Take the Next Step in Your Counseling Career

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When I am speaking at an event or consulting one-on-one with counselors, I find there is always some confusion about the next right steps to take in a counseling career. Most of us started out with a story of strength and a dream to help. We persevered over adversity or we encountered something that we thought would kill us and instead it made us stronger. Most of us leaned on the shoulder of a counselor or therapist and learned we really could be ok. For most of us, turning that story into a career was life changing. Whether we decided to work in an agency, school, or private practice, getting paid to do what we loved to do was living the dream. A few years down the road from that first client, lots of mental health professionals are ready for a new challenge, a change of client ‘scenery,’ and improved income. Private practice, supervising, and supervisor training are just a few things you can think about as you plan the rest of your counseling career.

Agency to Private Practice

For lots of mental health professionals just starting out private practice can seem scary. With a few tricks and systems however, private practice is very do-able. Part time practice can be ideal for full time parents. You can make your schedule as busy as you like. Set a higher rate for your services so you keep your practice low volume and still pay your rent and buy groceries. Those who want a lucrative, high volume, full time practice can also set a rate and a create a schedule that meets their goals. There are many affordable consultants, tools, and boot camps you can utilize to get started on the right foot, stay compliant, and stop wasting time.

Integrating Supervision Into Private Practice

Becoming a supervisor is a wonderful way to expand your skills, give back to the profession, and add another stream of income to your practice. In most states extra training is required. If your state doesn’t require extra training, I’d get some anyway. Most supervisor training programs will teach you what you’ll need to know to stay organized, stay compliant, and mentor your interns. Like private practice, supervision means taking a leap into the unknown, but the rewards are worth it. There are so many ways to integrate supervision into a practice! You can start a non-profit and allow your interns to see clients at a reduced rate. The Ann’s Place Business Model shows you how to barter supervision for interns who will see your self-pay clients who need a sliding fee-scale. This helps your interns, your community, and your bottom line. Or you can take the more traditional route and charge your interns for your supervision services.

Provide Your Own Supervisor Training

Probably the most lucrative of all of these streams of income, is offering your own supervisor training. Costs for these courses can run anywhere from $500 to $1000 dollars per person. With some concentrated effort on the front end, you can enjoy this income stream as often as you can fill the seats. Teaching will enhance your own clinical skills as well and take your practice to a whole new level

Private practice, supervision, and providing a supervisor training are just a few ways you can create a career that will keep growing and changing with you. After all, your story isn’t over. Check out my book on Amazon, “My Next Steps: Create a Counseling Career You’ll Love,” for more ideas, advice from experts in the field, and a step by step guide so you can create the career you fell in love with.

Back to School Special: Answer the Phone

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Today’s blog will be short and to the point.

Answer the phone.

The Summer doldrums are coming to an end and your client load is going to build steadily through the holidays. Clients will usually choose a counselor based on the following (not necessarily, but probably) in this order:

  1. Recommendation
  2. Specialty
  3. Which one calls back first
  4. Who can get them in quickly

I’ve talked about building a referral team who is passionate about your services and can show potential clients how to connect with you quickly and easily (see my blog: Back to School Special: Networking). If you are doing this consistently then your phone will ring. The question then becomes; will you be available to answer it?

Making the leap to hire someone can be scary. Allowing calls to go to voicemail can be scarier. I love to talk with counselors in private practice about my biggest mistakes but hiring a professional to answer our phones did much more than just increase our client loads at achievebalance.org. She streamlined our practice, improved client care, created an amazing client experience, and helped eliminate the client-therapist-money triangle.

Here’s what our phone answering professional at achievebalance.org does for us daily:

  • Collects credit card information to secure the first session
  • Utilizes a script which has increased client conversion rates for every therapist in our offices (measured by the number of phone calls who complete a first session)
  • Calls clients the day before (or Friday before) their session to confirm
  • Fills empty slots with wait-listed clients and clients needing to get in quickly
  • Calls late-cancels and no-shows to inform them they will be charged the full amount of their session using the credit card information on file
  • Follows up with past clients to see how they are doing

Still not convinced?

Imagine you decide to hire a professional for $9/hour. And let’s say to start, you want this person to work two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon Monday – Friday. That is $36 per day for five days or about $180 per week. If you are a cash-only therapist, this is probably close to what you charge for one session. One and one-half sessions would pay for one week of part-time professional phone-answering.

If your goal is to average 60 sessions per month at $140 per session, wouldn’t it be worth donating six of those sessions to pay for a part-time professional to answer your phones and KEEP your client roster at 60 sessions per month?

