Private Practice through Contracting . . . to Working with Organizations


There is nothing at all wrong with using contracts to provide counseling to people who need the services.  In fact, we have a free eBook to help therapists do exactly that. For some professionals this is the full-extent of what they hope to do.  Fine. No worries. This is typically the type of "first contract" therapists enter into beyond joining insurance panels. But, sometimes, therapists would like to do something more. Provide a workshop . . . do team-building . . . help a colleague with employee conflict. Something different. Something creative. They may want to bridge a gap in services. They may simply be ready to move beyond helping another client with the same issues they have treated hundreds of times. Or they want to get away from the burdens of the same old documentation and  insurance practices they have endured for years.

Once therapists discover the idea of contracting with organizations they often begin to creatively think of new ways they can use their skills.  I've had colleagues who have developed contracts centered on their experience and abilities in accounting, the military, pre-natal and breastfeeding services, free-lance writing, community development, professional practices, and churches. Each one has brought their unique interests, life-experiences, and skills to help organizations and businesses with their needs. My job as colleague, professor, consultant or friend was to help them understand the process and avoid the pitfalls of acting as a consultant to organizations.   So here is a list of "critical items" I have learned along the way.  I will follow this with some steps you can take to move toward consulting with organizations. I hope you find it helpful!

Critical items I have learned along the journey . . . 

Customers always object to the cost . . . and don't want to accept less value. If you resist the anxiety prompting you to want to discount your price you will find that the objection is not usually a "real" barrier to using your services.

Scope creep is one of the worst enemies. Customers often want to "add one more thing" after the contract is signed. This can kill your ability to remain viable long-term if you do not get paid for "additional work."

Most counselors are uncomfortable about money issues and will under-price their services. In the teaching and training I have done I would estimate that a full 80-90% of professionals talk about reducing their fees as a means to get work. It usually is fear that one does not have real value to provide and a generalized belief that organizations don't want to spend money. Neither is true.

Counselors also under-value their abilities and the benefits they can bring to organizations. It amazes me that some of the most educated, skilled, and insightful people--counselors--who daily teach people to value themselves often reflect very little confidence in themselves.  Oh yes, they are confident in some areas but when it comes to venturing into new domains we, as a group, are often not in the vanguard. Adopting the idea that "I want to help more people in different contexts" can help avoiding the fear that you do not "have what it takes." 

Finding an experience partner or coach can help you "get out there" and do it. It is important to remember that you are not alone.  I have an accountant, graphic designer/social marketer, editor, videographer, and business partner that help me do things that I do not have the time, skill, desire, or need to do.

A proposal is the final step of a conceptual agreement that has already occurred not a marketing tool to try and sell your services. Writing a proposal to work for an organization is the final step.  Almost all of your proposals should turn into paid contracts. If you have focused on developing a conceptual agreement before you draft a proposal you will be a consultant and not a proposal writer.

Organizations really need what we provide. If you could accompany meet to meetings I have with senior managers and listen to the conversations we have you would pick up on the fact that most of these highly talented individuals are not trained or experienced in understanding people!  Concepts that we see as basic, broadly known, ideas about people--that they need structure, boundaries protect relationships, defense mechanisms, projection--are routinely misunderstood or unrecognized. 

It's not "rocket science." It's really not. Learning about business, having exploratory meetings, conducting interviews, developing a proposal, assessing and intervening all sound like difficult "new things" to learn. In reality it is simply applying the skills and knowledge you have in a new way. The more difficult aspect of consulting is defining what it is that you want to do, creating a sustainable and repeatable practice of marketing and operations, and growing the business. Fortunately that comes long after your first contract for most therapists transitioning to consultants.

So, what can help you get there?

  1. Begin to read, read, read . . . widely and deeply about business and consulting. Look our expertise is people. We get them. We know what motivates them. We understand their defense mechanisms and what prompts change. What many of us don't know is business and consulting to that sector. Fortunately, we do know how to learn. So learn!
  2. Take an inventory of your experience, skills, and knowledge.  What could I learn to do for organizations? This is not a time to be modest or "humble." What are you good at? In what areas are you an expert? Who has already trusted you to help and what made them trust you?  A realistic inventory focused on recognizing your strength can help you be willing to learn and grow in areas that you are not naturally gifted.
  3. Don't let fear determine your path. Fear is the enemy of a reasonable risk that could improve your circumstances. Are the risks as high as you make them or are they just a case of catastrophic fear? 
  4. Find a structure to help you get started. One of the biggest early challenges is having a conceptual process to guide your work. My original consulting "framework" cam from a Qualitative Research Methods class and through the guidance of the professor. It has developed through reading widely and learning from other consultants and "trial and error." You can get this by going through a coaching certification process, adopting it from other consultant's writings, or through mentoring and advising. A "map" to help guide you through the process is critical.
  5. Engage with experts and gurus. Ask others to help. if you are serious about working with organizations talk to the pioneers that have gone before you. Often they are happy to provide short, focused, tips to help you along.  Just remember to be appreciative of their time and effort!
  6. Consider doing a "gig" for free. One way to "lower the bar" and get started is to offer to do a free consulting gig for someone you already know and in whom you have a great deal of trust. Admit up front that you are in a learning process, keep the scope of the project limited to something you are comfortable doing, and use this process to move toward a paying job. Remember, you can rely on other advisors, mentors, or your own consultant to help you get through this successfully.
  7. Focus on "how you can help" not "am I competent enough?" My trainees get excited about helping people who have unmet needs.  This is what consulting is all about.  Don't dwell on fears that you do not "know enough"--find it out! Don't give into the belief that you have nothing valuable to add--if you have decided this project is within your scope of ability,then just do it.  Ask yourself "what would it take to do this? and avoid asking "am I the best person to do this?" You're not . . . and it doesn't matter. They trust you.
  8. Don't ignore warning signs. None of what I said above means that you should be reckless! Don't try to do something that is so far out of your experience, talent, skill or comfort level that it could end badly.  Stay within a comfortable to slightly uncomfortable range.
  9. Always focus on learning. You do not know everything you need to know. You probably never will.  But you will provide value and learn. By learning you will have more value to give in the next consulting gig. 

All the best!

Beyond the Couch. is the story of how I became a business and organizational consultant and the pragmatic process and tools I have used to work with organizations and businesses. It was developed as a graduate class to teach students how to work with organizations.  In it you will learn how to develop the right mind-set, get introduced to the world of business, learn about the tools of consulting, understand the proposal process, and learn how to price your services.  You will also get a lot of encouragement and real examples of proposals,  consulting tools and reports.