Many of us dream of setting up our own private practice one day, which is not surprising, as it promises to meet our innate human need for autonomy and control. There is certainly a demand for more good therapists in the UK, with one in six adults struggling with a common mental health disorder and NHS waiting lists growing by the day.
If this is something you’re considering - or even if you’ve been in private practice for a while - you probably have plenty of questions, from how you should price your services to how you can best market yourself and let people know you are ready to help. After all, being a good therapist - although obviously essential - is only half the battle when it comes to attracting clients and running a successful business.
Jennifer Broadley has 17 years of hands-on business experience, and has worked as an HG therapist for the past 7 years, running two flourishing private practices: one in Aberdeen and one home-based near Dundee. Here she shares her top 5 “do’s and don’ts” for setting up your own successful private practice.
Do: Be very clear about what you are aiming for
One of the great things about starting your own private practice is that you can have the freedom and flexibility to make it what you want to. There is no one ideal business model and you can make your own unique entity whatever you want it to be. But the range of possibilities can be perplexing, so sit down and try to answer the following questions …
Who are your ideal clients?
Think about who you can best work with and what you most enjoy. Do you have a special area that you like to work in, such as eating disorders, phobias or working with teens, or do you prefer to work generally with a range of clients and issues?
How are you going to meet your clients’ needs?
Why can you help in a way that perhaps others cannot? Don’t forget that human givens therapy can be seen as a specialism in itself as there are certain results and long-term fundamental changes you can produce which other forms of therapy may not.
Where will your practice be located?
Should you set up in your home or find an external location, for example? Each obviously has pros and cons. You may want to experiment with each and discover how each works from a time management and work/life balance point of view. Don’t forget that if you are planning to work from home, there are some basic safety mechanisms which you should put in place.
What do you want your work/life balance to be?
How many hours will you ideally work for and how much do you need to earn inside the fee-paying hours?
Don’t: Delay in bringing your much-needed skills to the market
Once you’re clear about who you want to work with and whether you want to specialise, you are much better placed to develop straightforward, jargon-free communications, which present the right tone and personality and attract the clients you are keen to work with.
Deciding which communications channels you should use and how best to promote yourself can be a huge challenge for anyone starting in business, but rest assured, the steps are not difficult, and once you know where to start, you can probably find your first 3 or 4 clients within a week.
To get you started, I would suggest that you advertise on Counselling Directory and, only when you have some spare time, get some business cards printed and create a very simple 1-page website. Make sure to keep your message clear. Put yourself in your client’s shoes and think about the particular pain or difficulty they may be experiencing and the solution or outcome you can offer; avoid psychobabble and instead focus on results. Do your research and find data to back up what you are saying (there are lots of good articles on the HG website (link to www.hgi.org.uk) so feel free to them).
Have a think about what you want your communications to look like, what you want them to include, what you can afford to spend, and what difference you expect them to make. Your photograph should be clear and approachable (some people will just scroll through a listing until they feel they connect with someone and only then read their information) and your email and contact number should be easy to find.
There are many choices of directory listing, so it’s worth considering how much each costs, the results they’re likely to deliver and how flexible they are - can you switch them off after a while if you need to? (Much of this is about just having a shot for 2-3 months and then keeping it if it works and ditching it otherwise).
It can be daunting to take these first steps, but don’t let them put you off. Keep in mind that you have to be visible to get your skills to the people who need them most. And remember that there is a huge need for good psychotherapists.
Don’t: Undervalue yourself
It’s no secret that we struggle in the UK to talk about money. It is also true that our generation has grown up with the NHS, where we expect to access healthcare as a universal right. Many people first setting up in business can worry about charging too much, but I would warn against charging too little. Again, take a moment to sit down and think about what it is you are providing, what the value of that is and what the costs are, and keep the following in mind:
You have worked hard and invested considerable sums of time and money to develop a high level of skills, talents and abilities, which are capable of changing someone’s life.
Think more about the possible outcomes for your clients and less about where you are located.
Accessibility – there’s value in private mental healthcare, as a means of getting high quality help straight away. Therapy can help in as little as 3 to 4 sessions - clients need to be encouraged to weigh up the cost of attending sessions against the cost of NOT attending them. How is their life being impacted in the meantime, how might the prolonged use of medication affect them, and will it be much harder to resolve their problems later rather than sooner?
Valuing and pricing your sessions with service in mind will help ensure that you bring your “A-game” to every session. You will also attract clients who are committed and focused too. Ultimately helping them get back to full emotional and mental health as quickly as possible is in everyone’s best interests.
Do: Put strong business foundations in place from the outset
Establishing robust systems and processes from the beginning can save you time and money in the long term.
Think about ways in which you can streamline your admin. You will need to think about how you work through your initial communications with each client, what initial information you need to gather, and what expectations you want to set. Think about what your intake system will look like and how you will monitor your clients as you go. Make sure you have a plan in place for filing your tax returns and know how to meet your regulatory requirements, such as complying with GDPR regulations. And if your marketing is working well, make sure you know how to switch it off or turn it down so you don’t overspend.
This is obviously a big topic and I would suggest that seeking help, such as a focused workshop (link to https://www.humangivens.com/college/build-a-successful-private-practice/), where you can explore and get advice on your individual needs, will help save you time and money in the long-term and remove barriers and obstacles so that you can actually enjoy doing what you have qualified yourself to do.
Do: Be prepared to learn and adapt as you go
Much as it is beneficial to get as many solid building blocks in place before you start, it is also important to be willing to discover and shift direction as you continue on your journey in private practice.
You may try a number of locations for your practice to begin with and learn that the need is greater in one area than another. Perhaps the number of clients and hours you start with may not be manageable or feasible in the long-term. You may also prefer to generalise initially, but gradually find that you particularly love one area of practice and decide to focus there.
There will be challenges along the way, and facing them builds resourcefulness. Equally, when your private practice is running as you want it to and getting results for your clients – that’s the ideal … and it’s totally possible for you.
Jennifer teaches the HG College workshop How to Build a Successful Private Practice, designed for people starting out in private practice, as well as those who have been in business for a while.
You can join her on this focused and practical workshop - it’s a wonderful opportunity to take a day out from your usual hectic day-to-day concerns, to consider what you really want from your private practice and to get help answering those logistical questions which may have been niggling at you for a while.
With individual attention from Jennifer, you will gain a renewed sense of direction, invaluable marketing and pricing tips, a good dose of reality, heaps of encouragement and a wealth of time and money-saving information that no amount of trawling websites could achieve.
Find out more here