As I reflecting back on 10 years in private practice I did a few things right, mostly by chance.
With a business license, professional license, and big dreams, I opened a private practice ten years ago. Having never taken a business, marketing, or management course, I have learned “on the job” how to be a small business owner. Hopefully, you can learn from what I accidentally did right and intentionally apply them as you build your private practice.
1) Start small, think big
At the time I opened the doors I was a solo practitioner. Those of you in solo practice know that means I was the receptionist, the billing manager, the webmaster, the marketing specialist…Being a “one woman show” for a few years not only taught me what it takes to run a practice, but also how to teach others what I had learned as the practice grew. My vision was to grow my practice into a group with several practitioners and over time, that has happened.
2) Grow slowly
I didn’t know it then, but one of the main reasons new businesses fail is because they grow too quickly. As a mother of 3 children at the time, I was fine growing slowly so I could manage the multiple demands on my time. Turns out it was good for business too. Growing slowly allowed me to build a business without loans or going into debt.
3) Charge more than you think you’re worth
From my first day in private practice I have always charged a higher fee than I felt I was worth. This forced me to deal with my own money issues, and to learn to value my own services and skills more highly. I came to understand the value of the perceived value of my services as clients assumed that I must be very skilled in order to charge at the high end of the scale for my location.
4) Think like a business owner
My family of origin tends to have an entrepreneurial mindset where self-employment, flexibility, and freedom are highly valued. This framework helped me to be able to think like a business owner and a therapist and to find an emotional place where those two roles weren’t mutually exclusive. Although they are occasionally in conflict, I’ve found that that is a rare occasion. Thinking like a small business owner has helped me to set better therapeutic boundaries with clients as well.
5) Trust your gut
In all areas of practice, from office location, to logo design, to who to hire, to which practice software to purchase, after researching the best options I ultimately followed my intuition in making key decisions for my private practice. While the path hasn’t been perfect, I can’t think of one decision where I trusted my gut and regretted it.
6) Hire qualified people that you trust with your reputation
One of the scariest things in growing from a solo practitioner to a larger practice is hiring people who have the power to impact your professional and business reputation. In addition to hiring very qualified staff, also hire people that you’d trust and train them how to present themselves in a way that builds your credibility.
7) Set strong boundaries with money
Whether it’s following through with your office policies regarding collections, or saving for those dips in client numbers, I have tried to be consistent with money policies. This also applies when hiring employees. My tendency was to give away a little too much at first, because of my inexperience. I soon learned that there is a cost, emotionally and financially, to having employees, and that I deserve to get paid for management time and for holding all of the liability in the practice setting.
8) Create a home away from home
Creating a comfortable yet professional office space has helped me, and my clients, to feel welcomed and safe. I’ve found self-expression in my private office environment and decor helps foster a sense of safety and nurturing and creates a space where I feel at ease.
9) Integrate your passions into your practice
I have always integrated current interests and passions into my private practice. If there’s a film that I really like, I’ll use that with clients. More recently I’ve become a tech geek, so I’ve integrated technology into my private practice by launching an online therapy division, moving to electronic records, and building a social media following.
10) Take good care of you
Personal self care has always been high on my priority list. I’ve known that if my own needs were going to get met it was my job to make it happen. Whether it’s scheduling exercise, bringing healthy food to work, making time for social events, or attending my own therapy, I am fiercely committed to making sure I am taking care of me. I think those habits have allowed me to energetically continue investing in my clients, my practice, and my employees without feeling burned out.
What things have you accidentally done right in building your practice? Please share so we can learn from each other!