The idea of Private Practice conjures up images of working without organisational restrictions, being one’s own boss and having absolute control over one’s life. These are some of the things associated with Private Practice, but this is by no means an easy decision to make and there are many considerations to take into account if one is to survive in the world of business. A world that stereotypes us and assumes that a social worker is someone who hands out food parcels, removes children from unfit parents and works for welfare organisations. Thus it is still relatively new to modern social workers and can be very intimidating.
For those entrepreneurs out there it is the perfect opportunity to shown what they are made of. This is a challenging road to take but if the proper care and attention to business norms are taken, it will more likely succeed, not only for the individual social worker, but also the image of the profession.
The Social Worker as Entrepreneur
To become an entrepreneur, and at that, a successful one, one requires specific personal characteristics, skills and one’s situation has to be of a certain standard. These things are essential to assess because of the intense processes involved in starting a successful Practice.
The skills required relate to:
Technical skills – these relate to the practical abilities one needs to provide the services of the business one wishes to start
Business Management skills – these relate to the abilities that one needs to run the business effectively. Amongst the most important here is marketing skills, financial skills of costing and record-keeping as well as good strategy planning.
Knowledge of Line of Business – this relates to one’s understanding of the type of business one is planning to embark on and how much one knows about one’s market, competitors and clients.
Personal Characteristics required:
Commitment – it is essential if one wants to succeed and may depend on one’s willingness to put the business before almost everything else.
Motivation – this will ultimately determine the amount of success that one obtains, because it refers to one’s innermost desires to see things take shape.
Taking Risks – business is a big step to take and one runs the risk of losing it all, if the business doesn’t succeed. Taking reasonable risks is an essential step for all budding entrepreneurs.
Making Decisions – in one’s own business there is no one to take risks and make decisions, but the owner of the business. Often there are difficult decisions to make and one has to be prepared to make them.
Situations that need to be assessed is:
Family Situation – maintaining a business takes much time and if one has a family, it can become very demanding. Having supportive people backing one’s choices is important and a great source of encouragement.
Financial Situation – this related to where one will get the money to finance the business and whether one is willing to risk one’s own money or that of a lender
All of these demonstrates that there are many factors involved, and thus much to consider before starting a Private Practice. I would like to devote some time to evaluating a few of the risks and the benefits associated with the notion of Private Practice. This is important in light of the fact that the glories/advantages are always considered as the point of entry and many practitioners do not adequately assess the disadvantages or the down side of venturing into the world of business.
Advantages of Private Practice
- Personal and financial growth (self-actualisation and money)
- Own boss
- Empower and uplift the profession
- Status (qualifications and experience – minimum 5yrs)
- Being self-directed
- Flexibility in working hours
- Control of own schedule
- Opportunity to earn more money
- Opportunity to perform a wide range of therapeutic services for a wide range of individuals
- Able to develop networks with a wide range of people
- May have more control over overhead expenses
- Client can feel a sense of individuality and relate to only one person
Disadvantages of Private Practice
- Financial frustrations – more likely in the first few years
- Being solely responsible for overhead costs and other expenses
- Fluctuating of income – dependent on caseload and clients
- Loneliness and isolation
- Constant availability requires personal sacrifices (boundary setting)
- Specialisation may be difficult at first
- Difficulty in referring certain clients and insecurity about involving another practitioner in cases requiring collaboration and specialisation
- Little or no help to cover for one when one cannot be available (e.g. take leave)
Other Important Issues to Bear in Mind
- Requires strict self-discipline
- Willingness and ability to serve those who seek the service
- Willingness to work one-on-one with families or other small groups of people who are suffering from some sort of emotional distress
- Must be committed to idea of continuity of service
- Supervision and consultation services has to be secured
- Networking with medical aid companies and other professional for referral purposes is vital
- Confidence and credibility is essential
- Ability to apply costing criteria to be able to come up with pricing services
The first and most important step in the planning process is to start to conceptualise one’s thoughts and ideas into a workable format. The feasibility study helps one to:
- organise one’s thoughts into a structured layout
- decide to go ahead with the idea or not
- present the plan to a lending institution to secure finance if this is required
Various structures are suggested for the feasibility study but some of the most essential components to cover are:
- Executive Summary – outlines the idea and sums up all the other components below
- Business idea – a brief description about what the business will be about, the services that one is hoping to sell, where and how these will be made available and to whom
- Marketing plan – the details about how exactly one is going to market the services. It involves all that one will do to find out who the customers will be and what they will need and want.
- Form of business – refer to the legal from that one will adopt for the business
- Staffing – what skills and experience does one require in the business and how many people will be needed to fulfil those tasks that one cannot personally devote time to
- Legal responsibilities and insurance – an understanding of the legal requirements of running a business will be essential as well as insurance (VAT, BEEE, indemnity to mention a few)
- Required start-up capital – refers to the amount of money that one needs to start the business.
- Sources of capital – refers to where one will obtain the necessary funding
- Costing – the ability to set prices for the services provided and planning will be dependent on careful and accurate costing
- Financial planning – refer to the planning of profit and monitoring of cashflow (projected and actual)
Once the feasibility study has been analysed and it is clear that the idea will work – i.e. make money, then one can proceed to write a more detailed business plan.
Stage 1: Preparation
- Why do I want to start a practice?
- Where will I start the practice?
- What are the legal requirements for the practice?
It also takes a great deal of mental preparation to move from a welfare mindset to a business one as entrepreneurship requires a very different set of skills.
A comprehensive business plan should contain information on the following:
- Financial policy
- Marketing plan
- Networking strategy
- Form of the business
Stage Two: Building Blocks
This involves actually starting the business and the focus is on things such as:
- Location of office and equipment/furniture
- Fee structure and how to collect money from clients
- Staffing needs
- Developing a contract for clients
- Ethical considerations to be aware of
- Type of record keeping
- Type and frequency of supervision
Stage Three: Finishing Touches
This refers to the stage where one looks back as the business and assesses its viability/success. One can gather the information through a monitoring and evaluation tool in order to conduct the review and make the necessary changes to refine the business.
Each and every one of these points are vital criteria that needs to be carefully considered by the potential private practitioner if he/she is to guarantee the success of the venture. It is a somewhat daring concept but the benefits, growth and personal development is worth every step. Professional Private Practitioners have really served to uplift the image of social workers all over the world and if one can remain focussed, identify limitations and strengths, then there is no stopping the growth and establishment of many a private practice in South Africa today.