Alicia Taverner is an LMFT in private practice in Rancho Cucamonga, growing her practice during her 18-month-old son’s naptimes. We talked with Alicia about the importance of focusing on what works when building a practice in limited time, and defining your own terms of success private practice. As a busy mom, she is happily laying the groundwork to be a “business owner who works from home as much as possible.”
Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about the evolution of your practice.
I’ve had my practice for about 6 years now, but it’s always been really, really part time. I worked a full-time job up until this past August, when I left my program manager job at a mentorship program for foster and probation youth. Since then, my private practice has been my main focus.
I specialize in working with mothers struggling with infidelity and post-divorce and I’m also doing discernment counseling, where one partner is leaning out of the relationship and the other one wants to save it. Discernment counseling includes short term work – 1-5 sessions – to help the couple understand what they’ve contributed to the relationship and to decide whether they’d like to move forward with couples counseling or not.
If they do decide to divorce, I help them try to do that in a calm, collaborative way that’s best for them and best for their kids.
What had you finally take the plunge into private practice?
Since graduating my masters program, I had always known I wanted to do private practice, but it was a matter of how and when was the right time. I had my son in September of 2014 and I went back to work in December in addition to my practice part time in the evenings. But I had a hard time adjusting to going back to work and leaving my son and I started to really feel “I just can’t do this.” And it just so happened the funding was going to end for that program in 2015 anyway, so it just became time to prepare to “sink or swim”.
So the universe sort of forced you in the direction you were wanting to go…
Yes, and at that point, I could have gotten another part-time or full-time job but I decided instead to work really hard to build my practice after my job ended.
Truthfully, it had been my intention to build my practice between December (when I decided to leave) and August, but life got really busy between work and being a mom. Once my full-time job ended, I was able to reach the place where I replaced my full-time income with a part-time private practice in just about 6 months.
Being able to do that came from focusing on the marketing side of things. I am fully cash pay and don’t take insurance. I do out of network for PPO and have just seen a steady increase of clients over time. I actually replaced my income seeing only 7 clients a week and my goal is to have 15 clients per week.
So you are about half way to a full practice for you.
Yes, and so far I’m really happy with that. For me, 15 clients will be “full”, though I know others have much bigger caseloads. It feels great to have already replaced the full time job in just a few hours a week and eventually I’ll also have some passive income streams and plan to run some groups. I also really like doing clinical supervision so I’ll probably add some interns into my practice as well.
What has it been like to build a practice from home with a baby?
There was definitely a huge adjustment going from working all of those hours to now being at home, and learning HOW to market myself in the best way possible and do it within time constraints of being a mother. I went from from working a lot at my full time job, to being at home with a small baby, where I was pretty much on his schedule.
The first three months back at home I felt like a chicken with my head cut off, not knowing what to do and trying to do everything all at once. So the mission became to figure out “what do I absolutely need to do today?”
Now my son is 18 months and is into everything. I can’t just sit at my desk and do work because he wants to play with the mouse and play with the keyboard. I have had to learn how to do things while he’s napping in a really focused and strategic way. Thank God he’s a good napper!
I’ll also do things when my husband gets home from work.
Now I’m in a rhythm and I see what’s giving me the best ROI with my time and energy. I can now see patterns on where I’m getting referrals from and focus my energy there.
There are a lot of therapists out there trying to build a process around this obstacle course called “being a mom.” What have you found has been the most bang for your buck?
Speaking has definitely helped me grow my practice. I reached out to a bunch of mom groups in the area. There is a group called MOPS – Moms of Preschoolers. They have chapters all over the place. From an initial speaking event, I was referred to another group to speak. Initially, it was a challenge because I’m a strong introvert. But from those talks, I started to get calls. Once I began seeing the results of it, it started energizing me and I really connected to the importance of it.
I’ve recently been doing some paid speaking and I always have participants sign up for my email list which has been really great. And of course, I track where my calls come from.
It took a few months to where I would speak and I wouldn’t hear anything and then 4 months later I started getting a lot of calls and people were saying, “I’ve had your number in my phone since I heard you speak and they thought you were great.” So patience is key.
As an introvert, how do you handle speaking in front of groups and offering up your services?
In my previous job, I would do 3 trainings a month, where I was talking in front of people, so speaking wasn’t totally new to me. But it was different to be marketing myself and I had to figure out how to network in a way that felt authentic to me.
So I just look at it as this: I’m never selling my practice or myself. I’m just looking to connect with people on a deeper level. So I may not initially even talk about my practice. It’s just about connecting with people and letting them know that I’m out there and helping any way that I can.
I also reach out to other therapists in the area to connect and talk about what’s working. I like being helpful in that way. I think it just comes back to you putting out positive energy in the world. It’s like planting seeds.
As a smaller practice, and when you were first starting, how do you justify the cost of SimplePractice?
Cost, of course, is an issue in the beginning. I started out with one client but I knew that I was going to build, so I always had my goal of a certain dollar amount in mind. I knew that if I could start with something to keep me organized, it would be worth the cost in the long term.
It was also important to me to have a professional appearance, so when clients would call me, I already had a process for them to complete their forms. I would tell them, “You’re going to get an email with a link and it will have all my consents and policies. It’s really important you go over this before our first meeting.”
People see me to dive into their problems. They don’t want to come to do paperwork. I don’t have the flexibility in my schedule. It exudes professionalism and it was worth the cost. And it’s really not very expensive.
You can find Alicia at: