Beating the Odds: Building a Private Practice
By Linda Crowder
According to the US Census Bureau’s Business Dynamics Statistics, 52.4% of all service businesses started in the United States fail within the first five years of operation – almost 25% don’t even survive their first year! As a career coach in private practice in Wyoming, I was determined to find a way to beat the odds and make my business a success. Combining contract work, independent publishing and an array of traditional and virtual coaching services I’ve been able to build a solid business that had me in the black within my first six months.
Here are some ideas that have worked for me:
Develop Partnerships –Identify one or two people in nonprofit or government organizations that work with your target client population. Discuss with them what you do and how career development services can benefit their clients. Offer to work with a limited number of clients either pro-bono or at a discounted rate. Once they see the quality of your service you will find them willing to work with you to reach more people who need your service but can’t afford to pay. I provided career development coaching pro-bono with a handful of Wyoming AmeriCorps members and when funding became available, I was able to secure a contract to work with members across the state.
Write a Book – Writing a book is a real challenge, but it’s never been easier or more affordable to publish independently as an e-book or mass market paperback. If you have wisdom to share and a talent for the written word, consider publishing a book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Apple’s iBookstore. My first book, Life Isn’t Just Luck: Getting From Where You Are to WhereYou Want to Be, was not only a joy to write, it serves as a full-length brochure for my practice. There is a useful free guide to self-publishing available on www.smashwords.com.
Pursue Contracts – If you’re like most career coaches, you LOVE to coach but HATE the constant selling and promotion you must do to attract new clients. Once your practice is well established, referrals from satisfied clients will do much of your selling for you but during those critical first few years, generating new business demands much of your attention. Contracts with employers for outplacement services or with nonprofits or government for career coaching lets you secure a steady, reliable stream of income while you are working to build your individual client base. Contact the Small Business Development Center in your area for information about bidding for State and Federal contracts.
Establish a Consistent Internet Presence – When I was in graduate school, the Information Highway was just a back country road. The Internet was fun to “play” with, but I wouldn’t have dreamed of using it in my business. Today, I wouldn’t dream of NOT making every possible use of the Internet to both attract clients and deliver Coaching services. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a good, workable website. I use www.vistaprint.com for my web site, but there are many options available. Look for a system that is affordable and offers a range of useful templates and tools including the ability to host an on-line store, start a blog and create forms your prospective clients can submit. Vista Print has a tool to manage my company Facebook page so my brand stays consistent across platforms. I maximize my free LinkedIn account with both a company page and a professional profile, helping me stay in touch with my current and past clients and building my professional credibility with their recommendations.
Offer Virtual Coaching – For individuals or very small groups, I use Skype or Google Hangouts. Many of my clients are already familiar and comfortable with these services and they are free, though Skype charges a small annual fee in order to do group video calls and screen sharing. Because both top out at 10 people and I sometimes need more space, I also use www.anymeeting.com. Any Meeting includes a PayPal option for a quick and painless way to collect coaching fees as part of the meeting registration process. Their free version is ad-based, so test-drive it before you commit. If you need conference calls but not video or screen share, try www.freeconferencecall.com. If you do a lot of virtual coaching, be sure to invest in a head set for your phone and/or computer to boost the quality of the audio and free your hands for note taking.
Obtain Your GCDF – CDF training is an investment but for those of us who come to career development after spending years doing something else, the Global Career Development Facilitator credential is well worth the effort. For me the training was a tremendous confidence-builder after 20+ years in nonprofit human services. The credential also helps you establish credibility as a career coach and agreeing to be listed in the GCDF database is another good way for prospective clients to find you.
www.smashwords.com – Publishing: ebooks
www.createspace.com – Publishing: Paperbacks
www.sba.gov – Small Business Development Centers
www.vistaprint.com – Web Hosting and Printing
www.linkedin.com – Professional Networking
www.facebook.com – Business and Personal Social Media
www.twitter.com – Business and Personal Social Media
www.skype.com – Internet Meeting Service
www.anymeeting.com – Internet Meeting service
www.paypalhere.com – Merchant Credit Card processing
www.freeconferencecall.com – Conference calling
Linda Crowder is President and Senior Consultant of Focus Forward, LLC in Casper, Wyoming. Whether she is working with small business owners, corporate human resources professionals or individual clients, Linda unites vision with action to achieve success. She can be reached at email@example.com or look for Focus Forward on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Cynthia Ryk on Wednesday 09/04/2013 at 03:20 PM
Thanks for your thoughtful and transparent sharing! And congrats for meeting your goals and publishing!
Joan Runnheim Olson on Wednesday 09/04/2013 at 06:56 PM
Great article! I have contracts with a couple of different organizations and also offer phone coaching which is very convenient for both client and coach. I have several coaching certifications, including one through the International Coach Federation. I think it's important to continue learning.
Another revenue generating source I use is offering workshops, both locally and nationally. As a career coach, it's less stressful having multiple streams of revenue rather than relying on just one source.
Nancy Miller on Sunday 05/24/2015 at 05:37 PM
Thank you, Linda, for sharing your experiences and successes. I will use you as one of my examples of successful career professionals in private practice for a Career Convergence article in June. Sue Aiken and I will be co-presenting on the topic at the NCDA Conference in Denver. Join us and share your successes and challenges in private practice.