Reflections on starting my own counselling private practice
My decision to starting my own counselling practice was based on two reasons. Firstly, I loved being a counsellor and secondly, I really wanted to be independent.
You also need to be prepared to work at being successful. The reality is that it is more likely that you will not make much money at the beginning of starting your counselling practice or be inundated with clients. There is a lot of counsellors out there and plenty of competition. Every day I see a new counsellor going into counselling private practice. It is no longer difficult for someone seeking help privately to find a counsellor.
The question therefore to ask yourself, ‘why would someone choose YOU instead of another counsellor?’
Be different in your counselling practice.
You need to be different and stand out from the crowd or be doing things in a different way. This is what will make you unique. Reflect on what niche you want to focus on, for example, trauma therapist and think how you can make yourself stand out. If you say you can do all types of counselling, does this make you any different from anyone else?
Do not be afraid of competition.
The sad reality is that many people are suffering from a wide range of mental health issues. This means there is demand for counselling. Networking with other counsellors and embracing the competition is a positive way forward. I recently remember a new potential client ringing me up for a session when I was full and could not take on more clients. Rather than put him on a waiting list, I recommended another counsellor who practices nearby. The client seemed surprised another counsellor would recommend a nearby counsellor.
However, I see it as business sense. If you remember there is enough for everyone and keep self-belief, then you stop feeling threatened by competition. Recommending someone else, not only helps the potential client out, but it shows kindness. Kindness can go a long way. It is not forgotten. When I started up, various people helped me in different kinds of way, so I am only too happy to help others. What goes around, comes around.
It does take time to build up your practice. Once it is built you will get recommendations and people will come to you. Do not expect results overnight. It can take time. Patience is key. I never stopped believing in myself. I know that one day I would have a full client load.
Always remember you are a business
You need to put a business hat on. You have all the essential counselling qualifications and skills. So, what will make you look professional? Some helpful first steps are:
- Find a venue to hold your counselling. You may choose your home or prefer to rent a room. I’d recommend started renting a room which you can rent ad hoc. This means you have less costs to worry about.
- Take out liability insurance. Popular companies who provide insurance for counsellors are Balens and Towergate.
- Design a counselling contract and privacy statement.
- Decide where you will advertise and who you want to attract (see below for more information on this).
- Decide how many clients you need. You may find it helpful to devise a one year strategy on how your business will grow. My strategy in the beginning was to reach 5 clients by 3 months. I now ensure I have at least 10 a week. If I feel I have less then I know I need to put more effort into advertising.
- Keep on top of your accounts. Some people use different account packages. I find excel is a good way to keep track of my accounts and it is free. I devised 3 excel sheet – one for my income, one for expenditure both of which link into my monthly sheet. I use an app on my phone to take photos of receipts and then store them all in the cloud. Do not forget to register as self employed with HMRC.
What do you charge?
One of the most common questions asked by people setting up private practice is how much do I charge as a counsellor? You need to think about covering your costs (membership fees, room rent, insurance etc). Remember to be successful, you need to make a small profit as well as a wage. The more skilled you become the more your wage should increase just due to the fact that not everyone has the same skills and experience as you.
Give yourself an identity
The final, yet most important step, is that your business needs an identity and you need to think how you will advertise. You will not get any clients unless people know that you exist.
Some ways to advertise are:
- There are a few counselling directories that specially for counselling. Counselling Directory, Welldoing.org and Psychology Today are a few worth looking at.
- Social media– Facebook is an active way to advertise your business. You can pay to boost a post. I suggest you only pay £2 at a time or the charges will run away from you. I also share my page to different groups. You must limit this, or Facebook will think you are spamming and will ban you for 30 days. Don’t forget to have a social media policy if you use it. You need to protect your client’s confidentiality
- Website –I started using WordPress. You can get a page for free. However, many domain names are not that expensive. I have my own domain name through 1 and 1 and have never had any problems with it. I pay less than £10 a month. I have found blogging is the way to finding my way up the google rankings. More information can be found here.
- Google –Once you have found a venue, subscribe to google maps. This will get your business onto google maps.
There is much more to starting up a counselling practice. If you want more information, there are a few books which may help you. In the meantime the above basic steps will get you started.
Do not fear competition.
And never stop believing in yourself.