Alison Pidgeon from TheraSuite about how to design an office | PoP Bonus

On this therapist podcast, Alison Pidgeon from TheraSuite talks about how to design an office space that both you and your clients feel comfortable with.

Does your therapy office need a revamp? Are you struggling with where to start making changes to your office aesthetics? Why is the lighting that you use important to consider?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks with Alison Pidgeon from TheraSuite about how to design an office.

Podcast Sponsor: Gusto

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Meet Alison Pidgeon, Group Practice Owner

An image of Alison Pidgeon is displayed. She is a successful group practice owner and offers private practice consultation for private practice owners to assist in how to grow a group practice. She is the host of Grow A Group Practice Podcast and one of the founders of Group Practice Boss.Alison Pidgeon, LPC is the owner of Move Forward Counseling, a group practice in Lancaster, PA. She also runs a virtual assistant company, Move Forward Virtual Assistants, as well as an office interior design company, TheraSuite.

Alison has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016.  She has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, through mastermind groups and individual consulting.

In addition, she is a private practice consultant for Practice of the Practice.

Visit Alison’s website, listen to her podcast, or consult with her.

See also, Therasuite.

In This Podcast

  • Why design is important for the average therapist
  • Basic healthcare design principles
  • The importance of lighting
  • Alison’s advice to private practitioners

Why design is important for the average therapist

Especially for a self-pay practice it’s so important that you have the environment match what you are charging people for therapy. (Alison Pidgeon)

Many therapists are tempted to save money on furniture and styling; however, it is more important than you realize.

Having a well-kept, clean, inviting, and pleasing office space can do wonders for the client. A good office welcomes clients in, makes them feel at ease, and can elevate your practice.

Basic healthcare design principles

  • Consider using cool, neutral, and muted warm colors: blues, greens, greys, soft pastel colors.
  • Minimize very hard, sharp corners on furniture or spikey plants in the office environment.
  • Put up landscape paintings instead of abstract ones.
  • Use multiple soft lights instead of a singular, “hard” overhead light.

The importance of lighting

The thing that I learned is that you want to have different layers of lighting. You want to have overhead lighting that ideally is not florescent … and then table lamps [and] desk lamps. (Alison Pidgeon)

Even out the light in the office rooms by varying the light sources. It can be distracting and uncomfortable to work under one bright light, especially fluorescent ones.

Install soft lights with shades. Make use of lamps, which can be floor or desk lamps.

Alison’s advice to private practitioners

Therapists are always going to have office spaces to work in. Therefore, creating an office space that you and your clients feel comfortable in is important to do and it is easier than you think to make.

Useful Links mentioned in this episode:

Check out these additional resources:

Meet Joe Sanok

A photo of Joe Sanok is displayed. Joe, private practice consultant, offers helpful advice for group practice owners to grow their private practice. His therapist podcast, Practice of the Practice, offers this advice.

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

Feel free to leave a comment below or share this podcast on social media by clicking on one of the social media links below! Alternatively, leave a review on iTunes and subscribe!

Podcast Transcription

[JOE SANOK] This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, bonus episode.

I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. If you are just joining us for the first time, welcome. I’m so excited you’re here. We are almost to 700 episodes of this podcast, so you’ve got a lot of content to catch up on, and we’re glad that you can get all sorts of things listening back on previous episodes. I remember when I started my counseling practice here in Northern Michigan in Traverse City, and I was subleasing an office and it was a percentage of what I brought in. It was just this little side gig. I had no just feedback around the design of the office.

There was brass lamps, like it was an attorneys office from the fifties, there was a roll top accounting desk and the couch should have been a picnic blanket more than a couch. It was so ugly and it did not match my style. So often people would see my website, it was super like hip and cool and ranking high on Google and I wore skinny pants and all this stuff and then they’d come to the office and be like, what is going on here? I was so happy when I upgraded to my next office, which was this four-office suite. I was at this point where the group practice was growing and it was still a side gig. But that first day that I walked into my new office after it was fully decorated red to see my first clients, I remember just feeling this sense of this is my space instead of that old office that I was in before.

