A successful counseling private practice can be developed and maintained by establishing ongoing and appropriate referral sources, managing finances and patient billing, keeping costs in line, providing excellent service and looking for ways to expand the amount you earn. Success in a private counseling practice begins with assessing goals, needs and resources.
Focus on the Essentials
Begin outlining a business plan for your counseling private practice by assessing your goals and needs. Write down the answers to the following questions: How much do you need to earn? How much will you charge per session? How many clients can you reasonably expect to see per week? What type of clients do you want to work with? What specialty areas are you most interested in? How much time will you need to devote to managing your business? Will you accept insurance? Do you currently have any clients? What is your client turnover rate? Do you have established relationships with other providers or organizations that will provide ongoing referrals to your practice? What relationships could you develop to establish ongoing referrals to your practice? Be certain to reassess your practice and goals at least monthly to stay on target.
Establish a network of potential referral sources to your counseling private practice. One way to establish a referral base is to make referrals to others. Sending new clients to other providers will open the door to future reciprocal referrals. Ask other providers for referrals. Contact organizations and providers you know or that work within your area of specialty and ask for referrals. Set up meetings with potential referral sources to discuss their needs and how you might be able to help. Maintaining good relationships with current referral sources and continuing to develop new referral sources will be critical to the success of your counseling private practice.
Decide early on whether or not you will accept insurance. Living off co-payments while waiting for reimbursement from insurance companies can intensify the challenges of starting a private counseling practice. Do you have enough savings reserved to see you through until you have an established clientele? Accepting insurance also means incurring additional costs to handle coding, billing and following up to collect payments. Accepting insurance may also mean accepting a lower rate for your services. Be certain you weigh the long-terms costs of filling your practice with low-paying insurance agreements. Expect to hire an experienced individual or company to handle your billing and bookkeeping. Establish and clearly communicate your rates and payment terms to clients during your initial conversation with them. Maintain clear boundaries when it comes to payments. Bending your rules repeatedly to accommodate patients who do not pay can have damaging therapeutic results, in addition to impacting your income.
Spend less than you earn and always spend less than you budget. The spacious office in the swanky office park might feel good, but it increases the amount you will be required to earn and collect each month. Aim for a quality space that is less than what you have budgeted, never more. Shop for furnishings at home stores, not office supply stores. If you do not want to work alone in your office, consider sharing office space with other professionals before hiring a receptionist you might not need. Carefully consider the need for hiring employees and understand the full cost of salaries, benefits, employment taxes and payroll preparation. Question each business expenditure and the underlying reason for it before you purchase. Avoid long-term financial commitments for business services until they have proved to be essential.
Provide excellent care to your clients and thank them for the hard work they put into their own counseling. The quality of care that your clients receive from you is your greatest strength in creating and sustaining a successful counseling private practice. Consider placing a sign in the waiting room thanking clients for their confidence by referring others. Clients may not know that it is okay to refer family and friends. Providing excellent care in your counseling private practice also strengthens relationships with referral sources as clients report back to them the high quality of care they are receiving. Be certain to keep in touch with referral sources by providing regular progress reports. Always thank your referral sources and update them on your availability.
Change Beliefs and Habits That Interfere With Your Success
Avoid limiting your income and success by assuming that your counseling private practice is limited to a strict one patient, 1 hour equation. You may be able to expand your income by offering special groups that are focused on specific goals, such as life-work balancing or assertiveness. You can move beyond the one patient, 1 hour equation by offering seminars and workshops to the general public focused on specific needs resolutions. These workshops may be an excellent way to generate additional clients. Participating in forums and conferences is another way to increase your income and draw referrals to your private practice.
Develop simple and effective systems for managing scheduling, payments and paperwork. Avoid tasks and systems that could be eliminated without harming your practice. Avoid hiring people to do tasks that could be eliminated without harming your practice. Strive for simplicity and efficiency. Hire professionals, such as accountants, lawyers and insurance agents, who are experienced in working with private counseling practices. Ask for referrals from mentors or others in your field who seem to be doing well.
Find mentors and peers to provide support and feedback to your success goals. Pay attention to your personal habits. If your office is in a constant state of chaos or you are chronically late or your counseling sessions chronically run over the scheduled time, hire a professional productivity and organization coach to help you create more order. Providing counseling and keeping up with the demands of running a busy, successful practice can be stressful. Do not hesitate to find yourself a counselor or success coach who can help keep you on target with your goals.
Look for areas of interest to specialize in. The more you specialize in your private counseling practice, the more you can promote yourself as an expert in that area. You can also extend your income and your expertise by writing books, guides and articles in your areas of specialization — whether on your own or in collaboration with a freelance writer. Focus on marketing your expertise to the public and to potential referral sources by carving out an area of specialization.
Never sacrifice simplicity for complexity. Avoid complicated systems that require you to hire others to operation and maintain them. Complicated often costs more, and trying to keep up with systems you do not understand can be a big time drain on the already limited number of hours you have available.
- Private Practice: What Does It Take To Be Successful? American Counseling Association Blog
- Private Practice: What Else Does It Take To Be Successful? American Counseling Association Blog
- Managing A Business, U.S. Small Business Administration
- Starting A Counseling Practice: The Counseling Office, Anthony Centore, American Counseling Association Blog
- Building A Six-Figure Counseling Practice, American Counseling Association Blog
- Six Counselor Rumors About Accepting Health Insurance, American Counseling Association Blog
- Building A Sustainable Private Practice, American Counseling Association Blog
- Managing Business Finances And Accounting, U.S. Small Business Administration
- Private Practice Pointers, Member Resource, American Counseling Association
- Look for areas of interest to specialize in. The more you specialize in your private counseling practice, the more you can promote yourself as an expert in that area. You can also extend your income and your expertise by writing books, guides and articles in your areas of specialization --- whether on your own or in collaboration with a freelance writer. Focus on marketing your expertise to the public and to potential referral sources by carving out an area of specialization.
- Never sacrifice simplicity for complexity. Avoid complicated systems that require you to hire others to operation and maintain them. Complicated often costs more, and trying to keep up with systems you do not understand can be a big time drain on the already limited number of hours you have available.
Jill Anje has written professionally since 1990, specializing in farming and gardening topics. She has written extensively for newspapers, businesses and nonprofit organizations and has been published in "Woman's Day" and regional California magazines. Anje graduated from a Midwest liberal arts college with a Bachelor of Arts in literature and writing.