Ashleen Neeson of Clear Mind London: “Money Mind set”

Money Mind set — Really take some time to think about your beliefs and attitude towards money, both in regards to your spending and receiving of money. Perhaps you have been taught that “money doesn’t grow on trees” or that making a lot of money is wrong, especially in the helping industry. Or maybe you love spending […]

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Money Mind set — Really take some time to think about your beliefs and attitude towards money, both in regards to your spending and receiving of money. Perhaps you have been taught that “money doesn’t grow on trees” or that making a lot of money is wrong, especially in the helping industry. Or maybe you love spending money and run up credit card debt that doesn’t always get paid off at the end of the month.

Private practice will mean you have to invest some money at the beginning before you are able to earn any. This can be difficult but think of this as an investment in yourself. You have already come this far, once you start seeing clients you can begin to pay off any debts and start making money for yourself.

As a part of our interview series with prominent medical professionals called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashleen Neeson.

Ashleen is a graduate of The University of Manchester, having gained a BA degree in Law and Accountancy. Since then she has travelled the world, spent almost a decade working in fashion before changing her career and now she runs her own private counseling practice in South West London. She now teaches other practitioners how to successfully manage the more practical elements and business side of private practice.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?

I was born and grew up in a small town in Northern Ireland with my parents, sister and two brothers.

I gained a degree in Law and Accountancy from The University of Manchester. Even before I started the course I knew it wasn’t the one for me but I hadn’t a clue what I wanted so I blindly went with other peoples suggestions as it give me “a good foundation”. After finishing University I wasn’t ready to start a career, mostly because I still didn’t have a direction so I went traveling for a year.

My last stop was the Rio Carnival so I was on a high and ready to live somewhere exciting. My sister lives in London and conveniently for me had a spare room, so off I went to London. I got a job in fashion merchandising and worked in this industry for almost 10 years. I enjoyed the first few years but it soon became unsatisfying. It was low pay and high workload and a toxic bullying work environment. The thing that kept me there for so long was the people. However, the struggle became too much and I knew I there had to be more to life, I wanted to enjoy going to work rather than dread it. This is when I considered my current career as a counselor.

I first started my counseling journey when I was 18, I suffered from an eating disorder and asked my GP for a referral. This wasn’t a great counseling experience but thankfully it didn’t put me off. I saw a few different therapists over the years and remember each of them fondly. In the back of my head I wondered what it would be like to be in the other chair and become the counselor but convinced myself that that was ridiculous, how could I the client become the counselor? After a few years I allowed myself to voice my thoughts and was relieved to be met with encouragement.

I worked full time and studied part time in the evenings and weekends to qualify as a counselor. The day after I qualified I handed in my notice and started planning my private practice. I have now been in private practice for 2 years, working for myself and I don’t regret any of it.

I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?

My dad is my biggest supporter and someone I have always turned to for all sorts of advice. I could never have gotten to where I am today without his encouragement and support. He has changed his career multiple times and since has built a business and life that he is very proud of. When I felt trapped in my previous career he was the person telling me to change and go after something that made me happy.

The biggest lesson I have learnt from my dad is that it ok to take risks. He took up snowboarding at 50 and motoring biking at 60, it doesn’t matter how old I am, age does not define what I can do. Making myself happy should be the priority.

What made you want to start your own practice? Can you tell us the story of how you started it?

During my training I worked within placements where I learnt a lot about how the mental health sector works but I was constrained to their policies and ways of working. Alongside this I was working full time in a job that I disliked and I was growing tired of 9–5 life and not being able to make my own decisions. There are also very few job opportunities within organizations and the few that are available are often paid very poorly. I felt that I had gained enough experience from my previous roles and watching my family in business to give private practice a go. Once I submitted my last assignment I handed in my notice the next day and started planning out what I would need to get my private practice started. The business part of private practice isn’t covered within the learning so I had to quickly learn this myself. This meant a lot of research on locations, marketing, writing bios, setting up accounts, and endless cups of tea.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When I started private practice I wasn’t aware of quite how many people would pop up with very imaginative scams. Thankfully I have never been caught out by them but have come close, especially at the beginning when I was a little more naïve. Scammers have become so convincing and sophisticated that it certainly keeps me on my toes. If it sounds too good to be true there’s a good chance that it isn’t.

Because it is a “helping profession”, some healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization.” How do you address the business aspect of running a medical practice? Can you share a story or example?

