Ready to take the plunge? You always dreamed of being in private practice, and your current job is beginning to stultify you. You now need information that your graduate program never provided, including the process of acquiring office space.
Where Does Your Practice Live? Your Options
Maybe a sublease...
The first question to ask yourself is: do I really need my own space yet? If you will open your practice with just a few clients, and you don’t yet have a steady stream of referrals, you would do better subleasing space from an established therapist. Many therapists are willing to let you use their own offices after hours, on weekends, or on days they practice elsewhere. You can let your new private practice be a “side hustle” while you keep your current job--a great way to transition and maintain cash flow.
How can you find a therapist willing to sublease? If you have a “local area society” of therapists in your town, ask around at a meeting. Psychology Today also lists professionals willing to sublease space. Finally, if you know of a large group practice in town, call to see if they are willing to sublease.
...Or maybe virtual
In the wake of COVID-19, online therapy has become more acceptable to clients. If you are just starting out, you may want to consider a virtual solo practice. This will save you tons of money and obviate the need for anything but a quiet room, a strong internet connection, and a TherapyAppointment account.
...Or maybe creating your own space from scratch!
If you prefer face-to-face sessions, already have several clients eager to see you, and (critically) have made arrangements for a steady stream of referrals, you may be ready to lease your own space now. Going this route can seem overwhelming.
No worries! People with far less education than yourself have done this, and there is a friendly commercial realtor eager to help. But the realtor is going to ask what kind of space you want….and what kind do you want?
Here's what to consider as you start looking for space:
- Solo or group? If you are lucky enough to have several colleagues willing to take the plunge with you, you can rent a larger space, share a waiting room, and pay much less every month.
- House or office building? A group can purchase a former home (zoned to allow business) and convert it into a cozy therapy space. Instead of having rent payments vanish forever, you pay your share of the loan, and build equity in a building that will likely appreciate in value.
- Downtown or suburbia? Downtown space will be WAY more expensive than a space in the ‘burbs that is away from major roads. If you have already established a referral network or group of clients in a specific location, you may be stuck with that location. But if you have the opportunity to start anywhere, picking a non-central location can save you tons of cash over the years.
- Parking? If you are part of a group practice, or plan on offering group therapy, you will need enough parking spaces for every client and therapist likely to be there simultaneously.
- Lease term? The longer the lease term, the greater the stability and (usually) the lower the cost. But having a long term lease may also prevent you from accepting opportunities that may arise in later years, and ties you to a location that may prove untenable three or five years from now.
- Front office? If you are going solo, you don’t need one: front office help isn’t economically feasible for fewer than three therapists in an office. Even with three, a good practice management system like TherapyAppointment can allow you to manage the office work yourself, if you like. The salary of front office help is likely to be your biggest expense, so consider this carefully. If you do want a front office, it must be adjacent to the waiting room and to the front door.
- Noise? Staying away from busy streets and noisy neighbors will help create a calming atmosphere. Also, have someone sit in the future waiting room while you recite a soliloquy in your future therapy office. Can they hear what you are saying? If so, you need better sound insulation and/or music playing in the waiting room.
- Light? Natural light creates a warm atmosphere, but if the window faces the street you may create privacy concerns.
- Restroom? In an office building, it is OK if this is down the hall, but in a stand-alone space or converted house, it must be accessible to the waiting room.
- Accessibility? If you are planning to assist low income clients, a space near a transit route is almost essential. You may want to provide wheelchair access, as well--some insurance carriers may insist that your office is wheelchair accessible.
- Furnishings? Lease and salaries may be your biggest recurring expenses, but furnishings are likely to be your biggest startup cost. Be sure and budget for this.
It can be an intimidating process! But imagine the sense of pride you’ll experience when you can say “This is MY office!”