Starting a Private Practice in Counseling Checklist
13 action steps to take for a new mental health therapy private practice business owner.
no time to read? Download the checklist as a PDF
starting a private practice in counseling checklist: steps to prepare
1. Decide on the Opening Date for Your Private Practice If you’re serious about opening your own private practice and want to make your business dream a reality, you need to commit to it. Starting a private practice requires some advance planning, but it’s not a process that will take you years to prepare for. To start, plan for an opening date of 3-6 months from the time you decide that it’s the right path for you. This timeline is on the conservative side and will help you get organized, plan for your future, and start attracting clients ahead of time.
2. Calculate Your Business Expenses Starting a private practice without calculating all of your future expenses first is unwise. And although most therapists go into private practice with some kind of a starting capital and a general idea of how much their largest expenses will be, there're also hidden expenses that you may encounter in the future. Not being meticulous about those expenses and ignoring them in the beginning, can cause you to set low fees and create a situation in which you're overworked and underpaid. As we all know from our personal finances, little things add up to big amounts.
3. Define Your Vision: Do you want to work alone or have a group practice? Every business plan starts with a founder’s vision. Your vision is your ultimate goal for your private practice. This is not just a daydreaming exercise, but your roadmap to a successful business. A business that will help you create the life you want to have. Your vision can be lofty, like having a large group practice with 10 different locations. It can also include an end goal, like selling your practice in the future. It’s an important exercise because, without the vision, you might end up in a place in which you feel overworked, burned out, and unfulfilled. Your vision is for you. You don’t need to share it with the public and you can adjust it in the future.
4. List the Legal Requirements Unlike other service businesses, a therapy practice needs to adhere to ethical and clinical requirements. Make sure to have all your ducks in a row when it comes to insurance, license, and compliance. List all the requirements you might need to open your own practice. Make sure you include all the forms such as: • Intake forms • Consent Policies and agreements • Assignment of Insurance Benefits • Release of Information • Etc.
And get you started, The Private Practice Startup created all the business paperwork for mental health professionals in private practice.
Having this list ready ahead of time will help you prepare and avoid potential future problems.
5. Set Your Fees: Insurance Panels or Private Pay? Setting your fees will be the most important element of starting your own practice. These are the things that you need to take into consideration while setting your fees: • Your experience and expertise. • Your location • Your competition • The financial situation of your “ideal client” • Your business and living expenses • Your lifestyle goals and desired vacation time • Saving and retirement goals Taking all of this into account will help you create fair and sustainable fees for your practice.
6. Calculate Your Cash flow Now that you know what your hourly fee should be, you can figure out how many clients you should see. However, client work won’t be the only work you’ll be doing as a private practice owner. In addition to seeing your clients, you’ll be doing administrative work like scheduling, responding to emails and phone calls, billing, and working with insurance (if you opt to be on insurance panels). Besides that, you’ll have a lot of non-billable work that will include marketing and promotion, networking, continuing education, etc. All these things need to be considered when you’re thinking about the number of clients you’ll see per week. Your work with clients will generate your cashflow and it needs to be a priority for your new business so make sure you know your numbers.
Setting a marketing strategy to create a strong therapy brand and marketing plan
7. Name Your Private Practice Your business needs a name. Since you’ve done steps 1 through 6, you have an idea of what your vision and your financial plan are. You know why your time is worth the fees that you’ll be charging and you know what you can offer. Now is the time to name your practice so you can move forward with the actual nitty-gritty of starting a business. Your vision for your practice should guide you in this exercise. If you’re planning to open a large group practice, you should probably stay away from using your own personal name. Find a name that’s available in your state and that makes sense for the type of therapy you want to be known for.
8. Buy a Domain Name for Your Therapy Practice This step should really go hand in hand with step #7. It can be very frustrating coming up with a business name you love just to discover that the URL with the same name is not available. Imagine being ready to start building your website and finding out that you can’t use the domain name you wanted for your business. Ugh... Of course, sometimes you can buy a domain name that’s not available if it’s listed for sale. But in general, it’s best to avoid that. There are many domain name services. The service I use and am affiliated with is Namecheap. It’s user-friendly, convenient, and often has great sales on domain names. If you have your heart set on a name for your practice, don’t wait. Buy a domain name and have it ready for step #10.
9. Incorporate Your Business Now that you’ve chosen a name for your private practice and bought a domain name for your future website, you’re ready to make your business legal. There are different structures you can choose for your private practice so you need to read carefully about each entity and decide what will work for you. If you need help starting your LLC, read these Step-by-step guides for launching an LLC.
10. Find the Right Website Builder for Your Therapy Practice Not having a website for your private practice means willingly stopping the cash flow into your business. Right now more than 70% of people in the United States search for health providers online. Your website will be your 24/7 online reception area, an information hub, and a salesperson in one. Setting up your website in a way that will allow you to schedule appointments even when you sleep will be crucial to your success. Building a website should never be an afterthought, but an intentional process. That’s why figuring out who will build your website and what platform you’ll be using to build and host it ahead of time will position you for success from the start. Whether you’ll hire a designer or build the website yourself, you’ll need to think it over before you launch your practice.
11. Get Professionally Done Headshots Therapy is a highly personal service. To have a successful relationship with your clients, people will need to trust you. And before they’ll trust you, they’ll want to find a little more about you, usually online. Having professionally done photographs that show you in the best light will help you establish this trust faster. Professionally done headshots signal respect and professionalism. In addition, you’ll be using these photographs in different places online: your website, social media profiles, and professional directories. It’s one of those investments that you’ll keep getting a return on over and over again.
12. Start Looking for an Office Space for Your Therapy Practice Unless you’ve decided to work online full time and accept only Telehealth clients, you’ll need an office space. This will be your major expense so it’s important to find the best option for you. You may decide that you’ll practice in one location full-time or a few locations, depending on the day of the week. In any case, you’ll need to crunch the numbers and figure out what you can afford without a major sacrifice. Make sure to give yourself time to look for a good space in which you and your future clients will feel comfortable and safe.
Build an online reputation with local SEO
13. List Your Therapy Practice Online When you’ll have a physical location, you’ll be ready to start listing your private practice in various directories online. Having your professional headshot, a business name and a website address will make the listing process quick and easy. To start, make sure to create profiles in all the free directories: • Google • Bing • Chamber of Commerce • Facebook • LinkedIn • Foursquare • Yahoo
After, you can decide which professional directories, like Psychology Today and others, make sense for your practice.
While starting a private practice in counseling checklist is a good place to begin planning your journey, it's just that. The beginning. To continuously grow your practice and attract new private pay leads, you need to keep marketing your practice online and offline.