Whether it’s a product of New Year’s resolutions, or “Blue Monday” (Jan 23rd, the most depressing day for the year–and the day by which most everyone has blown their resolutions), or the fact that the holidays are over and the days are depressingly short and dark and cold, for many counseling practices January, February, and March are three of the busiest months of the year. You don’t want to be caught unprepared. So how do ready your store? Here’s a checklist.
1) Expand Your Hours
In retail, businesses make their money between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For many counseling practices, the same can be said for January through March (i.e., Q1). These are months when counselors should get to the office early, stay late, and even work some weekends. Consider yourself fortunate; persons in the hospitality industry work extended hours through the holidays. Your busy time is after the celebrations have ended, in the dead of winter. What else is there to do anyway?
2) Ready Your Team
Talk to your team early about January-March availability. What do their schedules look like for Q1? Will they be able and willing to expand their hours? Is there any reason a team member might be out of the office? Are there any trips to Disney planned? Will anyone be on leave? If you’ve been thinking of adding a team member, now might be the time. Give yourself ample time to recruit a licensed counselor who is both strong clinically, and a good culture fit for your practice.
3) Get on Insurance Panels
Getting on insurance panels can be a lengthy process. Ask Blue Cross and they’ll say to allow “120 business days.” If you’ve been putting it off, don’t delay any longer. More people have insurance than ever before, it’s costing them more than ever before, and you better believe they want to use it! This January, you don’t want to find yourself turning away 9-out-of-10 potential clients because you can’t accept their insurance.
4) Pay Attention to Deductibles
If you’re already accepting your client’s insurance, remember that many persons’ deductibles renew in January. Make sure you’re on top of checking, and re-checking, client benefits to determine client out-of-pocket responsibility. You don’t want a pile of denied claims, and you certainly don’t want to have to chase clients for payment.
5) Don’t Miss Calls
When a potential new client calls your practice, if he/she doesn’t reach a live person, he/she might simply hang up and call someone else. Don’t rely on voicemail! If you don’t have anyone on staff to answer calls, consider hiring a live answering service that will take a message and relay to callers that their calls will be returned within the hour. Then, and this part is important, actually return the call within the hour.
6) Prepare Clients for Inclement Weather
Begin to prepare your clients that in the event of snow or ice, sessions can be conducted by video. This was especially important for Thriveworks Counseling Cambridge, my practice in Boston. It works perfect for clients paying out-of-pocket, and now some insurance companies will reimburse for online sessions. Call the insurance companies you work with to ask if they cover online sessions. Note: If you wait until a storm to communicate with clients that sessions can be by video, you’ve waited too long–the cancellations will already be pouring in!
7) Reach Out to Past Clients
Early Q1 is an excellent time to send a note to clients who haven’t been in session for a while. There’s not as much noise as Q4, the busyness of the holidays is over, and (as stated above) clients are likely to possess some new goals for the new year. Be sure to abide by all your local laws and ethical rules. Consider an email newsletter, or even a physical mailing (since it’s to past clients only, it likely won’t be a large expense).
8) Cheer up Your Team
Keep your team motivated and in high spirits! Your team isn’t immune to doldrums of winter. Whether you decide to cater lunch, or hide gift cards around the office, plan some things you can do to surprise and delight your counseling team while they’re putting in those long winter hours.
Are you ready for Q1? Let me know @thriveworks or @anthonycentore
Please note: An updated version of this blog can be found here.
Anthony Centore, Ph.D., is private practice consultant for the ACA, founder of Thriveworks Counseling (with locations in 9 states), and author of the book, How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice. Anthony is a licensed counselor in Massachusetts and Virginia. Find him on Twitter at @anthonycentore or @Thriveworks.