Today I’m so excited. We have Alison Pidgeon with us who has been on the show lots of times. She’s a consultant with Practice of the Practice, but she is a serial entrepreneur, launching things left and right all the time and was able to get B Corp status with one of her companies, which we aren’t going to really dive into, but is super awesome. But welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast, Alison.
[ALISON PIDGEON] Thank you so much for having me back.
[JOE] Well, first tell people about this B Corp stuff. I saw on Facebook, I didn’t even know you were spending all this time working on, you said it was a nine month process. Give us the quick version of like what it is if people haven’t heard about it, what it takes to get that status and why it’s good for the world.
[ALISON] B Corporations are really focused on doing business in an ethical and socially just way and environmentally friendly way. So you have meet certain standards that basically assure an independent third party that you are being ethical and you’re treating people well, and you are treating the environment well. You go through an assessment process and then you have to score a certain number of points and then if you meet that, then you get certified. So yes, it is a long process of really diving into your business and looking at your policies and pretty much everything and meeting those standards.
[JOE] Wow.
[ALISON] Something we’re very proud of.
[JOE] What, and for you, why was it important to go through that process rather than. You were doing those things, why was it important to have that process be something that you guys had?
[ALISON] I think because in America, especially in the media, we have this perception of like big business and they’ll stop at nothing just to make a profit. Doesn’t matter if they’re polluting the earth or treating people badly or whatever. I think I was already doing a lot of the opposite of those things, but I just wanted that recognition that this independent organization said, yes, they are doing things the right way and they are treating their people. So I think that’s what drove me to do that.
[JOE] That’s awesome. Well, so you and I both have an affinity for design and office and art and in our houses, all of that. I don’t think we either, one of us really knew that about each other. We haven’t really had that conversation too much until you started TheraSuite. Tell me, how long have you been into art design, aesthetics, all of that.
[ALISON] I have been into interior design for a very long time. So back when I was in maybe high school or college, I actually would salvage old furniture and paint it and turn it into something new. That was actually like my first apartment was all just very carefully curated stuff that literally I found on the side of the road because I was a poor college student. But I figured out how to paint furniture. I made an attempt at reupholstering a couch. That didn’t work out very well but just before Pinterest was a thing, I was reading all the design magazines and just always really loved any of that.

I was always rearranging the furniture in my room and so that was actually my hobby outside of work. When I would get home from counseling people all day when I was working at the age, that was how I sort of would unwind. I would read home design blogs, and then we bought our first house and I was just like a kid in a candy store, “We got to do this, we got to do that, what about this,” painting the entire house and doing all the things.
[JOE] I remember I did a bunch of travel when was in early college. You said these stacks of magazines in airplanes that you could just read during, I would always read the real simple. Then I got a subscription and my guy friends were like you know that’s a girl’s magazine? I was like, what? This is an amazing magazine. Just the design aesthetic and finding things that worked together, I just feel when your house is that way, it’s just so much more peaceful. We revamped our house into a little bit more of the mid mod style than maybe the Joanna gain style.
[ALISON] Yes
[JOE] Well, so how did that carry over into how you view your office and your workspace?
[ALISON] I know for me, I’m very affected by the environment. That was one of the great advantages for me going out into private practice is that I didn’t have to just sort of inherit whatever office they gave me. I could decorate it however I wanted. So I put a lot of time and effort into really designing the space to be comfortable and relaxing for clients and tend to want it to be more a little bit on the minimalist side; you don’t want a bunch of clutter in there because that I think just in general makes people anxious.

So as we kept growing, we kept renting more offices and then I would have to furnish and decorate another office. Then I started working with a designer who taught me a lot of things about putting the together for office spaces and just doing my own research about healthcare design and that thing. So it evolved over time, obviously .it started out with me decorating my house and then moved into the office space.
[JOE] I mean, what are some areas that maybe the average therapist misses the mark? Like you mentioned clutter, what are other things like that maybe the average therapist that isn’t as drawn to design that miss the mark at?
[ALISON] I think a lot of times therapists think, oh, I just want to save money. I just want to try to buy a bunch of secondhand stuff and just throw it in this office and just okay, great. They have a place to sit and they don’t think about the aesthetics at all, but I think that you can get really reasonably priced furniture and have it look cohesive and have it look pulled together. Because I think especially for a self-pay practice, it’s so important that you have the environment matching what you are charging people for therapy.

