“How To” Series Part 1: How to Know if I should Start a Private Practice | FP 16

"How To" Series Part 1: How to Know if I should Start a Private Practice | FP 16

How do you know if you want to own a business? Is there a right time to start a practice? What are the pros and cons of joining a group practice or going solo?

In this podcast episode, Whitney Owens speaks about how to know if you should start a private practice.

In This Podcast


  • Do I want to own a business
  • When is the right time to start a practice?
  • What are the legal requirements in your State?
  • Pros of joining a group practice
  • Cons of joining a group practice

Do I want to own a business?

Do something you love so much, you would do it for free, and do it so well that you’d get paid for it – Danny Stevens

It’s important that you consider a few things when asking this question:

  • Do you have the drive, passion, and ambition?
  • Are you someone who likes to get things done?
  • Are you detail-oriented?
  • Are you an entrepreneur?
  • Do you like to start new things? And when you do start new things, do you complete those tasks?

When is the right time to start a practice?

Not every time is necessarily the right time and thinking through which phase of life you’re in is important to consider.

  • Financially you need to consider your family as you won’t be making your goal income from the get-go. You could even start a private practice on the side while you are fully employed. Run your numbers and figure out how much you need to make per month.
  • How you will cover your healthcare benefits?
  • How much time can you commit to private practice? You will need at least 5 hours a week to start with.
  • Do you have the energy to do this?
  • What is your level of freedom?

What are the legal requirements in your State?

There are different laws in different States and you will need to enquire about this when thinking about starting your private practice so that you can be sure to be compliant.

Pros of joining a group practice

  • You’re able to do counseling without all the leg work. All the paperwork and systems have already been created.
  • A steady source of referrals.
  • Automatically have this network of people.
  • Gain immediate income as a counselor.

Cons of joining a group practice

  • You may not agree with the systems and processes that have been put in place.
  • Clients are assigned to you and you don’t have a choice as to who you see.
  • Clinicians are busy and you won’t always be able to connect with them.
  • Even though you’re making more money per hour, you’re making less than if you went solo.
  • The work can seem very repetitive.
  • Work the hours set by the practice.

Useful Links:

Meet Whitney Owens

Whitney Ownens | Build a faith-based practiceWhitney is a licensed professional counselor and owns a growing group practice in Savannah, Georgia. Along with a wealth of experience managing a practice, she also has an extensive history working in a variety of clinical and religious settings, allowing her to specialize in consulting for faith-based practices and those wanting to connect with religious organizations.

Knowing the pains and difficulties surrounding building a private practice, she started this podcast to help clinicians start, grow, and scale a faith-based practice. She has learned how to start and grow a successful practice that adheres to her own faith and values. And as a private practice consultant, she has helped many clinicians do the same. 

