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Recession-Proof Your Practice - Page 4


"Lynn, I've always loved having my own practice because it's mine, and I really love the work I do as a counselor," she said. "Being my own boss allows me to work directly with my clients. I wish I didn't need to accept managed care, because that gets in the way of my work, but at least I can be in charge of whom I see, why and how I work with them, and what direction the counseling will take."

"What's it worth to you to stay autonomous?" I pressed. Dina paused for a full minute, and I could hear her breathing quietly. "It's worth everything to me," she said. We both heard the commitment in that statement.

During the next few months, I'd find myself returning to this statement several times to remind her of what was at stake and help her keep going when she felt lonely, drained, or burned out. As a business coach, I try to work within a partnership model, rather than adopting the authoritative attitude of a business consultant.

At our next session, starting the second month of our coaching, I wanted Dina to take ownership of any plan we created: "After last month's review, how would you identify the major source of weakness in your practice?" Dina said that after studying her finances, the spreadsheets, and the clients she saw, she thought the major problem was how complicated her practice was—how many different services she offered. She was spread too thin; she wasn't well-enough known as an expert in one or two areas for people to think of her for specific kinds of work. Also, she said, there were things she loved doing—weekend, personal-growth workshops, body-psychotherapy training—but they took up time and energy, and made almost no profit.

My research on the psychotherapy market has shown that the services that seem most profitable today are ones that clients consider essential:

- Psychological services for children. ADD, learning/emotional disabilities, sensory integration, autism spectrum disorders, educational psychological assessments, high-risk teens, anorexia and other eating disorders.

- Marriage savers. Premarital counseling, divorce prevention, financial counseling, parenting classes.

- Career savers. Court-referred therapy, anger management, outpatient addiction treatment (including Internet or sex addiction).

- Health-related services. Cancer counseling, wellness, stress or anxiety reduction, depression.

Dina's most profitable services—parenting consultations and couples counseling—fit into this list. Over the past decade, she'd developed a reputation in her community as a couples counselor. To help her focus on services that were profitable and for which she was best known, I asked her to keep more open slots available for couples counseling, while dropping the weekend growth seminars and body psychotherapy, which were time-consuming, unprofitable, and distractions from her "brand." I suggested she continue to make time for one unprofitable service that fit her new focus. She chose to keep up the parenting classes she was teaching each semester at her local county recreation center. When we discussed the rebranding stage, I'd show her how to make these classes a better marketing tool for enrolling new clients.

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