Category: Earning a Living

What Should I Charge?

This is an interesting question, not only for newly qualified therapists starting out, but also those in practice for a while. And there’s no right answer. You are free to charge what you want. I personally believe that it is important that some fee changes hands, even if it is a nominal one, but it really is a matter for you to decide for yourself. Don’t forget to be clear with your client up front about what your expectations around fees are.

Here are some points to consider:

  1. You are not bound by what others are charging. If your rate is somewhere within the broad range of that charged by others it is likely that there will be clients available to you at that price point. If your rate is significantly above or below the majority of your peers, then you may have to work harder to get clients, as you will be going against the market’s expectations.
  2. You can charge different amounts for different clients. You can offer a sliding scale depending on the client’s Photo no (1)circumstances.
  3. How you structure the fee can make a big difference, for example, are you going to charge for cancellations? If so, what is your policy? How many days notice do you require, and are you willing to rearrange the session, rather than charge a cancellation fee?
  4. One option is to charge on the basis of sessions attended, with no charge if adequate notice of non-attendance is given. Another option is that the fee is payable for a set number of weeks of the year, whether the client comes or not.
  5. The client is making a commitment that may last several months or even years. You can retain the same fee level throughout a client’s relationship with you, or you can change it. The possibility of future changes can be flagged at the outset of the relationship.
  6. Your starting figure, whether increased over time or not, will form the base line for the fee structure during your work. If you start too low, you will find it difficult to raise it substantially. If you aim too high, they may be put off before they start.
  7. A client’s financial situation is not your responsibility. Their situation may change during the course of your relationship depending on circumstances, and you may wish to be flexible, particularly in the short term, in order to enable the work to continue. Or you may not.
  8. Don’t assume that you know where the client is coming from as regards the fee. Some clients will make the decision about whether to start therapy with you based on what you charge. However, clients vary, and so do their circumstances, so while the cost will be a major factor for some, it will not be an issue at all for others. There are clients for whom €10 a week is too much, and there are clients willing to pay €100 or more. You choose who you want to work with.
  9. The level of fee you charge will be affected by your beliefs about what is appropriate and possible, and what you believe you have to offer and what that’s worth. It is useful to spend some time exploring these issues. Some of the limiting beliefs I have explored for myself around the fee include:
  • Ÿ  I can’t charge more than (someone I know), who has years more experience.
  • Ÿ  There’s something wrong in taking money for this work, when people are in so much pain.
  • Ÿ  No one’s going to pay me that much, I’m just listening, not really doing anything.
  • Ÿ  There’s a recession on, no one can afford to pay full whack for anything.

10.  Consider how you intend to increase your fees over time. If you are planning to be in this business for a long time, you are unlikely to keep charging the same amount forever.

And remember, the choice is yours, and it doesn’t have to be one you stick with forever. One of the big advantages about being self-employed is that you get to make the rules. So what do you want to charge?

If you struggle with this or any other aspect of running your practice, maybe I can help. Contact me here with your question or query, or to avail of your free 20 minute consultation.

What Do You Think of the Competition?

What comes to mind when you hear the word “competition”? For many people, it conjures up a sense of threat. But I wonder if you have ever thought of the competition as an asset?

A common topic of discussion among therapists is the challenge of isolation. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not just a feature of our profession, but of any profession where practitioners practice as sole entities. It’s appropriate to look to our professional bodies to support us in this and provide opportunities for us to meet and network. Both IAHIP and IACP are currently doing this, through networking meetings and CPD courses. However, the level of support that can be given from the bodies is limited, especially in organisations that have a small executive staff and rely heavily on volunteer support. Read more

Limiting Beliefs

One of the ways in which we can limit ourselves, whether in the context of our practice, or in life generally, is through our unconscious beliefs about money. Most people are unaware that these beliefs can be running in the background, subtly influencing how we live our lives. Therapists will probably be more aware than others of the “I’m not good enough,” one, but I wonder if any others might strike a chord for you?

1675463Other common beliefs that impact how we interact with our clients include:

Ÿ  I’m not deserving

Ÿ  It’s better to give than to receive

Ÿ  Others are more important than me

Ÿ  There is not enough to go around

Ÿ  If I have more someone else will have less

Each of these beliefs can show up in difficulties negotiating and holding boundaries with clients, in relation to money and time, and can stop us from deciding and asking for what we want.

One interesting aspect of these beliefs is the absolute nature of them. The words “always” and “never” are there, even though they’re not stated explicitly, and consequently, when faced with a situation where putting our own needs before those of others is appropriate, for example, where we feel tired and unwell and should really cancel, we feel guilty. A useful way to soften these absolute beliefs is to exaggerate them by deliberately using the “always” and “never” words.