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Podcast Transcription

[WHITNEY]: The Faith in Practice podcast is part of the Practice of the Practice podcast network, a network of podcasts seeking to help you start, grow, and scale your practice. To hear other episodes like the Imperfect Thriving podcast, Bomb Mom podcast, Beta Male Revolution, or Empowered and Unapologetic, go to practiceofthepractice.com\network.
Hi, this is Whitney Owens and welcome to the Faith in Practice podcast. So glad you could be with us today. Today, we’re going to address a topic that I hear often from practitioners; is should I start my own practice? And then along with that, a lot of people will ask themselves if I do decide to start seeing clients, should I do it on my own as a solo practitioner and have my own business? Or should I join an established group, maybe become a contractor or an employee at an agency that’s already seeing clients? So, we’re going to address that issue today.
The thing I want to start with though is a quote that was given to me by one of my professors in college at the University of Georgia, go dogs. His name is Danny Stevens and this class was surrounding bringing in different professionals within our major to be able to answer questions about careers we could go into. And so, he was always talking to us about things to consider when entering into our career, once we graduate. And the quote he always said was do something you love so much you would do it for free and do it so well that you get paid to do it. I think that’s a really great way to think of counseling, because we don’t go into it for the money. That’s for sure. We go into it because it’s something that we love and it’s something that, we want to make a difference in the world with our clients, but we want to do it to such a degree that people will pay us a lot of money to come and see us because we’re doing really good work for them, that they feel like they get that full return on investment.
And so when you’re considering if you want to start a private practice, I think it’s a really good motto to go by, especially at the beginning, when you’re going to have to work super hard, you have to put in a lot of time and a lot of money. And it’s going to take a little while before you see the results that you’re looking for as far as, especially financially. And so that you’re doing it because it’s something that you love and knowing that the financial part will come after that. So, in grad school, we didn’t really learn a lot about how to start a business, and so it’s really good that if you’re going to be a solo practitioner, that you’re spending some time thinking about businesses and business management.
The statistics show that 50% of businesses fail in the first five years. But the good news is that within that statistic counselors or healthcare professionals are actually helping it out in the sense that we bring it lower. There’s less failing businesses in healthcare than there are in other fields. So, I think I remember that right, being around 30% of healthcare professional businesses fail in the first five years, but that’s still a lot of us. And so, it’s important that when you’re starting out, that you’re really thinking about these questions we’re going to address today, making sure you’re starting out on the right foot. And you’ve already started on the right foot by listening to the podcast because I’m going to give you tons of information on starting a practice. And that way you can kind of get your leg up, move forward faster than if you were trying to do it on your own.
So, some of the questions we want to go ahead and start asking is, do I want to own a business? Because in grad school, we don’t really, they don’t talk about that. They don’t talk about what it is like to own a business, so it’s really important that we start thinking about the questions of being a business owner, not just being a counselor, because we already know we want to do that. So, do you, as an individual, want to own a business? It’s important that you consider a few things? The first one I would say is your personality. Do you have the drive, the passion, the ambition, to be able to start a practice? Are you someone who likes to get things done or are you kind of someone who takes the backseat on things? Because you’re going to have to get out there with your personality to be able to get referrals, but to also have creative ideas.
Are you a detail-oriented person? Because in the front end of starting a practice, there’s a lot of details you’re going to have to hit. And so, you want to be able to do that and even if you’re not a detail-oriented person, having some kind of system for managing those details. So, think about your personality. Is this something that meshes with your personality? Because if it doesn’t, you’re ultimately not going to be happy doing it. You don’t have to own a business or a private practice just because maybe your colleagues are and the people around you or in your area. Do it because it’s something that you want to do, not because it’s something that you feel pressure that you have to do.
And then I want you to consider, are you an entrepreneur? Do you like to start new things? And when you do start new things, do you complete those tasks or do you kind of start something and then move on to starting something else and starting something else? You want to consider if you’re the type of person that wants to start a business or not? I have loved being a business owner. I actually found that I’ve loved it more than I thought and I did kind of fall into it, more so because when I moved to this area of Savannah, I was unable to get a job working at an agency down the street. I tried to work at the hospital locally and because I didn’t have the connections that I needed, wasn’t able to get a job.
And so, I started my own practice, but as I’ve grown, I found that I love being a business owner and reading different books on owning a business and listening to podcasts has really helped me move forward and drive that passion. So, you can be an entrepreneur or you can make yourself into one. It doesn’t have to be, you don’t have to know everything upfront. What I’m trying to communicate is that as long as you think that is something that you want to do, and it’s something that you want to start, then you have that entrepreneurial spirit within you and you can grow that more and more.
And then another component when you’re thinking about, do I actually want to do this is talk to people that know you. Talk to your spouse, talk to your family, get advice from close friends, because they’ll be able to kind of help or direct you. If they think this is something that’s in your wheelhouse, or if they think you’re jumping the gun here, they might be able to help you problem solve. Maybe you can make a pros and cons list with them about if you really want to be starting your own practice, and I think it’s especially important for people who live life with you. So, your spouse or your family, that they’re on board because owning a business, especially at the beginning, like I said, is a lot of work on the front end. It’s going to take some time. You might have to work some hours that you wouldn’t normally work. So, you want to make sure that the people that live with you and support you are also on your side.
