When you run a private practice, you’re a therapist, a business owner, and your own boss. When most of us discovered all of the roles we had to play, it was stop-the-presses ridiculous.
Therapy itself is easy… well, you know what I mean. When it comes to therapy, we have years of education and experience. But the other two roles—being a business owner and your own boss— can feel a little strange.
I constantly hear: “I didn’t become a therapist to build a business, I became a therapist to help people!” But what no one tells you is that as private practitioners, we need to build our business in order to help people. We simply can’t do one without the other — we have to think like a boss so that we can set ourselves up for success.
So yes, these roles—business owner and boss—are ones that you’re not necessarily prepared to take on when you open the doors to your private practice. Grad school teaches you how to work with your clients clinically, but not how many to see in a week or how to set up an onboarding process and develop a customer service philosophy. Your degree and your license verify that you have the required education and rigorous clinical training to be a therapist, but not that you can make a living wage or sustain your career to retirement.
How then, do we make the transition from student and employee to business owner and boss?
Once your private practice is open and you’re bringing in clients and revenue, you need to be able to manage your business, your systems, and your employees — especially yourself. You have to make decisions on how to grow and what to focus on. You have to be a boss.
I see too many people struggle terribly to become a boss. They end up burned out and worried they’ll have to close their doors. But failure is not an option. Your services are too important to your community, and we’ve got to figure this thing out!
Here are some tips to help you manage yourself and your practice effectively aka…. how to be your own boss:
- Give yourself the tools and systems you need to succeed. The best bosses make sure their employees have the right tools to get the job done efficiently and effectively. They problem-solve, try things out, and make sure their employees are set up for success. In the same way, you need to make sure you have systems and practices that work for you and help you feel good about what you’re doing. Too many people cobble things together willy-nilly and feel overwhelmed by their non-clinical responsibilities.
- Give yourself clear parameters around schedule and tasks. Being an entrepreneur is so much different than being an employee. When you have a boss, they tell you what you should be doing and often set your schedule. You have parameters around work week and breaks, as well as vacation and sick time. But when you work for yourself, you start with a blank calendar and only a few ideas of what should go into it. You have to classify your different types of activities, decide what’s worth doing, and how much time to spend on work each week. You even have to define what is and is not work. The freedom to decide what to do is awesome, but can be hugely overwhelming.
- Recognize when the Sacrificial Helping Syndrome rears its ugly head. Fair enough. The Sacrificial Helping Syndrome is a term that I just created, but I can attest that it is a real thing. So many helping professionals sacrifice their own well-being to help others- foregoing self-care, vacations, and even breaks to see clients. When we think about this objectively, we can see that it’s a one-way trip to burnout. But so many of us have trouble recognizing it happening in ourselves. I promise you—SHS is super common (I struggle with it myself) and it seems to be culturally reinforced by our profession. We frequently take on sliding scale clients or offer extensive free consultations, focusing on clinical outcomes and the good work we are doing rather than making money or our own pesky needs. Sometimes this outlook leads to wonderful things for other people, but it becomes a problem when you approach all of your work (and your life) with this misguided generosity. You cannot sacrifice yourself forever, or you won’t be able to help at all.
- Figure out your decision-making process. As a boss, there are a lot of decisions that you have to make. Which thing do I do first? What do I need to do and what’s optional? What’s “good enough?” All the while, you’re bombarded with information and advice. Sorting through all of the noise and making a plan for yourself is critical. You can get caught up in trying to do everything, feeling overwhelmed and overworked OR you can get stuck in indecision not wanting to make a wrong move. Even worse, you can focus on things that are not relevant, leading to tons of time (and possibly money) spent on things that don’t lead to anything. Knowing how to make these decisions helps your practice progress, leaving you with a lot more attention to focus on clients.
Are you ready to be a good boss? This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding what I’ve learned so far, and I’m really excited to continue to share my story and advice. Stay tuned for more in-depth articles on each of these tips.