To the traveling SLP—whether in school or private practice—I see you, working out of your car. I was in your shoes. I know how hard that work can be, but it’s invaluable to the clients we serve. After starting my private practice journey as a home-based SLP, I ended up making the transition to a brick-and-mortar practice. Even though both models allowed me to work with the clients I wanted to serve, the challenges of running a mobile private practice didn’t feel sustainable for me. If you’re considering a transition to an office-based model of work, here are some things to consider.
Why I Started Out as a Home-Based SLP
Initially, I unexpectedly made the leap into private practice. I didn’t have much of a plan in place. All I knew at the time was I needed to leave the job I had where I no longer felt valued. When my clients asked me where I was going, I had no good answer for them. I had no idea that within a month I’d be running my own private practice and visiting my clients in their homes.
When I started my private practice traveling to my clients’ homes, I quickly realized that I loved this setting more than any other I had worked in before. I also knew that I was good at what I do, and could make this new model work for me and my clients.
What I loved in the beginning of my private practice was the freedom. I exclusively saw clients in their homes, and I loved the driving in between each session. Those drives gave me time to decompress and regroup before my next client—something that I didn’t have at my previous job. I was used to being scheduled back-to-back with barely a minute to eat.
I loved that if I had a cancellation, I could stop at home or run a quick errand. I had no overhead costs, no employees, and I was reaping all the benefits of my mobile private practice. This lasted about a year and a half—my honeymoon period.
The Challenges of Being Home-Based
What did my evaluations and therapy look like? A child is usually much more comfortable in their home than they are in an office. And this proved to be a real benefit in my practice. There were some kids I saw that did phenomenally well in our home-based treatment.
Then there were others—the ones that ran around the room, escaped to their bedrooms to lay down, or cried because they wanted the snack that was right there in their kitchens. How was I supposed to clinically explain why my assessment was barely completed because the client kept asking their mom if they could play outside? Should I follow a client upstairs when they run from me, or enlist the help of the parents?
Eventually, I got overwhelmed with the logistics of a mobile practice and what I wanted mine to look like. I was taking everyone who called me. As a new business, I needed the clients. But as a result, I wound up driving anywhere from ten minutes to an hour in between each session. I was terrible at setting boundaries for myself. I was backtracking all over my area, which resulted in a ton of mileage on my car and wasted gas.
I was exhausted, and rapidly losing excitement about my practice. My car was a mess, and I never had the energy to organize myself after each day. I also couldn’t deny that my treatments in sessions and my assessments weren’t up to the standard that I knew I was capable of.
I started really examining the bigger picture of what my practice and my clients needed because I wasn’t getting the information or results I wanted. It was becoming increasingly clear that I needed something to change—but what?
Transitioning to an Office-Based Practice
For some SLPs, the challenges of being home-based are no big deal, and they can adapt. Especially early intervention SLPs who travel to homes every day and include routines into speech therapy. I could have eventually adapted to that model, but it wasn’t the right choice for me.
When I was running my mobile practice, I was physically and mentally exhausted. I felt run down by the time I got home, and I was starting to feel resistant to get in my car each morning to begin my day. I needed to make a change for my personal and professional well-being.
The decision to make the switch to a brick-and-mortar was much more difficult than I thought it would be. The thought of telling my dedicated clients (who had followed me to my brand-new private practice) that I was going to transition again to office-based treatment was nerve-wracking. I felt like I was betraying their dedication.
I scripted out my announcement and practiced it in the car on the way to my appointments. My fear was that none of my clients would follow me, and I would be left with rent to pay and no clients to fill my schedule.
Opening the Doors to My Office
I finally got the push I needed when I found the right office. I could see myself practicing there, and it was close to my home. It was a humble office, but it was affordable and ideal for my solo practice. When I visualized where I saw myself in six months, it was in that office with a sign on the door with my business’ name.
This is what I needed to get the courage to share with my clients. The best part was that all but one family transitioned with me. My dedication to them—all the driving I did, scheduling them at their preferred times, and the quality of the therapy I was providing—was enough to have them as dedicated to me as I was to them.
I quickly learned that commitment between therapists and clients goes both ways, and I breathed easy again. Until I made my announcement and signed the lease on my new office, I hadn’t really understood the angst I was feeling every day driving to and from my clients.
I thought my love for speech therapy and the work I was doing would be enough to keep me driving all over my area. It turns out it wasn’t—and that’s okay! Think about what we tell parents when they ask how long speech therapy will take: “Every child is different.” That applies to us as therapists as well. Every SLP’s needs and passions are different.
What works for one SLP won’t always work for another, and it’s time to embrace that. We have to honor what we need for the health of our practices, but also our own health and well-being. Since transitioning to a brick-and-mortar practice, I haven’t looked back even for a second.
I made the choice that was right for me, and in turn, that became the right thing for my clients as well. My practice is growing, which brings on its own set of challenges, but this time, I’m excited to explore them. I’m proud that I made the decision that put my needs first—because now, both myself and my clients are feeling those benefits.