When I first started training as a counsellor I was never told about the lack of paid work opportunities that I would be facing once I qualified. It is a real issue in the therapist world that you spend thousands on your training, three to four years of your life and then are expected to work as a volunteer! I felt not only was this massively unjust but undervalued the profession itself.
So I made a decision that I would take my career into my own hands and start my own private practice. Again with very little guidance available I through myself into the deep end of business and learnt as I went along. Through the process I learnt I am actually a pretty great business women (who knew?) and quickly grew my practice which is now always operating at full capacity.
After a while I started to consider writing down my experiences which in time turned into a book! I wanted it to be as practical as possible- writing it in a size size format and including check lists and notes for the reader. It has been a real journey writing a book and not an easy one- but I genuinely believe the content is excellent and is a must have resource for therapist's wishing to branch out into running their own practice. Below is my 5 best tips to get you 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.
My book is available in paper back and kindle on Amazon- please follow the link below or go to www.honeysettcounselling.co.uk for more details.