Do not lone wolf your business, use your networks, expand them continuously and pay for consultation for both the business and clinical side. My best referrals come from past clients and clinicians that know me. In order to grow beyond my imagination I needed feedback from others. It saved time and money.
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 Kimberly Perlin LCSW-C.
Kimberly is a psychotherapist in Towson, Maryland. She specializes in helping scrappy women raised in emotionally chaotic homes step into their power. She is known as a truth bomber, a fangirl of the resilient and the therapist for folks that don’t like therapy.
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?
Well I started out going to college majoring in English and Philosophy, thinking I would end up in academia. In college I did a lot of social work/social justice activities. I did not take any social science courses in college besides anthropology. I moved to Maryland to establish residency for a grad program and ended up working for Baltimore City Department of Social Services and fell in love with the field. From there I went on to get my masters and worked in Baltimore City for a number of years. I switched to a group practice in the county with the birth of my first son as the hours worked better for my family. I had no intention of ever starting a business — ever. After a few years in the group practice it became apparent I needed to be my own boss. I wanted to make more money and specialize which clashed with the way the group practice was run.
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?
For each part of my career there were very talented people I had the dumb luck of working for and around. The strongest influences I would say were a boss & coworker of mine at my first job at DSS. My boss Jill had a sense of compassion and work ethic that was unmatched. She could step into anyone’s story and treat them with respect. My job at the time was high stress, high turnover and under-resourced. My coworkers had every excuse to not give their best and she gave her all every day. She knew everyone’s name and had a great sense of humor about some of the insane situations the job forced us to be in. Jill was clear on what she could and could not change. And she worked as hard if not harder than any of her staff. She really challenged me to grow past my own experience because frankly it was embarrassing to be not empathetic around her.
As for my coworker Elaine she was street smart in a way I had never seen in action. She knew everyone in the neighborhoods, could read who had the unofficial power in every situation and had a particular talent for working with the most difficult clients. No one knew her cases better than her and she was a fierce advocate for her clients but was smart enough to be aware of her own self preservation. She could talk to anyone, and saved my skin in more than one situation. She could accept people for who they were and where they were in life without making them feel small. I was and am still amazed at the way she could get angry and difficult folks to work with her. She wasn’t afraid of strong emotions and did her best work when emotions/stakes were high. She was fearless at having the difficult and honest conversations most folks would run from which spoke volumes to clients stuck in a system with so much red tape and inconsistency.
What made you want to start your own practice? Can you tell us the story of how you started it?
I found myself evolving clinically where I didn’t want to see ‘everyone.’ I couldn’t work exclusively with the folks I thrived treating. I recognized that I liked clients that no one else in my practice liked so there wasn’t anyone to consult and at times there was pressure for me to see more clients than was healthy. In group practice the business gets a cut of everything I do — I was giving money away simply because I was afraid of the business end of private practice. As my boys grew I realized I couldn’t make the amount of money required to pay for the type of education I wanted for my children.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There was a time when a client was taken away by the feds in my parking lot. I was in contact with the client’s attorney and he called me right before the client’s appointment, instructing me not to go out into my parking lot. I had only seen the client a few times but noticed a tattoo that I believed was a reference to white supremacy and had a plan to ask about it that day. That fiasco highlighted to me how I needed to work for myself so I could have more control of who I see. Now I screen such clients out in my website copy.
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?
My field, social work, attracts predominantly women and people of color — I believe the guilt we are served for making money from helping others has to do with keeping us ‘in our place.’ Really though you could replace social work with teaching, or nursing and the same thinking happens. We need to demand more from our fields and not shrink from power. I think the phrase “you aren’t in this for the money” is hogwash. We expect surgeons to get paid, no one feels entitled to shame them for making a living so I believe the same logic should apply. People are paying for my expertise and I deserve to be paid for that just as a lawyer, doctor or dentist. My work and training are worth something and I need to model how I see my worth for my clients that are also stepping into their worth.