For example, if you become aware that you are dragging your heels about taking a break from the work because you’re concerned about letting down or disrupting a client (“others are more important than me” and “I’m not deserving,”) try putting it this way “I never deserve a break” or “Others are always more important than me.” Get the idea? Put it like that and of course, it sounds daft! And helps us get things back into perspective.

Try it yourself and see how you get on.

Pocket.
Pocket.

Where else might these beliefs be playing in our lives? Take the one about giving and receiving, for example. How easy is it for you to receive gifts or help? It is the nature of our work, that we often put the feelings of our clients before our own, so the giving place is a familiar one to us. And it is lovely to give a gift or to offer help to someone who needs it. Unfortunately, with “It’s better to give than receive” playing in the background, receiving can often be quite challenging. I like to think that receiving, whether it be a gift, or help, or a compliment, it is also a gift back to the giver, when we can receive it as generously as it is given. However, you’ll know if you have been following these posts for a while, that it’s something I can struggle with! I like to think that I can do it all myself, now there’s a limiting belief!

If you’d like to explore more about how beliefs about money affect you, you might like to attend our workshop “Starting and Growing a Thriving Therapy Practice.” Click here for details. Or if you’d like to talk about any aspect of your practice, please contact me here for your free 20 minute consultation.

A Business Plan for a Therapy Practice? You must be kidding!

It seems over the top doesn’t it? You just want to help people, and don’t want to be bothered with all this business stuff.

I get it. But before you close this post down in disgust, bear with me just a moment or two longer.

Many small businesses don’t create a business plan until they go to raise finance. But a business plan is so much more than just a piece paper the bank might ask for, and even if you don’t need to borrow money, it’s worth the time and effort it takes to prepare it.

Much of what is included in an average business plan is straight factual information:

  1. The name of the practice
  2. Contact details and location
  3. Legal status (sole practice, partnership, company)
  4. Details of financial and legal advisors
  5. Principle Staff (if any)

However, the real meat of the business plan (and where the most benefit lies in taking time to think about it) is under the following headings:

  1. An overview of the practice: your values, your vision, your purpose, what’s unique about it.
  2. The environment you practice in: The profession, locality, competition.
  3. What you offer: Your services, clients and marketing
  4. What you perceive as business risks and your response to those risks
  5. Financial Information: Budget, cash flow, historic income and expenditure

You may never need to borrow money for your practice, but clarifying your ideas about these things will reap you benefits you can’t imagine. It will help you to feel more confident about who you are in your practice. It will help you to focus your promotional activities, and it will help you to identify changes you may want or need to make to handle a problem before it has actually landed in your lap! In other words, it puts you into the driving seat of your practice.

There’s an example of how these headings might look in a business plan for a small practice on my website at http://thisbusinessoftherapy.com/small-practice-business-plan/

Finally, when you’ve thought about it, and gathered this information for your practice, think about what steps you need to take to implement what you’ve learnt and decided.

If you need help with this, I’d love to talk to you. Contact me at http://thisbusinessoftherapy.com/contact-us/

Spending Time ON Your Practice

A reader of one of my newsletters wrote to tell me of her struggle to find time to work on her accounts. It reminded me of how often we can forget that running a practice is more than just seeing the clients.

There are lots of little tasks that need to be done to keep the practice up and running. Tasks such as keeping the records in order, making sure there’s enough work coming in, and paying the bills on time. Much of this is done reactively. And some of it will only get done if we make the time for it.

Organic.Tasks that we need to make time for are those that don’t get prompted by outside deadlines or timescales. We are unlikely to forget to pay our bills, because our creditors will remind us! We also receive reminders about updating our memberships of professional bodies and renewing our insurance. However, important as these tasks are, they are largely housekeeping. Other tasks, which might help us to grow our practice, or move it into a new direction will only happen if we decide to do them. These latter ones may be the difference between the practice we’d like to have, and the one we actually have!!

Here are seven tasks you need to make time for in your practice:

  1. Make a plan for your business. It can be very simple and informal, but the exercise of actively thinking about your business as an entity that needs attention will work wonders for you
  2. Speak to people who might refer work to you; phone them, go where they are, but do speak to them.
  3. Keep an eye to where new clients are coming from, this will tell you what promotion is  working for you and what isn’t
  4. Ask yourself are you enjoying your work? If not, do something about it. The impact of doing work we don’t enjoy is highly stressful and leads to burn out and compassion fatigue.
  5. Write up your books of account, or get someone else to write them up for you, and measure your income against your budget
  6. You don’t have a budget? Then write one, and review it regularly to see how you’re doing!
  7. Take a risk, do something differently, say or do something you wouldn’t normally say or do. The power of stretching yourself is huge, as you begin to realise you have skills and abilities you never thought you had.

