Give without expectation. If you think about the people you most like to refer your friends to, they are probably people that you trust. They have proven their service is valuable and they are an expert at what they do. You trust them because of what you’ve seen them do or what you’ve heard others say about them. In order to build trust we want to give freely. You can do this by giving referrals to your peers, giving workshops or doing speaking events at another wellness businesses or by posting free information on social media.
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 Kama Hurley
Kama Hurley has been a Licensed Counselor for the past 11 years. She started her own private practice in 2011 where she now sees clients as well coaches other therapists in creating a thriving 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?
Thank you for having me. I am one of the lucky ones who has always known what I wanted to do. I picked up a Carl Jung book when I was 12 and I just knew this was my path. However, I never saw myself as a business owner or entrepreneur. Through grad school I was working for a company as an administrator for kids with developmental disabilities and after I graduated I took over the mental health department as well. I loved advancing up the ladder and helping train other clinicians. It was actually a good friend of mine who worked for us for a short time who kept pressuring me to start my practice. She’d regularly check in and tell me I didn’t need to work as many hours or be as stressed as I was. I went to visit her at her practice and it was like I walked into a spa. It was so quiet and calm. When I learned she was making four times the amount I was per hour and working half as much as I was, I got curious and eventually took the leap into private practice.
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?
It’s going to sound weird, but when it comes to entrepreneurship, my ex-husband was probably my best example as an adult. Not because he had built big businesses or had some secret no one else had, but because he knew his truth that he was an entrepreneur. He never wavered from that and was always looking for ways to make that happened. He knew in his heart that working for someone else was not for him and that he would own his own business. There was never any doubt there. So when things got hard, or didn’t work out, it wasn’t a failure to him instead it was a detour.
When I started out with my practice I started it as a “jobby.” I treated it like a hobby that sometimes had a cool perk of receiving some extra money. I didn’t really treat it like a business initially. I kept dipping my toe in to see if it was real and if I really wanted to do it. Looking back, if I had the kind of commitment that he had toward being a business owner, I would be a lot further along now. I admire that kind of tenacity to go all in. I think it’s really fearless and vulnerable. You risk looking like a fool if it doesn’t work out, but without great risk there isn’t great reward.
What made you want to start your own practice? Can you tell us the story of how you started it?
I never thought I could own my own business. I always saw myself working for someone else. My colleague really opened my eyes to how much less stress it could entail. I was working at a mental health agency with some clients that were struggling with severe mental illness, a lot of suicidality, long hours, and low pay. Another counselor that worked with me had started her practice as was working at the clinic 1–2 days a week and she kept telling me that I was working harder than I needed to and that I would burn out at the rate I was going. She kept telling me stories of this mythical land of private practice where you work less, make more and work with clients who are more energizing. I brushed her and her fantasy world off as something that wasn’t for me, and quite honestly I don’t think I believed her. But she was persistent, and I’m so glad she was. She kept inviting me to her office to show me how peaceful it was. She even shared her income with me and tips on how to get started.
Eventually I agreed to rent office space from her group practice, but just on Saturdays. I was so hesitant to take a risk that I agreed to work more by adding a day to my schedule rather than risk anything. But quickly I discovered that she was right. I would work 4 hours on a Saturday and leave feeling like I just had the best day doing something really fun. I was completely energized. I slowly reduced my hours on the clinic on Fridays and added Fridays to my practice. When I filled my Fridays, I eventually dropped Mondays at the clinic. I think it took me 5 years before I went all in and quit my job. I had a lot of fear around being able to make it on my own. But I also had fear around losing my title and position that I had built running the clinic. I even had fear around getting bored doing only private practice for the rest of my career. Some people are fearless and can go all in, and I admire that, but in order to make this huge paradigm shift, I needed time.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the things that is really important to me for quality of life is to be able to travel. I love seeing other cultures, exploring new places, trying new food, all of it. So my dream has been to find a way to work and travel. Initially I trained to become a school counselor so I could work for an American International School in another country, but I got married instead. So the last 3 years I’ve really been focused on finding ways to be able to do that with my practice. The pandemic really helped with that, all of my clients were forced to transition into trying online counseling and many of them have really loved not having to commute to be able to get to their sessions.
My coaching clients have always done it that way, so this was the last piece I was needing to work out. Finally this spring I was able to travel to Mexico and work from there. It was AMAZING! I was able to watch the sunrise, exercise on the beach, have coffee and breakfast ocean front, all before I did a couple hours of work and then I could take the afternoon to explore or just lay on the beach. It was everything I had imagined. I love that having my own business has allowed me to create a lifestyle that I’ve always dreamed of. That never would have happened working in a clinic for someone else.
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?
Helping professionals are guided by their desire to help others. They are typically empaths that have huge hearts and didn’t get into the profession for the money. In graduate school as a counselor, there were messages being given that we shouldn’t profit from our client’s pain and that doing so would be unethical. I think there is wisdom in that guidance, but I think it’s also taught from a scarcity mindset.
I believe that healthcare is one of the most important jobs there is. Without our physical and mental health, what do we have? For years I watched my friends with less education than I had, making obscene amounts of money compared to what I was in other careers. It seemed so unfair, but it was what I signed up for. I was taught it was my ethical duty to do a lot of pro bono work, take sliding scale and help others while taking minimal compensation. We weren’t taught to market ourselves or how to run a business.
I had to learn how to reprogram my mindset. There are people out there that need my help, and in order to help them I have to let them know that I’m here. It’s my responsibility to market to them so they can find the help that they need. In order to be present, energized, and show up fully for them, I need to charge rates that allow me to work a limited amount of hours so I can take care of myself and my mental and physical health. That’s not greedy, that’s benefiting everyone and allowing me to share my gift and training with as many people as I can.
Helping professionals need to acknowledge their gifts they have to share with the world are valuable, and in order to share those gifts while having a balance in their own lives, they have to charge reasonable rates.
Managing being a provider and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?
I carve out time for both. Initially when I got started I booked every free hour I had with clients, but then was working nights and weekends to do the back end of running the business. I wasn’t really treating it like a business, I was treating it like a job first and a business second. I started getting burned out and resentful of the business and that’s when I made the shift. I realized that my hourly rate needed to include time for things like administrative time and vacation time. Now I schedule a couple hours into my week to manage the business and I take PTO just like I did when I worked for someone else.
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?
I never had a desire or knew it was possible for me to have my own business. I never saw myself as that “type” of person. So for me my path was slow. I think if I could have shown myself what my future would look like as a business owner, I would have picked up the pace and went all in, but that’s just not my personality.
Obviously I was scared financially to make the shift. I wondered ‘What would happen if I didn’t have enough clients?’ ‘How would I pay my bills?’ ‘What if there weren’t enough clients?’ etc. I definitely let fear hold me back. And sometimes that fear still kicks in. I’ve just learned to role with it and trust that things will be okay.
I think the scariest thing was stepping down from my role at the clinic I was going from a salary to fully relying on myself, and a few months later I found myself also going through a divorce so I was now solely responsible for my financial wellbeing as well as taking on a lot of debt from the divorce. I was scared and depressed so I was struggling to be really present at work anyway. I needed to take time off work to grieve, but didn’t feel like I could take much. It was a lot all at once.
I just had to keep going back to my “why.” I knew I was capable. I knew I could spend more time with clients and give them better care if I saw fewer of them a week. I knew my education, training, knowledge was worth more than the hourly rate I was getting. I knew I wanted a better life for myself just like I did for my clients and I could have it if I made the business work. So I kept going. I was on a mission to change people’s lives and really help them heal and thrive and I didn’t want to let them down. I knew if I kept working 40 hour weeks with clients I was going to need a career change because it wasn’t sustainable. So I just kept going.
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.)
- Give without expectation. If you think about the people you most like to refer your friends to, they are probably people that you trust. They have proven their service is valuable and they are an expert at what they do. You trust them because of what you’ve seen them do or what you’ve heard others say about them. In order to build trust we want to give freely. You can do this by giving referrals to your peers, giving workshops or doing speaking events at another wellness businesses or by posting free information on social media. Become someone with a wealth of knowledge that your peers and possible clients come to know and trust. This will help you become an expert in your area and people will gladly refer to you because you’ve been so helpful in the past. Giving builds trust and trust builds referrals. When I was building my business I collaborated with my chiropractor and started offering talks on the impact of stress on the body and simple things their patients could do to reduce their stress. I met with a gym owner and gave a talk on how stress impacts weight loss. I had coffee with a few other practitioners that I wanted to refer to and learned about their businesses so that when I started referring patients to them they knew who I was. Those practitioners heard about my treatment style and successes from our shared patients, and they began to refer back me.
