Why are you wanting to start a faith-based practice right now? How do you start a private practice from a faith-based perspective? What should you focus on when doing research for starting your private practice and what systems should you have in place?
In this podcast episode, Whitney Owens speaks about how to start a private practice from a faith-based perspective?
In This Podcast
- Considering goals
- Doing research
- Designing your brand
- Creating your systems
Considering your goals
- Why do you want to start a faith-based practice?
- Is this business fulfilling a need within the community or for your own personal benefit?
- Think about where you are going in the future with your business.
- Create long and short term goals.
- Consider the space and extending the business from a solo gig or becoming a group practice.
- Set personal goals, what lifestyle do you want to have? How much time do you want to work?
- Identify your business practice location.
- Know financial limits and household income within the area.
- Identify the needs within the community that is not being met.
- Avoid being based in an area that has many or other therapists within the area.
- Consider ideal clients (target market).
- Know what the financial limits are in your area. Consider a form of payment and insurance payment methods from clients.
Designing your brand
- Be creative when creating your brand/logo.
- Branding should match up to your values and vision.
- Faith-based logos can affect your target market, this will make a difference in the types of people who come to your practice.
- Your business practice website should contain the same name as your company.
Creating your systems
- How is your business going to function?
- Identify a good system for contacting and scheduling clients.
- How are people are going to find you online? Do you have a website? Do you have basic knowledge of how Google works? Jessica Tappana from Simplified SEO Consulting is a wonderful resource and she can help you with this.
- Create a work email address (I use G-Suite). Gordon Brewer has a course on this here.
- Set up a phone line and make sure that it is HIPAA compliant.
- Make sure that you have a BAA with any third party vendor that you’re using.
- Identify how you will schedule appointments.
- Consider how you will create and file paperwork. You can purchase a paperwork packet here.
- What system will you use for managing the business’s cash flow? Identify how clients will be paying you?
- Consider if you will be taking insurance, if so, you will need to start getting on panels.
- Will you be accepting credit cards (I use Easy Pay Solutions), cheque (make sure it is made out to your business and not to you), and cash payment methods?
- Startup a business cheque accepting account for the business and apply for an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) so that you can protect yourself from being sued by clients. Keep your business money separate from your personal money.
- Hire an accountant to answer financial questions.
- Save for taxes in a separate savings account.
- Tracking systems for income and spending (I use QuickBooks).
- Set up a system for receipts and invoices.
- Always ensure that you are getting paid for your services.
- “How To” Series Part 1: How to Know if I Should Start a Private Practice | FP 16
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- Practice of the Practice Podcast Network
Meet Whitney Owens
Whitney is a licensed professional counselor and owns a growing group practice in Savannah, Georgia. Along with a wealth of experience managing a practice, she also has an extensive history working in a variety of clinical and religious settings, allowing her to specialize in consulting for faith-based practices and those wanting to connect with religious organizations.
Knowing the pains and difficulties surrounding building a private practice, she started this podcast to help clinicians start, grow, and scale a faith-based practice. She has learned how to start and grow a successful practice that adheres to her own faith and values. And as a private practice consultant, she has helped many clinicians do the same.
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Hi, this is Whitney Owens again with the Faith in Practice podcast. So glad you’re joining us today. We’re in the middle of a four-part series on ‘How to.’ So last week we talked about how to know if it’s the right time to start a private practice. And today we’re going to talk about how do you actually start a private practice? And I’m going to give you four different areas to be thinking about and starting your practice and then we’ll continue to go deeper into the series on how to actually do that. But I want to give you some broad ways to start thinking about it and then I’ll give you some details as we go into each area. So the question we’re answering today is how do I actually start a counseling business? We want to think about it as a private practice in the sense that it is clinical in what we do, but how do we actually start a practice as a business?
