Episode Fourteen | Season Three

BluePrint For Private Practice Success: Elements of a Business Plan

On this Episode of PsychBiz, Howard and I discuss creating a business plan to help you achieve your private practice goals in a strategic way.

Howard shares his insights on:

  • The individual elements that go into creating an effective private practice business plan
  • Why the planning process itself is important
  • The 4 C’s exercise
  • And more!

Download your copy of Howard’s Private Practice Business Plan for FREE here.

This is the second episode in our mini-series for therapists based on the graduate counseling program curriculum Howard taught for 12 years at the University of Colorado, and can also act as a side-template for his book, Private Practice Essentials.

We hope you find this episode insightful and inspiring. If you do, please consider subscribing, leaving a review or a comment.

Episode 14 Transcript:

Sarah: If you are a mental health professional who wants to have a bigger impact on the world, help more people and grow your business all at the same time, then you’re in the right place. With every episode, we’re here to help you discover new ideas, gain new insights and get the step-by-step strategies that you need to grow your private practice with confidence.

I’m Sarah Gershone and along with my co-host Howard Baumgarten we welcome you to Psychbiz. We’re so glad you’re here. 

Howard: We’re going to be talking about private practice business plans today. How about that, Sarah?

Sarah: I think it’s really useful and I think it’s nice because last time we talked about our why, and kind of our aspirational reasons why people get involved and committed to the work, which is really super important. But then I think it’s good to kind of bring it back down to reality and talk a little bit about the nitty gritty of how we’re going to do these things, how we are going to accomplish our goals and think in a really strategic and concrete way. 

So I think it’s a nice balance to our last episode.

Howard: In the course that I taught for many years to the graduate students at the University of Colorado, the private practice business plan was their main assignment. It was worth about 70% of their grade actually. 

Sarah: And people should know that we’re going to talk about it today, but that doesn’t mean that they have to like the ideas that then over the next many episodes, we’re going to go more in depth about the different components. So this is kind of the overview of this part, this tool, and then we’re going to talk over time and really flesh out the different sections of it to help people really clarify how to articulate and understand those different parts. 

Howard: Exactly. What I’ll do in this episode today is, I’ll talk about the elements of a private practice business plan and we’ll cover each element with maybe just one small piece of information. And of course, in the subsequent episodes, as you mentioned, we’ll elaborate on each particular area of the plan and you, the listener, can access the private practice business plan, right inside this episode. As we’ll put it in the show notes for you to be able to download, it’s a free download for you and you can modify it however you like, of course. 

You can also follow along each episode as we talk about the specific areas, episode by episode. And of course in between, we’ll be interviewing different folks in private practice and how their business is running and their plan is going. 

Sarah: So don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so that when the next episode comes up, you’ll get a notification and be sure not to miss the details that are coming soon.

Howard: Thank you for that. So what’s in a private practice business plan? When I developed this plan, I looked at a variety of different business plans in numerous industries. So to give you a little background on how I came to develop the business plan for private practice, I took the best elements from other industry business plan templates, and thought really intently around what types of categories and areas really need to go into a solid practice plan for a mental health or behavioral health practitioner. 

Now, this would also include people who do coaching, it may include people who provide other specialist types of services. Only if you’re listening and it’s not directly in your particular specified area, you might have to modify some of these areas a little bit – cautionary statement.

Sarah: And one of the things I really like about this business plan is, as a small business owner, I’ve taken workshops and done different seminars where they’re like, okay, we’re going to write your business plan. And I find that a lot of them – not yours – what makes yours better, right. I feel like some of them ask for a lot of really detailed information that really is not actionable, or are asking you to make predictions that you don’t actually know how to plan out this aspect.

So I feel like sometimes business plans kind of take you off on this long tangent of making all of these really detailed long-term plans that then, whether or not they’re actually going to be actionable and going to be something you can actually use, I think is sometimes really questionable. So I really like the way you structure this because I think you really avoid that problem. 

Howard: Well, I really liked your comment because the way that I think about a business plan – I always tell my students and my consultees this – is that the reason it’s called a business plan is because it’s your plan and plans don’t go the way that we want them. 