This is something I hear a lot. If you are seen as a “helper” then how can that also mean making money? It often makes people feel very uncomfortable.

Once I was qualified I found a new supervisor, I was really excited, I thought I was in great hands and she would help me transition from student to qualified therapist and give me advice with the business beside of things too. In our first session she said “Private practice is NOT a business”. According to her it was a vocation (where she charged me and all her other clients). I left feeling very confused and judged, it was not the partnership that I had anticipated. I thought maybe she meant that it’s not like other purely transactional businesses, we have a unique duty of care towards our clients that goes way beyond money. However, it soon became clear that we were not aligned in our views and we had quite an uncomfortable ending.

The reality is that this is a business and so much more. During my training I had 2 placements volunteering consecutively for 2 years, I had spent thousands of pounds on training and was working my backside off trying to be the best therapist I could be and create the lifestyle that I wanted. Why couldn’t I make money while doing something that I love?

I am of the belief that counselors are often undervalued and under paid. You just need to look at the salary of counselor in organizations to see this. We have skills that we have developed and nurtured, and invested a lot of money in and deserve to be valued accordingly. I am not saying that counseling services should only be accessible to those who can afford it — that’s a discussion for another time — but we deserve to be paid fairly for our services.

I have expenses to pay — room rent, supervision, therapy, CPD, marketing costs and this is all before we actually pay ourselves a wage to pay for our personal expenses. Not to mention having something left over for some luxuries such as holidays, trips etc. Self-care is a big topic in our industry but we can’t always get it for free and therefore we do have to be paid fairly for our services and what you decide to charge is entirely up to you, it’s your business after all.

Managing being a provider and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?

This took some getting used to, especially at the beginning. Seeing someone as a therapist but then having to chase them for payment as a business owner. Boundaries became very important here. I have found that having honest conversations as soon as is possible is usually the best approach.

I also have set days and times to review the business side of things. I do not see clients on Fridays and so that is usually when I can review the week, payments in and out and do my accounts.

I also have amazing support in the form of my own therapy and supervision where I am able to explore any difficulties I am experiencing.

From completing your degree to opening a practice and becoming a business owner, your path was most likely challenging. Can you share a story about one of your greatest struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

The time from completing my course to starting private practice was quite quick. The biggest challenge for me was knowing what to do first. I knew that I had a lot to do but I wanted to begin with what would make the biggest impact. For me that was finding a room in a location where I could attract clients. I spent time researching different areas that I could easily commute to, accessible for clients and where I could charge the fee that I wanted to charge. Once I narrowed this down I researched potential rooms and booked in viewings. I was fortune to find what I was looking for on my first visit. It was still a building site when I viewed the space but I knew it had everything that I was looking for. The biggest challenge was paying for the room when I hadn’t even got a client yet.

Ok, thank you. Here is the main question of our interview. What are the 5 things you need to know to create a thriving practice, and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Money Mind set

Really take some time to think about your beliefs and attitude towards money, both in regards to your spending and receiving of money. Perhaps you have been taught that “money doesn’t grow on trees” or that making a lot of money is wrong, especially in the helping industry. Or maybe you love spending money and run up credit card debt that doesn’t always get paid off at the end of the month.

Private practice will mean you have to invest some money at the beginning before you are able to earn any. This can be difficult but think of this as an investment in yourself. You have already come this far, once you start seeing clients you can begin to pay off any debts and start making money for yourself.

Charging clients can often be a really uncomfortable area for those new to private practice. This is now your business and your livelihood. I had spent thousands of pounds on training and working really hard trying to be the best therapist I could be and create the lifestyle that I wanted. Why wouldn’t I treat it like a business?

2. Online presence

A website is the best way for people to read all about you and how you can help them, it’s your shop window. If you can afford it then you can get someone to make it for you but this is not essential. There are so many free website builders available now that make it very simple. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and made my own website over a weekend.

However, before you start making your website you need to decide what you’re going to call it and buy your domain name (I used Go Daddy). Think about what your client will think when they see the name, you want them to know what services you offer straight away eg. doesn’t tell me anything but tells me straight away that Sarah Smith is a counsellor. You don’t have to use your name, you can call your business something completely different but don’t make it so fancy or complicated that people don’t know what you do. A tip is to buy your domain name asap as all the good ones that I had thought of were already taken so if you have an idea just buy it now.

It’s all good and well having a website but it doesn’t mean anything if your potential clients cannot find you. Using SEO (Search Engine Optimisation ) basically means that your website is more visible, dramatically increasing the chances of your ideal client finding you amongst the 1000s of other therapists.

