Seeds for a Successful Private Practice: 7 Tips for New Grads

Are you a recent social work or mental health graduate? Are you wondering what actions you can take now to prepare for private practice, while working towards your licensure?

The following 9 professionals have kindly agreed to provide you with their best advice: Allison Puryear, Camille McDaniel, Cathy Hanville, Joe Sanok, Maelisa Hall, Melvin Varghese, Roy Huggins, Samara Stone and Tamara Suttle!

Seven out of the nine experts specifically have a private practice and/or a podcast that focuses on providing private practice consulting. The remaining two contributors bring to you some specialized knowledge in the areas of clinical note-taking and technology.

Based upon what our private practice mavens recommend, it is evident that building a network of therapists and establishing a routine of self-care early on are key to your success!

Make sure to read through all of their tips (they each give 3). While there is some overlap, each practitioner presents valuable information with different nuances that you won’t want to miss.

Lastly, after reading through the private practice experts’ recommendations, check out the graphic below for a summary of their key take-aways!

Samara Stone, LCSW-C, Perfected Practice says:

What could be more exciting than the beginning of a career in social work?  You’ve attended the classes, finished the internship and maybe even passed your first licensure test. Most of us come to this field full of passion and enthusiasm for making a difference in the world around us.

But there are a few things to consider right at the beginning of your journey if you are going to make the most of your career in social work.

1.Social work is challenging and can be emotionally heavy work.  If you are going to avoid burn out, you have to commit to making self-care a priority.   Your clients and the field need you to be your best, so learn how to take good care of yourself.

2. Begin to develop an expertise or niche. What brought you to this field and what do you eventually want to be known for? Be intentional about choosing supervisors and employment opportunities that will help shape your skills and your values so you can grow personally and professionally.

3.Never stop learning.  You will need CEUs to keep your license… recommend going beyond requirements and choosing CEUs that keep you fresh in your developing expertise.  If you know private practice is a long-range goal, start now educating yourself on how to become business savvy.

Cathy Hanville, LCSW, Get Down to Business Consulting says:

1.Start a blog.  If you get a self hosted WordPress site, then you can start a blog and register your domain and have the building block for your website. A blog will help build your reputation and starting the website will help you with your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) down the road.

2. Take business and marketing classes. Private practices fail because therapists are not always good at business and marketing their practices. Learn what you can before you start your business so you will be ahead of the curve.

3. Build a network of other therapists. Join local groups of therapists and attend their events. Private practice can be very isolating and you want to have a network both for support and to utilize for marketing as you start your practice.

Start thinking about defining your niche. You want another therapist that has to make a referral to think “oh, Jane specializes in anxiety so this referral is great for her.”

Other therapists will be your greatest referral source. We all have to refer some clients out. Connect authentically and tell them your niche and ask about their niche. Most of us prefer to refer to people with whom we’ve connected with and with whom we feel comfortable.

Tamara Suttle, M.Ed., LPC,  Private Practice From the Inside Out:

1.Start with a niche or special focus.  Having a niche is not about who you work with or the issues with which you like to work. It is about marketing yourself/your practice.  A niche gives referral sources a unique way to remember you and gives others an easy way to talk about you.  Most therapists stay identified as a generalist (and then struggle to get noticed) far too long.  Your niche makes you memorable.

2. Make a plan and follow through with it.  Identify who your ideal client is, where s/he hangs out (both online and off), and how you are going to get known (in your niche) for being the go-to therapist in your town and where are you going to spend your time online and off.  Put it on the calendar and do it.  If you fail to follow through, use an accountability partner.

3. Invest in yourself.  Most therapists find it easy to invest our time and energy in our clients, but far fewer therapists invest in themselves. Identify what it is that you struggle with the most.  Is it clinical skills or is it the business skills?  Whichever it is, commit to spending the time, energy and money to learn what it is you don’t know.  Investing more in your clients than you do in yourself will cost you in private practice.

Maelisa Hall, PsyD, QA Prep says:

1.Stay caught up on notes. Few things are more stressful for counselors than spiraling into the cycle of falling behind and catching up again. Creating good habits in the beginning will help you when you are more independent later on.

2. Create a schedule. To achieve my first tip you need to find a schedule for writing notes that works for you, whether that’s writing notes at the end of the day, the following morning, in between sessions or actually writing notes in session with your clients. Experiment to see what strategy suits you best and once you find it, stick with it.

3.Use this time to get feedback. Once you move into private practice you gain freedom but lose constructive feedback from supervisors and colleagues. While it’s exciting at first, you quickly learn that ongoing feedback and consultation is necessary for maintaining quality work with clients. So take advantage while you can.