Because a lot of times, like I said in the last episode, we’re not really thinking about it as a business. We’re more thinking about the clinical part of it. And I want you to be thinking about what it would look like to have it as a business and function as a business. And then specifically for this podcast we’re talking about how do we actually do that from a faith-based perspective. So how do I make a private practice that goes along the types of things that I think about, the ways that I believe about things that doesn’t infringe on the rights of our clients, but also helps meet their needs within the community. So how do you actually start a faith-based practice? The four areas we’re going to look at today are considering goals, doing research, designing your brand, and creating your systems. So we’ll go through each one of those right now.
So first one is considering your goals. So the ‘Why’ behind your practice. Why are you wanting to start a faith-based practice right now? Is it because you think there’s a need for that in your community or is it for your own financial benefit? Are you wanting to help other people? And then even beyond that, your ‘Why’ with a specific population. So, may be your ideal client would come up in this. So maybe you have a specific desire to see teenagers succeed and find their identity. Or maybe you have a passion to see couples united in love and have better communication but also have a Christian healthy relationship amongst the two of them, or maybe amongst Christian families. So consider what your ‘Why’ is in starting your practice. This is what’s going to motivate you moving forward. So this is why you’re actually starting a business.
When you’re thinking about those goals, you know your ‘Why,’ I want you to think about where you’re going. A lot of times we just kind of hit the ground running and we’re not creating a plan. And when you have a plan in front of you and when you actually write it down, you’re way more likely to succeed at your goals. So when you’re creating your goals, I think a really good starting point is to consider a year out. Where do you want your practice to be a year from now? And don’t be hesitant with your goals. Like go big. Consider big things that you want to accomplish in your community, maybe in your personal life, maybe within your family and start writing those goals out. You can kind of section those into areas, maybe you have personal goals, business goals, family goals. Put those all out, where you want to be a year from now.
And you can kind of take that step backwards saying, “Okay, well if I want to have a caseload of 20 may be by a year from now, where do I want to be at six months?” Well, at six months you might want to be at 10 clients and then where do you want to be at three months? With three months, you might want to be at five clients. So taking that, I gave you such a super easy example there, but take where you want to be a year from now and work backwards and come up with some goals that are even in a smaller portion. Like where do you want to be after one quarter of starting your practice? Maybe after three months of starting a practice, you actually have the practice created, you have your paperwork, your systems in place and you’ve seen your first two or three clients.
Like that would be really great place to be. But if you really want to dream big, tell yourself, “I want to have my first five or six clients.” You know, don’t settle for just two or three. Have some big goals for yourself. And then maybe after you create your goals for the first year, think about where you want to be as a private practice three, five years from now. And this is going to really come from your ‘Why’ in private practice. So if you’re wanting your private practice to be the best couples counselor in your area, then maybe you want to network with people to meet that goal, people who are having, couples come into their office or that work with women who are looking for a marriage counselor. So you’re thinking about what are the things that can be doing now this year to get me to my three and my five year goals?
So, you want to be considering your goals for your private practice. Do you want your practice to be a large or a small practice? When you are starting out solo, it’s a lot easier to create a practice that meets your own needs. But if you’re thinking that maybe I want to become a group practice, it’s good to be thinking about that on the front end when you’re doing your branding, creating a name that can help meet the needs of the group and not necessarily an individual, considering your systems that you’re creating, we’re going to go into systems later. I can explain that more, but your systems are going to be created in such a way that they can meet the needs of a larger practice if you’re able to do that on the front end. So think about do you want to do a solo gig or are you want to form a group practice eventually? It doesn’t mean you’re wanting to do it necessarily now, but it’s good to be thinking about where you want to go in the future.
And then your other goals for private practice is considering your personal goals. What kind of lifestyle do you want to have? How much time do you want to spend at work? Think about the emotional exhaustion with seeing clients, with running a business. So how much time are you wanting to really put into that? What are the goals with your family? What are your financial goals? What are you saving for? What kind of trips do you want to go on as a family? So you want to have a business that makes your life better, not really a business that just meets the needs around you, because you need to meet your own needs too. And so you want to have a private practice that allows you to have your goals met as well.
