Starting out in private practice?
Benefit from our experience with these top tips…
Setting up your own private practice is a really exciting time. It can, however, be difficult to know where to begin. Here we’ll guide you through the main to do list to get your counselling business off to a great start.
Reflect on your own experiences
By now you will have had plenty of experience of being both a client and a therapist, in perhaps a number of different counselling settings and consequently, you’ll have your own ideas about what worked for you and what didn’t.
This is a great starting point when setting up your own private practice.
Ask yourself what mattered most to you as a client and hold this in mind when you are creating both your brand, and marketing and running your service.
In our experience the services that put their clients at the heart of what they do and stay mindful of the client perspective throughout, are the ones that tend to thrive.
There are four main practicalities that you’ll need to put in place before you start seeing clients privately.
- A confidential, quiet space for your sessions
- Professional Indemnity Insurance
- Your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR)
- Sign up with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO)
A confidential, quiet space for your sessions
This may be a room at home or a room that you rent. Either way, consider the client’s experience of the location before committing.
Think about accessibility i.e are there good transport links, is the building easy to find, is it wheelchair accessible? Location can play a big part in the success of your practice, so the more accessible it is, the better.
Alongside this, the “feel” of the place is also crucial. Does the space feel safe and private? Is it well soundproofed and can you guarantee that there won’t be interruptions? If you’ll be offering early morning or evening sessions, is the entry well lit?
Finding the right space goes a long way in building a thriving practice. The more comfortable your clients feel the more likely they are to both return and to recommend your service.
Professional Indemnity Insurance
A must for all therapists. This is there to support you, should you ever need to defend yourself against any legal claims made either as a result of the service you’ve offered, or injuries sustained in your practice.
Make sure your insurance includes public liability and that the cover is for at least £1,000,000, as many insurance and EAP referrers require this level.
If you’re working from home, it’s best practice to undertake both a health and safety audit and a fire risk assessment, and to purchase a fire extinguisher, first aid kit and accident book, just in case.
When you start out in private practice you’ll be classed as a sole trader and will need to register for self-assessment with the HMRC. At this point, you’ll be given your UTR number, which you’ll then use to submit your annual accounts.
If you intend to manage your own accounts, you’ll need to register with the HMRC and submit your record of sales and expenses each year.
Alternatively, you can enlist the services of an accountant who will register you as a sole trader and will process and submit your accounts each year as your agent.
Sign up with ICO
Once clients start using your service, even if you’re using Kiku or another practice management service to store your client information, you will become both a data controller and processor.
You’ll therefore need to register with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and pay an annual Data Protection fee.
They’ll offer guidance on how to follow GDPR best practice and you’ll need to contact them immediately, should there ever be a breach of data protection in your service.
Creating Your Brand
Now that you know where you’re going to work and you’ve got all the necessary paperwork in order, it’s time to create your brand so you can start marketing your services.
Step 1: Choosing The Right Name
The name of your service can play a huge role in those all-important first impressions. It sets the tone of your brand and influences client expectations. You may already know exactly what you want to call your practice and we are definitely of the belief, “If it feels right, it is right”, but if you’re unsure, think about the following before you start to brainstorm:
- What is your therapeutic ethos?
- How you want clients to feel when they come to you?
- What are your long-term goals for your practice?
The name that fits these three criteria, will be the one.
Step 2: Designing Your Logo
Your logo forms an important part of your brand and the first impressions that clients will have of your service. You’ll most likely use your logo on your website, marketing materials, email signatures, letterhead, and appointment cards, so make sure you’re happy with it.
Think about the emotional chord that you want your logo to hit and choose your imagery and colour scheme accordingly. Are you going for something hopeful and empowering? If so, choose a bright colour palette. If you’re going for a calming and soothing feel, then a softer more muted palette will work best.
We’d also recommend that you take a look at the branding of other therapists in your area and think about how you can stand out from the competition.
You can find help to create your logo online using sites like Wix or Canva.
Step 3: Setting Up Your Website
The reality is, that even once you’re established, the majority of your clients will find you online. We’d therefore strongly recommend that you create your own website to help you raise your online profile.
You can do this fairly inexpensively by using website builder sites. As part of this process, you’ll need to purchase a domain name, which alongside hosting fees, you’ll pay for each year.
Your website is your “shopfront” so it’s important that you design it in a way that is welcoming to prospective clients. The colour scheme, images, line spacing, font and language that you use, all play a part in creating the impression of your service so consider all this carefully.
Make the most important information easy to find
An effective website will clearly communicate the most important information about you and your service, whilst not overwhelming the client.
Remember how anxiety provoking arranging therapy can be and how this can interfere with our cognitive capacity.
Your website needs to be clear and easy to navigate to help clients to make it to the booking stage. Ensure that the font you choose is easy to read, avoid writing in long blocks of text and make the most important information easy to find.
What to highlight on your website
Beyond these legal requirements, in our experience the key information that clients want prior to booking is:
- Where are you based?
The suburb and city will do, if you’d rather not advertise your full address online.
- How much do your sessions cost?
Create a price list and place this page in your main menu.
- Are you available and if so, what are your clinical hours?
Having a session free that fits with the client’s diary is often the clincher in securing a booking. The more flexible you can be at the start of building your practice, the better – just make sure you don’t exhaust yourself.
- How do they arrange a session?
Make sure your contact details are easy to find. Consider providing a guide to the booking process and even what to expect from the first session to help to put clients’ minds at ease.
Express your personality
Alongside this more logistical information, your website should also give prospective clients a sense for who you are and what they can expect from therapy with you.
- Tell them who you are
It’s therefore in everyone’s interest that your website is a good representation of you and how you conduct therapy. That way prospective clients can make an informed decision about whether or not you’re the right therapist for them and you will attract clients that are more likely to become regulars. It’s a win win.
Irrespective of the approach we use, therapy is always, at its core, a relationship. If the relational fit is not there, clients will not continue on in therapy with us.
- Tell them how you work
For many people counselling and psychotherapy are mysterious processes, surrounded by many myths that we, as therapists, are tasked with debunking.
Offering some information about how you work, your modality (if there’s a central approach that you use), what areas may be touched upon in the therapeutic process and how this can help, can go a long way in demystifying therapy and encourage first time clients to give it a try.
For more advice on setting up your private practice, how to get clients and how to run a successful counselling service visit kiku practice tips