Allison Puryear, Abundance Practice Building says:

1.Find Community. Whether it’s other private practitioners-to-be, folks in private practice, or entrepreneurial friends, it’s incredibly helpful to have the support of others as you plan. There’s so much information out there and not enough time to absorb it. Create a private practice study group and share what you’re learning. Join a practice-building group. Cheer each other on and provide the encouragement each of you needs when it gets hard.

2. Think Abundantly and Trust. Wait, aren’t these people my competition? I assure you, there are plenty of clients to go around. If you embrace this as fact, you will be exceedingly less stressed, more collaborative, and more successful. You will be scared sometimes in the early days. Know that that’s part of the process and that we’ve all been through it. That’s not to say that you can just hang your shingle and fill your practice. Nope, you also need to…

3.Learn About Marketing. Did you just cringe? I know, it sounds so anti-counseling. Here’s a reframe: marketing is just letting folks know what you provide. That’s all. No sliminess required; no “selling yourself.” It’s just unashamedly getting on the radar of the clients who would benefit from you most (AKA those in your niche). Learning ethical, effective ways to do that is a game-changer.

Roy Huggins, LPC NCC, Person-Centered Tech says:

1.Think about what you need your tech to do. Supervised work contexts often aren’t the same as the future practice you want to build. Maybe you’ve gotten accustomed to paper records and your new practice will do better with electronic or vice versa. Or perhaps you’ll need tech to help you manage client messages by yourself. Logistics will change and it’ll help to be ready for that!

2. Set your fees so you have time to evaluate your tech. The best tools for your practice change over time. Even if it’s every couple years, you’ll be stunned by how often you need to re-evaluate your tech. If you’re scrambling just to pay the bills, you’ll never get the time to evaluate how your old tools are failing and what new tools are available. Remember: you can’t help clients when you can’t help yourself!

3. Choose tech holistically — not in pieces. Colleagues tend to be the most panicked when they realize the mountain of tech they’ve accumulated is full of security and compliance holes. Or worse: when a security breach results from it! Taking the time to step back and choose tools as a system — instead of a bunch of individual pieces — will bring both peace of mind and efficiency to your practice.

Joe R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC, Practice of the Practice says:

1.Start a website and blog about what you’re learning in graduate school. This will help you build SEO (search engine optimization), the habit of creating content, and rank higher in Google. Later you can rename the website to your counseling practice.

2. Network like crazy and meet as many people as you can. When you’re in grad school, most people want to help you learn. So you can get access to more people.

3. Start listening to podcasts about business and counseling so that you are well prepared when you graduate. Podcasts that have been formative in my business are: Smart Passive Income Podcast by Pat Flynn, Youpreneur by Chris Ducker and This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt.

Melvin Varghese PhD, Selling the Couch says:

1.Connect and grab coffee or a meal with 2 to 3 private practitioners in the geographic area you’d like to start a private practice in.  Ask them how you can support them.  This will help you start to establish a relationship so that you can support one another when you start your private practice.

2.Consider starting in a group private practice before going solo. This will help you learn the day to day running of a practice, narrow down your ideal clients and become versed in other practical aspects (e.g., asking clients for their co-pay, handling no show’s, etc.).

3. Be a part of community.  Being a business owner is often isolating. Fortunately, there are some amazing online communities for aspiring and current private practitioners where we can support one another.  I’m a big believer that we go further together.

Camille McDaniel, LPC, The Counselor Entrepreneur says:

There is so much to consider when deciding to run a business.  I hope these assist you in pursuing your dreams.  Your road will not always be easy but nothing ever is that is infinitely valuable to the world.

1.Develop a vision and goals for your practice:  Do you want to start off solo or with others?  Which types of challenges with you treat initially? (Remember for everything you treat, you may need to have different marketing strategies). Will you cater to diverse economic needs and if so, how?

2.Be realistic:  A solid and thriving private practice isn’t built in 4-6 months. Slow and steady wins. The Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy says, “Bureau of Labor Statistics data on establishment age show that 49 percent of establishments survive 5 years or more; 34 percent survive 10 years or more; and 26 percent survive 15 years or more.”

3. Keep your eyes on your own lane:  Comparison is the thief of joy.  You will cloud your vision and goals if you are looking at other practices and how they appear to be growing faster, doing better, building bigger, etc.  Invest in proper business consultation. It’s similar to the way you expect people to get proper professional help for their mental and emotional health challenges.

What tips would you add you to the above list?