The Business Side of Private Practice

By Sue Aiken

  • Are you operating a profitable business?
  • Are you surviving or thriving?
  • Do you use effective tools to run your practice?
  • How are clients finding you?
  • Is your business full time and are you as busy as you want to be?
  • What barriers do you face in opening up a private practice?
  • What information do you need in order to overcome the barriers?
  • What support systems do you have in place?
  • What are the ways that technology has impacted your business?

These sound like questions we might ask our clients but often fail to ask ourselves on a regular basis. Or we may ask the questions but feel overwhelmed when we consider all the possibilities. However, there is no doubt that private practice can be good both personally and professionally.

Five Good Reasons to have a private practice:

  1. Independence and control on how one does business
  2. A sense of freedom in designing services and the environment of the office
  3. Recognition of one’s expertise and ability to be in business within a given community
  4. Building connections, resources, business models and alignments in various business sectors
  5. The foundation of a portfolio career.

The first two reasons are fairly obvious and may well be the driving force for many of us if and when we set up a private practice. When I first established Square One Career Services in Oakland, CA, in the late 80s, I had other career development related work. I taught a career class in a continuation high school, ran a summer institute and worked part time in an employee assistance program (EAP) specializing in health care career issues. The independence, control, and freedom were especially valuable to me at that time.

Recognition of my specialized expertise grew out of the EAP work as I obtained a certificate in Drug and Alcohol Addiction. I targeted other counselors, programs, literature, and individuals who sent me clients seeking career assistance for many years. Later, through a connection with another career counselor, I developed a specialization in assisting lawyers in transition. Both of these specialties led to contracts that required very little marketing effort or expense on my part. As a self employed career counselor, contracts are the foundation on which the business can grow. I wrote articles, co-led workshops, spoke before relevant professional groups, and co-developed a curriculum for a series of workshops presented by a non-profit professional career center in San Francisco. Once again, I was not responsible for marketing dollars and time other than doing all I could to “sell” the workshops.

Building connections is an incredible motivator in private practice. There is no need to be totally “solo” if you do not wish to be. There are communities of practice, business leads groups, business civic organizations, professional associations such as NCDA and state career counselor affiliations, alumni support systems or ones you organize yourself. Soon after I opened Square One, I began to feel isolated. I sought out seven other similar but slightly different solo practitioners and for many years we met faithfully one morning a month to share ideas, resources, concerns and successes. Now with the internet the connection possibilities are endless. To develop business connections, ask yourself: “What groups do you have the energy for joining?” Keep in mind, they all have requirements and expected levels of participation. “What groups will serve your business in terms of increasing visibility and generating contacts?” I recently moved to a new geographic location and joined a local Business Network International (BNI) group (a leads group). This helped me get the connections I needed to spread the word of my services.

Your private practice can be the foundation of your portfolio or diversified career. Many career counselors teach, consult, coach, and mentor in various settings simultaneously. No matter where I was and what populations I was working with, I could hand out my business card where it appeared that I was in business. This may give an impression of steadfastness in what could otherwise be seen as a scattered, sometimes confusing work history. Now technology allows us to have a virtual office, but the foundation still exists. Do you need a physical office space to meet clients or do you prefer to travel to the client or do all your work as a distance counselor/coach?

To help address these questions and more, watch for the next two issues of Career Convergence. Karen Chopra, who has a thriving career counseling private practice in Washington. D.C., will be discussing her proven techniques and tips in Launching a Successful Private Practice and Helping Clients Choose You: Tools for Successful Client Relationships. If you have ideas you wish to submit in an article in this series, please contact me. Visit http://www.ncda.org/ for submission guidelines for Career Convergence.

Sue Aiken, MA, NCC, MCC. Since 1982, Sue has had a private practice in the San Francisco bay area as part of her professional portfolio working primarily with lawyers in transition. Other client groups include re-entry women, health professionals and those seeking meaning in their work. After serving for 13 years as chair of the Career Development Program at John F. Kennedy University, Sue is now a career coach with Career Development Alliance providing distance coaching services via email and telephone. Armed with materials, laptop and cell phone, she can be in touch with clients anywhere.

Sue is the Associate Editor for the Independent Section of Career Convergence, a member of the Public Relations committee of NCDA and chair of the board of the California Registry for Professional Career Counselors. Her email is saiken001@charter.net

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