So think about your plan more as a template or a guide post. That is how I’ve set this up. You’re going to modify it, you’re going to have times where something takes off in your practice and it’s nowhere near even in your plan, but it’s the planning itself that might’ve led to that. Things like that become really important, I know that for me, when I work on a plan and I modify it, the outcome is almost always different, only the outcome has something to do with the process of planning itself, even though it’s different from what is in the plan. Does that make sense? 

Sarah: Absolutely and I think that’s so true in so many aspects of life, is that when you really think concretely and think about steps and the future and make a clear kind of vision of where you want to go and how you want to get there, those give you the clarity and the tools that you need to then be flexible when life changes you kind of are like, okay, so I had planned on A, B and C, and now there’s this new thing that I didn’t know about. So now how do I change? 

And it really gives you a way to be flexible rather than just completely knocked back into confusion and not knowing where you are, where you were, where you’re going. So I think it’s tremendously valuable. And I often say to my clients, when we’re working on a website, like think of your website as a living document, and I think you have to take the same approach with a business plan, right?

You’re not writing anything in stone; it lives with you and changes and develops as your practice and your vision for the future evolves. 

Howard: I love that term, Sarah, you used “living document”, a beautiful way of encapsulating what this is about. Shall we dig in? 

Sarah: Oh yeah, absolutely. 

Howard: Cool. So here are the elements.

The first thing is the executive summary. What I tell my students is don’t write that first because it’s a summary. It’s like – think of it like an abstract in a research article. You’re going to summarize what’s in the plan after the plan is written. So you’re going to want to skip this and you’re going to want to do all the other parts first and then go back and sort of, talk about what’s in the plan.

We’re not going to have a separate episode on executive summary. I think it really speaks for itself, but the one thing I’ll say about executive summary is that it’s important after you’re done to be concise and to make sure you hit every area just a little bit, if that makes sense.

So it’s just like one or two lines on each of the areas, this is what’s in the plan, so that when you present it to somebody that’s important in your business, like you’re interviewing a medical biller, you might want them to know a little bit more about your business, you can send them the plan. 

You don’t have to do an executive summary, it’s highly recommended though, okay?

Sarah: And I think that the goal with that part too is the word executive can make it sound like, oh, this is something very formal, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be formal. The point is that you’re speaking in words that work for you and kind of summarizing all of the insights that you get from doing the rest of the document.

Howard: That’s right. The next two segments kind of go together, and that is your mission statement and your tagline. And we’re going to talk about those two next episode, but really what they’re about – I’ll give you a hint – is you guessed it, branding. It’s all about how you put yourself out there and Sarah, you do a lot of that with your clients, right?

Sarah: Yeah. I have a lot to say about these, so when we go into those episodes, um, it’s really important, it’s incredibly hard to do. Like, I think that sometimes, we write the content for our website and the four or 4 – 10 words that go into the tagline are 100% the hardest part of the whole process because you have to say so much in a way that is concise and in a way that people understand, and it makes sense to you and it makes sense to the people that you’re talking to and it resonates. So it’s incredibly important and it’s hard to do but we will talk about strategies and how to kind of get over those barriers and get those done in a way that’s really effective.

Howard: That sounds great, I look forward to that. It’s going to be fun talking about that and the truth is, this type of branding and information really shows up not only on the website, but everywhere. It’s really everywhere in your business, it’s how you are seen to the public, so it’s really important 

Sarah: And you’ll find yourself using it when people ask you what you do, because once you are able to articulate what you do in such a clear and concise way, you’re going to be using it all the time, even just in conversation. 

Howard: That’s right. The next category is one of my favorites, it’s kind of a fun category because it really kind of picks up where the aspirations process leaves off.

So, what you’ll see in most business plans is what they call a S.W.O.T Analysis. S-W-O-T, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. And I’ve kind of done a little fun thing and I’ve kind of re-renamed them into what I think are more counseling or mental health related titles for this particular area and it’s called the 4Cs.

And so, capabilities takes the place of the word strengths. And I really liked that word because it really talks more about what am I capable of doing and it really includes strengths, I think. Challenges is a much more positive and healthy way to look at weakness and then chances, meaning what chances or opportunities do you have that you see, and I think this is a very important one because sometimes when we don’t stop and think about the different opportunities that we have, we miss them and so we’re going to talk about ways to focus in and do that when we get to that episode, it’s really going to be fun to talk about that. And then of course, concerns or threats. The word threats is such a strong word and I like concerns because we don’t want to be panicked about something that we feel uncomfortable abou and threats make it sound like we have to activate our limbic system and freak out and get worried about it.