I think it also helps to have a really nice space. It’s hard enough to come to therapy and hen if you walk in and the, and the office looks like it’s 40 years old and no one’s cleaned the carpet and all the furniture’s mismatched. That just doesn’t help the situation. So I think it’s not hard to pull something together that can be budget friendly and also looks cohesive and it doesn’t just look like, oh, I went to a garage sale and got a bunch of stuff and threw it in a room.
[JOE] Yes. Well, it’s interesting because you think about other industries. So I’ve walked past this facial aesthetic Botox place downtown and it looks beautiful and I’m sure that when you look at their actual price point per hour, it’s probably less than what therapy is. And you look at even like a lot of the Thai restaurants have such a cool vibe to them. I know they’re not making the same per hour that a lot of therapists are. So even just from an hourly standpoint to say, let’s put a little bit of thought into this, what are some other areas that people miss the mark in regards to their offices?
[ALISON] I think what I learned is just the central tenets of healthcare design using colors like blues and greens. We use a lot of neutral colors when we pick out furniture pieces of furniture, grays and even black or ivory. Just because that way, if you decide to change the accent colors, you can do that pretty easily just by switching out pillows and things like that. The other thing that I think is really important is not having anything that’s like really sharp corners or really spiky like a spiky plant.

Or there’s a really interesting story about we had hung these two abstract paintings in an office. So they were actually in the back of the room, but the client was sitting in on the couch and they had a direct view of these paintings. They were abstract paintings that had like very like pointy edges on the paint splotches. It’s hard to explain that seeing it, but we literally, in the first week we had them hanging up, had multiple people say that the paintings made them anxious to the point where we actually had to take them down because so many people were like, “Ah, those paintings make me anxious.” I had never gotten so many comments about something hanging up in the room before. So we took them down and we bought a landscape painting and put it up and then no comments. So that was a win
[JOE] I remember a while back I interviewed someone about aesthetics in a space and they said that for like landscapes or things like that, to do your best, to try to find pictures that local because then it has a sense of home oftentimes compared to; if you don’t have mountains around you in the same way on your website, don’t have mountains on your website if you’re not living in the mountains. So it’s interesting because there’s some places in town that I’ve noticed they have pictures of downtown that are really artistically done, but it’s like, oh yes, that’s downtown. I’m like, “Wait a second. That technique’s working on me.” How do you view lighting? I think that’s another area that sometimes people get wrong or maybe don’t even think about.
[ALISON] That is something that I feel like is so important. The thing that I learned is that you really want to have different layers of lighting. So you want to have overhead lighting, ideally that’s not fluorescent. We have regular fixtures in our office that are like drum shades, so not fluorescent lighting. Then we have table lamps or desk lamp. We have fluorescent lamps. You just want to have a variety of lighting in the room. If you only have overhead fluorescent lighting, definitely just plan to turn it off and just bring in a lot of lamps because fluorescent lighting has all kinds of issues with giving people headaches and hurting their eyes and all that stuff. So probably just better to not use it at all.
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[JOE SANOK] So when you think through spaces, take us through your process and when you worked with this designer what’s the process of figuring out what your style is, what you want to put in there, what you don’t put in there the people that maybe don’t have that same design aesthetic can think through in their own office.
[ALISON] One really fun thing on the TheraSuite website is that we do have a quiz for people that they can take and figure out what their style is because I think that’s one of the challenges is you start saying, oh, well do you like mid-century modern or do you like farmhouse or do you like this? Some people are like, I have no idea what you’re talking about. So what’s cool is they can take the quiz. It gives them a result. Obviously you can still look through all the boards and decide what appeals to you, but it’s just helpful in narrowing it down.

So what I like to think about is if your office space is big enough, if it’s at least 11 by 11, I would say you have room for a love seat for the client, chair for the therapist, you may have space for a coffee table in between. I always like to put an area rug in that area just because it helps the space feel grounded. Then usually at least one side table for the therapist, one side table for the couch. Obviously you could put lamps on there and that’s a good place to put tissues and drinks and all that stuff. Then if you do have enough space to put a desk that’s always nice to have in their, a desk and a chair to do notes when clients aren’t there, maybe to do telehealth sessions.

I think having, if you have a window having nice panel curtains that go all the way to the floor, which is the style now just brings a lot of nice softness to the room. Having pillow, maybe having a nice cozy blanket on the couch is good as well. Then having the art like nature landscape, either photographs or paintings. I think I tend to, I really like color and I tend to go a little crazy with color and then the designer has to like reign me back in. So I’ve learned that less is definitely more.

