Starting a Counseling Practice

3 Lessons Learned from My First Year in Private Practice

The first year in practice can be rough.

It’s an awakening when you realize exactly how much you have to learn. Running a business. Marketing your practice. Finding clients.

In fact, for many of us, the first year is a harsh dose of reality splashing us in the face as we embark on a long-held dream. It’s easy to get frustrated or even disillusioned. I know that sure happened for me.

I learned so much about myself and running a business that first year. I realize that there are 3 key lessons I learned that first year.

Lesson #1: Clients Didn’t Just Magically Find Me.

I started my practice with the notion that simply being in practice was enough. My doors were open and clients were waiting to start flocking in. Weren’t they?

Spoiler alert – there was no flock waiting. But you probably already figured that one out, right?

It isn’t enough just to have a website, or to hand out business cards. These are reactive marketing tools. If you’ve got a great website, but no one sees it, it doesn’t do you any good. If you’ve got the best designed business cards, but you don’t get them in your potential clients’ hands, it doesn’t do any good.

The biggest challenge most therapists face is obscurity. They’re potential, ideal clients don’t even know that they exist. It’s up to YOU as the therapist to overcome obscurity and make yourself visible to your potential clients.

Marketing, especially when you’re new in practice, needs to be proactive. You need to get connected with your target audience in order to introduce them to your work. You can’t hope they notice you online. Where do your clients spend their time online and offline? This gives you great insight into where you should be focusing your marketing efforts.

My Advice to You

  • You need to reach out and connect with your target audience. This can be done online or offline. Start by identifying WHERE your clients hang out online and offline.
  • Always start from a place of giving rather than getting. How can you provide something of great value to your potential clients? The more value you can provide, the more your clients will know, like, and trust you.

Lesson #2: Having a Website Wasn’t Enough

Last year, I had a tire in my care that was losing pressure slowly, so my brother-in-law gave me a tire pressure gauge. Thoughtful, right? And helpful, right? Well, not really. The problem is that I have no idea how to use a tire pressure gauge. I understand what it’s for; I understand how valuable it can be.

But if I don’t use it properly, it’s not going to do me any good.

This is what happened to me early in my practice. Yes, I was networking. Yes, I had a website. Yes, I had business card. Yes, I was sending letters to doctors and attorneys.

Check, check, check. It seemed like I was doing all the right things. I had all the pieces in place. Yet I wasn’t getting any clients!

Why? Well, I didn’t know how to properly use ANY of the tools and tactics I had in place. I had a website, but I didn’t know how to actually get visitors to the website. Even if I DID figure out how to get visitors to my website, I didn’t know how to set up my website properly in order to convert website visitors into paying clients.

I still hear stories like this all the time. Comments like this one I got on Facebook recently, from a therapist whose practice didn’t get off the ground:

Starting a Private Practice

No matter how often I hear these stories, they always bother me. We’ve got too many gifted clinicians who truly want to serve their clients, but don’t know how to succeed in private practice.

When it feels like you’ve tried EVERYTHING, but nothing is working for you, that’s a pretty good sign that you’ve got the tools, but you’re not using them in the right way.

My Advice to You

  • Create a marketing SYSTEM. Yes, your website is essential, but it’s only one piece of an online marketing system.
  • Focus on building one step of your system at a time. Don’t try to build it all at once. Master one aspect first, then move on to the next.

Lesson #3: Start with What’s Already Been Proven to Work

I come from a long line of “do-it-yourselfers”. There’s a sense of pride my family takes in hard work and figuring it out on our own. So, naturally, I adopted this approach when I opened my practice.

I “dabbled” in different ways to market without getting any real results from any of them.

“Oh, let me send a letter to physicians to try to get referrals.” Well, that didn’t work. “Let me going to a networking lunch to get referrals.”

When I look back on it now, it makes sense that nothing was working, because I was trying to figure it out as I went. I had only the vaguest idea of WHAT I was supposed to be doing, and no clear roadmap for HOW to do it properly.

Once I swallowed my pride and realized this, I started to seek out what was already proven to work. I took the best practice-building strategies and tools, and began to implement. I learned to trust the process, even when it was out of my comfort zone, or seemed like it was taking too long.

Needless to say, this was a huge lesson learned for me. (I confess… I didn’t really get this until my 3rd year in practice. Even now, it’s a lesson I need to remind myself every so often.)

If I were still trying to figure it out on my own, I’d still be struggling for clients. I never would’ve built a 6-figure practice.

My Advice to You

Although I’ve learned many lessons along the way in building a 6-figure private practice, the biggest one was to develop the business and marketing systems I needed to succeed… quickly. I firmly believe the success of your practice is a direct result of developing the skills and the systems you need. It all starts there.

Marketing is A LOT easier when you have a proven system in place. I’d like to share my system for “Launching a Profitable Private Practice” in this free workshop I’ve created for therapists and counselors. Join me for the training, and start growing your practice today.