August 21st, 2010

Setting up a practice

With degree in hand and passion in their hearts, many newly graduated psychologists seek to launch their own businesses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-11 Edition reports that 34 percent of psychologists are self-employed, either as private practitioners or independent consultants. For those just starting out, the idea of setting up a practice may be daunting, but with a bit of investigation, legwork and diligence, this goal is certainly attainable.

Anne Perschel, Psy.D., leadership and business psychologist and president, Germane Consulting in Worcester, Mass., emphasizes that psychologists opening a practice should consider themselves entrepreneurs and, as such, need to develop a business plan before hanging out their shingle. She explains that a good plan addresses accounting, billing and marketing and also outlines an exit strategy.

But before developing a plan, Perschel recommends first finding a mentor, coach or small group that can guide you, provide feedback and help you understand your dream and how to achieve it. She poses several questions to help develop a viable business plan. “What is your vision? Why do you want to be in private practice?” she says. “If you have the practice of your dreams, what does it look like in five, 10, 20, 30 years? How confident are you that you can achieve that? What are the obstacles and what will help [overcome them]?”

Carefully considering and honestly answering these questions will provide useful insight and steer you in the right direction, Perschel says.

Conversations with therapists in your geographic area help “assess the fit between your strength, desires, life style goals and financial aspirations” involved in running a private practice, according to Perschel. She says, “Ask them what [having a practice] is really like. How do they spend their time? What do they like most/least? What would they do differently if starting out today?”

To communicate your services to the type of clients you want to attract to your practice, Perschel recommends a multi-pronged marketing approach, including creating brochures and a Web site, and establishing a presence on professional social networking sites. She also advises psychologists to think about possible referral sources and how to develop, grow and maintain them.

When it comes to financial survival, Perschel suggests considering some options to the 50-minute, fee-for-service hour. “Find ways to attract self-pay clients,” she says, “by presenting workshops, doing groups and coaching.” She also recommends ways to earn “passive income,” such as creating electronic workbooks, conducting virtual and phone therapy.

In this high-tech age, Internet sites like apa.org and psychcentral.com provide practice-related articles; and shrinkbiz, Perschel’s site, and ehow.com offer tutorials and Webinars that help psychologists create a vision to marketing and how to write and implement a business plan, Perschel says.

To distinguish your practice in an increasingly competitive market, psychologists must find a way to stand above the crowd, adds Perschel. A solid business plan, built on research, expert advice and hard work, can bring your vision of a successful private practice closer to reality.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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