So if we do put in, like I said, we’ll do a lot of neutrals for the furniture. If we do bring in some color, it’ll be like in the rug and in the pillows just to have a little bit of an accent color just to keep things interesting. But I once had an office that had like a bright orange chair in it and a bright orange desk and then after I learned all of these design tips and tricks and I was like, oh, this isn’t good for a therapy space. So we took it out and we made it a little bit more soothing.
[JOE] Donate it to the teen center.
[ALISON] Yes.
[JOE] So tell us about TheraSuite because I feel like you’re always coming up with different ideas and different side projects. How do you see, like take us through what the website does and how it came about?
[ALISON] So I am a part of a lot of different Facebook groups for therapists and you start seeing the same questions get asked over and over again. Then you can start to see what’s a common pain point among this population of people. One question that would always get asked is like, oh, I need a new chair or I need, I’m moving into a new office and I need new stuff and I don’t know where to look or show me a link of what you have and show me your office space so I can see what it looks like and what I need to buy and all of that stuff. So obviously this is a need that therapists have and obviously being interested in the interior design space.

I took note of newer websites that have popped up like Haven Lee, Modsy, where you say, oh, I want to redecorate my living room and you contract with them to come up with a design that’s all done virtually where they show you how to lay out the room and they give view links to buy the things to basically do it yourself. So I took that concept and thought, well, why don’t we do that for therapy offices because this is obviously a need therapists have, and I know either people just don’t have time or they don’t have the interest or it’s just not, they know they need to have a nice professional looking office, but they just have no clue where to start.

So we have two options on the website. The one is you can buy a board. So you actually see the board of all of the things that would go in the office. It’s usually designed by style. We’ll have like a mid-century modern board and a farmhouse board and all that stuff. It has all those elements that I was talking about. It’ll have like the desk and the chair and the couch and the therapist chair and the rug and all the things that you would need to put together the whole office. So you buy the board and then you get the links of all of the products and you can order them and have them shipped directly to you and you set up the office. They’re all from places like Wayfair and Amazon and Target and places that anybody in the United States could order from.

The other option is you can contact an interior designer directly who I have worked with and vetted that understands healthcare design and therapy offices. They will create a custom design for you. Again, it can all be done virtually. So they could do the layout of your space, they could pick out custom pieces for you or specific furniture or whatever it is that you’re wanting. So that’s a little bit more of a customized choice versus just buying the board that’s sort of all put together for you. I mean, obviously you could maybe tweak it a little bit. If there’s some things on the board you don’t need, you don’t have to order them, but that’s the basic concept.
[JOE] I love it. So on average if someone’s budgeting for an office renovation or looking at just putting everything into an office, what’s the typical budget for an average office from the boards you recommend?
[ALISON] We have quite the range. I would say we have anywhere from $2,000 for a complete office up to $6,000 or $7,000, depending on the items and where they come from and that kind of thing.
[JOE] Got you. Do people know that price before they purchase the board?
[ALISON] Yes. It gives them an estimate of if you bought all of the items on the board, this is approximately how much it would cost.
[JOE] Okay. Then, I love finding different ways to have multiple streams of income, so how are you monetizing this? So people buy the board, are you getting affiliate links also through those things or like, how are you marketing it?
[ALISON] Yes. So people buy the board and essentially once we make the board, we can sell it over and over again. Then we also have an affiliate with the interior design. So if somebody opts for the more like custom design package, we do get an affiliate fee from that.
[JOE] Okay. What’s the average board cost?
[ALISON] It is $129.
[JOE] Okay. So you get a whole office design for $129. It’s super scalable for you too. I mean, once it’s built. Do you guys build new boards routinely or do you feel like the ones you already have, people are enjoying or how are you figuring out new content?
[ALISON] So that’s the thing that I think we’re still in the beginning stages of figuring out, like how often we’re going to have to change out the boards. I think right now I’m going to put three boards up per style and then just switch them out every so often so they’re changing, but there’s not ever more than three per style.
[JOE] So the boards, when you’re curating all these things, I mean, you must have a designer that then just puts them to make the board and make it look pretty.
[ALISON] Yes. We use Canva. Actually we started making them ourselves as well. So you’ll see on the website, it says made by TheraSuite in-house design team, and that’s me.
[JOE] Sounds so fancy.
[ALISON] I know.
[JOE] You just pulled back the curtain. Nobody repeat that. Well, so I’m interested also in, when you have a successful practice, I know that you successfully launched the VA company and now you’re launching this, how do you think through when you’re doing something new, how much time you’re going to put into it, how long you’re going to see is this working? Because I know for me, I have lots of ideas, but I’ve really had to learn, okay, I’m going to pause that idea and not just implement every single one of them. How do you think through that?
[ALISON] This is actually an idea I had quite a few years ago and I have a book where I write down all my business ideas and then I just wait for what seems like a good time. I don’t know why exactly this year felt like a good time, but it did. I think too, because when you have other successful businesses, you can basically just use money instead of your time to start the new business. I think in the past, I would’ve maybe tried to build the website myself or something like that, but I was just like, I’m going to a higher website designer.