So, after we think about our goals, I want you to consider doing your research. Start looking at the area around you, where you want your private practice to be. So I’m guessing that you probably already have a town in mind of where you want to be. Some people really love to have their practice near their homes. It makes it super easy to get to. Some people hate that idea. They want to have a practice that’s far away. So think about that, if you want to live close or far from your practice. I know a lot of counselors have told me, “I did not want to accidentally see a client at the grocery store.” That kind of thing doesn’t bother me as much. But I know some people don’t want to feel like work is getting involved in their personal life. So think about where you want your practice to be.
I also want you to do your research on what are the needs within the community that you’re at. So are there people that are doing play therapy in your area? Are there people that are seeing couples? Are there a lot of Christian counselors in your area? You know, if there’s not, then that would be a good niche for you to have and will advertise yourself as a Christian counselor, especially if you’re in an area that’s highly saturated with Christians. I know here in the Bible Belt, a lot of people call our practice looking for a Christian counselor. So it is good to have that niche within what we’re doing and I guess we can meet that need. And when people are Googling and looking, when you advertise yourself a certain way, they’re going to be able to find you. So think about what are the needs within the community around you that are not being met and then that way you can meet that need.
When you’re looking at your area, I’ll also want you to think about where are all the therapists hanging out? Even in my town, a lot of therapists hang out in one stretch where a lot of offices are. I call it counselors’ row. It’s kind of my funny way to say it, but a lot of them have offices in the same area. It’s a very business area and probably the office space is nice and a good price, but that was not something I wanted to be around. I didn’t want to be around a bunch of counselors in one area because it does make it more difficult to get clients. So putting your office in an area that doesn’t have a lot of other therapists is a pretty good idea or thinking about an area that’s near a population that you want to serve.
So, for example, here, the Savannah College of Art and Design is a huge college here in our area and we do end up getting a lot of clients from there. My office is about three blocks from one of the buildings. When I sit in my office I can see the buses and the students walking around. So it’s really great because students will come to my office simply because they can walk from the bus stop. So that gets us a lot of clients in that way. So we love working with college students and that’s a big part of what I wanted to do in private practice when I started; was working with teenagers and college students. So locating my office near a campus was really beneficial. So consider what your ideal client is, try to get your office space somewhere close to where that person might be hanging out, because you’re going to be a lot more likely to get clients that way.
And then know what the financial limits are in your area. What is the average income per family household? Are client’s going to be able to pay for therapy? This is a question to be asking yourself, because if you’re thinking they’re not going be able to pay for cash services, if you do a cash pay practice, you can have a hard time getting it up and running. And so considering, do you want to take insurance or not is a big question to ask yourself based on the area that you’re at. If you’re in a really rural area, more than likely you’re going to need to take insurance and you will meet the needs of your clients in your area. It’s really good to be asking people, maybe other counselors in the area which insurances are popular and which ones are not as well known in the area because, like think about what are the police on, what are the school systems on. Your ideal client, what kind of the services are they on?
So maybe if you like working with the medical community, check out the hospitals in the area and find out what insurance they have and that way you can get on that insurance panel to meet those needs. Or maybe you like working with children. You may want to consider maybe trying to get on Medicaid or if you like working with teachers, being able to get on the plan that the school has, the public school in your area, what they have. So think about your ideal client in your specialization and researching your area for what the needs are when you’re trying to think about insurance and where to set up your practice.
So, the first area we talked about was considering your goals. The second was doing your research. The third one here is going to be designing your brand. I love talking about designing our brand because I think it’s a lot of fun and unfortunately we can get kind of bogged down in it. But think of this as a creative brainstorming, exciting time and that you can think of all the different things that you want to communicate to your community based on your logo and your brand. So I have talked about this in previous episodes about the idea of your branding should match up to your values and your vision. And as a faith-based practice, a lot of times your values and vision do have a faith-based component to what you’re doing. So what you choose to communicate to your community through your logo and through maybe your taglines or the way you talk about your company is going to express what you find to be important. So there are some practices that are very faith-based, everything they do is faith-based and so their logo and marketing is going to match that. There are other practices that make faith a part of what they do, but not everything they do.