So maybe you thought through these questions and you’ve decided, “Okay, I think I have what it takes. I think I want to start my own practice. I want to be a business owner. I’ve kind of had my hand in business. I had my hand in the clinical.” So, you got to be a little bit of both of those to be able to run a practice. And so now that you’ve answered those questions, the next question to ask yourself is when is the right time to actually start a practice? Not every time is necessarily the right time. And thinking through where you’re at in your phase of life is really important. So, things to consider is the financial component that when you start your practice, you’re not necessarily going to have clients knocking on your door the whole time and that it’s going to be a process.
I have found, especially with my practice here, when I add a clinician, it takes about six months to get them to the place where they’re seeing about 10 to 15 clients a week. And I say, if you want to build a full caseload where you’re seeing like 30 clients a week, it could take you about a year, depending on where you’re at and what you’re looking for. So financially you want to consider your family and if your family is needing you to bring in a certain income per month, and they’re totally dependent on you, you may want to reconsider starting a private practice, or maybe you can start a private practice on the side while you have a full time job that you’re doing.
And then in some situations it’s just best to run your numbers and think through, “Okay, how much would I need to make per client and how much would I need to make per month? And how many clients would I need to see per week to make this happen?” And based on that number thinking, “Is this a place I want to be in where I’m reliant on these clients to come to be able to make ends meet?” Or maybe if you run those numbers, start that practice on the side and then keep your other full time or part time gig. Once you get your clients to that number, maybe that number is 10 or maybe that number is five for you, then being able to take a step back from other job and then fully commit to your practice. So, it’s important that you think about where you are financially.
In some jobs you might be having benefits, you know, health insurance or retirement or life insurance. And so, when you start your own practice, you’ve lost all that. So, you’re going to have to put in the money to get those benefits for yourself. There are a lot of organizations like the American Counseling Association, I know has some benefits associated that you can pay for and get, but you’re going to want to think about how you’re going to get your healthcare benefits and other benefits that I just mentioned. A lot of people I found that are married fortunately are able to get benefits through their spouse that helps them be able to start a practice. But when you go so low, you’re not going to have that upfront. You’re going to have to pay for that. And there are some agencies. If you join those private practices, they might actually have benefits. So, something to be considering.
Also think about where you are as far as your time commitment. If you are super busy in your life right now, and you don’t have much time to commit to private practice, this might not be the best time for you to start a practice. I would say on the front end, I would give it at least five hours a week when you’re starting your practice because there’s so many things you’re going to need to do. And we’ll get into that in another episode but it’s all about these details that you’ve got to accomplish, and these tasks, and you need to set aside a time to do that and time to be creative and to think through how you want to do things, so your system management, things like that. And so, you want to be able to put some time upfront into that. And so, consider, if you have too many commitments in your life, maybe it’s not a good time to start practice, or maybe you need to restructure your life, restructure your schedule.
Maybe you need to get rid of something that you are currently doing to make more time to start your practice. And also, with time, is energy. And so, you need to think about, “Do I have the energy that it takes to start a practice?” Because it is an emotional roller coaster. It can be exhausting at times and if you’re super tired, maybe you have small children, which I think small children’s a good time to start a practice, but for some people they found that so exhausting. They want to wait until the children are a little older before putting the commitment into it, or maybe they want to wait until their children are in school because then they’ll have more time during the day to be able to commit to the practice.
So those are all things to consider. The last thing to consider that I have here for is now the right time to start a practice is your level of freedom. So, this just has to do with your own schedule and your own freedom and kind of doing whatever you want to do. And so, when you start a practice, you’re kind of at the mercy of clients calling you and getting them scheduled, especially because you don’t have any clients. So, you need to kind of tailor to their needs emotionally. It’s exhausting as you have to be available to answer the phone a lot more often. You can’t just let it go to voicemail because if you’re doing that, then you’re losing clients. And so, you want to be more available with your energy and your schedule and your time.
So those are all things to consider when you’re thinking about starting your own practice. So first we talked about, do you actually want to own a business? And then we talked about the time to start a private practice. And the other thing to consider is what are the legal requirements in your state? So, I can’t really speak to other states, but it’s important that you take the time to think through what are the requirements in your state. So, for example, in the state of Colorado, when I was there, this was probably six, seven years ago, I had an associate type level degree. They didn’t call it that, but that’s basically what it was. And I was able to have my own practice in the state of Colorado as a psychotherapist and actually take money from clients. So that was really great that I was able to do that. But then when I came to the state of Georgia, unfortunately with licensing requirements, I had to go backwards in the licensure process. They wouldn’t accept my license from Colorado for reciprocity. So, I ended up having to go get supervision again for a whole year and get, I was not licensed here in Georgia.
Well, the state laws are different here. You cannot start your own practice here in the state of Georgia without having a director and a supervisor. So, the director is someone who oversees the work that you do. They just make sure that you’re actually doing the work that you’re say you’re doing, they make sure that you’re taking money appropriately and all the money has to be filtered through the director. You can’t not accept money from clients directly when you’re not a licensed professional in the state of Georgia. And so, I went kind of backwards when I started here and was able to get a contract position and see clients. And then as soon as that was finished, I was able to start my own practice. So, you got to think about what are the laws in your state? Can you start your own practice or are you going to need a director over you and how is that going to work? So, I suggest that you get some recommendations on that and that you check the state requirements.
