Money and Community: Empowering Women Business Owners

Please note: The use of “woman” in this article is meant to describe individuals who were socialized as and currently identify as women. 

When we picture a woman in business, a lot of what we “see” has changed. Long gone are the days where a woman in business conjured up images of shoulder pads, pencil skirts, and high-rise office buildings. Now women in business can look like just about anyone. When you scroll on social media, you may see more everyday images of women barefoot in their homes, working on a laptop. Although women business owners face unique challenges in a largely male-dominated market, they are one of the largest growing segments of small business ownership

As a practitioner in private practice, it can be easy to forget that you’re a business owner in addition to being a clinician. On top of that, when you’re socialized as a woman, you’ve encountered messages about being polite, quiet, and small. But in business, you also have to be assertive, bold, and confident. That’s a lot of conflicting emotions to work through—but it’s definitely doable. It all starts with stepping into your power as a women business owner.

Be a Business Owner on Your Terms

Repeat after me: I’m a business owner. I’m a business owner. I’m a business owner. If you’re in private practice, you might be thinking of your business as secondary to your skills as a clinician. But you’re the most valuable asset to your business. If you aren’t paying yourself, taking time off, separating work life from your personal life, you’re bound to burn yourself out. And a burned-out therapist is not a good therapist. Start taking stock of your mental, physical, and financial self-care, so you can show up fully as a therapist with your clients. 

Work-Life Separation is More Sustainable

My friend and career and life coach Julie Tobi talks about the importance of work-life separation instead of work-life balance. Work-life separation is about creating and maintaining boundaries between your work and your personal life, while work-life balance is about an equal split between the two. 

But often, it’s not possible to create a perfectly equal balance between your work and your life.  Things like emotional labor, caregiving, and household chores impact women more than men—and COVID-19 has only made that gender divide worse

Women of color bear this burden even more than their white counterparts. So it’s especially important for women—and women who have male partners—to think about how they’re going to separate their business life from their home life. When you shift your focus to work-life separation, rather than a true balance, it’s easier to create healthy boundaries that are sustainable for your life and your business, even if you’re not splitting your time evenly. 

Aside from being critical to your mental health as a person, creating those boundaries will also make you a better clinician and business owner. Research shows that employees are more likely to show up with creative ideas and less burnout when they have actual time off than when they’re “on” all the time. 

Women business owners need to ensure they’re giving themselves the same benefits (or better) that they’d expect from a traditional employment setting. That means taking certain holidays off, building in time for mental health days and health check-ups—even vacation days. It’s crucial for women business owners to create this separation to keep their business and personal lives sustainable.  

Create a Community with Fellow Women Business Owners

There’s been a lot of discussion about the importance of having other entrepreneurial friends when you’re a small business owner. Women business owners in particular need to be in community with others like them. Women in business need to talk to others about creating and maintaining work-life separation, setting fees for services, and talking to each other about creating an ideal schedule. 

During business ownership, there are those inevitable thoughts like, “This is too hard!” “I can’t keep up,” or “I’ll just go back to my old job.” Having others you can connect with who have overcome similar challenges can be a game-changer. When we see other women succeed and have gone through similar struggles, it gives us faith that we can make it through too. 

Charge What You’re Worth

When you’re socialized to be quiet and polite, even in a business setting, it can be daunting to set—and then pursue—your fees for your services. I see clinicians and women business owners make three common mistakes when setting their fees. 

The first is setting their fee purely based on what others in their area are charging. I don’t judge practitioners who do this—it’s how I set my fees too when I first started my practice. It feels like a good way to make yourself competitive in your local market. But what I’ve noticed about this method is clinicians will google what other providers in their area are charging—and then low-ball themselves. They’ll set a fee that’s in the middle—or more often at the lower end of the range in their area—which undersells their value and their service. 

If you’re going to set your rate by comparing it to others in your area, be mindful that you don’t set it below what you’re worth. Your services have value that only you can offer, and if that means your rate is at the high end (or higher!) than the people around you, there’s a reason for that. 

Another common mistake I see is basing their fee off of what insurance companies are reimbursing. But maybe even more common is setting their fee low and then slowly raising it to the fee they want to charge. The problem with all of these fee-setting practices is that it doesn’t consider the most crucial part of a business owner’s fee—sustainability. A better way to set your fee is to look at how much money you need to earn, how much you want to work, and reverse-engineer a fee based on that number. 

By reverse-engineering your fees, you remove some of the emotions that come with setting your fee. In doing this exercise, you’re just looking at the numbers. However you feel about setting your fees at a certain rate, this exercise allows you to be objective in setting a rate that allows you to live the life you want. 

Discuss Money With Clients

American society isn’t great at talking about money. People find it uncomfortable and rude to mention finances. Conversations about money are often shrouded in euphemisms and vague statements. As business owners and as private practitioners, you’ve got to break that pattern. 

As clinicians, we know the importance of repetition when introducing a new concept to a client. I like to do the same thing when it comes to money and fees. By the time a client leaves my office after their first session, they’ve seen my fee schedule and policies at least three times. 

First, we discuss finances in our consultation call. On that first phone call to determine if we are a mutual fit, I introduce my fees. I don’t go in-depth, but I do overview the cost of my intake and session fee. Finances are an important part of determining if we’re a good fit, and it sets the tone for further sessions if we are. 

Second, I talk about money in my welcome email and intake packet. Sending it before our first session ensures that they have a copy of my fee schedule, and that they have the time and space to read and understand it before they sign off on it. 

And the third and final time we talk about money is in our first session. As we review the paperwork together, I again speak with them about my fees, when and how they’ll be billed, and my cancellation policies. I offer them time and space to ask questions about it and process if they have any concerns.

If you’ve been burying your fees in your office policies and talking about money three times by the time they first meet you seems overboard, consider that money is a huge part of any client’s life. By avoiding it, you are modeling for them that money is awkward, taboo, or off-limits in your office. I encourage you to talk about money in a meaningful way with your clients, and talking about money right away is a great way to model it for them.

In the end, you’ll not only empower yourself to manage your money like a business owner but you’ll show your clients how they can be open and communicative about money as well.

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