By: Keisha Cox, LCSW, MS
When I was in graduate school, I remember a number of students who had plans to begin private practice right after graduation. I myself was intimidated by the idea, because I realized that private practice was a business venture, and graduate school did not prepare me for that aspect of social work practice. After gaining some years of experience under my belt and conducting much research about the business aspects of private practice, I felt confident to venture into this territory of social work, but not without first taking the following steps.
Establish Professional Supports
Social workers who move from agency life to private practice gain the benefits of autonomy but lose the benefits of peer support unless they become connected with networks in the community. They can gain support by joining and participating in professional organizations, joining and participating in community organizations, or taking continuing education courses. In addition to joining a group, you may want to consider starting your own peer group with other social workers who share similar interests. Being part of a group will not only help you gain peer supports in the community, but it will also help you to establish a network for referrals and to keep up to date with developments and opportunities within your profession.
Create a Practice Design
Before you begin recruiting potential clients, you must create a practice design. A practice design is a business plan for private practitioners. As a social worker venturing into private practice, you must ask yourself, “What type of clients do I want to work with?” Consider age, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and specific clinical/social issues when identifying the populations that you serve. You also need to determine where you want to practice. Consider immediate demographic populations, as well as convenience/accessibility to you and potential clients.
When creating a practice design, you must also consider how much time you have to commit to your practice, including office hours and time for administrative duties. This must be weighed against how much you expect to earn and how much you can afford to spend. Take into consideration the number of clients you want to treat, as well as current insurance rates, private pay rates, and sliding scale fees, in addition to expenses such as office space, office furniture/supplies, telephone, Internet, marketing material, malpractice insurance, liability insurance, and so forth.
Create a Professional Profile
In addition to a practice design, you should also create a professional profile. A professional profile is similar to a résumé or a curriculum vitae, but it is much more detailed, personal, and it is written in a narrative format. This profile includes information such as:
Areas of special interest
What makes you unique
When creating a professional profile, it is best to include as much information as possible, as it is always easier to cut down on information when needed than it is to re-write or add more details to your profile. Once your profile is created, you will have your blueprint for marketing your private practice. The following are tools/tips for marketing your practice.
Brochures and Other Promotional Materials
Brochures are an attractive way to publicize what you do. Use your professional profile to create brochures about your practice. When designing your brochure, remember to be creative, as it is your means to attracting the attention of potential clients/referral sources. The brochure should not be just a repeat of your professional profile, but also a source of information for the user so that he or she is inclined to read it, keep it, and even pass it along. For example, if you are practicing as a behavioral therapist, then your brochure should provide information about behavioral therapy or how behavioral therapy can help people with their problems, in addition to your qualifications as a behavioral therapist. Also, it may be helpful to have more than one type of brochure targeted toward different audiences with specific information such as “Living with Bipolar Disorder.”
Business cards are another basic marketing tool and an essential for anyone in private practice. They are the least expensive to print and the easiest to distribute. However, many people don’t know how to make the best use of business cards. Most business cards include basic contact information, but because business cards are the most distributed and often the only marketing tool used, they should provide a snapshot of your practice. The following is a list of important information to include on your business cards: