10 Ways to Be Patient When Your Phone Isn’t Ringing
For most of us there’s lag time between networking our buns off and getting that first client. By lag time I mean a scary, panic-inducing, freak out span of time where you have to keep reminding yourself to chill out. If you’re still working full time, you’re wondering if you’re ever going to be able to quit this agency job. If you quit to devote all your time to your private practice, you may be raking ourself over the coals for this decision. I know, this part isn’t inspiring, but I’m laying it out there because 1) most of us go through it so you should expect it and use these tips to ease the fear, and 2) to validate those of you currently in this space. I promise it’s okay.
When we moved to Seattle, where I was a total unknown, I networked like a mofo. I met 90 people in my first 90 days in the city. We moved there June 8, which was a Wednesday. My networking started the following Monday and two- or three-a-day’s weren’t uncommon. I didn’t get my first call from a client until August 20th. The only reason I remember that date is because it’s my birthday and I decided to take it as a sign that I was on the right path (I’m REALLY good at finding signs that mean what I want them to). And a couple months later I was full. See, my sign was real.
So we’re talking two and a half months of figuring out how to not lose it.
When we moved to Asheville I had a harder time hitting the ground running. We had a toddler and the daycares had long waiting lists. We had to find a trustworthy nanny, which after an awful experience with our Seattle nanny (a long story that highlights how much I need to work on being able to fire people), took some time. Because I’d learned a lot from my Seattle experience, I started getting referrals within a few weeks and they trickled in, but not at the pace I would’ve liked. I was full about 4 months after I started networking, but because it was a trickle, rather than the flood I got in Seattle, I still had that scary feeling.
I give you these timelines to manage expectations. Very few people get referrals their first week. Very few people fill up in 4 months; I have a lot of experience, knew all the steps to take and I have a lot of joy in building, so be easy on yourself if it takes more time. Also, please be clear that I was on insurance panels as well. Getting full with private pay takes an average of 2 years and because of extenuating circumstances, we needed money faster than that.
So, here are some tips that worked for me during both start-ups:
1. Get the foundation of your practice settled. Have your paperwork exactly how you want it. Get to know your systems well. If you’re using an Electronic Health Record, play with the test clients until you know it backwards and forwards. Test out your credit card processor, online scheduler, learn how to bill insurance if you’re taking it.
2. Make sure your website is awesome. You don’t have to hire a pro, but you can if you’re paralyzed. While you have time, tweak your copy (the writing on your site). Make sure it’s speaking to your ideal clients. Here are some concrete steps to making sure your website stands out.
3. Make sure it’s easy to get in touch with you. No matter what system you’re using (phone, online scheduler, HIPAA compliant email, business cards) make sure someone in the throws of misery can easily figure out how to make an appointment.
4. Have fun. Some people will tell you to be in the office during all the hours you plan to work. There’s only so much website and paperwork tweaking a therapist can do before losing his or her mind. You have downtime! Go to the park, take a mid-day yoga class, go to a movie solo. I used to take these epic walks down to the beach with our dog. We’d walk for 3 or 4 hours sometimes just breathing in the salty air and practicing being present. Well, I was; he was just trying to pee on everything. If you’ve been in a 8-5 job, it’s going to feel like playing hooky. Good! Way to rebel, you wild child.
5. Meditate. Y’all know I can get a little woo woo, right? What, the signs thing didn’t give it away? I swear to you that meditation is what skyrocketed my practice in Seattle. As soon as I was consistent with meditation, the phone started to ring. And ring. Which reminds me…
6. Answer the phone. Let’s say a client is given 3 therapists’ phone numbers and they call you first. If you don’t answer, they may leave a voice mail but then they’re going to move on to Therapist #2. If Therapist #2 answers, they get the client. It’s okay if you’re nervous when you see an unknown number. I suggest making a script like the one I talk about in my checklist.
7. Network. Then network some more. Network until you hit a limit or your practice is too full. Trust yourself about that limit, whether it’s an extraverted 90 in 90 or one a week. (Introverts, read this.) Then take a break. Then network some more. You are getting to know your community. They are getting to know you. It will pay off.
8. Go ahead and freak out. Holding it back isn’t going to help. Just give yourself permission and space to feel how you feel. This is scary. Anyone who tells you they went into private practice without any fear is uncommitted or lying. Or they have that neurological disorder where their amygdala doesn’t work. Don’t actively feed the anxiety when it comes up; just accept that it’s going to be there off and on until you get that steady stream of clients.
9. Talk to supportive people as much as possible. Please avoid the naysayers. If your dad is still pissed you didn’t become an accountant, he’s not the guy to call at 11 PM when you’re anxious. Call your friends in private practice who get it. Talk to your partner who knows you can move mountains even though you’re laying on the floor with tears and snot on your face. Ask for support in the Abundance Practice-Builders Facebook Group. We all get it! Pep talks are a pretty steady part of all the Abundance Practice-Building offerings because I know not everyone has people who know how totally doable this is. And you need them! You’re going to feel insecure and you need your most supportive loved ones. If I didn’t have my husband, parents, and awesome friends (many I met while networking), I’d probably still be on the floor with tears and snot on my face.
10. Trust. This is the hardest part but it’s also the most important. Try answering these questions to “earn” that trust if blindly trusting isn’t working for you. Are you doing things that have yielded referrals for other therapists a few times a week? Are you emotionally ready for private practice clients? Are you physically ready for private practice clients (like you have an office with chairs)? Are you networking? Do you have a good website? Is it easy for potential clients to get in touch with you? Are you taking good care of yourself despite your anxiety? If you answered “no” to any of those, tweak it so you can answer “yes” next time. If you’re doing everything right, you’re going to get clients so you can trust.
I hope that helps. I know it’s scary for a little while but that fear isn’t a sign that you should give up; it’s a sign that you’re human.
(A special thanks to Elizabeth who requested this post.)
Now you: What has helped you when you’ve been anxious or insecure about your practice? Comment below!
Allison Puryear is an LCSW with a nearly diagnosable obsession with business development. She has started practices in three different states and wants you to know that building a private practice is shockingly doable when you have a plan and support. After retiring her individual consultation services, she opened the Abundance Party, where you can get practice-building help for the cost of a copay. You can download a free private practice checklist to make sure you have your ducks in a row, get weekly private practice tips, listen to the podcast, hop into the free Facebook Group. Allison is all about helping you gain the confidence and tools you need to succeed.