I’m definitely a glass half-full type. And while I certainly believe in the value of conducting thorough research before making big decisions, I also believe that optimism is an integral component of any business plan. Because no matter how well organized your plan is, you are taking risks and self confidence can help see you through.
This summer I wrote a series of posts about my experience with starting a private practice. I’ve compiled and expanded these as “Forge Your Own Path,” which currently appears in the online edition of The ASHA Leader. I truly believe the autonomy and flexibility of working for yourself is feasible for many SLPs and if you have the inclination, you should seriously consider pursuing it.
This November, I attended the ASHA convention in San Diego and decided to pop in on a few private practice sessions to refresh my spirit and give me some new ideas for marketing and referrals. This fall, I did a large number of screenings for both preschool and elementary-aged children. While the percentage of referrals for full speech/language evaluations was typical, I found that fewer families chose to pursue one with either myself or another SLP. If, a full evaluation was completed and therapy recommended, more families were opting for a “wait and see” approach or periodic monitoring, especially if it wasn’t covered by health insurance. This issue of “not covered by insurance” or at percentage rates too high for many families, looks to be a chronic issue for an on-going service such as speech services.
The number of SLPs looking for contract work has increased dramatically in my suburb. This summer the private school I contract with had four or five SLPs inquire about providing services. I’m not sure if this is a reflection of private practitioners needing to “widen the net” to build a caseload or, perhaps, some are trying to escape the massive caseloads in the public schools or unrealistic productivity requirements in clinics or hospitals. Whatever the reason, there are more of us out there.
So I was surprised the presenters gave such a rosy outlook on an economic climate I would approach with caution. Perhaps the name recognition of a well-established practice helps to offset the impact of a softer market, but for a solo practitioner, the effects are very real and hard to ignore.
This doesn’t mean your dreams need to be put on hold, just that you need to be prepared. You may want to build slowly while maintaining a full or part-time position elsewhere. Having enough savings to support yourself for several months is a wise course of action, especially if you decide to commit solely to your own practice.
For myself, I’m planning another screening at a different preschool sometime in January. I’ll provide another talk at a moms group or school on language development. I may advertise in a local parent magazine. And I’ll continue to provide exemplary customer service because the best referral source always is previous and current clients.
So if you’re jumping in, proceed with caution and be prepared. Our services are valuable and there are many ways to let people know. Sometimes it just takes a while. Stay inspired—2012 awaits!
Are you currently practicing on your own? Please share an idea for building a caseload or establishing a new practice.
Kim Lewis M.Ed, CCC-SLP has a private practice for pediatrics in Greensboro, NC. She is the blogger at www.activitytailor.com, providing creative ideas for speech therapy, and the author of the Artic Attack workbook series.