Start a counseling center by following these 10 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your counseling center. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Check out our How to Start a Business page.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a counseling center?
Generally, therapists need only a waiting room and an office with a couch or comfortable chair to begin their work. Should you get an office, you will need a Certificate of Occupancy that states you’ve complied with all zoning and building standards. Costs for this will be dependent on the neighborhood you choose for the business. Counseling centers with just one or two people in the practice can sometimes be run out of a home, which can save you a considerable amount of overhead. In this case, you’ll need to visit your local authorities to ensure that your home meets the safety regulations of the area.
What are the ongoing expenses for a counseling center?
Owners should budget in the following expenses:
- Rent/license renewals
- Administration supplies
- Commercial insurance
- Office equipment replacement
- Website costs
Who is the target market?
There are few people who won’t benefit from seeing a counselor. The unbiased advice and opinions can be priceless to people who can’t see past their next move in life. Persons who are wrestling with depression, anxiety, anger issues, or other emotional or interpersonal problems can all get relief from regular counseling. However, there is still a stigma when it comes to counseling services in certain areas of the country. The target market is composed of those who are open to the idea of getting outside help for self-improvement, parents who hope to stem behavioral issues when kids are young, or those who were mandated by the courts to receive counseling.
How does a counseling center make money?
Counselors make money by charging for their time. All entrepreneurs need to set their fees based on the therapist’s experience, as well as the overhead costs of the business.
How much can you charge customers?
Therapists can charge anywhere from $20 to $120 or more for a one-hour session. The amount is generally based on experience, education level, and the demand for services. Beware of charging too low for services. Offering a sliding scale for those with low incomes typically devalues the work done, and can sometimes give people an excuse to skip their sessions.
How much profit can a counseling center make?
Because therapists primarily pay for the therapist's time rather than fancy offices or equipment, profit can be considerable. Charging $60 an hour with a $10 overhead can lead to a $300 day of pure profit.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Expanding your services to include online sessions can be a smart move for any counseling center. Should you choose to do so, you’ll need to ensure that your computer software follows HIPAA rules. Consider giving sessions to current patients before branching out to strangers over the virtual space.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Counseling Center Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your counseling center is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Open net-30 accounts
When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.
Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.
Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a counseling center business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
In addition, to be able to practice as a counselor, you need to obtain a relevant academic degree from an accredited university or college.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
A counseling center business is generally run out of an office building. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a counseling center business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your counseling center business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
How to promote & market a counseling center
Professionals will tell you that you’re going to get the most business from referrals rather than expensive advertising. However, you’ll still need a way to drum up clients at the very beginning. Focus on creating a professional website or passing out flyers that clearly detail how your practice runs and who you service.
How to keep customers coming back
Ideally, you don’t want your clients to need your services forever, but they will likely need to see someone for multiple weeks (or even years.) The best way to generate word of mouth is to establish a rapport and relationship with the client, and to promote progress whenever and wherever possible. The more tangible results a person sees from their therapy (e.g., healthier lifestyle, a job promotion, etc), the more they will continue to want to see a therapist.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.
Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.
Start A Counseling Center In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
This business is good for those who enjoy helping others discover their best selves. Navigating relationships, jobs, and life decisions can be overwhelming, but therapists can make the path that much clearer for those they serve. The best possible people for this job are those who find order in their own lives by helping others find order in theirs.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a counseling center?
A typical day for an owner will involve the following:
- Registering patients
- Counseling patients
- Reviewing past treatment plans
- Follow-ups with previous medical professionals
- Advertising the business
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful counseling center?
Those who wish to start this business should have a professional background. All employees will need to have at least a Master’s degree before they can become licensed counselors, and they'll need their Doctorate degree to be considered a licensed psychologist.
Theoretically, an entrepreneur can start the business merely by finding the space and then hiring licensed professionals to do the actual counseling. In that case, a person would need to have the capital, people skills, and drive behind them to attract the clients necessary to attract quality business partners and employees.
What is the growth potential for a counseling center?
While counselors may be more popular in certain neighborhoods, there is still a lot of growth potential for counseling centers regardless of where you live. In addition to traditional offices and private one-on-one therapy, there are a number of other ways that clients can get mental health services. Between group therapy, online counseling, and regular private sessions, counseling centers have a variety of ways to reach their target market.
TRUiC's YouTube Channel
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a counseling center?
Professionals will tell you to consider who you want your patients to be before you get started. You may want to focus solely on those with chemical dependency issues, or those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Narrowing down your practice also helps you to create a brand, which can make it easier for the public to remember your demographic. If you’re planning to partner with the courts, you need to know that all of your therapists are comfortable with counseling criminal offenders. You may also want to consider joining professional networks and organizations. These not only keep you informed of new trends in the world of counseling, but can also help you network and expand your business.
How and when to build a team
A counseling center may consist of anywhere from one to 10 or more counselors. For brand new practices, a counselor may want to start on their own out of their home. If there’s a large need for counselors in any given area, then it may make sense to hire a team right away. When you’re hiring, look for professionals who have similar philosophies to your own. Practices that run with a religious slant may not be compatible with a secular counselor. Having a consistent overall mission and brand for your organization will help to attract regular clients.