I participate in a few online communities on Facebook and LinkedIn. Doing so has a number of benefits. You can see what types of things clinicians are wondering about, talking about, and discovering. It is a great place to get blog post ideas. Also, it is a way to grow your own expertise, which can lead to more blog traffic.
I was recently on Private Practice Toolbox w/ Julie Hanks LCSW. A student posted this comment/question:
“…my main goal is to start my own private practice after I obtain my LCSW in a few years. I heard that it is very hard to get started, and I know I have quite a few years to go before I am ready to open up my own practice. I was wondering if there is anything I could start planning now, or as soon as I obtain my MSW?”
I thought I would expand on my answer that I gave to this student. There are so many things a student can do!
When students are working their way through school, often the focus is on getting through the studies and making enough money to have a life. What this often leads to is working as a server or bartender, because the money is so good. When I first started my degree in 1997, I got a job working with “angry kids” right away. In my head, I wanted to work with angry kids and frustrated parents, maybe i saw too many after-school specials. I thought, “I should probably work with that population before I get a whole degree in counseling.”
What happened was that from 1997-2004 I gained a wealth of experience in the field of psychology and counseling. This has informed me in job interviews and my private practice. When a family looks at me and says, “What do you know, you look so young?” I can discuss my now 15 years of experience.
In my initial counseling interviews, the interviewees would often say out loud, “Wow you have a lot of experience for just graduating.” This is just one example of strategic positioning that students and new graduates can do to build their future in counseling and not bartending.
Here are some quick tips that will help position you when you are ready to launch:
1. Learn how to design your own website, clinicians often throw money away on having other people do their technology. Learning the basics of setting up a website and keeping up with it can save tons of money. The average basic website set-up is around $1,000. As well, having this experience will make you more marketable and help you to be seen as an expert. Here is a post to guide you: http://www.
2. Start blogging about what you are studying, post your term papers 150 words at a time. This will help when you launch because you will have years of SEO under your belt. Imagine if you have the bartending student and then you have a student who has been blogging about counseling issues for 5 years. The blogger will rank so much higher in search engines! Also, you can always re-direct a website to your current website. So if you end up buying [your counseling name].com you won’t lose all of the great SEO you have built.
3. Build a twitter following. Although Twitter rarely provides me with counseling clients to my private practice, it has helped me to connect with other professionals and build resources. Further, it is a way to launch new products in the future. Imagine you are 10 years post-graduation and you have 5,000 followers. Then you decide to write a parenting book or a book on depression or whatever you are interested in. You have a built-in audience that may want to join you.
4. Connect with clinicians locally (or wherever you want to practice). Take them out to lunch, ask if you can tag along at conferences, ask to co-present. In each of these steps you are building your background to be an effective counselor. The more that you present and learn from experts, the larger history you build.
5. Research what niches need to be filed in the area you want to open your private practice. Do everything you can to build expertise in that area. For example, I can say that I have been working with angry kids and frustrated parents since 1997. I got my MA in 2004, but worked at a runaway shelter and was doing presentations all through school. Blog, learn, and get experience in your future niche.
Often students see themselves as future professionals. Although from a licensing standpoint that is true, they are often on the cutting edge of research and innovation. If you as a student can harness the power of innovation and research, while preparing to launch your counseling private practice, you will be amazing! Let me know, I’ll follow you on Twitter.
Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor and owner at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He was a server for a summer and hated it, he spilled water on someone and is much happier doing therapy with individuals, couples, and families…often on a sailboat.
Photo used from The Creative Commons, thank you to Fitsum Belay/iLLIMETER