Today is the final blog in our series on how to create the Full Client Experience. We have taken you from Marketing Mindset to how to greet clients once they arrive in your office, but a frequently overlooked piece is how we maintain our relationship with clients over time.
It seems easy at first, but as your client load grows and you grow as a business owner, there are many competing priorities that make it challenging to do and be all of what you want for your clients and practice.
So what do you do when the time competition begins?
Well, first you need to remember one very important thing…
Everything about the way you design your services must send a signal to your clients that you are competent, compassionate and on top of things.
The way that your practice interacts with your client—everything from phone calls to being fully present in session–impacts the quality of your therapeutic relationship. You have to be on your “A” game in order to set the right tone with your client.
So how do you do that?
Growing your practice requires that you learn everything from marketing and networking to document creation and financial management. It can be overwhelming. What happens when an administrative task is pressing, but a client needs your attention now? You must remember that focusing on your clients is the most important part of your business. In fact, it is the whole reason why you have built the business in the first place. Stay in the moment with your client whenever you are in session. Give your full attention to your client’s needs, no matter how pressing of a business matter you may face.
A growing practice should have a system of client care that can be used at minimum and maximum client capacity. As you are thinking through your client care plan, really focus on providing a level of client care that you will be able to sustain when your practice is full.
Your system should answer questions like “How will you handle scheduling and payment collection so that it feels smooth and seamless?” “What happens if you need time off?” Having a plan, developing systems, and doing things the same way all the time helps clients to build a trusting relationship with you. It also keeps you from having to overthink what to do when certain situations arise.
Streamline administrative duties.
The real time drain on your practice will come in the form of things you have to do outside of the session in order to keep the practice moving forward. I remember early on, having a handwritten billing log that I updated manually for each and every client. This was in addition to the billing sheet that I submitted to my outsourced biller! That kind of internal redundancy was such a drain on time and took away from my ability to grow my practice in other ways.
Administrative tasks are absolutely essential to your private practice’s success. Take care to develop simple plans for how you’ll manage those things. Wherever you can, merge certain tasks to maximize your efforts and free up time. That is precisely what I did with my billing redundancy issue. I asked myself, “Where is this information really needed?”. The result was letting go of individualized hand written logs and tweaking my daily billing sheet so it captured all the information I wanted to retain. Doing so not only freed up time, but began to set the stage for thinking like a group practice and not just an individual managing a single caseload. Ask yourself, “What do you really need to accomplish here?”
Be all about professionalism.
When you hear the word “professionalism” what comes to mind? Is it appearance, timeliness, appropriate conversation, competency in service? Everything from the way you look, how you speak, and the way you engage sends a message to your clients about your professionalism. Starting now, take a no excuses approach to showing up with excellence. If there are areas where you are challenged in your professionalism, set small goals to help you improve in that area.
Be willing to see the beauty in complaints.
When complaints come (and they will)…be open to what your clients are expressing. Every client complaint, no matter how small or outlandish, is an opportunity for you to consider a new and better way of doing things. Perhaps there is a need for a change in policy or procedure. We can’t learn when we think we know. Take personal responsibility for everything that happens in your practice as it will activate a secret weapon called personal growth.
If you want your practice to show up its best, be open to improvements no matter where they come from. Learn from your clients and stay committed to giving them your absolute best. Treat them with special care, focusing on their needs first. In the end, you’ll be rewarded with a client who sticks with you and may even be a great referral source.
What can you do to take good care of your clients? Give me a call and let’s talk about it.
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.