Living Below Your Means
Starting a business BYM

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By bookgrrl
October 4, 2002

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As y'all know, I recently left a salaried job to go into private practice full-time. I planned this transition for about a year before I made the leap, and along the way, I learned some valuable lessons about starting a business BMM. Not all of the below tips will be helpful or applicable to everyone, and I should confess that I was on a really tight budget (which may seem too tight to many), but FWIW, here goes:

01. If you need to sublease a single office (to see clients &c.), try subleasing from a psychotherapist. Rates are local, but here in the big city, the rate is $10/hour - and no one expects you to sign an agreement, it's always on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis. I began by subleasing just the few hours I needed, and then - once I had a steady patient flow - I negotiated a very good deal for 2 full days per week. These offices are already furnished, usually quite nicely, and have kitchen and conference room facilities. You don't have to be a psychotherapist to take advantage of this - in the suite of offices where I see patients, many freelancers rent the conference room for $10 or $20 per week, just to meet with their clients.

02. Since you aren't signing a hefty lease for an office, don't bother about getting a land phone. You'll be paying at least $20 per month just in usage fees, service fees, and taxes. Instead, get a cell phone. That way, even if you move your office, the phone number will always be the same. Even better, just as long as the phone is truly for business purposes, it's deductible.

03. Don't worry about putting together a large business wardrobe. Develop a simple signature look - mine is "black clothes" - and buy fewer than 5 good pieces (e.g. jacket, skirt, slacks). Don't buy suits yet - instead, buy separate pieces that can be mixed and matched. Then spend far fewer dollars on accessories at thrift stores, to make your essential outfit look different each time you wear it.

04. Don't undercharge. This was a huge lesson for me when I was just starting out. Whenever I would discuss my fee, I would look as though I wanted to crawl under the couch. I positively cringed. Because I tended to undercharge, I struggled during those first few months to turn a profit. You deserve to turn a profit, folks. You worked hard to get here, and the last thing you want to do is become known as the one professional in your community who is willing to charge half the reasonable and customary fee.

05. Figure in your time as an additional cost. For example, there was a time when I was driving 45 minutes (one way) to a nearby suburb to see one patient. Add up the rent for the room, the gas, the time, and you have the makings of a goofy business model. Gradually, I realized that if I didn't add more patients at the suburban subleased space, I'd have to request that I see the patient downtown.

06. Don't make the mistake that many of my colleagues did, of thinking that you somehow need to go into debt in those early months to "get the business off the ground," and that you'll just make up the margin later. Don't get the $3000 phone system, as one colleague did. Don't sign the lease for the large office suite. Don't blow a wad on fancy stationary. It's so easy to have your head turned by people telling you what you "need" in order to create "the right impression." The truth is, what you really need is talent, skill, discipline, and one really good pair of black slacks. Everything else can wait.


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