- Set a fee you’re proud of. If you set your prices higher than you think you’re worth, you’ll be nervous about it, and that will show through to your potential clients. When we are nervous or unconfident we come across as inauthentic and people don’t trust inauthenticity. You want to choose a fee that you’re proud of. You aren’t afraid to tell your clients what your frees are, because you know they are getting so much value for that amount. When you say the amount, you don’t hesitate and you feel good about it. Know that you will (and should) raise your rates in the future, but when you’re just getting started you want to set a fee you feel good about rather than focusing on what everyone else is charging. I joined a small group practice when I first started. We all owned our own practices, but advertised together. They were all charging 95 dollars/session, and I was coming from working at an agency making 25 dollars/hour. I tried to keep up pace and charge the same fee, but when I’d get on consults with potential clients and I would tell them my fee, I would immediately say I offered a sliding scale. Sometimes I’d wait for their hesitation and then offer, but I never got off a call without offering an adjusted rate. I didn’t believe I had that much value to offer them and I was nervous they would know. Not many of those consults turned into paying clients because they would sense my hesitation. I didn’t have certainty that I could get them the results I thought were valued at at 95 dollars, and so they didn’t feel certain I could either. I had to drop my rates, build my confidence and slowly raise my rates after that. Now I charge much more than that, and most of my consults become paying clients because I have no doubt about the value I’m giving them.
- Marketing is necessary not narcissistic. You are drawn to helping people for a reason. You have a gift to share with people and they need you. But if you don’t let them know you are here and you can help them, they will never find you. Most helping professionals shy away from marketing or are even taught that it isn’t in the client’s best interest, but that just isn’t true. You must let people know you are here and ready to help them. My counseling training didn’t encourage private practice and in ethics we covered marketing. We weren’t taught how to market ethically, we were taught all of the ways it could be done unethically. This sent a message that marketing was unethical. I really struggled to shift my mindset to be ok with marketing myself and my business and this held me back for several years. It was another counselor who finally said to me “You have a beautiful gift that you are able to use to help people, they want your help, why aren’t you letting them know that you can help and how to find you?” She was right. It is my life’s purpose to help others reduce their suffering and find joy in their lives. I’ve spend tens of thousands of dollars on education to be able to help. There was no reason for me to be sitting alone in my office waiting for the phone to ring. So I worked with a coach for awhile to shift my mindset so I could tell people that I understand their pain and that I can help.
- Identify your ideal client as quickly as possible. You want to fill your practice with people you feel energized working with and you want the patients that aren’t a good fit to be able to find someone who is. You’re the perfect fit for some people, but not everyone. It’s better for everyone if you figure out who your want to work with as quickly as possible. This might change over time, but you need to know who you work best with and why. I graduated from a counseling school that taught general mental health counseling. We didn’t learn how to specialize in anything, just the basic skills and theory necessary to build a foundation. It took me a couple of years working at an agency with every client that walked through the door before I began understand that there were some clients and some problems I enjoyed working with more than others. It took me getting burned out and starting my own practice before I really learned who my ideal clients are. I started paying attention to my energy before, during and after every session. Which clients did I feel drained seeing on my schedule and why? Which ones did the hour fly by and I felt like a super hero after? This is deeply personal, and has evolved over the last decade, but I still regularly check in and pay attention to my energy so I can keep serving people that I work best with and I can leave at the end of the day feeling energized.
- Embrace your Youness. I know you see other people being successful and you want to emulate that, but you need to be you. Your quirky, authentic self is the perfect fit for your ideal client. Be genuine and let your youness shine through in your marketing. Bringing your best self to your marketing and your practice, will make working more fun for you and it will help your ideal client find you.
