“You aren’t charging enough!” is what I told the lady on the phone. We were chatting about her practice and the subject of fees came up. Counselors, more than most business folks fear being seen as money hungry. At the root, though, is a misunderstanding of what money is and how to run a business. I try not to insult my readers, so consider yourself warned.
It seems that most counselors that I talk, email, consult, befriend, or just hang out with, they have worked in a non-profit at some point in their career. They have seen life…real life. When you work at Community Mental Health, a reduced cost clinic, with kids in foster care, or a residential program, you see a lot of things that make you thankful for simple things in life.
Being able to return home to your family, however it looks, to your home, however it looks, to a refrigerator, however it looks is often better than some of the clients we have worked with. What often happens is that we think that we have to live in a such a way to align ourselves with hurting people. Or maybe the flip side, if we become ultra-rich or even successful, we are somehow dismissing the experiences we have. We counselors fear losing ourselves in business. Somehow, our hearts might get ripped out and we’ll become big bankers talking about hedge funds more than people, if we make more money.
It’s not going to happen…
…unless you let it happen.
I went into counseling to help people. Having travelled to Haiti, Nepal, and numerous other developing countries, I have seen the tough lives that people live around the world and in our own country. Yet, I chose counseling, not social work, not community organizing, and not NGO work…counseling.
Why? I did it because I see the potential of the individual to make decisions that can effect an entire community, whether that community is their partner, kids, family, friends, town, state, nation, or world. That is why I decided to be a counselor.
I say all of that to paint the backdrop of this discussion, so that you know my heart and where I come from as a counselor. There are counselors that are good at business, but not great at counseling and ones good a therapy but not business, I seek to have a balance in both areas.
Here are some reasons that you should consider charging more:
- If you charge more, you can always give a discount. For example, I say to clients that if they are struggling with my going rate that I can offer a $30 discount. I don’t ask for taxes or income. I just ask that they pay the full amount when they can.
- With my newer 1099 contractors, their rate is typically lower. This does two things, it allows them to build a practice quicker, while also showing myself as the “expert” or premier counselor to see.
- I can take on free or significantly reduced clients. For example, when I took Medicaid I was paid $53 per session. I don’t know what the rate is in our area now. Say I did three sessions. Of those three there would usually be a no show that I could not bill for and at least an hour of phone/faxing to either get paid or get authorization to get paid eventually. So $159 for at least 5 hours of work. Or, I could see one client for $150 and see 4 for free.
- When I raised my rates, I actually saw more growth. My rate increases also coincided with writing for the local paper and being on local radio, so there was an increase in the “perceived expert” status.
- You can always lower your rates!
With the end of the year upon us, now is a great time to send an email to current clients with something like this:
Subject: Open Enrollment
During the months of November and December, most people have open enrollment for their medical benefits including HSAs (Health Savings Accounts) and FSAs (Flexible Spending Accounts). Since you are probably discussing FSA and/or HSAs I wanted to let you know that there is a small rate changes that will be occurring so that you may elect to add an additional amount.
As you know, I have been able to keep your rate below what new clients pay. Currently, new clients are charged $150 per session. I have no intention of raising your rates to that amount. However, due to an increase in insurance rates and other factors, I would like to move your session rate to $100 on 1-1-13.
If this change will effect your ability as a family to receive services, please let me know. My primary goal is to offer quality services to help your family, that is why I went into counseling. Please let me know if this proposal seems reasonable. I look forward to continuing to work with you and your family!
Whether you are in counseling or some other business, try changing your rates. It will allow you to continue to grow and often will help you have more clients!
Do you agree? Disagree? Have questions?
Will you please comment below?
Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling (www.mentalwellnesscounseling.com). He helps counselors and small business owners to grow their businesses through consultation, speaking engagements, and conferences. To learn about his next conference go to www.PracticeofthePractice.com/conferences
All photos are used through the Creative Commons, thank you to Tax Credits for the photo!