And so, your logo and your branding might kind of communicate something about the fact that you’re a faith-based practice, but it doesn’t have to fully tell everyone exactly who you are and what you do. So, that will also make a difference in the types of clients that come to your practice. Your logo will communicate something to them and that is going to impact the kind of people that go to your website or the ones that come to your practice. And so if you have someone who’s really jaded, maybe about the church and they see that you have a cross on your logo, you’re probably not going to attract people that are jaded towards the church, but you’re probably going to attract people that are wanting a strong faith-based perspective when they go to their counseling. And the same is true if you don’t have a faith-based logo, that people who are wanting faith-based counseling, they may not come see you because they don’t think you’re faith-based enough. But people who are jaded by the church might end up coming to you.
So, you need to consider what kinds of clients you’re trying to attract in your practice when you’re thinking about the kind of branding that you want to do. So identifying those values and goals and then using those to consider what kind of logo you want to have. I love the logo for my practice. We have a scallop shell and it represents the journey of the Camino de Santiago. It’s the journey of Saint James. And so this is a Spanish story from long ago, a legend basically where a Santiago would climb and go on a journey on a mountain and then supposedly his body was gone and they couldn’t find him and then later it was washed onshore and it had scallop shells all over it. And then the scallop shells represent the journey and the different lines of the scallop shell represent the different lines within our journey that bring us together.
And I love that idea and counseling that we are in therapy with someone for a certain season of their life and that’s like a line on that shell. But then their life comes together as one with all the different experiences that they have had. And I like that the shell does have a Christian significance as far as it is related to the community Santiago. But if you don’t know that story or hear me share this, most clients have no idea that’s why we have a scallop shell. And unless they ask about it, we don’t really explain that to them, but it means something to us and to my team here. So it’s really cool that I can kind of communicate a Christian background to what I’m trying to say through my logo but it doesn’t necessarily push people away that would maybe get pushed away if I had a Christian or cheesy Christian logo.
So, I really enjoy that, and it kind of goes along with my own values of how I think of counseling as a journey, but it’s a season that we’re in and that it all comes together to mean something. So I really love how my logo kind of represents my vision and values for my practice. And it’s really important that whatever brand and logo you do pick that you stick with it, that you don’t kind of bounce around from thing to thing, but that everything that you communicate to your community has the same theme, has the same idea. So you want to use the same color scheme that you use on your logo, putting your logo on different things, having same text font when you write things so that people understand that it’s all the same company because if you start switching things around it can be very confusing.
That being said, when you’re thinking about your website, make sure that your website also has the same name as whatever name you pick out for your company because if it’s a different name then people aren’t going to find your practice online. And you know just as well as I do, sometimes I’ll sit down and I’ll Google somebody’s name and then if they don’t come up immediately I’m done and I move on to the next thing. So you want to make finding you as easy as possible.
So, phase number four is creating systems for your practice. And this is where a lot of questions come in. When I talk about systems, that’s how is it going to, how’s your practice going to function? How are you going to get from point A to point B in certain tasks? So that could be how are you actually going to get a client? Or how are the clients going to schedule? What kind of paperwork will they go through? So they will receive the paperwork, how are they going to get it and how are they going to complete it and how are they going to get it to you? How are clients actually going to pay for their therapy? And then how are you going to manage those finances? So I’m going to speak a few minutes to each of these, for helping you begin to think about setting up your systems. But this could go for a while. So I’m just going to give you the basic points on systems and then maybe later we’ll get more information on that.
So right here we’re going to talk about systems for contacting and scheduling people. So you want to be thinking about how are people going to find you, how are people going connect with you? And so a big way that people do that now is through a website. So you want to make sure that you have a good website. I strongly encourage that you have somebody create your website for you because it is one of the greatest ways that people are going to find you. And if you can’t, then you can bootstrap it, plan it yourself, get something up there to get started. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always get something up and then start something else later. And really try to invest in understanding how Google works. I encourage you to take courses on that. I think that Jessica Tappana over at Simplified SEO is a wonderful resource and she can kind of help you with one of the things you can do on your website to rank higher on Google. And that’s really helpful.