Time spent working ON your practice is just as important as time spent working IN it (working with clients).

If you struggle to make time for the important tasks of working ON your practice, I’d love to help. Please contact me here to make an appointment, or to avail of a free 20 minute consultation.

Or if you need a few CPD hours, you might like to attend our practice development course, see here for details.

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Where to Practice From? Location, location, location!

Can the Client Pay?

Twice recently, while discussing with therapists who might be their ideal clients, the question of clients’ ability to pay came up. Or rather, it didn’t come up. Neither of the therapists in question mentioned ability to pay as a criteria they would consider in forming an idea of their ideal client. And yet, both of them were struggling to earn enough in their practice.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a trust fund, or an understanding and wealthy partner, most of us need to get paid for our work, especially if that work is going to go on for some time. So, in my view, the client’s ability to pay is important.

When I asked the question, each was surprised, and both agreed that it was an important factor. Isn’t it interesting, though, that it wasn’t something they thought of? Other possible criteria tripped off their tongues with ease: presenting issue, client’s age and gender, the client’s desire and willingness to do the work. But ability to pay? No.

As a profession we can be highly ambivalent when it comes to the matter of money. We need to earn a living, but many therapists seem to feel that it’s wrong to be paid out of people’s misery. A cartoon posted on Therapy Tales commented “I suspect that therapy is the only profession where the service provider feels somehow obliged to work for free.” They’re right. Doctors, Priests, Teachers, Social Workers and Funeral Undertakers all get paid. What’s so different about therapists?

eurosPerhaps this belief that it’s wrong to take money out of other people’s hardship is masking a reluctance to be seen as having needs of our own, or a fear of being thought of as “only interested in the money”? A commenter on ShrinkRap says that talking about money is more difficult than talking about sex or suicide, and I suspect that’s true for many of us. We can talk about sex or suicide because they are client issues. It’s usually easier to talk about someone else’s problems than our own. Talking about the fee for therapy brings into the open my need to earn a living, and it can be hard to make a stand for having our own needs met, perhaps in the face of the clear and pressing needs our clients may present.

And then again, maybe we make this issue far more complicated than it needs to be. Maybe it just comes down to a question of appropriate boundaries. Boundaries are the therapist’s responsibility and are part of the holding frame within which the work is done. We set out the boundaries at the outset of the relationship, including our fee (if there is one), and our policy about cancellations. We move the boundaries only if we are satisfied that it is appropriate to do so in the interests of the client.

It is the client’s responsibility to pay the agreed price for the service that they want and have asked for. And if they can’t pay? Well, that’s just grist for the therapeutic mill, we talk about it. I can hear the arguments against…what if the client is suicidal…what if they have a financial crisis…what if a child is involved? what if…? You have to decide as a therapist whether you’re willing to change the boundary for this client in these circumstances. If it’s a short term thing, then you may decide to take the bounce. On the other hand, if it’s likely that the client will not have the resources to pay you going forward, you may decide to wean the client onto another service that doesn’t charge, or charges less. And who knows how the client may benefit from your decision, whichever way you go!

From a business perspective, it’s even simpler. What business are you in? Providing therapy services for free? Or providing therapy services for a fee? The choice is yours. You can choose to provide your services for nothing, but that is very different from not charging because you’re unable to hold the boundary, or unable to say “no.”

One practitioner told me that after we spoke about this issue, she found herself becoming much clearer about the fee boundary, and as a result, felt freer to be totally present to the client. Interesting isn’t it?

If money is an issue in your practice, either because you don’t earn enough, or because you struggle to talk about it, I’d be glad to help. Please contact me here to avail of your free 20 minute consultation or to make an appointment or browse my services to see what would suit..

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What’s in a Name?

How do you decide what to call your counselling or therapy practice? Do you use your own name, or do you opt for a name that conjures an image in the mind of potential clients or referrers? Do you choose something that captures the essence of the service you’re hoping to provide? Here are some things you might like to take into consideration in deciding what your business is going to be called: Read more

Five Ways to Make your Marketing More Effective

A therapist client asked me recently to help her create marketing material that would bring in more clients. This otherwise articulate professional found it difficult to put words together into promotional material, in a way that sounded authentic without being sleazy. If you’re going to invest money in getting a brochure or flyer designed and printed, then you’ll want it to work for you.

