Are We There Yet? (How Long Does it Take?)

How long does it take to establish a therapy practice?

This a regular question asked at workshops and in meetings with therapists. The answer varies hugely and depends on many factors.

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The short answer is, you can do the basics in a few weeks. However, if you are starting from scratch and aiming for a practice that will replace the salary you are currently earning in a full or part time position, the answer is likely to be closer to years than weeks or months. It’s possible to get there quicker, but most people don’t. Think of it this way, you didn’t become a therapist overnight, and you won’t become self-employed overnight either.

Therapy school trains you to work with clients. When you are a self-employed therapist, being self-employed is the job. Working with clients is the channel through which you make your living. Therapy school doesn’t train you to earn a living, it teaches you the skills you need to work with the clients. The same goes for any occupation or profession. Whether it’s making the cakes, painting the pictures, representing a client in court, preparing a client’s accounts or any other skills or qualifications you have, the exercising of those skills on behalf of your client is not the same as earning a living from it. And there’s the rub, isn’t it? Because most therapists never trained with the idea of being self-employed as their future occupation. Getting past this realisation is important, and will influence how long it takes you to make your practice a financially viable proposition.

I’m not saying this to discourage you, quite the opposite. I’m saying it to bring some level of realistic expectation.

There are lots of other factors that affect how quickly IT will happen for you:

  • Whether you have any previous experience of being in business
  • How much time and energy you are willing to commit
  • How open you are to putting yourself out there
  • How fixed your ideas are about how it’s going to happen
  • Your need to earn a living
  • How much support you have, internally and externally

Let’s look at those in a bit more detail:

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Previous experience of being in business

If you have never worked for yourself before, you’re going to find it a bit of a culture shock to be self-employed. This is because there are lots of supports available to us in a work place environment that we don’t even see. Until they’re not there. For example, we may feel our employer’s approach to holidays or sick pay is stingy, and we may not see it as a support. However, in comparison to being self-employed it’s a gift. There are no paid holidays or paid sick leave when you’re self-employed. (See my article on this subject.)

How Much Time and Energy You Are Willing To Commit

If you work 35 hours a week for someone else to earn a salary, then you will have to work at least that hard and long (and probably longer) to earn it working for yourself. Think of it this way, you are actually doing many peoples’ jobs, not just your own. In addition to being the client service person, you are also the boss, the finance department, the cleaner, the marketing person and so on. Clearly, how much time and energy you are willing to commit will be strongly influenced by what else is going on in your life.

How Open You Are to Putting Yourself Out There

Clients come through people. If you have to talk to 10 people to get one client referral, you’ll have to talk to 100 people to get 10 referrals and so on. How many clients you need will directly inform how much marketing and promotion you will need to do.

How Fixed Your Ideas Are About How It Will Happen

If you are convinced that your clients will or should come via a certain route (for example, from doctors’ referrals) then you will filter out other opportunities that might result in work coming your way. If you restrict your promotion to online channels, you will miss the opportunity to build valuable personal relationships that could pay dividends.

Your Need To Earn A Living

This one can work either way. For some, the pressure of needing to earn a certain amount will inspire them and spur them on to great things. For others, the pressure will result in an unwillingness to take any risks. Assessing and taking appropriate risks is a core skill for self-employed practitioners. Conversely, if you have no need or little need of the money, you will find it hard to take goals seriously and engage fully with the business side of the work.

How Much Support You Have Internally and Externally

The most important internal support you need is embracing the idea that being self-employed is your job. Other forms of internal support such as encouraging yourself, being patient and understanding with yourself (especially in the early days), are also helpful and will probably take you further and faster than self-criticism and self-blame. External support such as sufficient finance and a network of helpful others will provide a ground from which you can grow into the role more easily. When you start in a new job, you probably have someone to guide you about the role and what’s expected of you. There’ll probably be goals and feedback to support you growing into the job. These supports also have to be created in a self-employed context or you may find yourself feeling isolated. (See my article on this subject.)

If I can help you with any aspect of setting up your practice, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here for your free 20 minute consultation or to make an appointment.





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