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Strategic Thinking for Practice Success

Strategic Thinking for Practice Success

As 2022 comes into focus, it’s a good time to create a strategic plan for your practice. Strategic planning is not just an exercise for large corporate entities. Private practitioners in the human services can also benefit from a focused approach to business. The process does not have to be complicated and time-consuming. 

A small amount of focused energy can set you up for a more profitable and enjoyable year of practice in 2022. Try this simplified model of strategic planning and see what it can do for your practice. You might find it becomes a permanent part of the way you do business after seeing the results. 

Define Your Purpose

Your purpose is the reason you are doing the work. It’s hard to be impactful without understanding what drives us. People working in the human services are rarely motivated only by money. It is a deeper concern for the human condition oftentimes that pushes us. Taking time to reflect upon what motivates you in your practice will keep you centered when dealing with difficult situations and helping clients with traumatic experiences. It will also help you assess your financial needs for the following action point.

Select Your Size

Your ideal practice size depends upon your unique situation. As a business owner, you get to define what your business looks like. In my consulting practice, I run into small business owners who feel pressured to keep growing when they clearly do not want the stress of a large practice. Spend some time crafting the ideal of what your practice should be. Some questions to ask …

  • Do you have the desired work to non-work ratio in your life? 
  • Is your practice income meeting your needs? 
  • Do the demands of your current practice weigh on you?
  • Do you want to add new services?

Organize It

Disorganization will cost you money. It eats into your time and time is directly tied to income and quality of life. We all have some level of disorganization in our work, but the impact of that disorganization can prevent you from engaging in billable hours. The new year is an opportunity to set yourself up for success. 

  1. Create a plan to complete documentation within a specified time frame after each session. Your notes will be accurate, and you will always be in great legal position should records be subpoenaed. 
  2. Are you using more paper forms than you need? Can you move to all electronic record keeping? You don’t necessarily need a fancy, paid software subscription for online practice management. If you’re running a PC, look at Word and Excel to go all digital. For Mac users, Pages and Numbers will accomplish the same tasks. Cloud storage is exceedingly cheap today. SSD drives are another option to back up your local storage on a secured PC or Mac.  
  3. Balance your books regularly. Don’t let yourself get behind on financial data. This can lead to an unexpected tax liability. Track income and expenses as they occur. There are several small business accounting software programs that are inexpensive, and web based. These programs may be right for you if you want something already set up to run. However, I find that a simple spreadsheet will accomplish this just as efficiently for most small practices. 

Boost the Bottom Line

There are only two ways to improve your profit margin in private practice, more income or less expenses. Cost cutting measures are where most people look when trying to improve profitability. However, the income side might be the area of imbalance. You may need to raise your rates. Are your service rates in line with the market? It may feel risky to raise service rates, but current demand for mental health services is greater than ever. 

If you currently have a long waiting list, it might be time to increase your rates. We often don’t think in economic terms as counselors and social workers. However, the laws of supply and demand do not cease to exist just because we don’t think about them. If you have a three-month waiting list for clients to see you, then demand is outstripping supply. To bring equilibrium back to the situation, consider an increase to your service rate. It will keep serious clients motivated to see you but weed out some of the demand from clients that are not as serious about the help you can provide. 

Educate the Market

Marketing your practice is vital to success. Are you taking advantage of all the options available to you? Social media is essentially free. Consider multiple platforms to make people aware of your work. Try offering free content related to your field on these platforms as well. The idea is to drive the market to your social media platforms through your content. The free content is adding value to the market and ideally creating demand for your services. 

Define What Works & Try Something New

There is no time like year-end to review how you’ve been operating. Think about the areas of your practice in which you are especially competent. Is there a niche offering in that area? If so, what can you do to make the public aware?

Often small practices depend upon multiple streams of income such as EAP contracts, consulting retainers, and individual sessions. Assess whether you are utilizing all your skills to increase profitability and make an impact in the lives of others. 

Beyond 2022

Once you have the feel for strategic planning, begin to think beyond the upcoming year. Think in terms of what you want to accomplish in increments of 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. The further out you plan, the less certain outcomes and market conditions become. Just remember, it is not about forecasting perfectly. It’s really just about improving your practice and your quality of life.

Michael Smith

Dr. Michael Smith has been practicing social work nearly 30 years in a variety of settings. He has served as an item writer, exam reviewer, and content reviewer for social work licensure examinations for the Association of Social Work Boards since 2003. He has also served as Chair of the Alabama State Board of Social Work. Michael’s education includes a Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Social Work, and Master of Business Administration from the University of Alabama. Michael also earned the Doctor of Philosophy in Management from Walden University. He is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and holds a Private Independent Practitioner certificate (PIP) with endorsements in clinical social work, social work administration, social work research, social casework, and community organization.

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Opinions and viewpoints expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of CE Learning Systems.

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