Starting a private practice in counseling isn’t a cinch. It needs courage, resolve, and most of all you need to understand the challenges that you’re likely to face in the counseling sphere and how to tackle them.
To reiterate how difficult it is to serve independently, research indicates that only 44.8% of psychologists work as private practitioners. The reason for this is, while school teaches you to be a great counselor, it doesn’t show you how to run a counseling business.
To set you on the path of becoming a private professional counselor, here are 10 tips for starting a private practice in counseling.
1. Learn about the legal requirements
When starting a private practice in counseling you must first make yourself familiar with the legal requirements. Regulations governing this kind of business vary from one state to another. You should consult with your business lawyer to understand what laws you must adhere to and the licenses needed to start practicing.
Some vital legal requirements you should know include;
- Business license requirements
- Local zoning laws that determine your area of practice
- Scope of practice and many more.
2. Create a business plan
Once you have your licenses ready, it’s time to create a detailed business plan. The plan will act as a roadmap that outlines your goals and the crucial milestones you target to accomplish.
A good plan should, therefore, detail the practical elements of your business. Some of these elements include;
- Scope of your services
- Financial information, including how much you need to make for your business to stay functional
- Ascertain your client base and stipulate your counseling approach
- Define your partners and staff if any
- State your marketing plan detailing how you intend to reach out to and grow your clientele
- Funding options
Ensure your plan is a living document that you can update anytime, as you learn new things.
3. Find your niche
Defining your niche is vital for your private practice as it helps you determine your target audience. Your niche is different from your specialty. For instance, if your specialty is addiction treatment, your niche could be athletes who are addicted to substance abuse or elderly additcs.
While niching down may seem like limiting your client base, in reality, it helps you focus your efforts on a specific group. This way, you get more time to research your target client, understand them better and offer focused marketing. Besides, it helps you streamline networking sources.
4. Select your business structure
Just like in any business, you need to decide on a business structure when starting a private practice in counseling. Legal structures affect your tax obligations, legal liability, operational risk, and clientele. There are many business structures to choose from, including sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation.
Each structure comes with its benefits in terms of taxation and cushioning yourself from liabilities. For instance, sole proprietorships are easy to build upfront, but they put your assets at risk should clients sue you for malpractice. Limited liability companies, on their part, are safer but require lots of time and money to set up.
You may want to talk with a business consultant to make sure you choose the correct legal structure for your practice.
5. Decide on your office space
It’s advisable to have a dedicated office space where you can meet your clients. For a start, the office doesn’t have to be fancy. You only need a secure, confidential space with furniture and decorations. Office technology like phones and the internet will also come in handy.
To keep your costs low, you might consider creating an office at home. Sharing space with other counseling professionals or renting out office space in established private practices are other cost-effective options.
6. Get on insurance provider panels
Getting clients can be hard when starting out. Joining insurance providers is one easy way to find clients in your area.
When you’re business is listed on the insurer’s provider network, it means you’ve been vetted and found to be fit to provide counseling services. Consequently, the insurance company can refer their members to you, making it easier to get new clients. You can find the best providers in your locality and apply through their webpage to become a member.
- Set clear practice policies
Clear business policies will ensure there is consistency in your practice and your clients know what to expect. When you create clear and concise guidelines, there will always be a standard way of providing your services.
Among other things, your policies should cover;
- Rates and the acceptable payments methods
- Privacy policies
- Policies pertaining to your safety and that of your clients
- Scheduling and cancellation of appointment policies
- Policies related to the referral of clients to other providers
As a provider, you need to memorize these policies and discuss them with your clients at the first meeting. This will foster mutual trust and ensures you’re on the same page.
- Prepare client forms
Forms and documents make a big part of your private practice. Ensure you have all client forms ready even before you welcome your first client. Some critical forms you should never miss are;
- Client intake forms
- Informed consent forms
- Notice of privacy
- Counseling receipt for services
- Authorization to release information
These forms should be available and provided whenever necessary. If you’re not sure how to design these forms, be sure to find them online.
- Build a website
A good business should have a solid customer base. The company website is the proven avenue of creating a steady stream of customer influx.
Consider creating an excellent website to showcase your services. Many people are likely to stumble on your site online. As such, always include your contact information, details about your practice, and location on your website.
- Provide quality service
Ultimately, always strive to provide quality services and make your clients’ lives better. This is because satisfied clients are the difference between a successful business and a struggling one. When you make your clients happy by offering valuable services, they are more likely to refer your services to others and grow your clientele.
The best way to provide fantastic results is to work with clients you are qualified to treat. If a client has needs that are beyond what you can offer, always refer them to the best therapist you know.
Starting a private practice in counseling is a multifaceted process that requires patience and hard work. You should focus and follow all the proper stages, right from the first step of familiarizing yourself with the legal requirements and creating a business plan to the final steps of offering services and marketing the business. While you may not see the benefits at the beginning, you will eventually be happy for hanging on.