Over the past couple of weeks, one of the biggest concerns coming to surface around private practice is how to sustain our income and businesses through this uncertain time. The topic at top of mind for many practitioners is keeping your clients through the COVID-19 crisis.
With most practitioners transitioning online, and the livelihood of many of our clients being jeopardized by work restrictions or lost jobs, many of practitioners in private practice have experienced decreased caseloads and lost income.
I’ve heard numerous stories of clients cancelling or pausing sessions either because of lost income, fears over lost income, or lack of interest or comfort in having their sessions online.
As business owners and therapists, we have choices to make around this.
We can surrender to the loss of clients and reduced caseloads (which will be inevitable in some cases), or we can take action to continue to support our clients and maintain our businesses.
My personal stance on this new challenge we are facing may at first feel counterintuitive or bring up uncertainty as to how to implement it. Yet, I believe that there are actions we can take that are both in the best interest of our clients and our businesses.
Many of you will be reading this at a point in time when you have already lost 25%, 50%, 75% or more of your caseload. If that’s the case, know that there is still hope and there are actions you can take to preserve your caseload and income.
If you have attempted to transition your clients online, and clients have expressed that they aren’t comfortable with online therapy, or have fear about the impact of the COVID-19 situation on their income and that they would prefer to pause or cancel their sessions, your natural reaction is likely to express understanding and support. The problem with letting clients go for these reasons are two-fold.
Firstly, as therapists, we are effectively discontinuing services at a time when our clients need it most. As Social Distancing reaches an all-time high and many of us are self-isolating, the need for connection and support from family, friends, community and our support systems has never been greater.
Secondly, clients discontinuing sessions, either temporarily or permanently, clearly has a negative impact on our business in both the short-term and the long-term. Not only do we not get to do the job we are trained to do by supporting our clients, but we lose income, and we potentially lose the opportunity to continue serving these clients in the future.
I am of the mindset that letting our clients go during this crisis, serves no one.
Rather than follow this path, I would like you to consider several things.
It is easier to maintain current clients than get new ones
Consider this … in a few months, as we begin returning to work and regain some sense of normalcy (granted, it will likely take a while for the economy to fully recover), it is much easier to continue with the clients you have, rather than trying to find new ones.
Many people are going to need mental health support as we come out the other side of this, but it is likely not going to be their first focus. On the other side of this, it will take some time to rebuild our practices to the level they were at before.
In that case, it makes more sense to focus on figuring out how to keep the clients you have, rather than letting them go and having to find new ones.
Be flexible with online sessions
The first burning question at this time, is “how do I keep clients who aren’t interested in online therapy?”
My experience in having worked online for a decade, and exclusively online for nearly 5 years, is that the hesitation is often due to lack of familiarity. Of course, we are not in the business of trying to talk anyone into doing anything they don’t want to do! If a client is clear that they don’t want to work online, then those are not the clients we’re discussing here. With them, simply make a plan to touch base, and resume your work together when they are ready.
For most clients, however, you’ll find that they are more uncertain than anything. Instead of giving them the option to switch online or pause/cancel sessions, invite them to try a single online session. In my experience, most clients who try an online session realize that it’s easier than they thought and that they received just as much benefit from working online as they did in person. I suspect that your clients will discover that too!
Offer a reduced rate or pro bono sessions
The second burning question is “how do I keep clients who have lost income and can’t afford to continue in therapy?”
As a business owner, you always have the option to be flexible with your rates. I’m not talking about giving discounts or incentives, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you lower your rates forever.
Yet, this is the time when our clients need us more than they ever have, and it doesn’t seem right to me to be abandoning them just as they lose their jobs or part of their income and need more support – not less.
Looking at the big picture, you will likely find that by offering a reduced rate to clients for a limited period of time will not only strengthen the relationship between you, but it will also sustain your business, generate excellent word of mouth referrals, and allow you to feel good about the work you are doing and the impact you are having.
It is highly unlikely that you are going to get an influx of new clients over the next few months. I would suggest that it’s better to keep the clients you have and work at a reduced rate (or even pro bono if necessary), than lose your client base and have to start from scratch.
If you extend a reduced rate to your clients who express that they cannot afford to continue in therapy, I recommend being clear about the timeline, perhaps starting with 30 days, and adding in an option to renew the reduced rate 30 days at a time until their finances become more stable.
Reach out to former clients
If you have experienced a drop in your caseload, considering reaching out to former clients. Not necessarily under the pretense of resuming therapy, but simply to check in with them.
You can send an email or phone them just to see how they are doing during this time. In the course of conversation, there may be an opening to invite them in for a session or two if needed – benefiting both them and you.
Above all, know that this is an incredibly difficult time. There is no way to do this perfectly. We are all struggling … and we are all in this together.
Please join us in the Build Your Private Practice Facebook Group for a live webinar later this week focusing on how to handle this time both personally and professionally. Guest hosts will be presenting on self-care, supporting your clients, understanding the impact of COVID-19 on your business, and strategies to show up as a leader in your community.
As always, you are welcome to book a free, 20-minute Business Mentorship Consult to see how I can help.