When it comes to working in private practice there are so many elements that contribute to your success beyond just your therapeutic skills. In addition to the clinical work you are doing with your clients you are also a business owner and as such there are certain business practices that are highly effective for clinicians to adopt. These are a few that I have found to be highly effective in running my practice as a successful business.
1. Return phone calls and emails from potential clients ASAP. If there is one thing you take away from this article, please let it be this one. If your goal is to build your practice to your definition of full then you want to get clients through the doors and into your office and the best way to do that is to be the first one to make contact with them. Keep in mind that when a potential client calls you, they are probably calling more than just one therapist on a list of referrals they have or a local Google or Psychology Today search. The quicker you call them back and the sooner you can schedule them the better your chances of securing them as a client. The other thing to keep in mind is that you want to strike while the iron is hot. Many clients experience a sense of hope and momentum at finally picking up the phone to initiate the process, if too much time passes by before they’re able to speak to you or schedule a session, they may lose some steam and be less likely to follow through with the process.
2. Offer a free consultation. This can be a highly controversial topic among many therapists but I stand firmly on the side that a free consultation is a smart business and marketing strategy. From a marketing perspective, it’s a great tool to increase exposure to more clients as many will be more inclined to reach out if they have the option of taking a test drive first. Therapy is a huge investment of both time and money and many people want to know what they are investing in before making that commitment. From the business perspective, and holding that the goal of all of this is to build your perfect practice, offering a free consultation is a great way for you to exercise discretion in the clients you choose to work with and only taking on those that fit into your vision. Many of the complaints I’ve heard about offering free consultations is the feeling that, as the therapist, you are auditioning for the job and that can create an unnatural need to win over the client. I will encourage you to flip the perspective and begin to look at this time as an opportunity for you to evaluate if this is a client that you want to work with, and if they’re not, to happily refer them to someone who may be a better fit.
3. Offer sliding scale options. Again, another topic that you will get mixed messages on. Of course, you need to find and do what feels best for you, but I will advocate for saving space in your practice for clients who can’t afford your full fee. I, generally as a rule of thumb, will not turn away a client strictly for financial reasons. If a client comes to my office and after our initial (free) consultation I feel a connection to them and they are inspired and committed to the process of working hard in therapy (they are my ideal client), I will see them for $5 if that is all they can afford. One of the beliefs that I have had to adopt in order for this to not make me a martyr, or devaluing of myself and my time, is trusting that when I show up fully in the world, I will be taken care of, that was goes around comes around. It’s easy to become tunnel visioned and only see the $5 fee, but trusting that there is so much more possibility beyond just what I can see has proven to be very rewarding for me in my practice. Defining success for myself extends beyond just finances but genuinely enjoying and connecting with the people that I work with and many of them aren’t able to afford my full fee and I have been more than taken care of by allowing space for them in practice at a fee they can afford.
4. Arrive at your office 15-30 minutes before your first client. This may seem like an insignificant suggestion but I think it’s important enough to include in my top 5 practices for your business and there are a few reasons why I believe so strongly in this practice. First, there is a statement of professionalism when you give yourself the time to come into your office, set it up so everything is ready when your clients walk in, sound machines are on, lights are on, maybe you play music in your waiting room, or light candles for ambiance. Clients want to walk into a space that is ready for them. If you’re running into your office at the same time as your clients what kind of a message do you think you are sending to them and to yourself about your commitment to your practice and yourself as a professional? Secondly, it’s a good idea from a clinical perspective, to give yourself time before your clients to come into the therapeutic space, to allow yourself to transition away from your external life and get grounded and prepared for your clients. Whether you use the time to do some meditation, or review notes from the previous session, I encourage you to make it part of your business structure that you have time at the beginning of your day before clients come into the office.
5. Schedule time at the end of your day for returning phone calls, catching up on emails and finishing notes. I’m a big believer in end-capping our days, both in our personal and professional lives. Taking the time to pause at the end of the day and create space to follow through on the administrative tasks we have is a helpful way to stay productive as well as create boundaries between our personal and professional lives. I find this practice requires the most discipline because it can be so tempting to want to just run out of the office, especially after a long day, when you finish with that last client. By having the specific time designated at the end of the day, after you are finished seeing clients, to wrap-up any loose ends ensures that you don’t have to bring it home with you and are not trying to connect with clients during your family or personal time.
These are just 5 of my personal practices that I’ve incorporated into my business and attribute to much of my success in private practice. I’d love to hear from you and thoughts or reactions you have about these suggestions, as well as sharing which practices have been most effective and helpful for you. Comment down below and let’s get the dialogue going!