Once you’ve gotten your license, you might be ready to take the next step in your career and move into private practice. This seems like an expensive proposition, and you may not be able to quit your day job to jump head first into this venture. However, the cost of opening your own practice doesn’t have to be out of reach. You can open your private practice on a budget, and I will show you how with the following 8 tips.

1. Keep your day job!

What I mean is this: you can keep your day job so that you have a steady, guaranteed paycheck, and you can rent out space from another therapist during their “off” hours so that you can see a few new patients. Currently, I rent out my office space to two different burgeoning therapists. One sees her clients on Fridays, and one sees her clients on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I don’t charge them very much, and they are able to see how quickly they can build their practice and go out on their own. Check with therapists in your area or put a request out on your local Listserv (generally APA has a State chapter with its own Listserv, and this is an excellent place to start). Once your off time becomes full of patients, you can consider making the next step and moving into a place of your own. If you are ready to quit your regular job and just jump into creating a private practice with both feet, consider speaking with the Small Business Association in your area to determine if there are any grants that might apply to you, or you can find out if you are eligible for a small business loan to help set everything up.

2. Consider renting office space with a group.

You may find a group of like-minded clinicians who are willing to all go in together to obtain private practice space. You can share a common waiting room, and then split the rent, the utilities and perhaps the cost of a receptionist with the other clinicians. There are a lot of benefits to this, not the least of which is that you are surrounded by bright colleagues with whom you can consult on tough cases. It can also be nice not to work in isolation.

3. Start with a small office.

If you decide you want your own office, look for something small and comfortable. Clients respond to the “coziness” of an office more than you would think. This will also ensure that your practice is not growing quicker than your list of new patients. A small office in a great location can be affordable and convenient for people. Make sure to meet the landlord and find out what his or her policies are on keeping your business open after hours or on the weekends. You want to know when you will be able to book clients. You can obtain furniture and decorations from garage sales or other therapists who might be closing their practices down (again the Listserv in an excellent place to find someone who is selling their furniture). This is often a very good way to get nice furniture for a very inexpensive price.

4. Get a logo and put it to use.

Along with an address and a phone number, you’ll need a logo to put on your business cards, letterhead, and website. A logo can help you stand out and appear professional – if you don’t have one already, there are many companies that offer affordable logo design services. Once you have your logo, you’ll need to put it to use! If you’re tech-savvy, you can make your own business cards and letterhead with Microsoft Word or Photoshop and print them yourself. Another option is to use an online printing company or a local printer to create your business cards and letterhead. Many online printing companies like VistaPrint even offer free or extremely low cost options for business cards. Creating your own website is also easier and more affordable than you might think. Another way to use your logo is to make postcards or write a letter using your logo that introduces who you are and what you specialize in. Mail this postcard out to therapists in your area so they will have another referral source when your expertise is required.

5. Purchase any supplies you might need.

You’ll want to decide if you’re going to use an online software program to take notes (more on that below) or if you’re going to be using regular, old-fashioned paper files. If you choose the file route, you’ll need to purchase files, a filing cabinet with a lock, and general office supplies. The best time to purchase these supplies on a budget is when children go back to school, as that is when these supplies are marked down the most. Purchase or grab any psychology books you might want to keep at your office, and get a small bookshelf to place them on.

6. Do you want a paperless office?

If you determine that you’d like to have a paperless office, you’ll need to do some research and decide which practice management software works best for you. Here are some questions to ask when you begin your research:
  • Does the program have a calendar feature so you can schedule your clients?
  • Do you want the client to be able to schedule appointments for themselves?
  • Does the program have a place to take notes and the ability to upload other documents you might need?
  • Does the program have the ability to bill insurance should you decide to do so?
  • Is the program HIPAA Compliant?
TherapyNotes is a nice option for an affordable online practice management solution, and Time2Track readers can receive an extra month for free by clicking here (or using the coupon code Time2Track). Make sure to do your research and find the software solution that will work best for you.

7. Decide how you want to bill clients.

Billing companies are handy if you don’t want to have to keep up with one more thing after a long day of seeing patients and taking notes. It can be difficult to find the time to call insurance companies if there is a problem, or to track down your money from clients who haven’t paid. Most billing companies will take a small percentage of everything they collect. You can also bill clients using online practice management software tools (as discussed above). Make sure to do your research in this area, as there are lots of stories about bad experiences with billing companies, and money owed is one of the top reasons psychologists and counselors are sued by clients.

8. Don’t get overwhelmed!

The above steps may seem like a lot to get through, but in the end it will be worth it when you look around and realize you now have the beginnings of a thriving private practice! You can determine your own schedule, the types of clients you would like to see, and schedule in some much-needed vacation time without having to check with the boss. Be patient with the time required to set up your practice and have a full schedule. Some say the average time is approximately two years until you can say you have a competitive private practice. Until then, use your free time to attend trainings and gather CE credits for your license. This will help you obtain more knowledge in the areas you study, keep you up-to-date as a clinician, and allow you to better serve your clients. And, finally, remember that the freedom that comes with a private practice is a great feeling. You’ve earned it!
Michelle Yep-Martin, PsyD