I have a friend and mentor who I totally look up to. She always seems so put together in the office and incredibly professional. She even has those glasses that are just for looks so she appears smarter (or so she says). She was my professional idol and I totally wanted to be her. I modeled what she did: I was very stoic in my sessions, was very verbose and precise in my marketing materials and I created the illusion that I too was as professional as she was. However, after some time this felt exhausting. I was attracting clients to my business that wanted that type of therapist and I was giving it to them. Out in public I felt like I needed to continue this charade and I got more and more exhausted with it.
One day I decided to try something different. I was just going to be me. I am by nature a funny, laid back, quirky human and decided to let my weirdness shine through. My business became so much more fun when I made this switch. I started getting clients who had similar personalities and I could use humor and curse in session and authentic presence ended up helping them feel more comfortable to go deeper. I started shifting my marketing and began to really enjoy marketing because I wasn’t using someone else’s voice. I branded my business in colors that I liked rather than colors that fit the image I was using. Everything about my business shifted and became more me. I even felt more relaxed in my personal life because I knew if I ran into another professional or a client in public that they would be running into the same person they knew professionally rather than feeling like I’d be caught without my mask on. Just be you.
For more on these tips you can find a videohere
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 have found that it works best if I schedule time in my week to work on my business. I struggle with staying on task, being organized, and getting overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. I’ve found that mornings are when I’m most clear and able to handle complicated tasks, so I schedule time in my calendar to get business tasks done in the mornings. I even have reminders on my phone for things like quarterly taxes or filing deadlines. I schedule time every week to create content for marketing or updating my website. I keep a sticky note on my laptop background for ideas I have as they come up to grow or shift my business and then I take a look at them during the allotted time. I’ve found that batching my time for specific tasks like that helps me get the most done in a focused amount of time. I also have good boundaries around my time and only allow for one coffee or networking activity a week, so I don’t say yes to every opportunity that comes along, but I continue to do things to market and 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?
Stress is one of our biggest assets and weaknesses. It will push us to get through grad school or start a new business, but it will also burn us out and compromise our health and relationships. One way I like to manage the balance between being a business owner and managing my mental health is by regularly taking a look at my why. “Why am I working so hard? What is it all for?” The answer for me is to help others improve their quality of life while also improving mine. If my business isn’t improving my quality of life, things are out of balance and need reassessed. I want time to go hiking with my dogs, take trips with my sweetie, have lunch with my friends and happy hour with my mom. If I don’t have the time and energy for those things, I get tired, resentful, and I start getting sick more often. Just like you can’t work harder for you clients than they will work for themselves, you also can’t work harder for your clients than you are for yourself. Take the time for self-care. Give from an overflowing bucket. Don’t be a martyr and sacrifice yourself to save others. No one is asking you to do those things.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
“The only way you fail is to quit.” I’ve found that the failures I’ve encountered have all taught me something. They’ve been growth opportunities that have shed light on something I didn’t see before. There’s been times I’ve felt like quitting. It would certainly be easier to go work for someone else, but I have why’s that keep me going. So when something feels like a failure, I see it as a learning opportunity and just keep going.
The beginning of the pandemic definitely felt like I was headed for failure. Most of my clients are small business owners. When the pandemic hit and their businesses closed, many of them couldn’t afford to continue counseling because they didn’t know how long they would stay closed for or if they would have a business when it was over. It was a time when they needed help the most, but felt like it wasn’t their priority. For me it also meant that it was impacting my business financially, on top of struggling with all the same issues my clients were with the impact of what was happening in the world.
It felt like a time that failure was a real possibility, but it also didn’t feel like an option. I can’t see myself going back to working for someone else now, so I needed to figure out how to make it work because I wasn’t going to quit. So I offered a lot of pro bono counseling. I went back to tip #1 “Give without expectation.” I was home and had nothing better to do, so I wasn’t losing money by offering free sessions. It actually gave me something to do and to feel good about so I wasn’t wallowing in my own misery. And it helped me feel good that I was helping my clients at a time when they needed it the most. I knew it would be temporary and even though I didn’t know how it would work out, I knew somehow it would all be ok. From that came really loyal clients who are doing well and my business is back on track. Plus now I have a business that is more mobile than ever before. Know your why’s and don’t quit.
How can our readers further follow your work online? You can find me on my website or on social media.
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success and good health!