Word to the wise… let the ink dry on your degree or credentials before you set out on your entrepreneurial pursuit!

This past week I had the immense pleasure of speaking to students in the social work program at Morgan State University about entrepreneurship.

Some of the questions from the audience made me think of all the times people ask how soon you should start a business.

Should I be hanging my shingle as soon as I graduate…
how about the day after I receive my LCSW-C or LCPC in the mail? 

I am a huge advocate for entrepreneurship, but I found myself answering the question in a different way.  See, there are so many experiences that I would have missed out on had I gone directly from graduation to business ownership.

Developing a Professional Values System
One of my first positions as a Licensed Graduate Social Worker was in a therapeutic foster care program with Progressive Life Center in Baltimore, Maryland.  My early experiences at PLC set the tone for just about every aspect of my career and business.

They had a focus on relationships, developing clinical skill and being of genuine service to the community that completely shaped my professional value system.  PLC emphasized self care and built a sense of community amongst the staff that made us feel like family.

In that environment, I was supervised and mentored by other professionals that had years of experience.  They taught me so much about work life balance, documentation, establishing rapport, developing and implementing treatment plans.  I learned how to do this work beyond what is taught in the classroom.  That is why it is so important where you practice after graduation.

Learning my Best Fit
Your work environments help you learn more about yourself and the field in general.  I have an earlier article about Clinical Stamina.  This is the idea of getting to know your capacity for clinical work before you hang your shingle.  The time you spend in various work environments helps you to become clear about the populations you can best work with, the settings that are best for you and even gives you a chance to practice balancing self-care and commitment to clients.  Think of it as time to calibrate in the field, so that you grow naturally in your professional development and feel fully prepared at each level of the game.

Networking and Niches 
Depending on where you practice, you are likely to develop connections with other professionals that help to grow your career and provide you with fresh opportunities to practice in unique settings.  Developing your niche and expertise takes time and although you don’t have to be 100% clear when you hang your shingle…the clearer you are the better.

Having solid relationships with others in the community that can speak to your professional competence is a great asset when building a practice.  In the beginning, lots of your referrals will come word of mouth or through connections that you have with previous work environments or colleagues.

So I answered the question by encouraging these students to pace themselves, move in stages and benefit from mentoring, internships, supervision and apprenticeships.  Let yourself be a student of the profession as you gather expertise.

We are all beginners at some point in the process and there is room for us to relish the beginning status a bit more.  There is something beautiful about being on the road towards your goals.  The things you pick up along the way are priceless and are key to your success.

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