Please note this information is targeted toward Social Work private practices. This list of ideas is certainly not exhaustive and is not written from a business or legal expert perspective. These are just some ideas to consider and reflect on as you explore starting your own Social Work private practice. Consult with professionals as needed while you move forward in your journey.
Figure out your business name and register your business
Choose a name that reflects your future vision, values, growth prospects, and goals for your business. Some professionals use their own name as one viewpoint is that nothing is better than using your own name as your brand! You are unique and your name reflects that!
Others feel they would like to use a more generic business name that may be useful should they choose to hire staff in the future or perhaps sell their business down the road. They want to make the process as open and flexible as possible, which may be easier with a broader business name.
Whatever business name you decide on, you will need to register your chosen business name as one of your first key steps.
Consider a sole proprietorship vs. incorporation
You may wish to obtain a legal consultation to figure out the benefits and risks surrounding a sole proprietorship or incorporation so you can figure out which option works best for your practice over the short and long term, including the possible impact of choosing to hire staff to work for you or if you expand your practice in the future.
Focus your niche or area of specialty
Consider whether you would like to specialize in working with a certain age group, culture, religion, language, ethnicity, gender/orientation, etc. In addition, reflect on the range of issues you are most experienced and comfortable with focusing on in your private practice. You may also consider your previous work experience and expertise in various areas throughout your career. All of these factors may help you define your niche.
You may also want to decide whether you would like to offer in-person services and/or online or virtual counselling. Online or virtual counselling may be useful given the current worldwide coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual services may also be relevant if you are serving populations where transport may be challenging due to your clients living in remote locations, having limited options regarding accessible transit in their regions if they are impacted by a physical disability, having limited time due to caregiving and work responsibilities, or other factors.
Getting your name out there is very important, especially when you are beginning your private practice! Explore as many avenues as you can think of.
Creating a company website, setting up a google ad, creating one or more social media accounts, developing a business LinkedIn profile, distributing business cards, adding yourself to Social Work directories, and networking with colleagues are some ideas to consider. Continue to find ways to promote yourself in your local community and province or region.
Highlight your best attributes
Sometimes it’s hard to speak up about our own successes, achievements, and skills as it can feel awkward or strange or makes us uncomfortable.
However, sharing your top skills is a valuable way to set yourself apart and clarifies what makes you, you. Highlight your training, experience, education, certifications, and specialties. This can help clients figure out why they are choosing you!
Creating a business bank account is important to separate your personal and business expenses and income. It is also helpful to develop a budget so you have a sense of what your initial expenses are for creating your private practice, in addition to the ongoing costs you will have monthly and annually in order to maintain your business.
If you have an accountant, you can consult with them regarding specific financial and tax-related questions. You may want to consider hiring an accountant if you don’t already have one in case that helps ease your worries around taxes or just as a way of ensuring you are on the right track.
Are there others you are aware of in your professional network who have started a private practice themselves? It may be worth consulting with them to see what has worked and not worked well for them in their own process of developing their private practice. Learn from others so you can avoid similar pitfalls or challenges if possible.
Perhaps it may help to contact the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW) and/or Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) to see if you can consult with their staff regarding anything else you may need to consider from their viewpoints.
You may also want to review the Perspective Newsletters sent out by the OCSWSSW and other resources they have on their website as a helpful resource.
A legal consultation may be helpful as well in regards to setting up your private practice.
Part of creating your practice is developing your own informed consent for services form, service policies (including no-show and late cancellation fee policies), intake form, questionnaires, consent forms, notetaking forms, and any other documentation templates you feel could be helpful for your practice.
You will want to decide if you will use paper documentation and keep a locked filing cabinet or whether you would like to use a secure, encrypted, PHIPA and PIPEDA compliant electronic platform to store your records.
Review your short term and long term goals and task timelines. Map out the steps of what you think you need to accomplish as the first step, second step, and so on. Consider how quickly you want to set up your practice- whether you think it is feasible to set up in one month, three months, six months, one year, or some other timeframe. Work backwards and check off tasks as you accomplish them – this will help you stay motivated toward your goal!
Choose a workspace and check your insurance coverage
Are you going to rent an office? Or are you going to work from your own home? Figuring out where you will work and whether you are adequately insured in terms of your workspace is important. Check with your Social Work insurance provider to obtain details about your policy and determine whether you need to make changes or increase your coverage.
Workload and time management
If you are working in the public sector while also hoping to branch out into the private sector, or if you have a family at home and are trying to figure out how you can manage juggling all of these balls in the air at once, it can be worthwhile to reflect on how you will balance your numerous responsibilities.
Create a schedule based on what works for you and your various personal and professional roles. Think about how you will address all of your duties in a given week. This will help you decide on how many days and hours per week you can realistically devote to your private practice.
Everyone has to start somewhere! Figure out what it takes to get set up, do what you have to do to get there, and monitor and tweak things as you go on. It won’t be perfect or 100% ready when you begin- nothing ever truly is. The key message is that you will hopefully see an increase over time in the number of clients that connect with you as you continue to evolve and flourish. It is exciting to see where this journey will take you!