Sarah, feedback. Do you like my 4Cs? 

Sarah: I do, I definitely do. And I like the way that you have rebranded them, to make it, I think, a healthier and more reflective way of thinking about those things rather than kind of a judgmental or like fear-based way of thinking about them. So I think it’s super useful.

Howard: Cool, yeah. And then the next category is, I take a page right out of Intro to Journalism. It’s the who, what, when, where, why and how of your services that you plan to offer. We’re going to dig into that, we’re going to talk about each area and how to really develop a services plan that really will live – you mentioned earlier, how the way I’ve set up this document is that it’s a living document. It’ll live in the possibility of change as well as the definitiveness of: this is what I do. 

And that’s the hardest thing for therapists to do is how do I describe my services and the morphing of my growth as a practitioner to the public, to my clients, that’s really what this services section is all about. We’re going to spend an entire episode discussing that. 

Sarah: Right, and I think that it’s so important to really not only be able to articulate that, but also to identify not just what do I want to give, but also what is there a need for, and then how can I bring those two things together so that I’m making sure that when I say I offer the service that I’m identifying, yes, there’s a population of people who need this.

How do they – how do I need to talk about the surface so that they’ll understand what it is and realize that it meets their needs? So that’s something that we’ll get into in a lot more detai and I think it’s super important. 

Howard: Wonderful, thanks for that. The next section we’ve already talked a little bit about, but it’s also such an important section, we’re going to review it in another episode and that’s the marketing and networking piece. And really it’s about how do I get clients and just to quickly give you a little bit. To distinguish between the two, the marketing – the way I think about it is – the marketing is what print and internet presence do you have that does the work for you and the networking is what do you do that puts the sweat equity into that in the circles that you create. 

Sarah, I know you’ve got lots of ideas about both, and especially in the area of marketing, because you really do a lot of that in terms of the website and you really take time to get to know the person and that’s kind of the networking piece, you’re almost an extension of that person so the way you do websites is so beautiful because you blend marketing and networking, whereas I think most websites that offer website services really just stick to the marketing side. You really help your clinicians build relationships and when we get to this episode, I want to show them, I want you to show them how. 

Sarah: Absolutely.

Howard: And we’ll talk more about that, what do you think? 

Sarah: That sounds fabulous. 

Howard: Okay. The next section is administration. A lot of you might think that this is boring, but it’s an essential part of running a successful private practice. So, we’re going to cover the different kinds of professionals and administrative processes that are really important in practice and for those of you who are really afraid of those things, this is going to be the episode for you. I don’t want you to be the avoider, I really want you to kind of dial in, I’ll try to make it fun but these are the key people that are involved in helping support your practice and the key tasks that are administrative that will make your practice run.

I’ve got a lot of ideas about that, we might have to break it into two separate segments, but I’m really excited about that. That’s the administrative section. 

Sarah: Yeah, and what I found in my own business and in my own experience as a small business owner, is that once those things are managed and once you’ve kind of gotten a handle on them, the anxiety and the overwhelm just goes down so much. Once you have things in a system and you have an approach and you know how you’re going to deal with those different aspects of your business, it feels so much better. And so I feel like part of this is getting over that, that barrier of anxiety and avoidance and kind of having tools and strategies that are in place that make these things a lot less stressful because they really don’t have to be overwhelming.

Howard: Absolutely systems, think systems, we’re putting systems in place that make it easier. I like how you said that the next section of the business plan is the financial management and growth section. Now, many listeners are going to be excited about this particular section and some are going to be a little bit fearful because a lot of clinicians get really fearful about, ‘how do I deal with money? How do I set fees? How do I deal with the financial parts? It’s really overwhelming for me. I just want to be a clinician and do my services and not worry about the money.’ And this is an area that gets neglected, I think, out of fear, and inexperience. And you know, I come from a background of family business owners and it’s kinda how I fell into the business side of things, and I want to really help you, the listener, develop a solid financial management and growth plan that makes you feel comfortable dealing with all money matters. 

