Being self-employed allows you to choose the types of people you most like to work with, the types of problems you are competent in helping them with, and the hours and schedule of your workday. You can jump quickly on new opportunities without securing approval from a boss, and can take time off without needing to clear it with anyone.
It's no surprise, then, that several surveys of mental health clinicians in private practice (Boice and Myers, 1987; Rupert and Morgan, 2005; Walfish & Walraven, 2006) collectively show that private practitioners report less job stress, fewer health concerns, less burnout, greater satisfaction and greater sense of control than their colleagues in academia and/or agency jobs.
Apparently these benefits offset the downsides - including economic uncertainty, emotional demands of private practice and dealing with managed care companies. (Walfish and O’Donnell, 2007) as well as issues cited in this recent post - because mental health clinicians continue to set up and run private practices, some for their entire careers.
It stands to reason that if you tend to the business side of your practice, you can have the best of both worlds - career satisfaction and economic security.
What's involved in tending to business
Dr. Jeff Zimmerman, author of Financial Management for Your Mental Health Practice: Key Concepts Made Simple, sums up business activities as "finding, grinding and minding."
Finding refers to identifying the people you want to help, those who can refer such people to you, and the activities (such as marketing and networking) that help build relationships with them.
Grinding is the actual clinical, teaching or consulting work that you do - the work that generates income.
Minding means paying attention to administrative activities, whether you do them yourself or hire someone else. These activities include bookkeeping, billing, following up on unpaid bills, attending to HIPAA compliance, ordering supplies, keeping the office clean and pleasant, etc. In his book, Dr. Zimmerman describes how to create a "dashboard" summarizing income, expenses, billings, sources of new clients, and other data, so that you can quickly examine several metrics at a glance. He recommends updating and reviewing your dashboard on a regular basis, as a way of taking a "pulse" of your practice.
Too many clinicians focus only on the Grinding aspect, because that's what they feel most comfortable doing, and it's what gives them the most satisfaction.
By neglecting the Finding aspect, they may miss out on new referrals and new business opportunities.
By neglecting the Minding aspect, they may fail to collect all the money that is due, and/or fail to notice serious budgeting problems before it's too late.
Thus, it's important to monitor and act on all three of the above. An efficient way to do so it to develop a business plan, which incorporates and structures all the goals and activities to maximize your chances of success.
Your business plan
A business plan need not be complicated, but it does require a comprehensive approach to what you want to accomplish within a defined time frame, details of activities to accomplish goals, and the expected outcome. The Small Business Association offers general advice about a business plan.
TPI also offers two options to help you develop a customized business plan based on your specific situation, values, and lifestyle preferences:
- Home Study Course: Private Practice 101 - recorded 3-day workshop with all the information you need to build your own business plan
- Practice Analysis - We do the heavy lifting for you. After you fill out a detailed form, we will provide a confidential, personalized analysis of your practice, followed by phone consultation and a written report with specific recommendations
If you're not sure which is for you, feel free to contact us at support@ThePracticeInstitute.com. We'll be happy to answer questions via email or phone.
Boice, R. & Myers, P. (1987). Which setting is healthier and happier, academe or private practice? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 18, 526-529.
Rupert, P. &Morgan, D. (2005) Work Setting and Burnout Among Professional Psychologists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36, 544-550.
Walfish, S. & O’Donnell, P. (2007). Satisfaction and stresses in private practice. The Independent Practitioner, 28, 135-138.
Walfish, S. & Walraven, S. (2005). Career satisfaction of psychologists in independent practice. Counseling and Clinical Psychology Journal, 2, 124-133