A Checklist for Getting Started

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• How much will you need to earn each year via your practice to actualize your dreams? Consider personal and business expenses, how much you’d like to put away in savings or investments, and retaining some extra spending money.

• Map out a schedule that’s sensitive to your energetic limits, desired personal and vacation time, and potential illnesses and emergencies. How long will your sessions be?  How many of these can you realistically provide per day?  How many days per week?  How many weeks per year?

• Identify your ideal clients. Get specific about who they are and what they need and want.  It can be difficult for some of us to choose a niche in the earliest stages of our practices, but do I recommend it to clarify your marketing.  It can always be redefined as your clinical interests evolve.

• Brainstorm offerings that will satisfy the client needs identified above. If you’ll be practicing in a more populated area, how will you differentiate from the thousands of other therapists there?

• Determine whether you’re eligible for and interested in becoming a provider for an insurance plan or EAP. I haven’t done that myself, so I won’t offer guidance there.  If you’re developing a private-pay practice, research what your ideal clients would be willing to pay for your offerings, and establish your fees accordingly, factoring in any adjustments for low-fee or pro bono work.

• Choose a name for your business. If you intend to expand into a group practice and hire other clinicians, avoid using your personal name, and choose one that suggests something about your brand, resonates with your ideal clients, and is easily remembered.  It should be broad enough to allow for future growth and new offerings.

• Decide on a legal structure for your business. The default structure for a single-owner business is known as a sole proprietorship.  As a sole proprietor, you’re legally identified with the business and can be held personally liable for things like unpaid debts, injuries to others, and damage to someone else’s property.  Forming a professional entity, such as a limited liability corporation, will be the better choice if you have significant personal assets that you need to shield from being used to settle business liabilities.  You can learn more about these two legal structures here.  Each state has its own restrictions and requirements for forming a professional entity, so you’ll need to research what those are.

• Similarly, research any restrictions and requirements for conducting business in accordance with the laws of your state, municipality, and licensing board; submit the required applications.

• Secure a clinical supervisor if required under a Board plan, as well as consultants and attorneys who you can turn to when faced with complex clinical, ethical, or legal issues.

• Obtain professional liability insurance and general liability insurance. Professional liability insurance protects your business against negligence claims related to your professional services.  General liability insurance protects your business against claims of physical injury or damage to property arising for your daily operations (e.g. a client slips and falls at your office).  Many professional liability insurance policies also provide several hours of free consultation with attorneys for legal questions related to existing situations with clients.

• Set up your administrative systems. To name a few, you’ll need a professional e-mail address and e-mail provider; a second line for phone, voicemail, and texting; an online scheduler; and systems for processing payments and bookkeeping, backing up data, and record-keeping.  I recommend subscribing to a practice management system that addresses as many of these needs as possible.  Visit my links page for a list of vendors that I use in my own practice.  These products and services, as well as your physical and technical infrastructures, should be chosen in compliance with HIPAA regulations to protect the privacy and security of your clients’ confidential information.

• Establish a reliable way to track incoming contacts from prospective clients and your consultations with them, as this is not always easily accomplished in EHR software. Log the outcome of these interactions, including any referrals that you provided.

• Open business checking and business savings accounts. Keep business funds in these accounts and separate from your personal accounts – this is important for tax purposes, establishing business credit, assessing profit and loss, and demonstrating a distinction between you and your business if you’ve formed a limited liability corporation.

• Finalize all intake, consent, and other practice management forms. The most essential forms include a professional disclosure statement and informed consent, intake questionnaire, and authorization to release information.  I also distribute to clients additional information about the risks of communicating with me by non-secure means, special policies related to couples counseling, authorizations to video record sessions, and consents for online counseling.  If you meet the definition of a Covered Entity as it relates to HIPAA, you’ll need to prepare additional notices and authorizations to comply with HHS regulations.  The particulars of your practice and the legal, ethical, and clinical regulations of your profession and state may necessitate other forms, as well.

• Make sure that your Professional Disclosure Statement & Informed Consent includes detailed information about your practice policies, such as how you manage appointments, cancellations and no-shows, communications outside of session, fees and payments, etc.

• Find an office. Considerations should include location, space design and square footage, accessibility, rent and other costs, waiting and common areas, other practitioners in the building, and parking.  Decide whether you want to sublet or be the primary leaseholder, and negotiate any terms that are important to you.  If the office will be your own, purchase furnishings, plants, artwork, and anything else that feels interesting and supportive to you and your clients.

• Acquire a domain name and website hosting, and considering hiring a team of web designers and developers. Develop your brand identity and messaging, and begin putting yourself out there using print (e.g. business cards, postcards) and digital channels (e.g. website, social media, search engine marketing, e-mail announcements, listservs, therapist directories).  Dedicate time every week exclusively to marketing.

• Invite practitioners out for lunch to introduce yourself as a potential referral option. Show up at experiential trainings so that other therapists can see you work and establish confidence in you (well over half of my clients come to me via referral from therapists I’ve met in trainings).  Consider collaborating or partnering up with those you especially gel with (e.g. co-facilitating a group).  Put together a presentation or workshop for the general public, prospective clients, or colleagues.  Track all of your referral sources so that you can discern what is and isn’t working over time.

• Advance your ethical and clinical competence through continuing education and training, consultations, and a whole lot of self-reflection. Ultimately this is one of the best ways to grow your private practice.  Tend to yourself generously every day and take occasional time off to alleviate stress and prevent burnout.

• Hire out the things you don’t like doing or don’t know how to do.  Make a list of any projects and tasks that fall into these categories and begin getting to know platforms like Upwork for finding freelancers.

• Consider private practice coaching if you need support strengthening any of these areas. Visit my Contact page to learn more.