For many who are entering the field of social work, the idea of running a private practice may sound enticing. From being your own boss to creating your ideal schedule, there are many perks to starting a business. However, as true with any business venture including a social work practice, there are risks, responsibilities and tradeoffs.
Here are five things to consider if you dream of having a private practice someday.
- Education and Training
In social work, the focus of a private practice is generally psychotherapy. To start a private practice as a clinical social worker, you’ll need both education and training credentials that go beyond a bachelor’s degree. Generally, most states – including South Carolina – require a master’s degree in social work and at least two years of post-graduate experience before you can apply for a clinical license in the state in which you intend to practice.
- Business Know How
Running a business is its own skill. While you might have the appropriate clinical expertise and talent, the business skills cannot be undermined. Before starting a private practice, you’ll need to prepare a business plan that outlines your goals, financial plan, strategy, and even an exit strategy in case you need one. You’ll also need to make decisions regarding your business structure: for example, do you intend to start a solo practice or partner with someone; plus, how will you handle accounting or billing?
- Niche Practice
Another important aspect of running a private practice is attracting potential customers. One of the ways a service business can differentiate itself from the competition is by focusing on a niche. For example, if your experience or interest is stronger in one area or if you simply enjoy working with a specific age group, then you may need to decide on a practice niche such as gerontology, adolescence, mental health, addiction, etc. At the same time, a niche practice may limit the number of potential customers you can pursue so you’ll need to consider how you’ll advertise your business whether it be through paid advertising, word-of-mouth, workshops/seminars, etc.
- Liability Insurance
All service-providing individuals and companies including a social work practice are at risk of lawsuits for negligence and malpractice. For this reason, governing laws most often mandate private practitioners to purchase professional liability insurance. The amount of coverage varies depending on the policy you choose, however, coverage amount can also be stipulated by state regulations and insurance companies based on the type of social work practice you intend to establish.
While having a private practice offers many benefits, there is a flip side to any coin. For example, sole practitioners may bear a greater burden in ensuring they have a consistent income flow, especially in the beginning stages of the business while they are building a clientele portfolio. Also, professional development can be more difficult since you may not work alongside more experienced practitioners who can provide council on an as-need basis.
Students pursuing a Bachelors of Social Work at Limestone College can explore working in a private practice through internship opportunities or by talking to program faculty.