Watch for future video blogs when I share the intake script our phone answering professionals use. You can see a demonstration of our script on our DVD set Private Practice University.

Back to School Special: Networking

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New business owners sometimes have a tough time networking. I remember when I used to sweat making a presentation to a group or talking with a chamber of commerce member over coffee because I thought I was recruiting a client. Certainly that is one way to build a practice, but what if the goal of networking is really to build a referral team? I recommend that instead of recruiting a client, you look at networking as building a posse of passionate advocates who can’t stop/won’t stop talking about how awesome you are to everyone they know in the community.

It’s easier than you think.

Do you remember the shampoo commercial from the 80s? The one where it was such a fabulous product that “you’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…”

It’s just like that; but instead of two people, I want you to tell ten.

There are lots of places where small groups of people meet to interact and learn from one another. Some examples are:

  • Your local Chamber of Commerce. These can be larger groups but you can usually find smaller committees to attend.
  • Toast Masters
  • School PTO and PTA meetings
  • Business Networking International (BNI)
  • Social media local special interest groups that meet in person

12 Seconds of Information

Most of us can only handle about twelve seconds of information before we start to think about how we want to respond or get anxious about the content (think about the last time you went to the doctor and she was explaining your next procedure). As anxiety goes up, cognition goes down. Simply put: your audience can’t remember and store important info about you if you talk too much.

Here’s a simple formula:

  1. Tell them your name
  2. Tell them what you do
  3. Excite their emotions
  4. Tell them how to talk about/connect their friends with amazing you
  5. Tell them your name again and give them a call to action

Sometimes this is called an elevator speech and maybe, back in the age of slow elevators, you had thirty seconds to make your pitch. I don’t know about you but I’ve been in some pretty fast elevators so I stick to my original premise: twelve seconds and no longer.

If you don’t have a phone number or a website stop reading and go get one. You must have a website, phone number or (ideally) a scheduling app that your audience can see on their phone. This is kind of like passing out your card by the way, without all the stone-age communication and dead trees.

Before I start my 12 seconds, I make sure my listener has a phone handy or I tell everyone in the group I’m addressing to get their phones out. I have my own phone or IPad handy with my app pulled up and ready to go. Our practice software Full Slate allows potential clients to self-schedule a 10 minute consultation utilizing a big orange square button placed prominently on the achievebalance.org website.

I don’t want you to leave this blog guessing so the following is exactly what I say and how I say it:

  1. “Hi I’m Dr. Kate Walker and…
  2. …my marriage and family therapy practice is achievebalance.org located in Market Street in The Woodlands.
  3. Everyone in this room knows someone who needs help with a marriage, a child, or a loved one. You feel weird telling them to go to a therapist.
  4. The achievebalance.org Orange Button makes it easy for struggling friends and loved ones to ask tough questions and get answers today, for FREE [I show them my phone/IPad with my orange app prominently displayed].
  5. I’m Dr. Kate Walker with achievebalance.org. Tell someone you love to push the orange button today.

Remember; you are not recruiting clients, you are building a referral team who is passionate about you and has an easy way to tell people they love how to connect with you. Stay tuned to katewalkertraining.com for the video blog where I describe this in more detail.

Taxes Aaaaagghhh!!

Why am I writing about taxes in July? Because it’s always a good time to talk about why it is important to set aside money to pay your federal taxes. Really. I promise.

One of my favorite mistakes I made as a new therapist was not setting aside money for taxes. I became a school teacher when I graduated from college, and before that I worked in restaurants and orchestras. I had no idea when I started my private practice that there was no ‘cosmic central office’ magically making sure I was putting aside money for taxes and retirement. So, my first year was a BIG surprise. Luckily I didn’t make much profit so it was a mistake I could, and did, recover from. In this blog I’m going to show you the charts, teach you the math, then give you a shortcut so taxes don’t become your big mistake.

The takeaway? You must always set aside money.Profit chart

First, let’s define profit. When you take money from your clients for counseling services, that is your income. When you write a check for rent, that is a business expense. Ideally your income will be greater than your expenses.

Breakeven chart

When your business makes just enough income to pay expenses, we say that it is ‘breaking even.’ There is no profit and so, you may not have any taxes to pay.

When you make income that exceeds the amount you need to pay your expenses, then you have made a profit. This is the amount that will be considered when you are figuring out how much to pay in taxes.

Here’s how you find your tax bracket and federal tax payments:

  1. Determine your profit (you just learned how to do that)
  2. Google ‘IRS tax bracket ______(insert year).’ Lots of helpful websites will pop up including the IRS site. I found this site really helpful for figuring out my tax bracket:

http://blog.taxact.com/how-tax-brackets-work/?utm_source=TaxACT&utm_medium=Tax-Bracket-Calculator&utm_campaign=Learn-More

 

  1. Determine your filing status (single, married, etc.) and add your partner’s profit/income (or not)
  2. Now do the math!

