Starting your own mental health practice can be an intimidating prospect. It doesn’t have to be. Additionally, starting your own practice does not need to involve becoming a business person who dedicates all their time to marketing, budgeting, and other such tasks. Although starting your own practice does require some business savvy, you can successfully grow a practice while dedicating the majority of your energies to your clients.
Anyone who has trained to be a mental health professional knows that entire books have been written on the subject of starting one’s own practice. A brief overview can’t cover every single thing you need to know about starting a mental health practice that will thrive for years to come.
That said, this guide can simplify the process by offering 10 critical tips to keep in mind during the early stages of growth. To position your mental health practice for success, you should:
Brush up on your business skills
You may be a very effective and dedicated therapist who helps your clients navigate life’s difficulties. This is what you went to school for, after all. You spent years studying to learn how to help people. Odds are good you didn’t spend much time in school learning about the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.
However, it is important to remember that the skills you apply when assisting your patients are not the only skills required for success when running your own practice.
This is not to suggest you need to earn an MBA to succeed. You should simply optimize your chances of growing a thriving practice by learning the basics of certain fundamental business skills. This involves learning to:
- Set and maintain a budget
- Separate your personal and business expenses
- Market your practice
- Attract and retain clients
Those are just a few examples. The main point to keep in mind is that you can cultivate the business skills you need to build your practice fairly easily if you focus on the few skills you need instead of trying to learn everything there is to know about being a businessperson.
You may not have the time and experience necessary to handle all business tasks that running a practice may involve. Luckily, you can outsource many of these tasks to freelancers and contractors (as long as you are careful to avoid sharing confidential client information).
For example, you might decide to market your practice with a website. You don’t have to create this website yourself. You can hire a web designer to create it for you.
You can also hire a virtual assistant to help with such tasks as billing, answering calls, scheduling appointments, submitting invoices to insurances and more.
A virtual assistant serves essentially the same purpose as a traditional assistant. The only difference is that they do not need to work in your office. They can work remotely, allowing you to find the ideal candidate for the role without limiting your search to a small geographic area, and are often less expensive than the traditional in-person office role. Tasks a virtual assistant can handle may include (but are not necessarily limited to) data entry, taking calls and handling communications in general, billing insurance companies, and more.
Choose the right tools
From billing software to scheduling apps, there is a range of tools you may use in your practice to simplify your day-to-day operations. Before opening your practice, research your options to choose the tools that best suit your needs and budget.
The best way to learn which tools are right for your needs is to ask for recommendations from colleagues. Odds are your peers can suggest programs and apps they have found helpful. If others in your field vouch for these tools, they likely will benefit your practice.
Get referrals and testimonials
You can’t assume new clients will simply find out about your practice naturally. Along with implementing a marketing plan, you should strive to attract clients through referrals and positive testimonials from former clients.
Coordinate with professionals
There are certain specialists and professionals you should strongly consider enlisting the help of when you first start your mental health practice. These include attorneys and CPAs.
You need to make sure you have the necessary insurance, that you are taking proper steps to avoid HIPAA violations, etc. Working with professionals to address these matters will give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing you haven’t overlooked any critical details.
Choose a brand
A brand is your practice’s identity. It consists of your values, goals, and overall approach to therapy.
Study the brands of your competitors’ practices. Identify the qualities that make some brands stand out among the crowd. While you should not necessarily model your brand entirely after that of someone else, you should learn from what others are doing right.
Find a convenient space
Gone are the days when you needed a physical office to grow a practice. Thanks to telehealth solutions, you can serve your patients from your home. If you choose to do so, though, be certain to set aside a room where you can stay focused on your clients and maximize their privacy.
Additionally, you might still decide a physical office where you can meet with clients in-person is best for your practice. If you go this route, keep in mind that your clients will have to travel to this location to meet with you. Thus, it is very important to choose an office that’s in a fairly convenient location with easy access to major highways in your area.
Consider a niche
This is a tip that many therapists benefit from applying when starting their own practices. Although you may be a general mental health professional who works with clients struggling with a range of conditions and difficulties, when starting your own practice, you might be more successful at attracting clients if you specialize in a particular type of therapy.
This doesn’t mean you need to exclusively serve one type of client. It simply means if you focus primarily on serving a particular type of client you will find it easier to build a client base. For instance, some mental health professionals work primarily with children, although they also have some adult clients as well.
Start small, expand incrementally
You may be lucky, finding that attracting clients comes easy to you at the start. While this can be an encouraging experience, it’s important not to overburden yourself.
Don’t take on too many clients early. This can result in high levels of stress. It may also prevent you from effectively serving your clients. As you get a better sense of how much time you can dedicate to serving your clients in a given day without stretching yourself too thin, you can start to expand.
Make a daily schedule
The specifics of your schedule will vary to some degree based on which clients you are seeing and when you’re seeing them. That said, there are certain tasks that you should probably perform every single day. They may include billing insurance companies, checking emails and phone messages, and other such tasks. Sticking to a routine will help you remain focused.
Make and modify a plan
You may already appreciate the importance of creating a business plan that states your short-term and long-term goals when starting a mental health practice. Just remember that you will need to make modifications to your plan as you grow your practice during the first few weeks, months and even years. Being willing to make adjustments when necessary will help you stay flexible. This is key to adapting as you learn more about how to successfully run a mental health practice.
Once more, none of this is to suggest that a few basic tips will cover everything there is to learn about running and growing a mental health practice of your own. This is simply meant to point out that keeping simple tips in mind can make this process feel much less intimidating than otherwise might.