It’s a difficult balance to strike between running a profitable business yet not becoming overly obsessed with the financial health of your practice. Profit is not a four letter word, yet it’s easy to assume that because we deal with the complexities of others’ lives, we don’t need to profit from them. And to a large extent, I agree: We do not need to profit from our clients. However, we do need to make money by setting a fee structure that meets the help that our clients receive. The overwhelming majority of practitioners in mental health are not in the field to make money. Setting your fee structure will be something I’ll address at a later time, but today I want to talk about tracking our work load.
Over the first couple of years in practice, I got overwhelmed with not knowing when my practice was going to be busy or slow. It became an anxiety for me and to help keep that anxiety reduced, I began tracking my ongoing client load. One of the ways we need to manage our practice is by developing key measurable goals. In order to create these goals, we’ve got to have some historical data.
Open up a spreadsheet (Google Docs has a great free solution) and begin tracking the following information about your practice:
– How many paid sessions do you have per week, per month, per quarter.
– How many new clients per month, per quarter, per year.
– How many active clients do you have per week, per month.
– How many days you worked each month, and how many days you “vacationed.”
The data in this spreadsheet will help you budget your time and money. It will also give you a record of past months and years to show when your practice is busy and slow. Typically the summer months are slow for counselors, and I can’t tell you how many other practitioners tell me about how worried they are during the summer months because of this slow down. These worries will be calmed when you can look at last years data and be reminded that in September your practice increased nearly 25% from the summer months.
Of course, there are lots of other data points you can track (no shows, cancellations, days you work per month/year, days you were sick/vacation, etc), but the above is a good place to begin. Once you have this spreadsheet, you can begin setting goals for your business and measure them against what’s really happening. If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.
Photo courtesy of Jerry Nihen via Flickr