Obviously that frees up a lot of time and I’m having somebody do the social media for me where in the past I probably would’ve just tried to boost drop in, do it myself. So I think from a time standpoint, it actually was somewhat on the lower side compared to some of the other ideas that I had. So I knew that I had the funding to be able to hire people to do the vast majority of it, which is why I felt like, oh yes, I have time to do this.
[JOE] Yes. I know when I think about my own investing outside of Practice of the Practice, it’s thinking through where areas that I’m excited about and what’s a reasonable gamble. For me right now that’s real estate because Northern Michigan is just a growing tourist market. It seems recession proof. When there’s a recession, everyone comes here, when there’s not everyone comes here. And the Airbnb market just continues to grow. So thinking through that. And I like design, so to design the inside of an Airbnb and have it look beautiful and have people have professional photos taken and all that to make it stand out. I mean, we sold out every single summer. So to just say, I want to keep doing that. Then over time you can have a whole bunch of properties too. So thinking through those things that I enjoy personally and to make sure that I’m putting time into things that diversify my own income beyond just my primary income.
[ALISON] This was definitely a fun project for me because I love design so much. So it never felt like a chore or it never felt like I have to work on this today. It was always like, “Ooh, I get to make a board? This is fun.”
[JOE] Well, I think that’s so important in the work we do, whether it’s our primary income or a new side income to just find joy in it.
[ALISON] Absolutely.
[JOE] Well the last question I always ask people is if every private practitioner in the world we’re listening right now, what would you want them to know?
[ALISON] Great question. I’m going to obviously mold it to the conversation that we had today about office space. I think that therapists are always going to have office space and I don’t think that we’re going to be a hundred percent virtual forever. I think that creating an office space that your clients feel comfortable in and that’s beautifully designed and that you feel comfortable in is not that difficult. I think that is a really important part of the treatment that we deliver. So I would hope that therapists would really be intentional about how they design their office spaces.
[JOE] Ah, so awesome. Tell people where they can go, if they want to look at these boards and make their offices look awesome.
[ALISON] So the website is thera-suite.com. So it’s T-H-E-R-A dash S-U-I-T-E like hotel suite. We’re on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. We’re going to be putting out some very pretty pictures for inspiration for people, so even if you want to get some ideas of maybe how you could push up your office a little bit that’d be a good place to check out some inspirational photos.
[JOE] So, awesome. Well thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast.
[ALISON] Thanks Joe.
[JOE] Well, whether it is your home space or your office space or anywhere that you’re at, our environment really can change our mood, how we feel. Even just with my two daughters it’s been really awesome to make our home our own and keep it tidy and just to see their mood change during what for us has been a really transitional year, has been incredible to just reshape things. So whether it’s your office or your home make sure you figure out how you’re going to take it up by match and make it feel like that space that you really enjoy.

When we were on the road we met this amazing couple from Portland, Tok and Nicole who are from Denmark. She’s an interior designer and their house was featured in a bunch of Apple commercials and Amazon commercials and just their mindset of in Denmark it’s cold a lot like Northern Michigan. So they view their home as being this space that they really invest time and energy into. I mean, that’s where the term hooger comes from of just like a soft, quiet connecting space. So really for us embracing that has been just key this year for our family. So try to find a little hooger in your office as well. Go check out Thera-Suite.

Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. We couldn’t do this without our sponsors. Our sponsor Gusto has just been amazing. Gusto is the all-in-one HR platform for growing businesses. They have everything you need to empower your team and drive your business in one place. They can automatically file and pay all your state local and federal payroll taxes. Get three months totally for free to run your first payroll over at gusto.com/joe. Again, that’s gusto.com/joe.

Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. We really like it. And this podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.

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