So maybe now, as we’ve kind of gone through this, you might be thinking to yourself, “Okay, I like this idea. I think I’m in a good place in my life for starting a private practice. I think I’ve got the licensing stuff figured out. So now what do I want to do? Do I want to start my own practice or do I want to maybe be a contractor or join another agency in town?” And there are definitely some positives and negatives to both. And so, I want to go through those so that you can think through, is private practice solo, what you really want to do, or do you want to join an agency? And you want to make sure that if you want to do solo practice, that it’s really what you’re looking for.
So, let’s talk about some of the pros of joining a group practice. If you joined another group, you’re able to do counseling without all the legwork. When you start your own practice, and we’ll talk about this again, in the next episode, it’s, you’re going to be doing tons of work on the front end. And if you join a group, you don’t have to create any paperwork, you don’t have to create any systems. Those are already all done for you. All you have to do is walk in and see clients, which is the whole reason we joined this field, right? You will have a steady source of referrals when you’re joining another practice, instead of having to go out and market and get your own referrals. You get to work with other clinicians within a group setting.
And it’s not so lonely because private practice can get really lonely if you don’t make extra efforts to connect with other clinicians. So, you automatically have this network of people to work with at a group practice. You begin to gain income as a counselor, which is really great because you usually get paid more per hour because you’re seeing clients during that time, as opposed to the work you were doing at maybe a hospital or maybe working in the school system; you make less per hour and have to work more hours. So, if you join a group, you’re getting those referrals, you’re doing the work you love, and you’re making more money to do it than you did other jobs. And it’s just the less overall work. You know, you can go to the office, do your work and go home. You don’t have to worry about scheduling new clients if you got a call. You really only have to worry about the clients that you’re currently working with.
So that is some of the advantages of joining a group. But let’s talk about some of the cons, disadvantages of joining a group. You have to do your own legwork, right? So, you’re going to have to work really hard, wait, actually I apologize for that. I’m saying that wrong. You want to do your own, you may not want to do your own legwork. Okay? So, when you’re in a group, they’re doing the legwork for you, but sometimes you may not like what they’re choosing to do. Maybe you have some ideas for marketing you want to do, or maybe you have a different system for the phones or a different system for paperwork, but you have to abide by the rules that are already created within that practice. So, it’s good to think about if you want to do your own legwork and create the systems yourself.
When you have your own practice, you have a choice in who you see as client. Usually in a group, the clients are assigned to you, maybe the receptionist answers the phone and gives them to you, because you’re in a group. I mean, when you’re on your own, you get to choose which type of clients you want to see. And if it’s on calls and it’s not appropriate for you, you can get them referred out instead of filling less of a need to see them because they were assigned team.
Other cons of being in a group is usually the other clinicians are busy. Like you think when you start the group that you’re going to be connecting with them and being able to talk, but I’ve even found a lot of practices have a hard time even scheduling a staff meeting once a month because counselors that are doing private practice, a lot of times are part-times. They have things they’re doing at the other times. When they are in the office, they’re really working on seeing clients. So there really isn’t a lot of connection time within a group like you think there’s going to be. When you’re in a group, you are, even though you’re making more money per hour, you’re making less money than if you were going solo. So usually when you’re part of a group, there’s some kind of fee you’re paying the group for using their office space and their services or maybe you’re employee and you get a pay at a certain rate per hour, but it’s not going to be the rate that the client’s actually paying. And so, you actually can make more in most situations, if you have your own practice.
Sometimes the work within a group can be very repetitive and you’re just over and over seeing the clients. When you own your own practice, even though you’re also seeing clients, you’re doing a lot of other things and owning a business and you’re doing your own marketing, you’re getting out there. So, there can be a lot more variety in the type of work that you’re doing and a lot more creativity and a lot of business owners really like that because it can kind of get monotonous seeing clients. This way, we kind of ground ourselves and remember, not getting too wrapped up into our clients, but then the clients also ground us and not getting too worked up into our practice. So, it’s really nice to have that balance, but sometimes the work within a group can get kind of repetitive.
And also, within a group, you have to work the hours they say you have to work. And there’s only certain office spaces open at certain times and so that’s when they want you to see clients. So, you got to think about, if you want to kind of create your own hours and your own schedule, then you may want to consider doing your own practice.
So, I hope this has been helpful for you. I think it is, and considering, do you want to start a practice and do you want to be a business owner? And do you have what it takes at this time in your life to do that? And if you want to be solo or join a group. And so next episode, I’m going to kind of walk you through, how do you actually start your own practice and looking forward to talking with you guys, then.
Thank you for listening to the Faith in Practice podcast. If you love this podcast, please rate and review on iTunes or your favorite podcast player. If you like this episode and want to know more, check out the practice, the practice website. Also, there, you can learn more about me options for working together, such as individual and group consulting, or just shoot me an email with, whitney@practiceofthepractice.com. Would love to hear from you.
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, Practice of the Practice, or the guests are providing legal, mental health, or other professional information. If you need a professional, you should find one.

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