You would think after going on 6 years in private practice that there wouldn’t be much left to learn, yet I find with every year that goes by I’m presented with new challenges and better ways of doing things. Something I do is I like to know what therapists are nearby. An easy way to do this is to just go to psychologytoday.com and enter the zip code of your practice. It’s both good if you need to send a referral and just to know who else is out there. I’d like to think of there as a community of therapists in private practice. Well, one thing I learned is that a lot of people don’t last long in private practice. There are very few people that are still there that were there when I started. There are also tons of new faces as well. Now, some of those people could have simply moved their practice, or just decided to stop using PT, but it’s also possible that a lot really did give up on their dream of private practice. This brings me to my first lesson learned in 2015:
It really does take awhile to get your business settled: I started my private practice in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. Before moving to Hyde Park, I had more business than I could handle. So, to remedy this I made some big changes to my business. In hindsight this was probably too many big changes at once. I cut out all of the low paying and aggravating (required tons of paperwork, poor provider relations, impossible to work with, etc) insurances and then raised my out-of-pocket price to market rate. I then moved to a bigger, and I think better, location in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston. I only moved two miles and didn’t think this was going to have an effect on my business, and at first it didn’t. My caseload from Jamaica Plain followed me to Hyde Park, so all was fine. Then I noticed I wasn’t getting much new business. Business dwindled over the next year. I was still doing okay, but I worried that maybe moving was a bad thing. Then at the beginning of 2015, business boomed again and has stayed steady for the entire year. Actually, this has been my most profitable year yet. I’ve decided that it just took time to settle into the new location. It’s something to remember. It takes years for people to decide to make that appointment, so you need to have been around for years.
Private Practice is still a process: As I said, you’d think after this many years I’d have it all figured out, but I’m still continually tweaking the way I do business. There are still so many lessons o be learned. In fact, after a bad or upsetting encounter, I always ask myself “What is the lesson learned from this?” If something happened in your private practice, or keeps happening, ask yourself how you could prevent it from happening again. I am a huge prevention person. I would much rather prevent something from happening in the first place than scrambling to try to fix it after the fact. Often it’s a matter of changing something in my office policies or adding an extra line to my spiel in the first session. Going at it from a problem solving perspective works wonders to stream line your practice.
Away Messages are your friend: I used to think away messages were obnoxious, now I know why so many businesses use them. There are people who will continuously blow up your email or voicemail until you return their call. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 in the morning, a Sunday afternoon, or a national holiday. Having an away message gives them the peace of mind of having a response of sorts while also letting them know they wont be hearing back from you directly until your business hours. I have an email responder that starts at 8pm and goes until 8am on weekdays and all day on the weekend. My regular voicemail message also reminds people that I wont be calling them back outside of my office hours. And of course, I change the message when I’m away on vacation. All of this may sound like overkill, but it does a lot to keep from getting those angry emails. It also helps to set professional boundaries. And if you’re one of those people that can’t help yourself from replying to emails even when you’re on vacation (Okay, I’m talking about myself here!), it can help to know that there has already been a reply given, so you don’t have to worry.
If you don’t tell the client directly, they’re not going to know: Office policies and rules are so awkward, right? At least it feels that way for me. I never want to be “that mean lady”, so I just put all my office policies in a work document and hope the client reads it. Does this sound like you? Although some of your clients will read it, probably most wont. This is why it’s really important to go over them with the client in the first session. It sounds super awkward, but you do get used to it the more you do it. If you get used to it now, it saves you from even more uncomfortable conversations down the road.