Running start… to a great career: Running a business

This is a column geared toward early career psychologists working in practice settings. "Running start ... to a great career" features topics typically not covered in graduate school and includes tips and advice from psychologists.

Your graduate program prepared you well to be a clinician. Did it prepare you just as well to be a businessperson?

Probably not, says J. Kip Matthews, PhD, of AK Counseling and Consulting Inc. in Watkinsville, Georgia. “My program had no training whatsoever on private practice matters,” says Matthews, who started a two-person practice in 2003.

Fortunately, says Matthews, you can compensate for that lack of training and launch a thriving business. Start by asking these questions:

  • J. Kip Matthews, PhDAm I prepared? Entrepreneurial training is helpful, says Matthews, who took classes at a local small business development center. Easing into practice gradually is also key. Matthews and his partner worked at a university counseling center before launching their practice — an invaluable way to gain experience and save the money they needed. “As our case load built up, we cut ties with our employer,” he says. Also keep in mind that things may take longer than anticipated. “Many people think they can start a practice immediately after grad school or postdoc,” Matthews says. “But many insurance companies want you to have been licensed for a couple of years before you can join their panels.” 
  • What’s my niche? Matthews recommends that you become known for providing one or two specialties rather than being a jack-of-all-trades. You’ll be more successful if other practitioners think of you as the go-to psychologist for eating disorders, for example. That said, it’s important to be open to a variety of clients and concerns. When you’re just starting out, you may not have the option of being too selective about the clients you serve, says Matthews.
  • What’s my plan? If you need a loan to start your business, the lender will require a plan. But you need it, too. “It gives you clarity and focus,” says Matthews. The plan should describe your business and your services, assess community needs, analyze your local market and set financial and other goals. Matthews also creates a strategic plan with specific action steps each year.
  • Where should my practice be located? Choose a space close to potential clients’ homes or workplaces as well as public transportation. And given the push toward integrating psychological and physical health care, finding an office located near other health services is smart, says Matthews.
  • Lindsey Buckman, PsyDWho’s on my team? You want to spend your time helping patients, not doing taxes or figuring out data encryption. “Crowdsource” your team by asking friends and colleagues for recommendations about accountants, lawyers, computer whizzes and the like, suggests Lindsey Buckman, PsyD, who launched Buckman Psychological Consultants PLLC in Phoenix in 2010. If you need administrative help, consider taking on an intern who can answer calls and handle paperwork in exchange for mentoring, adds Matthews.
  • How should I market myself? Get your name out by giving talks at community events, becoming a source for reporters, running ads, using social media and reaching out to key referral sources. Because Buckman specializes in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) clients and clients with chronic illnesses, she uses letters and follow-up calls to LGBTQ community leaders, LGBTQ resource centers, university counseling centers and physicians. But, she says, invest most heavily in your website, using search engine optimization techniques and keywords aimed at your target populations. Says Buckman, “A good website is the best marketing tool.”