When I started my private practice in 2009 I made sure I had everything organised before I started seeing clients. I had a room lined up and had negotiated to fund it on a pay per use basis. I had business cards, a very basic website, and lots and lots of stationary. As a side note I have a bit of an obsession with stationary. For some reason the more stationary I have the more organised I feel. It is a bit of an anomaly really as during my time in private practice the only stationary I used regularly was a notepad and pen, and that in itself was rare as I tended to not take notes while in session but type notes on a computer post-appointment.
Back to private practice. Once I was ready I contacted a few GP’s and waited for the clients to start lining up. It was only when I got my first phone call and contacted the consulting suites to book a room did I realise that I had failed to get a Medicare provider number for that location. I also hadn’t looked into payment methods. I wasn’t set up on the consulting suites machine nor did I have my own. And in this modern world no one pays cash, especially not for large purchases. I could write an essay about the things I had forgotten. In reality I did have a lot organised but there were a few keys things I had failed to consider. I started operating private practice one night per week while still working full time in government, so there were no major ramifications for my foresights. From memory I just had to delay my first client by a week or two until I had some more of the essentials finalised.
I ran my practice for five years until I decided a needed a career change. It got to a point where I had two clinicians working with me and admin staff. By the end I had learnt a lot about private practice and running a business. There are things I would do different and things I would do exactly the same.
From a practical point of view, when starting out I would definitely open a dedicated bank account. I did this and it was an absolute lifesaver. I used this bank account, and only this bank account, for all of my practice expenses. I borrowed from my personal account to give the practice some funds to start with; which I paid back after getting more established. This bank account simplified my accounts at tax time. It also ensured practice expenses were never funded by me personally. If I made small purchases such as a couple of new pens, or a large purchase such as a new computer, it always went through the practice account. I could easily keep track of my income and expenses.
I also opened a PO Box. This enabled me to keep work and personal separate. My PO Box was my business address. This proved to be very beneficial in the early days when I changed consulting suites and when I started working at a few different locations. I didn’t lose correspondence and was always contactable at that address. It also meant colleagues and clients were not aware of my home address.
On the same theme, it is essential essential essential to get a dedicated phone number for the practice and only use it for the practice. Get a new mobile number that you only use for work and/or have a landline number that can be forwarded to wherever you are working. The reality of starting private practice is that initially you will be moving from room to room. Patients, colleagues and referring partners need to be able to reach you on the one consistent phone number. Alas, I did not implement this strategy. I am still dealing with the consequences. For a variety for reasons I decided to use my personal mobile number. What was I thinking! Wrong for so many reasons! Clients calling me after hours and weekends (generally when in crisis). Referring partners calling to talk about clients. Every time my phone rang there was a possibility it was work. Unless I turned my phone off or didn’t answer calls, I was never really off work. And, although rare, to this day I still get work calls on my personal mobile. Only two weeks ago I received a call from someone wanting to book in for a consultation. Keep certain aspects of work and business separate. Lesson learnt 😊