For many of us, finding success in private counseling practice involves working with a shoestring budget, and making up for our lack of capital with a lot of sweat equity. While this approach works, there are some areas where under-spending can hurt your practice in the long run. Below I list 6 places where counselors should to spend money to make money:
1) Your Office Building
Too many counseling practices reside in run down, drab Class C buildings. Counseling offices should be bright, happy, inspiring places. Instead of finding the cheapest space, locate your practice in the nicest building you can find. While the cost will be more, it shouldn’t make that big of a difference to your bottom line (Counseling spaces are small. A 6-office suite can be less than 2000 square feet). Your Class A space will help you recruit a good team, and will give a positive brand impression—this can lead to more satisfied clients, and more referrals. Also, studies show that the better a business’ location, the less money that business will need to spend on advertising. Speaking of advertising…
I receive a lot of calls from counselors who are struggling to build a caseload. More often than not, these counselors are spending near to nothing on advertising. When asked why, they always mention the cost—advertising is expensive (and a professor in grad school told them that if they were good counselors, they wouldn’t need to advertise). While advertising is expensive, it’s also expensive to pay rent in a space that isn’t doing any business, and it’s expensive to sit in that office every day with unbilled hours. It costs money to advertise and it costs money not to advertise.
Therefore, while you shouldn’t run out and drop 10 grand on NPR sponsorships that might not move the needle, you should be investing in advertising. Invest smart. Test whether your advertising dollars are working with small amounts. When you’ve found a channel that produces a positive ROI, double your spend.
3) Anything to Do with Client Experience
As a service business, you build brand loyalty by surprising and delighting your clients. It goes without saying that the counseling at your practice needs to be excellent. But don’t stop there. Consider what else you can do to improve the client experience. The possibilities here are vast. For example, what would happen if you mailed every client you’ve ever had a copy of your favorite self-improvement book along with a hand written note? This would cost money for sure, but how many clients would be delighted by the gesture? And how many would be more likely to mention you next time someone asked them where they could find a good counselor?
4) Medical Billing
Medical billing is the lifeblood of your practice. If you don’t get the monies you’re owed from 3rd party payers, you’re dead. So why do so many practices go without a reputable medical billing staff, or billing company? Too many practices trust their billing to persons who lack the necessary experience, aptitude, or who are otherwise not up for the task. Also, too many practices neglect checking client benefits and getting pre-authorizations because “it takes too long.” Good billing processes cost time and money, but the cost of not getting paid for your services is much higher.
5) Your Clinical Staff
In the early years of my practice I lost some good counselors because I underpaid. Or, rather I ‘mediocre paid’. Excellent clinicians have employment options, and they demand excellent compensation. Having good clinician retention is crucial for the health of your practice. Losing clinicians can seriously damage your brand (that is, your company’s relationships with clients), and the costs of recruiting, credentialing, and filling a new clinician’s caseload can be daunting. I changed my compensation philosophy early on and today clinician compensation is a strength when recruiting new team members (in addition to good pay, we offer health, dental, life, disability, and liability insurance, and a 401K). Don’t lose your best clinicians to the competition—pay your team well!
6) Giving Back
I’m not including this tip to sound generous. At my practice, I’ve found that when it comes to giving back to the community, it’s hard to give more than we get in return. Every time we do something charitable we receive good press, we benefit from increased team morale, gain a deeper a sense of purpose, and we get some darn good karma (if you’re into that sort of thing). Counselors are already very generous so a word of warning: Give back when you can. As Bono says, “give until it hurts”, but don’t give until you’re in the hospital.
The 6 tips above are low hanging fruit; they’re low risk and you’ll notice the value almost immediately. No doubt, there are many other ways you can invest in your practice. What are some of the ways you've spent money to make money?
Anthony Centore is a Counselor, Private Practice Consultant for the ACA, and helps counseling practices across the US thrive. For more information on private practice and insurance panels go to http://thriveworks.com