Having worked in the therapeutic field in various roles for the last fifteen years I was more than ready, when I qualified, to begin setting up in private practice. Going straight into private practice after qualifying has been somewhat of a controversial subject for many, due to the expectation you ‘should’ get a paid or volunteer job first and then after a few years think about setting up your own business. I have always liked to break the mould!
As paid counselling jobs are getting fewer, more and more therapists are turning to private practice. However as I discovered you need to do a lot more than put yourself on a counselling directory, sit back and wait for the phone to ring! (you might think I'm joking but its been true for many). It takes commitment, tenacity and learning to be a business person as well as developing as a therapist.
In this article I am going to share with you, from personal experience, a taster of helpful things I did in order to build a successful counselling practice. Now obviously it takes much more than the five areas I'm going to share with you today (thats why I wrote an entire book about it!) but these aspects are a great place to get started.
Know you are ready
As I have mentioned above, personally I don’t think you need to reach a certain ‘status’ before you consider private practice, otherwise we succumb to the ‘one mould fits all’ way of thinking. What I would say is you need to be confident in yourself, your skills and feel ready to take on the responsibility.
In private practice you don’t have the same amount of security compared to an organizational setting. You will be responsible for multiple aspects of business such as client referrals, marketing, room rent, tax, policies and procedures etc etc. If this thought intimidates you rather than empowers you it can be helpful to ask yourself some questions, such as:
- Why do I want to be in private practice?
- Do I want it to be my sole income?
- Am I ready for private practice? or do I need more time/training/experience?
- As a therapist what am I passionate about?
- What will push me forward if things get tricky?
If you go through these questions and are still raring to go, it gives you a strong indication about whether it is right for you at this time.
Do your research
When starting out the first thing I decided to do was check out the competition in my area. This is where Google is exceptionally helpful! Check out therapists in your area and make a note of what they are offering, how much they are charging, what sort of venues they are working from and anything else you can think of. You need to think about what is going to make you stand out from other therapists. Ask yourself the question ‘Why would someone choose me instead of another counsellor?’ This could come down to anything from having a social media presence, having disabled access to your premises, or offering a specialism that is in high demand in your area. You don’t have to be something your not but marketing is about showing the world your best self- so don’t be shy about selling your skills.
Make a list of all the people who can support you
When I was starting out it was surprising the amount of friends and family who wanted to help me. Now I am not suggesting you take advantage of people but utilise the support systems you already have. For example when I was looking to create a logo for my business I talked to a friend of mine who was a graphic designer and she did my logo for half the price with the proviso she could use it for her portfolio. A family member of mine works in the marketing trade so I bought him a coffee and we talked through my marketing options. People are often so willing to help and have skills that you probably don't own yourself (yet)! Just remember you havent got to do this all on your own, otherwise it could become a lonely journey. Involve your nearest and dearest where you can and accept help!
Choose an accessible location
My first location came through a contact I already had who owns a chiropractic business. It had a lovely warm reception with great coffee, free parking and disabled access. A lot of my clients commented on how easily accessible this location was and that it left them feeling really comfortable. Working from home is a great option and I talk about the pros and cons in the book, but the number one consideration when it comes to location is accessibility. If your a new business and your location is off the beaten track it can be off putting to people who don’t drive or feel particularly vulnerable about coming to see you. It also helps massively when you are starting from scratch to base yourself out of an already renowned business. Furthermore it can give you a sense of team which is very important to consider in private practice as you can become quite isolated.
Build an outstanding website and don’t spend £100’s on paper marketing
People often ask me ‘do I really need a website?’ and my answer is always the same - YES! How do people find services or information these days?……Google it!! 90% of my referrals come through my website. In the first year of business I put in a lot of effort to climb the Google rankings. (without any cost such as ad’s etc which I cover in the book.) This was because I knew that if I could get on that first page when people searched for counsellors in Ashford Kent, I would be winning.
It takes time but it was well worth the investment. I don't advertise anywhere else now other than a counselling directory because I don't need too and I average between one to three enquiries a week. This is how important a well established website is! My advice would be to invest your marketing budget and time in that, rather than multiple news paper adverts and leaflet drops.
There is so much more I could share with you all but I simply don't have the word count! On a final note private practice is a wonderful, exhilarating experience and I wouldn't have it any other way. I love being my own boss (of course with my supervisors guidance) and it gives me the work life balance I have always dreamed of. It, in my opinion, is 100% worth the risk and with the right guidance it is achievable for all.
‘How to set up a successful counselling practice’ by Anna Honeysett is now available to purchase on Amazon, in paper back and Kindle. Anna also offers one to one mentoring and courses on setting up in private practice.