An example of how I address this in my business — I have had many clients make statements of how I am paid to care about them. I am able to differentiate between paying for my expertise which they certainly do pay for and my care/concern which is mine to give. Then we focus on how those statements had more to do with attachment and their concerns about emotional intimacy and how better to express those concerns. What clients play out with me happens in their lives and that exploration is clinically rich.
Managing being a provider and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?
You need to carve out time for both and let go of what isn’t essential or gives you joy. Delegate tasks to folks that can do it. Get consultation for the business side and the clinical side of your practice. Many therapists hate spending money but it is essential to save money and heartache in the long game.
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?
Mindset -in graduate school it is hammered into our heads that we will not make money and cannot expect much. If we want to make money in this field we are either morally corrupt or naive. Neither is true. You will get flack from other colleagues and friends when you decide to step up your game — recognize that isn’t your stuff to deal with. The decision to go all in and not treat my practice like a hobby required a lot of personal work to believe in my ability to make it happen.
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.)
- Know your numbers — do not rely on your friend and colleagues for your price points. Factor in whether your numbers support your lifestyle, dreams and actual bills, do not leave anything out. I spent years avoiding math — not calculating what I really needed to make my life work and left money on the table countless times by undercharging.
- Know your ideal client — all the marketing magic comes from knowing who you want to work with. Originally my website was all generic copy and it was a gamble to see who would call. I had to throw away all of it and write to my ideal client. I had to invest money to learn how to write to my ideal client. By knowing my ideal client I can screen out who I don’t want to work with, who I want to attract and my clients get a clear sense of who I am coming into therapy which makes the entire process smoother.
- Expect to work on marketing weekly if not daily & do your research to know what marketing reaches your ideal client. I work in a saturated market — I needed to know where my clients were looking for therapy and then to reach out to them via specific marketing to stand out.
- Be open and embrace change, be teachable and expect to experience fear — do the scary thing anyway. Nothing new comes without discomfort and fear. I believe our culture has inaccurately taught us that we are not supposed to feel discomfort and fear. Much of what I do at work has to do with teaching clients to experience and live through uncomfortable emotions.
- Do not lone wolf your business, use your networks, expand them continuously and pay for consultation for both the business and clinical side. My best referrals come from past clients and clinicians that know me. In order to grow beyond my imagination I needed feedback from others. It saved time and money.
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?
It depends on your priorities — do you want to attract a higher price point? Do you want more foot traffic to fill up an associate’s calendar? Be clear on what priorities and values you want to embrace and then that will inform the when and how. In the beginning of my plan to be a legit business owner I wanted to focus on attracting an ideal client — so I worked on copy for my directory and website. I paid for consultation and educated myself about that. Then I tackled systems — paperwork, policies, onboarding. I hired an assistant for the parts of the business I hate. As for time you have to know how you work and the time it takes to complete certain tasks. For example I hate doing anything besides mindless activity in the evenings — no work done then. I write best in the mornings, I do better with direct questions as opposed to freestyling blogs. Right now I would say I spend about 50% of my time on the practice but am only able to do that because I increased my price point so I don’t have to see as many clients.
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?
Caretakers are notoriously bad at making themselves a priority. Essentially most of healthcare requires the practitioner to put the patient’s needs above their own. Some practitioners forget to turn off that service switch and repeat the same patterns in their personal lives. It leads to burn out. Several times I have reached burnout and the only way out was to stop what I was doing and refocus on what I needed so I could have the energy to serve.
Also I would say it is extremely important to explore why and how you became such a good caretaker. Know your story, be aware of how it plays out with your professional and personal life. All of us in the helping profession learned how to run into the fire instead of away — it can become a knee jerk reaction as opposed to a conscious choice. Question your automatic response to help to make sure it serves the scenario and isn’t just a replay. Challenge yourself to live beyond the confines of your story.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” Maya Angelou
I find a lot of times that folks do not listen to their gut when they accurately read someone to be unhealthy. We tell ourselves stories to avoid tough decisions and awkward conversations. I have learned in my practice that I need to trust my gut about what a client needs. It is only when I ignore my gut that I get off track.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success and good health!