Knowing When to Take the Leap to Private Practice


So you're deciding if you want to start a private practice, but you aren't sure if this is the right time. Wouldn't it be helpful to see into the future? You could see your successful, confident, future self with a thriving private practice and know with certainty you are ready.

Well, the bad news is: we don’t have a crystal ball to see that private practice is the right path for you or tell you when to take that journey. The good news? We don't need one. With the knowledge gathered from our collective years in private practice, we believe -- as intimidating as this decision can be -- there are always bigger-picture signs you can look for to know you’re ready.

3 Sure Signs You’re Ready to Make the Leap

For some therapists, owning a practice was always the goal. These folks have been making decisions since grad school with that vision in mind.  

If that’s not you, don’t panic. You’re in the majority! For most, the idea of going into private practice comes along gradually. Over time, practitioners begin to look for more flexibility and control over their schedules, higher earning potential, and more autonomy. Your unique reasons are your own -- these are just a few common themes we see amongst practitioners who make the leap.

Regardless of the compelling reasons, going into private practice always includes some level of anxiety. Becoming a business owner is a big decision and is more than just a job change: it's a major life event. Therefore, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your reasons for going solo to help set expectations, boundaries and goals for your practice.

Without further ado: here are the top signs you’re ready for private practice.

1. You have cash or a plan (or both!)

The earning potential is higher for private practice, but it can take years to build a client list. In the meantime, be prepared to foot the bills for the overhead — office space, technical equipment, insurance, and potentially staff (or experts who help tackle tasks beyond your capabilities, like billers, website developers, or accountants, for example).

Many therapists start their private practice on the side, slowly building up to full-time when they feel financially and mentally prepared. If you’ve been saving up to cover these costs and feel financially secure, you might be ready to go solo.

If you don’t have cash to float the business, have a plan for getting it! (Actually, please have a plan either way).

If you’re the kind of person who loves a plug-and-chug framework, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has already created this template for you. This is a traditional, tried-and-true framework for planning a business, and forces the exercise of determining marketing (where will your customers come from? Who are they? Why will they pick you over everyone else out there?), finances (where will money come from when you need it?), and so much more.

(Hint: this is the document financial institutions generally look for when providing loans, so it is a very common and useful format.)

If this feels like too much to start with, try out this quick and simple one-page business plan from The Balance SMB. It’ll help you organize your thoughts and create a vision for your practice’s future.

2. You have a network of other private practitioners to rely on

We know you’ll need to figure out how you’ll client referrals. That’s a topic we’ll tackle in a future discussion. (In the meantime, helpful info can be found here in our free book or within a discussion found further down that page.)

No, we're talking about your professional network: running a solo practice doesn’t have to mean being alone!

Build a network of other solo practitioners to turn to for support and guidance as you navigate this new venture. They can help point you in the right direction when you have questions about billing, finding new clients, and getting into the right office. Some networks even share referrals when a client isn't a fit for them. (Example: "I don't practice couples therapy but I know someone FABULOUS who does. Let me give you their phone number...")

Plus, you’ll want to talk to someone who gets it after having “one of those days.” Other therapists can certainly commiserate and also celebrate the ups and downs of owning a practice. (We also recommend… getting therapy (of course)!) So find some like-minded folks who share your private practice dreams and struggles.

You can learn about events and groups via local chapters of your favorite therapist associations. Of course, you may need to pay for memberships to sites like the APA or the ACA to access local events. Often, Facebook can be used as a free resource to locate local groups. If you're new to an area and can't find a group to join, consider reaching out to a practice owner in your new community directly and asking if they'd like to meet up!

3. You WANT to run a business

This is important: being a boss is great. When you’re the boss, you work when it makes sense for you! You can opt-out of nights and weekends! You can select the clients you want to work with! It’s all within your power.

But being a boss also represents a markedly increased level of responsibility. As a practice owner, you’re responsible for marketing, sales, accounting, and all the other gears in the therapy practice machine you’ve never had to worry about before. It's not simply seeing clients on your own terms; you’re own and operate your own business and are ultimately responsible for it's ultimate successes or struggles.

But before you start to second guess yourself and your ability to tackle these things, just remember: everyone starts somewhere. Do you have cash or a plan and a strong network of referrals (numbers 1 and 2 above)? Don’t let fear of what you don’t know get in your way. The best way to learn is by rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. If a task is currently outside of your capabilities, go back to number 2, your network, and ask for a referral! And, oh, check out this page for a few tips.

Ready to Make the Leap?

As a therapist, deciding to go out on your own can be a lot of things at once—terrifying, exciting, even a little sad as you think about saying goodbye to your co-workers (and some of your clients).

If you want to know more about the process of going solo, to help ease some of your doubt, check out our free ebook, The Psychotherapist Success Guide. This is no one-page scam to get your email address: it’s a full length book chock full of our shared knowledge, tips, and -- dare we say it? -- wisdom. If you’d rather receive a physical copy, shoot us a note here

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