Back in grad school the path to success was laid out for us. We were given a curriculum and syllabus, which outlined what we had to learn and in what order. Good grades were pretty much guaranteed by simply mastering the material.
In actual clinical practice there is no set curriculum. There is no syllabus. There is no grading system. Does that mean there is no clear path to success? Not at all.
But this time you get to create your own curriculum, in the form of a business plan.
A business plan helps you define your goals, filter out distractions, and ride out the unpredictable but inevitable bumps along the way. With clearly defined goals and timelines, you will also be able to track and measure your success.
Your business plan includes:
- A detailed description of your practice
- Your mission and vision for the practice
- A definition of your market (the types of people you want to help)
- The services you provide and how they are important and/or unique
- Organization and management, including descriptions of skills of each person in your practice
- Specific marketing strategies
- Financial details, including revenue projections, expenses and cash flow
- Table of contents, executive summary and appendices
It does take time to put together a workable business plan. But it's time well-invested if you want to position your practice for success in a direction that is personally satisfying for you.
Do I need a business plan even if I'm in solo or part-time practice?
Yes. According to TPI's Dr. Jeff Zimmerman, co-author of Financial Management For Your Mental Health Practice: Key Concepts Made Simple:
- Your practice deserves careful thought and planning. This is going to be your source of income and lifestyle for many years.
- A business plan lays out a structure and process to help you grow your business. Like a blueprint, it helps you stay on track toward your goal. It outlines the major activities that you've committed to do, and thus helps prevent your overlooking something important, or getting distracted by something unimportant.
- If you need financing to start or to grow your practice, the bank is probably going to require a business plan.
A good business plan includes contingencies for problems, obstacles and setbacks. It's like a road map for your practice. In adverse circumstances (such as the pandemic lockdown of 2020) you may need to take a detour and use alternate routes to reach your goals. At other times, if your interests change or new opportunities arise, you may decide to change the destination altogether with a new road map.
A business plan is not a once-and-done deal, notes Dr. Zimmerman. "It's a work in progress. You can always revise it to adapt to changing circumstances or interests. The important thing is to HAVE a business plan. By the time you regret NOT having one, it could be too late."
1. The U.S. Small Business Association has a free course, How to Write a Business Plan. Additional SBA articles are here.
SBA resources are for small business owners in general. As a mental health clinician you will need to incorporate ethical constraints, self-care, and other considerations specific to your profession and personal situation.
2. Practice Analysis by The Practice Institute - A thorough analysis of your mental health business, with detailed verbal and written feedback.