Sarah: Yeah, and I will have some things to contribute here too, because I have found specific strategies that I use for financial management in my business that I find tremendously helpful and very, very simple. And once put in place, they really helped me to keep track of things in a way that is easy for me to do and easy for me to maintain consistently, because that’s one of the main things too, is you want to have ways of managing these issues that you can keep up with so that it’s not that you do it one month and then it gets behind. And so, then you have kind of this buildup of things that you’re behind on. So, yeah, this is definitely a really vital topic and area to kind of get a handle on, in a really sustainable way. 

Howard: Okay, the next section is really a super important section and it’s something that found its way into the business plan that you won’t find in any other fields typically and I think it’s one of the most important sections in the plan, because it really talks about treating all human beings humanely. And that is the section of diversity inclusion. You have to have a diversity inclusion plan, we’re talking about culture and gender, we’re talking about, you know, nowadays with the LGBTQ+ community and being able to appropriately be inclusive and not exclusive. And to have that written in your plan is really important in the form of mindfulness, so we’re going to talk about ways to include people, ways to make your office diversity-friendly and also making sure that you’re not practicing outside of the scope of your training.

So there’s a balance there, right. We’re going to talk about how to write that up in a plan in a separate section. Shall I go on? 

Sarah: Yes, please. 

Howard: Sorry, I thought you were going to make a comment and I wasn’t quite sure. The next segment of the business plan is the professional growth section and we’re going to talk about ways to improve professional growth beyond graduate school, how to create a plan that is meaningful.

I’ve got a ton of really cool ideas for helping you figure out ways to train yourself and some that are cost effective as well, and really creative and unique ways, and of course every state differs. So we’re going to want to maybe talk a little bit about how, what to include in that section. Sarah, you do a lot of professional growth in your industry of, of web design and whatnot so you’ll probably want to talk a little bit about that, or even some of the clients that you serve and how they do their professional growth. 

Sarah: Well, and I think that we can also take the concept of professional growth and expand on it a little bit, because yes, there are ongoing education requirements and all of those kinds of things that you want to learn, but then there might be tools that you want to learn how to use more effectively. Do you have a newsletter? Do you need to learn how to use a newsletter system? Do you want to take a workshop on using technology that’s going to help you do a better job and running your practice? So it doesn’t just have to be the classes that are related to the services you provide, but it can also be business-related classes that help you run your business better.

Howard: I love that. I love that. And you might want to be a presenter yourself and see if you can use that as professional growth and development, some states allow that. 

Sarah: Absolutely. 

Howard: We’re going to talk about all that in that segment, and I’m excited about that. And then the next category is the category of personal growth and burnout avoidance.

Now we talked about that in two episodes last year. And we’re going to revisit that in another episode and maybe talk a little bit differently about it, possibly – as I mentioned throughout, we’ll be talking to other practitioners and we’ll ask them how they deal with their burnout, avoidance, compassion, fatigue management, and what they do for personal growth because I think that’ll help give our listeners, a good idea, different ideas. 

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. 

Howard: And then really the final part is kind of an interesting but important, you know – people might think it’s less important, but I think it’s important in that is your references and resources that you amass a catalog of any resource or reference that you just keep in a file, not only is for what you did the research on for the business plan itself, but it’s a references and resources page, pages probably, of things you gather, you know, websites that you go to, where you send referrals, you know, things like this, we’ll talk about how to set that up at some point as well, in a separate episode. 

So. There you have it, that’s the business plan. I am really glad that we got a chance today to kind of cover in general each of these little categories and that I’m so excited because this whole year is really going to be about breaking this plan down into subsections and talking in each episode about it and then in between, inviting guests on who are either about to start their practice, or they’ve been in practice for awhile and it’s going to be everyday clinicians like you and me, and people that Sarah’s worked with, people that I know. If you’d like to be on an episode, write to us and tell us why you think that we should interview you, I’d be happy to listen. We just want to talk to you and find out more about you and your work. We just appreciate that you are participating in our podcast and that we can provide this hopefully very helpful information to you.

Howard: We hope you found today’s episode thought provoking and helpful. We’d love to know what you think. So leave us a comment and don’t forget to subscribe. You can find the show notes and additional resources at psychbiz.com. Thank you for listening.

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Howard Baumgarten

Licensed professional counselor, author of PRIVATE PRACTICE ESSENTIALS, international speaker and small business consultant. Learn more at Howard’s website.



Sarah Gershone

Web designer and digital marketer specializing in therapist private practice growth. Owner of Strong Roots Web Design.