Category: Starting a Practice

The Buck Stops Here

Many therapists setting out in practice for the first time have closed their doors and gone back to working for someone else within three years. Not because they’re not good therapists, not because they aren’t helping their clients, but because they had no idea what it takes to run a business.

I learnt this lesson the hard way.

Portrait of senior owner of pet shop
Stock Unlimited

I was 26 when I became self-employed for the first time. I became a partner in the small accountancy firm in which I had been working for a couple of years. I had been managing for some years before that, and so I’d learned some of the tasks of running a business. The accountancy profession works much the same way as large families do, last year’s intake supervise this year’s, (or the older kids rear the younger ones!) So I knew the form.

I was 28 when I began to learn what it really meant to be self-employed.  After my second child was born, things changed in the practice. We embarked on a business venture that was new and untried, which put significant strain on the resources of the practice. Our practice overdraft started to climb steeply, and I realised for the first time what being a partner and therefore “jointly and severally liable” for the debts of the firm actually meant in practice. The much hackneyed phrase “The Buck Stops Here” means just that. If the practice went bust, I was at risk of losing my family home. I had two small children, one of whom was less than a year old. Now all of that “liable” stuff had been carefully explained to me by my solicitors before I signed the partnership agreement, and I had studied law as part of my training, so it wasn’t as if I didn’t know it. But at another level, I didn’t really know it at all. Up till that time, it had been an elaborate kind of game.

Fast forward two years, and the partnership had dissolved in acrimony and never ending legal battles and I was out of work for the first time since I was 17. I’m not telling you this to scare you, just to illustrate how difficult it is to know what’s involved in something until you’re actually in there. They say experience is something you get just after you need it!

One of the most difficult things to explain to anyone who is expecting a first baby is just how your life changes after the baby is born. No amount of reading books, or going to classes, or talking to other mothers really prepares you for

Baby, Human Hand, Mother.

it. You can imagine the fun and the joy of it. You can read about the sleepless nights, or the symptoms to worry about, but nothing can really teach you about being a parent except the actual experience of it.

It is exactly the same for setting up a therapy practice. You can learn the skills of working with clients. You can learn the management skills, as I did, but the mind-set piece of being self-employed, that realisation that I am responsible for this venture, and just me,  is something you have to do on your own.

It’s a question of taking ownership, of committing, as they say in the marriage vows, for better or for worse.  It doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be hard, or that you’re going to have to struggle. It’s not so much about the doing, as the being. Without the commitment to the business of your practice, you’re going to struggle to find the energy, the interest and motivation to do what you need to do. The beauty of it is, that when you do move into that mind-set, it all becomes easier. It’s like finally accepting something you’ve been denying for ages, there’s a peace and a certainty that descends, and a knowing that it’s going to be okay.

If you’re struggling to take ownership of your practice and need some support, I’d love to help. Please contact me here to make an appointment or to avail of a free 20 minute consultation.

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