired and not know that we’re tired. So take care of yourself. Make sure that you’re spending time with your family and you’re doing stuff outside of work and you’re enjoying yourself not just doing things all the time.
Kelly: Yeah. I do really think – and even though I’m always kind of growing in that area of taking care of myself and trying to get better at it, when people tell me they don’t have time, then I sometimes question like, “Maybe your time is being spent in the wrong places. Because we want your business to be focused on the stuff that matters most, and there’re other stuff you’re not going to get to,” that you could, but it’s not essential.
So that way, you can eliminate those things and do stuff like what you’re saying: Spend time with your family and go to church and eat. I remember government work. I come home like –
Nyshia: Not eating.
Kelly: “I think I forgot to go to the bathroom today,” like it would happen.
Nyshia: Yes, yes. “I forgot to eat.” “I forgot to comb my hair.” I remember going to bed at 2:30 in the morning and getting up and being at work at 7:30 because I had been out putting kids in foster care. So it is difficult, but I think that becomes a really big deal when you understand that, “What are you teaching the people that you’re working with if you’re not teaching them to take care – you’re not taking care of yourself.” I can’t look at somebody and go, “You need to take time to take care of yourself,” meanwhile, my hair is falling out and I look stressed out, but I’m telling you, “You need self-care.”
So to push myself to make sure that I did that, and I think the move for private practice really was self-preservation for me. It was, I needed a way to take care of myself, but not kill myself trying to make the bare minimum to be able to survive financially. This move has just created so much less stress for me. I was so sick six months ago doing both and then dealing with that, and now, my son’s like, “Oh my gosh, mom. You’re too relaxed. You need to go do something.” But I do like it’s a sleep in. I book my own clients and I book what time that I have them, and I know the bare minimum that I need, and I’m not stressed about it. It’s like, “Okay, I have enough,” and when I want more, I’m going to get some more, and then I’m going to do what I need to do, but I’m not constantly feeling like I need to go something and things aren’t working out, and my hair is falling out, and I’m at the doctor because I’m sick all the time. It has been a wonderful thing for my health to be able to go full-time.
Kelly: You know? I love hearing that, and I felt so great. It’s so important. Well, thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s just wonderful that within a year, you went from a nudge to full-on embracing private practice. So rad.
Nyshia: I’m excited about it.
Kelly: What do you think is going to come up for you this next year? What do you think 2015 holds for you?
Nyshia: You know? I think it holds me being a lot more successful, but then, I think last year, when I started, I didn’t have enough information to do the full business plan, and now, I do. So I think it’s going to be a great year for me to really expand my knowledge of just the logistics of everything and to really push my niche out there and do some more networking, which is going to be really important for me because I have the time to do it now. So I think it’s just going to be a lot more growth, not just financially with the practice, but me as a business owner and growing who I am in that respect.
Kelly: Cool. And if people want to reach you, what’s the best way for them to contact you? And I’ll put it in the notes as well.
Nyshia: Probably through email. So you can reach me at – let me spell it out. [email protected]
Kelly: Gmail. Okay, great. All right, you guys. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Ny, and if you have questions for her, you can post them below in the blog or send her a direct email and share what you are taking away from this story and what is inspiring you today in building your practice. Thanks so much.