A Business Plan for Growing Your Therapy Practice

Entrepreneurial and Advertising Tips for the Psychotherapist

Joe Bavonese

I'm sitting in a large, noisy conference room with 425 people at a hotel near LAX. It's May 1996. I'm at a seminar led by a man named Jay Abraham, who's touted as the world's most brilliant—and expensive—small-business marketing guru. I've paid $3,500 to attend a three-day seminar called the Ultimate Live Marketing Laboratory.I'm told Jay charges $5,000 an hour for private consultations, so this is supposed to be a bargain. But I feel like a sucker before the seminar even starts.

Then I remember: what I'm doing here is trying to save my career as a private practitioner. After leaving a job as clinical director of an outpatient mental health and substance abuse clinic run by a megalomaniac psychiatrist, I've gone into private practice.

I've read that you have to spend money to make money, but, like most therapists, I just don't believe it. Anyway, I'm not Donald Trump: I'm just a good clinician. Why isn't that enough? Why do I have to spend more money? Didn't I spend enough in graduate school? It seems crazy to have gone through all those years of training only to end up here: scared, risk averse, confused, and unsure what to do next to grow my practice to the point that I can provide my family with even a middle-class existence.

If You Spend It, It Will Come

Less than two years after my epiphany in Los Angeles, my practice was full, even though my office is in a therapist-saturated suburb of economically depressed metropolitan Detroit. Now, more than a decade later, I get so many referrals that I can't handle them all---and with one consultant's help, I've expanded to a group practice focused on relationship issues. The practice now has 12 therapists and consistently gets more than 60 referrals a month. My annual practice income has increased every single year since 1996, growing tenfold since then.

Two wonderful benefits have accrued from this growth. First, I've rediscovered the joy of doing therapy, now that I no longer have any concerns about where my clients will come from. I'm free to practice more creatively. I vary the length of my sessions to accommodate my clients' needs. I love going to work every day. Second, I can spend more time at home. The added income has allowed me to set up a solid retirement account and college funds for all three kids, buy a vacation house, and take the family on four vacations a year.

I began by designing display ads for use in local papers, using the advertising principles I'd learned from Jay Abraham. I cringed when I wrote the checks (the ads costs between $300 and $500 per month), but when my practice increased 30 percent in four months, I was hooked. It was working! I realized that the only security in this field comes from diversifying referral sources and service offerings. So I plowed forward, one step at a time, trying out many new things, discarding the failures, and expanding upon the successes.

I started a print newsletter. I accepted numerous speaking engagements, and, following another Abraham principle, focused more on collecting names and addresses than on what I was being paid. I hired a publicist for a PR campaign, which resulted in six TV appearances, three radio interviews, and four newspaper articles.

I created a primitive website on my own, for free, but then realized that if I was serious about the Internet, I needed a more professional look. So I hired a web design firm to build a website for $4,000. I took the huge---and difficult---step of hiring an office manager. Letting go of control and spending even more money was a double whammy. But with the time I saved, I could devote more attention to marketing the practice and expanding the website.

Being Too Risk Averse

I’ve heard tales of fear, despair, and confusion. Many have told me that managed care had destroyed their practices and incomes. Others complained that the Internet, Dr. Phil, and Pilates were stealing their clients. Still others felt they were getting passed over in favor of Lexapro and Xanax. A few sounded hopeless, not knowing what to do to increase their practices. Some said they knew what to do, but hadn't taken action because they'd felt so uncomfortable (or as one woman put it, "slimy") doing marketing.

The Growing Pains of a Group Practice

Private practice is alive and well---but only if you realize that excellent clinical skills are a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for success. To have a successful practice and serve more people, you have to learn how to run a small business, tolerate risk, and be comfortable spending money. Much like our clinical training, building a small business is a complex, ever-changing discipline that takes a commitment of money, time, and feedback from successful mentors to fully master. But if you're serious about being successful in your private practice and helping more people, investing money and time will reward you handsomely for the rest of your career. You just have to remember always that your work is your business, your business is your work, and you are as much businessperson as therapist. These days, to be successful at one, you have to be successful at the other.

This blog is excerpted from “How to Develop a Money Mindset."Read the full article here. >>

Want to read more articles like this? Subscribe to Psychotherapy Networker Today!

Topic: Business of Therapy

Tags: ACA | add | ED | family | HEAL | Joe Bavonese | kids | mental health | outpatient mental health | practices | psychiatrist | psychotherapy business | relationship issues | substance abuse | success | TED | therapist | therapists | therapy | therapy business | money | finances | grow your practice

Comments - (existing users please login first)
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Thursday, January 26, 2017 8:17:12 PM | posted by Henry Adams
I'm interested in reading more articles like this

Monday, December 21, 2015 5:05:08 AM | posted by Margalit Doron
I came across your article and liked it very much. I am living in Israel and thanks to google I can read a lot about what is happening in the world.
I too am struggling to expand my private clinic as an expressive therapist after 15 years of working in public service. Its tuff! This voice of "you will never make it " keeps rising once in a while and I use long distance running to prove it wrong: "yes I can"!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the web

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 8:18:22 AM | posted by janu
Thanks for your details and explanations..I want more information from your side..I Am working in Budget lodging in chennaishould you need for any other clarification please call in this number.044-6565 6523.

Sunday, July 12, 2015 7:07:53 PM | posted by Lisa Terry
Thanks Joe. Very inspiring article. I am in the beginning of expanding my practice to include hiring more therapist. I would love more info on how much $ to charge therapist to rent space, by the day, week etc, and what percentage to apply to fees.