Here are my five tips for making your material stand out from the crowd and still be appropriate to the work.

1. Talk about them, not about you

It’s tempting, isn’t it, because you are what you know best. You know who you are, what you’ve done and what you do. Sorry to burst your bubble, but potential clients don’t much care. They’re interested in whether you can bring some relief to the pain they’re feeling. You need your words to reach out and connect with where they are.

So talk about them, what they might be experiencing, and how you imagine that feels for them.

2.   Don’t talk about process, talk about what they can realistically expect to achieve, or what they want to achievehelping hand

Again, it’s what you know best! And yes, some clients will be interested in how you work, but only as a means to an end.  You are ethically bound not to give undertakings about outcomes, but you can still focus on what a client wants to achieve, and at the end of the day, all clients have one thing in common, they want to feel better. You may not be able to resolve the problem they have with their mother, but you can tell them that many people feel better for talking about it.

3.   Talk their language, not yours 

Speaking jargon creates the impression that you are the expert. However, it can have the effect of reducing your client to a ‘case’ and is to be avoided. A potential client may be impressed by your technical knowledge, but in this world of fast paced communication, you have about 15 seconds to get your message across. If it doesn’t grab their attention, you run the risk that they drop your brochure in the waste before they reach your phone number. A potential client shouldn’t have to work to understand what you are offering them. Use language that is descriptive, easily understood and that your potential client can relate to.

4.  Don’t try to be all things to all people, you’ll just end up being nondescript. Choose something that you are interested in and focus on that

You don’t have to be an expert in everything.  And the purpose of marketing is not to display all your knowledge and expertise on all subjects. The purpose is to answer the client’s question, “Is this someone who might be able to help me?” Choose something that draws you and talk about that. Because you are interested, you will find it easier to talk (or write) about it congruently and from the heart. This tells a potential client (or referrer) something of who you are as a person and will help them to connect with you.

5.  If you want clients to find you, they have to be able to find you

A client has to sort through a lot of information to make a choice of therapist. You need to make it easy for them. That means having your contact details out there where clients are likely to look, whether online or offline. The more places your name and phone number appear, the better. You will also need to find something that makes you different from others. People remember your quirks! If you can’t think of something to differentiate you, include a good photo of yourself.

Finally, you could spend a lifetime trying to get it just right. Aim for good enough, and review it before you reprint.

If I can help you with any aspect of promoting your practice, or finding the ideal clients for you, I’d be happy to do so. Please contact me with your questions or queries, or to avail of your free 20 minute consultation.

Summertime and the Living is Easy…or maybe not! Coping With Seasonality

It’s been a glorious summer, sunshine all the way. But for some practitioners, any summer, and a fine one in jugaad1particular, is not the good news it might be.

For many reasons, the holiday season can result in a fall off of work for counsellors and therapists. Clients feel better, they go on holidays, or they decide they’d rather spend the money on tennis lessons. Of course, it’s nice for us to have a break too. Unless of course, you haven’t planned for the drop in your income.

How do you cope with the seasonality of this business? Are you a “seat of your pants” person, crossing your fingers and trusting that there’ll be enough in the bank to see you through the lean times, or do you take a more structured approach? It’s probably too late for this year, but when you’re looking at next year (You do plan, right? Okay, maybe a post for another day!) consider building in a reserve to cover the times when work is not as plentiful.

For example:

Joe Therapist knows that he will have full (or almost full) capacity for about 40 weeks of the year, half capacity for another 4 weeks and will earn nothing in the remaining 8 weeks of the year. He needs income for all 52 weeks, so how does he do it?

  1. He can pretend it’s not a problem, and eat little or nothing when his clients are on holidays.
  2. He can put a little aside in each of the weeks when he has full income to help him over the weeks when he has less or he has none.
  3. He can arrange his expenses so that they largely fall when he has full income.
  4. He can borrow to cover the holiday period, and pay it back when he has income.
  5. He can arrange his affairs with clients so that his income is more constant (for example, by contracting with a client that a limited number of holiday weeks can be taken)

With a little bit of forethought, the holiday season can be as comfortable as the rest of the year, and when it’s a fine one, you can sit back and enjoy the unexpected bonus, knowing that your bills are covered.

How do you manage the seasonality of your work? Share your experiences with us below.

Jude Fay MIAHIP, MIACP, FCA is a practising psychotherapist and counsellor in Naas and Celbridge Co Kildare. Her interest in the business side of running a psychotherapy practice reflects her earlier career as a Chartered Accountant.

If you would like to speak to Jude about any aspect of starting or running a therapy or counselling practice please click here: Contact Us