 

The US government has seven tax brackets. Your profit will probably fall over more than one bracket. Here are three of those seven for a single person in 2016:

Bracket 3. $37651 – $91150 = 25%

Bracket 2. $9276 – $37650 = 15%

Bracket 1. $0 – $9275 = 10%

As you can see, If you are single and your profit was $9000 last year then your tax bracket will be 10% and you will pay $900 in taxes. Easy peasy.

If you are single and you made $19,000 then we need to a little bit of math.

 

According to our chart above, if you made $19000 in profit, some of your profit falls in the 15% tax bracket and some of it falls int the 10%.

Here’s how it works:

10% of your first $9275 = $927.50

Subtract $9275 from $19000 and you get $9725. This is the amount in the 15% tax bracket.

15% of $9725 = $1458.75

$1458.75 + $927.5 = $2386.25 is what you will pay in taxes

or

about 13% of your profit.

My shortcut? I always put aside about 15% – 20% of my income every month. So for every $100 my clients pay me, I put $20 in a regular savings account. When I figure out my profit later on (remember, this will be lower than my income due to business expenses), I will be able to draw out enough to pay my taxes AND put money into a SEP IRA retirement plan. This lowers my taxes even more!

Sounds like another blog post to me….

 

 

 

 

 

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Cash: The Ultimate Fear Killer

New entrepreneurs know fear is a part of success just like a cramp is a part of winning a marathon. Sadly, fear is also a part of failure. Fear-based decisions, like neglecting marketing, DIY bookkeeping, and solo decision-making, can kill a practice before its third anniversary. Worst of all, the fearful owner of a struggling young practice may start to see each client as a dollar sign rather than a relationship. Don’t get me wrong; fear will be your constant companion on the road to success in business. You just can’t let him drive. In this blog, I’ll cover the number one tool that will help mitigate new-entrepreneur fear and replace it with confidence: cold hard cash.

Cash Bridges the Gap
Cash bridges the gap between the startup phase of a new business and the profitable phase. With a financial safety net, new business owners can be creative and take more risks. They will focus less on the desperate “PLEASE give me referrals” attitude and focus more on building a brand and networking in the community. Best of all, a FSN allows new business owners to take less from their profits and actually invest back into the business. Ideally, when the new business owner is ready to grow he will be debt free.

Let’s take Bob as our example.
Bob has a great job at a supermarket but he’s ready to join the entrepreneurial world and open a real estate office. He has read lots of business books and knows:
• Mistakes are inevitable and expensive.
• It takes time to market and develop referral sources.
• He has to keep the lights on and the rent paid.
• He doesn’t have the expertise to do every job by himself so he will have to hire help if he wants to stay out of trouble and grow.
• He has his own rent to pay and groceries to buy.

Scary stuff.

Where can Bob get the FSN net so when costly mistakes happen they don’t tank his new business? How can he keep the lights on until the community starts banging his door down? What can he do besides get another credit card or bank loan in order to grow?

Here’s what I recommend:
1. Enlist your supportive partner. Bob’s husband Stan has a great job in the oil and gas industry and he fully supports Bob’s decision to go into real estate. They agree that for one year Stan will carry a heavier load paying the family bills so Bob can put any profit he earns back into his business. Because he is less pressed to take home an income, Bob can build his brand, enhance his business skills with continuing education, hire an assistant to take phone calls when he’s with clients, and purchase software to stay organized.
2. Don’t quit your day job. While Bob was going to school to get his real estate license, he kept his job managing a supermarket. Once he became fully licensed and ready to start the business, he managed to reduce his schedule to part time. If the supermarket had refused to allow Bob to work part time, Bob had already decided he would take a job working nights so he could work on building his business during the day.
3. Live on the feathers not the chicken. Bob knew about the cyclical nature of business from working at the grocery store. He and Stan sat down and looked at the family finances and created a lean-but-comfortable budget. They agreed to live off this lean budget even when Bob’s business was booming and put any extra profit into a FSN savings account. Since the family’s basic needs were always met, Bob didn’t panic and make fear-based decisions when cash flow was down.

To be a successful business owner you must realize mistakes are inevitable and expensive; it takes time to build a network of referral sources; and you must reinvest in your business not leach from it. There lots of resources to help you build your FSN. Why not schedule a consultation with Kate Walker Training and create a strategy today?