Private Practice Success Newsletter, June 2014
By Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC
A private practice has continual ups and downs. We often think that something is wrong when our practice dips, even slightly, and right when our practice rises.
But when looked at from a business point of view, minor ups and downs within a solo or group practice are not only inevitable, but correct.
Often, nothing is wrong. This is just what it looks like and feels like to be inside a small business. It’s bumpy.
All of the successful therapists I know insist that their practices do not hold steady at all times. They have times when hours are unfilled and other times when they are completely full. Experienced therapists view the slower times with benign acceptance, seeing them as a restful oasis within the long journey haul of being in business.
Every practice has cycles. The newer and smaller your practice, the more you feel the rise and fall, both financially and psychologically. You may have a limited staff, sometimes a staff of one–just you.
You may get distracted by external situations. Life happens and pulls your energy away from running your practice. Or you may be doing all you can to build your practice but not seeing quick results and getting discouraged.
Owning a small practice is like being in a boat on the ocean. The smaller the boat, the more you feel the pull of the wind on the sails and the rise and swell of the waves. Larger ships have more ballast, more hands on deck to keep things steady.
But if you operate a small practice, you need to stay calm when the waves go up and down. You need to think clearly and stay focused on the goals at hand.
This is where having a few well chosen business mantras and helpful, using some short slogans as a compass to guide your way. I find myself using a dozen business mantras repeatedly each month when I am coaching clients.
Here are 3 business mantras to help you stay calm and focused:
Lynn’s Business Mantra #1. “All marketing is really marketing research.”
When you are a small business with a limited budget, there are no guarantees about what results your marketing efforts will yield.
Marketing (networking, online and print advertising, direct mailing, email blasts, joining organizations for exposure to possible referral sources, sending letters, etc.) is expensive, time consuming and takes effort.
“What is the best use of my time, energy and money?” therapists ask.
The truth is that no one knows for sure what marketing strategy works best in every case.
That is because every private practice is unique–there are many variables in place that can cause the same strategy to work differently. Your location, density of competition, your specific services, your self presentation, even the text on your website or directory listing can make a big difference.
There is no one recipe that works for every situation. Marketing is highly customized. Even tried and true strategies need to change over time. I know that when you actively trying to network, promote, or advertise your practice, the “moving target” of marketing can be very frustrating.
You need to adopt the right marketing mindset. Since marketing is so customized, all marketing is going to also be marketing research. This is just a test! Only by trying something and then trying it again or trying it with a small tweak or adjustment, can you know what will work for your practice at any given time.
So when marketing or advertising, stay curious. Consider whatever you are doing to also be an experiment.
Don’t get discouraged if your idea is not producing right away. Just be willing to learn. Look for measures and feedback, to help you assess and then refine the marketing process.
Lynn’s Business Mantra #2: “Detach from results.”
Business success is fickle. It can be based on merit and hard work, but just as likely it might be influenced by timing, being first in the marketplace, knowing the right people, or just luck.
Given so many variables, it helps if you can stay in motion, taking steps forward and being thoughtful and strategic about your actions, but find a way to detach from the results of your efforts.
Pamela, an experienced couples therapist, attends a monthly networking group that asks each member to stand and introduce themselves. “I hate this exercise,” she tells me. “It feels promotional and very unnatural. I get tense and end up sounding nervous. I am not good at networking.”
I ask Pamela to focus on the process, not the outcome. The process at the meeting is standing and speaking, with a positive affect, about her work, regardless of who listens or refers.
What could she say if she only wanted to communicate her fascination with her work, or share something she was learning from the couples she worked with?
“I could do that, I love talking about the clinical side of my work. I can go on forever about the amazing shifts I see in my sessions. But do you think the group would respond?” she wondered.
Again, I asked her to just focus on the process of sharing her passion, letting go of how it might be received by others. It was no surprise (to me) when after the next meeting, a member came up to her and said he was going to refer his friend for her services.
“I didn’t know you loved your work so much,” he said. “ I think my friend and his wife need to see a counselor who loves to help marriages.”
Pamela learned a quick lesson about staying engaged in the process, regardless of outcome.
Lynn’s Business Mantra #3: “Small steps count.”
In a small business, its best to pace yourself and move forward with steady, small steps.
A small increase in savings or a small reduction of spending can make a real difference. The addition of a few clients each week or each month can keep your practice humming. Small is beautiful. Let yourself think in short term goals and outline immediate action steps.
Avoid losing yourself in daydreams of grandiose visions; keep your objectives specific and doable so that you don’t get discouraged.
One way to think small is “chunking down.” Chunking down is a process-oriented term that means going into detail to find smaller and more specific elements of a system. It’s a useful strategy to combat feelings of overwhelm, when a task seems too large to comprehend, or a goal is too complex to implement.
A new therapist says, “I have a part-time job but also just opened a new office and have a lot of ideas and a big list of action items, but I feel overwhelmed.” Time to chunk down to make it manageable.
To get her started, we make her list manageable and prioritize it. What are the actions that need to happen first (an updated business card, finishing her Psychology Today directory listing.) What can wait a few months? (Print advertising, joining a peer supervision group.) What can she plan for six months? (Advertising online, starting an advanced training in her specialty.)
Finally she has a list of action steps that are small enough to feel manageable to take, step by step, until each task is complete.
Whatever big task or project you want to achieve, it will help to chunk it down. I continually repeat this mantra to myself, especially when I have been at the computer writing all day, with too few pages to show. Small steps, small steps, small steps.
(Copyright 2014 by Lynn Grodzki, all rights reserved.)