So, think about how people are going to find you. Make sure on your website you’ve got your email, you’ve got your contact button, you’ve got your phone number easily displayed so when people are going to look for you, it’s not hard to schedule an appointment. Put it on every single page on your website. You might want to consider other online avenues like Psychology Today, TherapyDen, I know, there’s Christian Counseling. I think there’s ASCA. Christian council also has some type of online directory. And so think about finding some online directories that you can be a part of so your name can get out there more. I just have found Psychology Today to be extremely helpful, not only for just me solo, but for my group and each member of my group as well.
Other ways people can find you would be a word of mouth and through brochures, through speaking engagements. There’s so many ways that people can find you. So making sure though that you are communicating how to contact you and they know what your phone number is and they know what your email is when they want to schedule. So you’re going to want to also create a work email for your practice for people getting in touch with you. G-Suite is a high recommendation on my end. It’s super easy to use, it’s super cheap, I think I pay like 10 bucks a month for my email and there are so many other services go along with it. And you can actually have your email, have your practice name in it. So that’s really great. Instead of having your name at Gmail, you can have your name@your practice name. So that’s really cool. Gordon Brewer has some awesome information on G-Suite and how to access G-Suite. He’s another therapy guru that can help you in starting your practice but he also has this great G-Suite course as well. So we’ll get that in the show notes for you so you can have that information.
You’re also going to want to set up a phone line. So you’re going to want to have your own phone number that is a HIPAA compliance system. And when we’re talking about HIPAA compliance, we want to make sure that we have what’s called a BAA. It’s a Business Associate Agreement. You want to have a BAA with any third party vendor that you’re using. So that’s G-Suite or your phone line, people that are working with insurance companies want to have a BAA with the insurance company or with any kind of company that’s doing the billing for them with insurance. So just any other software that you’re using outside of just you and the client sitting together, you’re going to want to have a Business Associate Agreement with that because that helps with your HIPAA compliance.
And so also with your phone lines be thinking about a phone that has HIPAA compliance. And if you’re thinking you want to have a group one day be thinking about how can I get a phone line that allows me to add lines to it and that it’s pretty seamless in doing so. Think about phone lines also that can offer more than just a call. Maybe they offer texting or faxing, things like that because that’s really helpful when you’re setting up your fence. And then when you are doing your appointments and when people do contact you, think about how you’re going to schedule that. So maybe you’re going to have a calendar on your own EHR, that’s your electronic health record or maybe you’re going to use the G-Suite. I have a colleague, he is old school and he still uses a paper calendar and carries it around, and it’s like a big book.
And so, however you function you’re going to have to make sure you have a system for people getting in touch with you, for doing your email, for setting up your phones and then also for doing the scheduling. And another system you want to think about is the paperwork. So what kind of paperwork are people going to fill out at intake. You want to make sure that you have a notice of privacy practices, that you have your informed consent created and that you have your intake questionnaire. Maybe you want to have several intake questionnaires. I know there’s plenty of people out there that sell paperwork packets and I know that Practice of the Practice also has a paperwork packet that you can purchase.
And so those are some options there and you want to just, you can also take your paperwork and go to an attorney and have it reviewed, and I have done that on occasion. So things to be thinking about is creating that paperwork. Other papers that you’re going to need is progress notes, treatment plans, having a release of information, discharge plans, maybe billing, receipts, letterheads. So be thinking and preparing all that paperwork before your first client comes in.
And then the last system here that I’m going to talk about that’s really important is a system for managing money. So clients are going to be paying you and how are you going to take their money? Are you going to use credit cards or not? Are you going to just take checks and cash and making sure that you have a bank account set up to be able to take that information. So system for managing finances, you want to consider if you’re going to take insurance or not and if so, you need to start getting on panels as soon as possible. And don’t feel like you have to get on every panel out there. Just pick the few that you researched in your area and get on, start out getting on those and see how that goes. If you’re going to take credit cards, you need to find a system for that.
