According to the APA, more than half of practicing mental health counselors in the United States work in private practice. With private practice being such a popular career choice, you’d think that counseling grad school programs would emphasize teaching the business skills you’ll need to run a private practice successfully.
However, they often don’t. Many private practice counselors never received much business education, and open discussion of the business side of private practice counseling has only been happening for about the past 10 years.
Running a private counseling practice takes more than just counseling skills. You also need some business savvy. For optimum success in your private practice counseling career, you need to learn business skills alongside counseling skills, so you can be ready when it’s time to hang out your shingle.
Make Acquiring Business Skills a Part of Your Education
You don’t need to earn an MBA to get the business skills you need to successfully run a thriving private practice. Of course, getting one certainly won’t hurt, especially if you want to branch out into selling training courses, running corporate retreats or marketing products like self-help books, CDs and DVDs. Many private practice counselors diversify to bring in more income, establish themselves as experts and thought leaders and stabilize their practices. It’s important to keep in mind that counselors are subject to market trends, too, which can depend on the changing needs of a population, as well as what kinds of issues and treatments are more in vogue at a particular time.
If you haven’t finished your undergraduate education yet, you should take this opportunity to pick up some relevant business classes that will help you later on. Consider taking at least some introductory courses in:
- Business administration
- Marketing, advertising or social media marketing
- Web design
You’ll need to know how to write a business plan, especially if you want to get a small business loan to cover start-up costs for your private practice. Go to your college’s business school and ask which course or courses will best teach you this and other skills you’ll need to run a small business. You may even consider declaring a minor or a second major in business.
Make the Most of Your Resources
What if you’ve already finished your undergraduate education, or are far enough along that you don’t have the time to schedule lots of business-related classes? Whether you’re earning your master’s in counseling online or through a traditional program, you can make the most of your resources to help you develop business skills now.
If you’re enrolled in a graduate school program, tell your advisor that you’re interested in going into private practice and ask him or her about making one or more business courses as part of your curriculum. Alternatively, you may be able to work with a professor from your school’s business department on an independent study of business skills related to private practice or small business. If this isn’t an option, and you’re not interested in doing an MBA concurrently with or following your master’s in counseling or social work, you still have resources at your disposal.
Most universities offer their students access to professional development courses through platforms like Lynda or Alison. You may be able to get free or deeply discounted access to a platform through which you can take professional development courses in business, accounting, marketing, social media, web design and other skills that will help you build, grow and maintain a successful private practice. Your school may also be willing to reimburse you for the costs of professional conferences you attend, where you may be able to find seminars on the business aspects of running a private practice.
If you want to run a successful counseling private practice someday, you need to start building business skills now. You’ll need to know how to make a business plan, how to handle accounting and finances and how to manage the many expenses, hidden or obvious, that come with running your own private practice. With the right education and skills, you can easily make a six-figure income from working in private practice, all while helping your community and doing what you love.