Truth be told, I never really considered opening up my own private practice. It was always an interest of mine to work in a private practice setting. But my assumption was always that I would be working at someone else’s group practice. And that is how my professional career started. I was lucky enough to find a very successful group practice where I was able to work as an intern, as well as work as a provisionally licensed counselor.
But life sometimes finds a way of getting in the way of your plans. First, my husband and I were blessed with our son. And with that, a commute across the Causeway, the world’s longest bridge over a body of water, suddenly became less attractive. There were also some new structural changes going on with the practice that made it less of an ideal fit for me than it was before.
So with that, I found myself without a job, and now a little baby at home. My husband and I had previously talked about me starting my own practice. But that had always seemed like more work than I was prepared to ever do. I went to school to be a therapist, not a business owner. I wanted to come into a job somewhere, do my clinical work, and I wanted to go home. Accounting and marketing and administration were never parts of my dream job! But we talked it over and he agreed to assist me and support me along the way. And so like that, our little experiment began and I opened up my own little private practice.
Fast-forward to today, and that little experiment has grown to a group practice with 5 therapists. It’s been both a journey and a learning experience. They don’t really teach us in school how to start and operate our own businesses. The lessons I’ve learned in the process of starting a private practice are countless. But I can definitely name the ones that I think other counselors may find most important:
1 – That I Could Do It
This has to be the biggest one for me. This wasn’t supposed to be me. Other people start private practices. And yet I put myself out there, hung out my shingle, and discovered that the world had room for one more counseling private practice. I suspect that I might not be alone in thinking this way. The hardest part is getting over that initial hump and just accepting that you are good enough to venture out on your own. Looking back, it’s hard to picture what was stopping me before.
2 – It’s Important to Go Slow & Test Market Your Ideas
While it’s important to have the confidence in yourself to jump off the deep end and start your own private practice, another thing I learned is to go slow in everything that I do. The biggest companies in the world market test everything, so why should private practice practitioners be any different?
Instead of signing a big lease for office space before even knowing if my practice might be successful or not, I started small because I wanted to test market my practice. Would the practice I envisioned speak to and resonate with the community around me? What if it didn’t? I wanted to start small, so I found another counselor just like me who had an extra office she wasn’t using that I could sublease. And after I found out I could be successful as a single practitioner, I next wanted to know if a group practice might be viable. Going slow still, I contracted a part time counselor for a couple days a week, because I wanted to test out whether or not I could market another counselor.
Would potential clients want to see someone besides me, or would they insist on seeing me, the practice owner? Every step forward my practice has taken has been because we put out small tests into the market, received affirmation, and only then jumped in with both feet. We’ve done this with big changes like adding clinicians, as well as small ideas such as trying out different ad campaigns or versions of our website.
3 – Being Your Own Boss is Tough Sometimes
How many of us have dreamed about the day when we didn’t have a boss? No one standing over you telling you what to do, or what to wear, what days to come in or what hours you need to work. It can be great because you have the freedom to practice as you desire. The bad news is, there’s also no one there holding you accountable now. It can be easy to lose sight of your goals or procrastinate on tasks, when there isn’t a big bad boss looking over you. It’s important to keep yourself accountable and on track. You can accomplish this by writing down your goals and documenting your progress. Having a coach/consultant for instances like this can do you wonders as well.
4 – You Never Stop Learning
When you are first starting out opening your own private practice, it can feel a bit overwhelming, as there are so subjects you need to learn about. Starting a business, creating website, marketing, accounting, administration; it’s a bit like drinking out of a fire hose. But even after everything that I’ve learned, I still find myself yearning to learn more. Whether it’s listening to podcasts, reading blog articles, or following along in the counselor Facebook Groups, it feels like a day doesn’t go by where I don’t learn something new. Just like we don’t stop learning more through continued education, we can’t stop learning as business owners, unless we want to risk the world passing us by.
Priscilla Hurd is a LPC and the owner of Magnolia Family Counseling, a Metairie counseling practice in Lousiana. She specializes in helping couples get their relationship back on track. When she is not working with couples, she enjoys spending time with family and rooting for the New Orleans Saints.