A lot of the EHRs will hold credit cards when people make appointments and you can build through that. Or maybe you want to have a separate system that manages credit cards; there are plenty out there for that. I personally have really enjoyed Easy Pay Solutions. I had been using Square prior to that and Square had the worst customer service and so I started going with Easy Pay Solutions, that’s been great. And then cash or check, simple. So they hand you the cash or they give you the checks and you make sure that the checks are made out to your business and not to you solo because hopefully you were going to have a business account. So that’s your next step; is starting your business checking account and having an LLC.
An LLC is a Licensed Liability Corporation. One of the main reasons you want to have this is to protect yourself from being sued by your clients and to keep all the money in one place from your business separate from your personal money. If you don’t have a separate account and it’s all basically under your name, if a client were to sue you, they could come after your own personal liability and so having it separate allows it to be just your business. So I really encourage you to get the LLC. You can apply for those online. It’s like, I think here in my state it’s like 50 bucks and then connect that to your business account. I’ve had times where I’ve even had the bank do it all for me when I’ve been standing there, so it’s really great.
Another thing to do when you’re starting out with your money is to hire an accountant. The accountant doesn’t to be someone you meet with all the time, but it’s good to have somebody available for when financial questions come up and they need quick answers and someone to run your taxes at the end of the year. You have an accountant that can review those numbers with you. And then you want to make sure that you’re saving for taxes and your accountant can talk to you about that. But if you are on your own, you’re going to be paying 15% in taxes at least. So you want to be paying attention to that. So have a way to put some of that into savings. If it’s a separate savings account or you just put the money to the [inaudible 00:24:14], you just keep track of it in your account. Don’t let the end of the quarter come and then you have a big tax bill to pay and you don’t have the money for it.
So also, with money management, I want you to consider a tracking system for your income and spending. I absolutely love QuickBooks. I think it’s wonderful. At the very beginning of private practice, I totally had a bank account ledger and would write everything down. It was terrible. My accountant literally laughed out loud when I came to her office with my bank ledger and had everything written in it. And let me tell you, when it came time to do taxes and for me to think through what I could write off, I had to spend hours and hours putting things in areas based on that ledger. So QuickBooks did everything for me. It was like the best thing that ever happened that I can’t believe I didn’t do way earlier.
So super cheap and I’m pretty sure Practice of the Practice can help you in that. We’ll try to put all that information in the show notes because I think they have a link for that. So you want to create a system for following up into your insurance company. So making sure that you’re getting payment and if you don’t get payment on your claims that you have a way to keep up with all of that. You definitely want to have that in place. Have a way that you keep up with receipts and invoices. When I first started out, I didn’t have an ability to save credit cards and everything was cash and check. So I’m really encouraged at the front end. You get something to save the credit cards because that makes life a lot easier.
So, I was working with a lot of college students and I was having to send invoices to parents all over the nation and having to remember who paid me and who didn’t and when did that go out. It was so much to keep track of. So I highly suggest that you have a really good system in place for when you send, when you get the payment and knowing who’s paid you and who hasn’t and highly suggest credit cards because that goes a lot easier. And then always make sure that you’re getting paid for your services. I have to say this because a lot of therapists will see clients and forget to get payment. I’ve heard some awful stories of people who had invoices that were into the thousands and they had not gotten payment from their clients. Do not let more than two sessions go by without getting payment. I really say don’t let one session about without getting payment, but stuff happens sometimes and I understand that. So please, please, please get payment from your client so you’re going to make it. So make sure you’ve got a system in place for managing your money.
So today we talked about how to start a counseling business and the four areas we discussed was goals, doing your research, designing your brand and creating your systems. So I think if you can take these four areas and really dive into them early on in your practice, you’re going to do really, really well there. So looking forward to talking with you all again. Next time we’re going to talk a little bit more about how to market your practice. Thanks for being with me today.
Thank you for listening to the Faith in Practice podcast. If you love this podcast, please rate and review on iTunes or your favorite podcast player. If you liked this episode and want to know more, check out the Practice of the Practice website. Also, there you can learn more about me, options for working together, such as individual and group consulting, or just shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Would love to hear from you.
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