How to Start a Family Counseling Practice

Family Counseling Practice Image

Family counseling sessions may be conducted in a one-on-one format or involve group counseling. Counseling clients often have diverse needs, ranging from helping children cope with divorce and trauma to helping spouses repair and even save their marriages.

Learn how to start your own Family Counseling Practice and whether it is the right fit for you.

Start a family counseling practice by following these 9 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 step guide to starting your family counseling practice. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

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 long it will take you to break even?
  • 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 family counseling practice?

Tabulating the costs for opening a family counseling business is tricky. Many counselors operate out of their own homes or visit clients in their homes, which cuts down on the need to lease an expensive office space, pay its utilities, and so on. So, the typical costs to open the business include initial advertising via online and offline platforms (typically less than $1,000 to create and maintain a website, print business cards, take out traditional newspaper and radio advertisements, and create a social media presence), paying for any liability insurance (typically less than $500 a year), and paying for any appropriate business license (exact costs will vary by area). However, the job is contingent on completing a Bachelor's degree and Master's degree, which could easily cost $75,000 or more to obtain. While it is possible to partially defray these costs with federal student loans and other financial aid, it is worth noting that you may have to take on initial debt to simply obtain the necessary education to begin this career.

What are the ongoing expenses for a family counseling practice?

The beauty of a family counseling business is that it potentially has very little overhead. If you are meeting with clients in your own home or in their homes, then your primary ongoing expenses are advertisement (approximately $500 or less per month), liability insurance (which averages to about $42 a month), and the cost of any travel related to your job. If you do lease an office space to conduct sessions in, this will add a minimum of $600 to your monthly bill for rent and utilities and may cost approximately $250 a month for equipment upkeep around the office. Beyond this, you may need to pay membership dues in professional organizations such as the American Counseling Association and American Mental Health Counselors Association that will total around $300 each year.

Who is the target market?

Because of the sheer diversity of clients and client issues you will be dealing with, there is no one customer “type” that is really preferred, as each case is unique in its own way. The primary common thread among the best clients is that they are genuinely hoping to make positive changes in their family dynamic and willing to make changes in their own life in order to make that happen.

How does a family counseling practice make money?

Put simply, a family counseling business makes money by charging clients a fixed amount of money per session. You may consider charging different amounts for different kinds of sessions (say, a higher amount for a diagnostic session versus an ongoing session), and your decision to allow things like third-party insurance to cover some of your clients' costs may impact how much you charge.

How much can you charge customers?

The exact amount you can charge clients is partially determined by your area and your competition. Rural areas, for instance, tend to have lower prices, and areas with plenty of other counselors in your niche may require you to engage in competitive pricing. Generally, though, it's good to charge clients around $100 for a first “diagnostic” session and around $75 for regular sessions. This assumes sessions are one hour or less. It's fine to tweak these amounts and find what is right for your area, but keep in mind that this cost also reflects time you are spending outside of that hour on their case as well as the value of your (quite possibly expensive) formal education.

How much profit can a family counseling practice make?

The exact profit you can make ultimately comes down to math. If you are charging the recommended $75 per session for clients and can take on 112 sessions in a month (which looks intimidating, but boils down to only 28 hours a week), you can easily make more than $100,000 per year. Your first year or two, however, will probably yield more modest dividends as you are still establishing your name.

How can you make your business more profitable?

The main way to making your business more profitable is to make your business easier to find. It may not be your specialty, but using Search Engine Optimization tools can make your business easier to find via keywords, while making sure your website is optimized for smartphones can make it easier for clients to find and contact you. Your niche is relatively broad, but you can also research your community to find out what the primary need is (say, marriage counseling), and make sure your advertisements reflect your ability to help with this. Finally, use the internet as a relentless advertising tool: publish informative and entertaining posts via social media, provide practical advice and documents on your website, and publish on as many guest blogs as you possibly can. You have to meet clients where they live, and right now, the internet is that place!

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your family counseling practice is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

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For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?

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!

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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?.

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.

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.

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

Typically, family counselors must have obtained at least an M.A. in a relevant field and also gone through a minimum period of supervised practice before they can begin their career as a professional counselor. Each state has different licensing requirements for counselors. Check out this guide for counselors to look up the specific requirements in your state.

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.

In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

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.

How to promote & market a family counseling practice

As mentioned above, traditional advertising via newspapers and radio is a solid start for promoting your business. Creating a professional website as well as establishing a social media presence provides an ideal way for customers to contact you during their busy days. Beyond giving talks in your local area, be sure you regularly network with doctors, educators, and pastors in order to establish a relationship that ultimately results in them referring clients to you.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Beyond traditional advertising, a fun way to attract and retain customers is creating a theme. Some counselors who work more with children create an office environment with superhero posters, comics, and even mannequins in costume. This establishes the place as being safe and fun while also subtly building on the theme of clients needing to find their inner strength. It's also good to conduct workshops at local schools and colleges in order to further advertise your name and build up your business. And while it's always good to offer bonuses such as discounts for clients who refer other clients, the chief way to retain customers is to make sure each session includes actionable advice for improving their relationships.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A Family Counseling Practice In Your State

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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 best for those who have already trained for it via formal education. Therefore, ideal business owners are those who have successfully completed a Master's degree or higher in a field such as Marriage and Family Therapy. Such a degree is required in order to meet the strict licensing requirements for such a business in most states. Beyond that, this job is best for those who are naturally empathetic with others and who truly enjoy healing those around them.

What happens during a typical day at a family counseling practice?

A family counseling business has many different daily activities. In no particular order, those activities may include taking appointments for future counseling sessions, following up with clients regarding upcoming sessions, and conducting any sessions scheduled for that day. Depending on how you conduct your business, you may travel to clients' homes to observe them and/or administer sessions. You should also spend time each month keeping abreast of the latest developments concerning psychology and treatment so that you are providing the best possible care for clients.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful family counseling practice?

As mentioned earlier, this is a business with a rather fixed educational requirement. You must have completed a Master's or Doctoral program in something like Marriage and Family Therapy before you can open this business, and that is only after completing an undergraduate degree in something like Psychology or Social Work. Fortunately, this long period of education (and attending internships and observations) provides most of the skills necessary to successfully run this business.

What is the growth potential for a family counseling practice?

The growth potential for this business is quite secure. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that the field will grow by 19 percent between 2014 and 2024, which is quite a bit faster than the average for other occupations.

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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.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a family counseling practice?

Previous experience working as a counselor for an established business can give you invaluable ideas for starting your own practice. Beyond this, insider tips include creating advertising that plays up your specific niche (family counseling), being willing to move to an area that where more clients live (such as suburbs), and giving free talks at colleges, churches, and other locations that will allow you to establish your name and expertise in the area.

How and when to build a team

When starting their own practice, most counselors tend to go solo. This has the previously-mentioned benefit of cutting down on the need for renting an office space, hiring secretaries and other assistants, and so on. However, the nature of your work includes regular, ongoing sessions with clients. If you reach a point where you have more interested clients than you can fit into your existing schedule, it is time to consider taking on a partner or even building an entire team.

Next Steps

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