Starting a group practice is not for the faint of heart. I know, because I went through this process last year. I transitioned my part-time, insurance-based solo practice to a private pay, group practice with 5 part-time therapists and one virtual assistant, in the span of one year. And while sometimes I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, in looking back I realize just how much I’ve learned and how far I’ve come in the past 12 months.
There are many things I wish I had done differently, but the decision to start a group practice isn’t one of them. I absolutely love running my group practice. I now have a variety of roles and tasks that I do on a daily basis, and I am definitely never bored or feeling burnt out. However, it was also a LOT more work than I thought it would be. In looking back, I’d like to share some questions with you that may help you make the decision to move to a group practice.
1. Do I want to do this or feel like I “should” do this?
Really explore why you are thinking about starting a group practice. Perhaps your solo practice is full, and you think that expanding into a group and hiring other therapists is your only option for either making more money or growing your practice. Yes, opening a group practice will generate more money for you and expand your practice, but there are lots of other ways to also grow and generate money that do not involve a group practice. Make sure this is the right step for you, and you are doing it because you are choosing to, not because you “should”.
2. Do I have the mindset and determination to do this?
You remember opening your solo practice, and it didn’t seem that hard. How much harder can a group practice be? Well, I think it’s much harder because you’re not only selling yourself, you’re marketing other clinician(s) who may have different styles and specialty areas, and that is very different than marketing yourself. Are you comfortable with being an entrepreneur, a small business owner, and CEO/president of a company? How determined are you to make this a success?
3. Do I have the time?
Opening a group practice takes an enormous amount of time. You will need to figure out where in your already booked schedule you have time to devote to planning, organizing, hiring, and managing, because all of this takes significantly more than just a few hours per week. If you’re already working more than you want to, consider cutting back on clients or other duties as you’re planning for and opening your group practice. Consider outsourcing whatever you can, as soon as you can. It is never too early to hire an assistant or social media manager!
4. Do I have the skills?
I cannot list all of the skills necessary to run a group practice, as it depends on your practice model and population, but do you have the business and management skills needed to run a group practice? You likely already have the therapy skills, and perhaps the clinical supervision or consultation skills. One of the differences between a group and solo practice is how much more business, marketing, and financial “stuff” you do for groups versus individual practices.
5. If I don’t have the skills, can I learn the skills?
You likely won’t have all the skills you need, in the beginning. You will need to create a plan on how to identify what you need to learn, and how to learn it. For example, I didn’t realize how much I really needed to know about marketing. But once I did realize that, knowing my learning style, I set out to learn everything I could about marketing that was relevant to being a small business owner and group counseling practices.
6. Do I have my family’s support?
Having both emotional and financial support from your family, partner, or other significant people in your life is key. You will be on an emotional roller coaster from day 1, and you will probably drive your husband crazy (oh wait, maybe that was just me) talking incessantly about your ideas, plans, and struggles. Discuss realistically about what this may look like, what your limits are, and how others can support you during the process.
7. Can I afford financially to invest in starting and getting up and running with a group practice?
Yes, you will make more money, eventually, with a group practice. But initially, you will have a lot of “start-up” costs and may not make money for several months. Creating processes and systems, hiring and training staff, expanding your office space and materials (such as electronic health records system, business cards, website expansion, etc.), and marketing your new staff will cost money. Budget ahead for these costs as well as you can, and match your timeline to your budget.
After you’ve answered the above questions, you will have a better idea of whether or not starting a group practice is the right move for you. If you have the will, determination, ability to learn, and support, a group practice can be highly rewarding and profitable. I did it, and I know that you can do it too!
Shannon Heers is a licensed professional counselor in Colorado. She owns the private-pay group practice Catalyss Counseling in the Denver metro area, focusing on helping adults manage their anxiety, grief, and trauma. Shannon is also an experienced clinical supervisor and manager and is just starting to offer business consultation services to other therapists. She balances working with raising her two young children.