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Should You Go into Private Practice?


I get asked this a lot. Should I go into private practice? I get asked by counsellors, coaches, accountants, healthcare people, the list goes on and on. Are you asking yourself this same question?

The short answer to this question is: “I don’t know”.

Whenever anybody asks me to make any decision for them, my alarm bells start ringing. The first step to making this type of decision is being prepared to take full responsibility for whatever it is you decide.

I don’t have a magic answer for this; however, I’ve identified some key indicators in people who have started successful private practices in a variety of fields. Of course, there’s no secret formula that guarantees success in any career, business or venture, but as a seasoned career counsellor, I can provide some insight.

When someone asks me if they should dive into self-employment in this way, we dig into some of the characteristics I have come to learn as being key to success though my own experience in private practice, as well as through my work with others. Here they are:

1. You’re okay asking others for help and asking for what you need.

If assertiveness is not your thing, think about how you’ll follow up with clients who haven’t paid on time, how you’ll market your services, network, and just generally get whatever it is you need when you need it. This’ll be on you.

Answer these questions:

  • Are you reluctant or afraid to reach out for help?

  • Are you ready and willing to build up a network for referrals and marketing purposes?

  • Can you self-advocate when your back’s against the wall?

2. You’re comfortable flying by the seat of your pants.

You won’t have a boss, an HR or payroll department, a maintenance person, IT person, a receptionist or administrative assistant to provide you with support. It will be on you unless you can hire them (this is a whole other can of worms). If you are a creative problem solver and are okay with a certain amount of figuring things out as you go, then keep reading.

Answer these questions:

  • Do you require a structured day with lots of systems to be able to perform at your best?

  • Do you need the reliability of a regular paycheck?

  • Do you sometimes have difficulty managing uncertainty and structuring your own time?

3. You can work independently.

Some people find private practice to be stressful and lonely. We all have rough work days or can’t figure something out. As a solopreneur there won’t be anybody in the next cubicle or at the water cooler to vent or ask questions to.

Professionals who thrive in private practice build in ways to manage their isolation, get support, share resources etc. They might join a Mastermind or networking group, plan regular lunches with peers, hire a coach or find other ways to get some social and human contact.

Answer these questions:

  • Do you work best as part of a team?

  • Do you need someone available to bounce ideas off of or to brainstorm with?

  • Do you get stressed out or feel lonely working alone for extended periods of time?

4. Are you comfortable discussing money and standing behind your services?

You must recognize the value of the service you offer and not do things like offer discounts, freebies, or extensions because you are uncomfortable asking for what you’re worth. If somebody tries to bargain with you because they don’t want to pay for their missed appointment, for example, are you willing to stand your ground and be paid fairly?

Answer these questions:

  • Do you have trouble managing your personal finances?

  • Do you feel so confident in the value of the service you provide that you can stand behind the amount you charge no matter what?

5. Your expectations are based in reality in terms of the time and money it takes to get a private practice off the ground.

It’s not as simple as opening your doors and they will come. It takes time to build a practice and there will be problems you need to throw money at. You won’t want to and it will feel uncomfortable. You have to have a way to push through this. You need to have a budget that is not contingent on being paid by clients right out of the gate. Plan on putting in long hours for the first few years so you can get yourself established. It’s a hustle at first, hopefully not forever, and it can be worth it to some but you need to go in expecting this.

Answer these questions:

  • Can you pay for overhead and other costs while you are establishing your practice?

  • Are you willing to put in long hours (evenings, weekends etc.) for at least the first few years of getting your practice up and running?

  • Are the people in your life you will also be impacted by the initial investment (time, money, resources) required of your venture on board and supportive?

6. You’re comfortable making tough decisions.

Final decisions will be made by you. Hard decisions will need to be made and bad news delivered sometimes. Obviously, you can consult with others on some matters, but there’s nobody to pass the buck to. If you’re a confident decision maker, this is a good thing.

Answer these questions:

  • Do you back down from confrontation or delivering tough news?

  • Do you avoid making decisions preferring to default to clearly established procedures?

  • Are you confident in your ability to say “no” sometimes?

7. How good are you at keeping promises to yourself and taking care of your physical and mental health and well being?

You need healthy habit and supportive relationships in your life if you want to survive and thrive in private practice. There are no sick days in private practice. This means staying healthy is a requirement of keeping your practice afloat. You’ll need to take initiative to manage your stress, plan for downtime, sleep, proper nutrition, etc. You’ll also need to build in time for interests outside of work at some point to maintain a healthy balance.

Answer these questions:

  • Do you have healthy interests outside of your work that allow you to recharge?

  • Do you have supportive relationships that can help you cope with stress?

8. How adaptable are you to change and how comfortable are you in taking charge of your own retirement, insurance, and healthcare plans and professional development?

The requirements in terms of regulations, licensing, bylaws, etc. will always be changing. Whatever field you specialize in will advance as technology does and new demands will be placed on you. This is going to consume a big chunk of your time in addition to hustling to get clients and stay on top of your work. You will be solely responsible for keeping on top of anything that will impact your business, your health and your future if you want to survive.

Answer these questions:

  • How comfortable are you with change?

  • Are you openminded to learning new things and committed to taking initiative to stay on top of your professional development?

9. Can you face your fears?

You’ll have to face some. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of failure. Going out on your own is scary. It’s also exciting, but, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t come with risk. You’re putting your money, reputation, relationships, and time on the line when you hang out your shingle. It’s completely normal to experience some hesitation in taking this type of leap. Successful private practitioners view these obstacles as the path versus obstacles in their path. They find support to work through their fears rather than be stopped by them.

Answer these questions:

  • Do you take criticism personally?

  • Do you consider yourself to be resilient?Can you bounce back from setbacks viewing them as learning opportunities?

  • Do you feel ready to face a period of time where much of your professional life will feel uncertain?

10. Can you manage competing priorities without melting down?

Running a private practice means you’ll be wearing many hats. You don’t always get to decide which one to put on in any given moment. I chuckle at the thought of “being my own boss”. Instead I view it more as having many bosses instead of just one. In private practice you’ll be accountable to everyone from the taxation office, to your clients or customers, and to your employees if you have any, just to name a few.

Answer these questions:

  • Can you switch gears easily?

  • Can you address competing priorities in an environment that’s constantly changing?

If you’ve read through this article and feel more convinced than ever that private practice is for you, that’s a good sign that perhaps this is something to consider. A big part of my work with people involves using coaching tools to manage and bust through whatever it is that’s standing in their way of moving ahead on their career or business goals. If this sounds like you, why not book a consultation with me to see if we might be a good fit to work together? You can do that here.

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