Are you paying thousands per year to your group practice? Are you worried about building someone else’s business and not your own? Taking the plunge too start your own private counseling practice can be scary! However, it doesn’t have to be. The key is in the planning and doing an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, both as a practitioner and as a businessperson. This article has some overlap with our older post So you want to start a private therapy practice. Be sure to check that one out as well!
Transitioning into a solo private practice is daunting. While you might be questioning the thousands per year you’re paying into your group practice, it’s important to understand the benefits you get from a group practice. Understanding the value of the group makes it easier to make an informed choice if you decide to strike out on your own solo path.
Key benefits of a group counseling practice
- Deal-flow — generally a practitioner in a group practice doesn’t have the same level of concern when it comes to attracting new clients. The group feeds you clients and in exchange, they earn a portion of your fee. You are spared the challenges of marketing your therapy practice.
- Administrative efficiency — a group practice generally handles billing and scheduling for you. For the most part, you simply have to show up and provide the services. This (theoretically) frees you up from the day-to-day phone answering and leaves more time for clients.
Key challenges of a solo counseling practice
- Deal Flow
- Administrative inefficiency
See the pattern?
The toughest part of running a solo counseling practice is marketing. The second toughest part is administrative.
Creating a transition plan
Despite being a bit scary, you can transition to a solo behavioral health practice! It comes down to creating a plan that allows you to start building the foundation for your new solo practice before leaving your group practice.
Research your market
Don’t skip this step! Understanding your market is what you want to do first. Failing to understand the market will result in a quick, expensive death for your solo practice dreams.
I was talking to a practitioner a few weeks ago who was considering leaving a group practice and he shared some interesting insights. His group practice has been a community fixture for many years. Despite being in a lightly populated part of the state, it was thriving; clients would drive from surrounding towns to visit this practice. Since the practice had a sterling reputation and many years of being the “go-to” clinic, it was doing very well financially. However, the practitioner realized that if he were to set up shop right next door, he’d likely fail. The reason was because a newcomer would have to overcome the strong advantage of the group practice. He’d have to market at an order of magnitude greater than the group practice simply because the established practice would have such a signifiant referral flow that it would be difficult to overcome that disadvantage.
The solution to this quandary is either to set up shop in a more advantageous area, start an online therapy practice, or find a narrow niche where he wouldn’t need to compete head-to-head with his soon-to-be-former group practice. The best answer is a combination of all of those!
Steps to researching your potential therapy market
- Search on Psychology Today to see what practitioners are in your area. This will give you an idea of the demand for services. A low number of practitioners could mean that there is a shortage, but, generally it means that the market isn’t as healthy as would be indicated by a larger number of practitioners.
- Once you know the general number of practitioners in your area, next, look for your specific specialty. If you see a high number of practitioners, but only a few in your specialty, that’s a very good thing — that represents an opportunity.
- Research the population and demographics of your area. Census.gov has some great tools for exploring your region in great depth. Consider things like new businesses opening, businesses closing, the housing market (are prices going up or down.) Consider the proximity of your desired location to a Starbucks (really!) Look at neighborhood trends. Study the trends in apartment and home rents. While you certainly won’t reach the level of detail as professional analysts, your goal is to get a feel for the size and potential of your market.
- Look at average session rates for your area. See what therapists are getting paid. Calculate how many clients you’ll need to not only pay the bills, but pay yourself the salary you desire. Feel free to reach out to us in the comments below if you want more detailed data on how much practitioners are charging. At iCouch, we have a ton of data on this stuff!
- Look at office space. Don’t even think about signing anything yet. Just pretend that you are ready to lease. Check out our article The basics of leasing a private therapy office for some help. Get an idea of your expenses.
Those are just the bare-basics you’ll want to do for research. After doing that research, you’ll be well-equipped to understand your future marketing plan. You might even decide that the group practice isn’t so bad after all!
If the research is solid, you feel that you have a good potential business, the next step is to start thinking about marketing.
Creating your marketing plan
I literally wrote the book on this: The Therapist Guide to Online Marketing. While creating the marketing plan is far beyond the scope of this article, the basics are as follows:
The foundation of a therapy practice marketing plan
- Understand your value — what is your niche, what makes your business interesting to potential clients.
- Create fictional personas of your idea clients.
- Think of how and where to reach those personas.
- Create measurable goals
- Understand your Customer Lifetime Value and the potential Customer Acquisition Cost.
Once you have the plan, you’ll start executing on the plan and then you’ll be continually adjusting as you begin to see results (or non-results.) Be sure to check out our post Marketing planning for the therapist entrepreneur for more details!
Once you have your research and a tentative marketing plan, now you’re ready to more seriously consider transitioning from your group practice.
If your research demonstrates viability for a solo practice, the next step is to get familiar with the administrative side of your business.
Basic administrative tasks before you transition to a solo practice
- Pick a name. We wrote about naming your therapy practice. Read that article!
- Research business structures and formation processes for your location. An LLC is a popular choice. You’ll certainly want to chat with a tax professional in your area to understand the specific advantages and disadvantages of the various business structures.
- Research insurance — both professional liability as well as property insurance, accident insurance, life insurance (if you have dependents,) and perhaps health insurance for yourself if you aren’t already covered.
- Research practice management software. This is going to be a huge help as it will save you time dealing with phone calls, bookings and make it easy for you to accept credit cards without needing a merchant account. We’re partial to iCouch, but there are a ton of choices! The important thing is to use a system that doesn’t have a steep learning curve, is low cost while still providing the features that will make your administrative life easier.
Taking the plunge into the solo practice
Don’t jump just yet! I recommend that you begin putting some of your plan in motion while you are still in the relative safety of the group practice. Of course, don’t poach clients from the group! That’s unethical and just wrong. However, you can certainly begin marketing. I would suggest starting to see online clients in the evenings first. This will get your feet wet and allow you to safely start testing the effectiveness of your marketing plan. You could also consider hourly office rentals on the evenings and weekends to start seeing your own clients. Once you start to get some fruit from your solo tree, you can decide then if you’re ready to take the plunge.
Just remember, it takes time to build a thriving practice. It’s hard work, but it’s hard work that you can do!
Any tips or advice for people looking to transition from a group practice? Any questions for us? Let us know in the comments below!