Everyone has social media these days so this is a great way to connect with potential clients. There are lots of options — Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, LinkedIn, Twitter and even TikTok. You don’t have to do all of them and in fact I would recommend that you don’t. Choose one to begin with, maybe the one you are most comfortable with and spend time on getting that right. Remember the whole point is to let people know that you exist and to engage with your potential clients so whichever platform you choose, be consistent. It’s also a great way to direct people towards your website so they can find out more about you and how you can help them.

Always keep your ideal client in mind, which social media platform are they most likely to be on most often and at what time of the day are they most likely to be using it?

3. Specialise

Do you have an ideal client in mind? If you have a specialism then make sure people know about it. When you are marketing yourself keep this client in mind, this is who you are talking to. E.g if you work with bereavement and loss then make this clear to your potential clients.

If you have a specialism then you can be the go to person for that particular area and you are much more likely to receive referrals from other therapists.

If you work with the areas that you enjoy you will get so much more out of your work and have a lot more energy and it will make you a much better therapist.

4. Referrals

Start talking! Networking is one of the most successful ways to get referrals. There are lots of groups that you can join to get to know other therapists. ‘Meet Up’ is a great one and if there isn’t a group in your area then create one!

It’s really simple and a great opportunity to connect with other therapists who will want to have you on their referral list when they are at capacity or if the client is not their ideal client but it could be yours.

Within the practice that I work there are other therapists and we often refer to one another when we are at capacity or we believe that the client would be best suited to another therapist.

Are there any groups, clubs, schools, GPs near you that would happily recommend you to their clients? Think about where your ideal client is likely to be.

5. Reduce time and money

If you are money rich but time poor then pay professionals to do what you can’t. If you are money poor but time rich then start watching lots of YouTube videos and reading lots of blogs, you will learn a whole new set of skills. If you are money and time poor then do what you can, just get started, get yourself on a free directory and start building your business bit by bit.

Make a list of things you need to do, which of these can you do yourself and which ones do you need help with? Do you know anyone who might be willing to help you get started and do it for free or low cost? Then what do you absolutely need to invest in? By doing this there is less chance of you spending lots of money of things you don’t need.

Eg. Do you need a professional photographer or does your phone do a good enough job right now? Do you need an accountant? Can you build your own website?

Remember you can start now and change things up as you go

As a business owner you spend most of your time working IN your practice, seeing patients. When and how do you shift to working ON your practice? (Marketing, upgrading systems, growing your practice, etc.) How much time do you spend on the business elements?

I make sure that I have time off from seeing clients so usually I will work Monday — Thursday in practice and I don’t schedule any clients on Fridays so I can catch up with admin and work on my business. It is important to have this time carved out so I can focus on the essential things to grow my business.

I understand that the healthcare industry has unique stresses and hazards that other industries don’t have. What specific practices would you recommend to other healthcare leaders to improve their physical or mental wellness? Can you share a story or example?

Really think about the times you want to work and what fits into your schedule. Maybe mornings and daytime are better for you or perhaps you would rather work in the evenings. When you begin it is easy to fall into the trap of working at times that are not suitable for you because you really want to build up your client base. When I first started out I had my diary wide open so I ended up working early in the morning and late at night because that seemed to be what clients wanted. This however meant I didn’t see my friends and family as much and I wasn’t doing much in the day time because I was so tired. You might think/feel that you need to be really flexible to suit your clients and while there is a degree of flexibility I have learnt that it has to be within the hours that I am willing to work.

Find something that you like to do that isn’t about your job. I realised that I was reading a lot but they were all books to do with therapy which meant I wasn’t really switching off.

Take scheduled breaks. During the pandemic I was working pretty much non-stop and it was starting to take its toll. Breaks are so important so now I schedule in at least a week off every quarter.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

“In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take”

Give yourself room to make the wrong decision, we are all human and we won’t always get it right. Take the pressure off yourself and allow yourself to make some wrong choices, you will learn so much more from this than from not taking risks.

Once I was qualified I quit my full time job but hadn’t prepared anything yet for private practice. People told me to start things off gradually alongside my job to minimise the risk but I knew that this wasn’t an option for me. I had no clients, no website, no room and no income but I knew I wanted to jump straight in and give it my all and this is exactly what I did. While it was a struggle and I often doubted myself I do not regret any of it.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My therapy

Facebook page on building a private practice:

PDF with tips on building private practice:

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success and good health!

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