Practice of the Practice Podcast 001 | Developing your niche in your counseling private practice

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There is so much that we did not learn in graduate school. This counseling private practice podcast seeks to help you continue to learn about marketing, website design, building a practice and everything else you wish you had learned years ago.

In this episode you will learn:

  • How to focus on a niche and grow your client base
  • How to avoid consultant fees, when you can do a lot yourself
  • How your counseling private practice could be more awesome
  • Tips, advice, and ways to continue to grow your counseling private practice

Links and Items Mentioned in this Podcast



counseling private practice advice
Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. His 2012 New Year’s goal was to launch a podcast and it has been achieved before the end of January. He is excited to take the other 11 months off…yeah right. To link to Joe’s Google+ .

Counseling Private Practice tipsAll photos are from the Creative Commons, thank you to LifeSupercharger.


Here is the Transcription of This Podcast

Developing your niche in your counseling private practice

Welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok, Session 1.

I’m Joe Sanok, your host. I’m here today to help you make your counseling private practice more awesome. I’m so excited about this podcast. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and I now have over a thousand people a month — the counselors, different people learning about marketing, different private practice issues coming to the website,, and really, I feel like this podcast is that next step in going beyond just blogging, beyond just talking about how best to help people. It is taking some action to get out there. I just feel like there’s something really personal about podcasting where you can hear my voice and you can get to know me.

It’s a little bit more like sitting down to chat, than if you’re reading a blog post. I wanted to tell you just a little bit about this process. We got this Macintosh computer back in 2007 or so, when my wife was in graduate school, and at that time it was the latest and greatest in computers. Before that I had been doing some recording here and there for just local musicians, nothing really big, and I had bought some mics and probably it was back a few months ago, maybe in October or so, I really started to think more about podcasting and taking to just a new level.

I went and I hooked up all the old recording gear. I had this mic and found out that the digital converter that took it from analog to digital just didn’t work. They didn’t even make the driver for it anymore. So, we had all these different things to upgrade our computer and now, finally, the day is here where I get to start podcasting. I mean it’s just such an honor that you’ve even taken the time to download this podcast and that I’m in your ears, whether you’re working out or driving or wherever you’re listening to this. I just want to thank you so much. We’ve had so many people that have joined to just connect with each other and to learn and to think about counseling private practice in just a completely different way.

It’s just so humbling to hear the feedback from people about how it’s really helped them change the way they look at their private practice.

Well, today, we’re going to be talking about developing you niche and really focusing in on a specific area so that you can build your practice and I’m going to give you kind of a little bit about my story because when people first come to Practice of the Practice, as I have future podcasts, I imagine they may want to check out the very first one and learn a little bit about how I got here, what gives me credentials to be able to speak to you and honestly, I don’t have the amazing maybe knowledge or experience even that some of you that are listening to this have. I probably could learn quite a bit from you.

Joe’s Story

Let me just tell you a little bit about my story. I graduated back in 2004 with a double master’s degree in Counseling and in Psychology. I had worked in the nonprofit world for a while through all of undergrad and graduate school. I had a runaway shelter for youth ages 12 to 17. My wife and I then moved to where she needed to finish her schooling, and I worked at a residential facility for a while, for a couple of years, and I really learned a lot about just tough clinical issues with kids.

We then moved back to Kalamazoo where we had been. I worked again at a residential facility and eventually at a community mental health doing a program called Wrap Around, where you bring kids together, the parents together and their natural and professional supports. It was there in Kalamazoo that I reconnected with my old supervisor from a part of my master’s program and he helped to get me into a great private practice that, to me, is the complete gold star, and if any of you have a chance to connect with Child And Family Psychological Services in Kalamazoo, Michigan, they are just the top-notch facility and Dr. Larry Beer has just taught me so much about how to run a practice, and not just how to run one, but how to still be yourself.

The guy was just so playful and so wonderful and really just lived out everything he talked about. For me, that’s when I really started to think about doing more than just your typical job. I saw how putting in a few extra hours a week helped my wife and I pay off our student loans faster, and I got to really connect with people and there was that kind of small business marketing just being able to kind of create your own path that I just loved so much.

When I was there, I think I really got the itch to do more private practice, but with my wife in grad school, and just so many other things going on I just knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do it as much as I wanted to. Well, when we moved back to Traverse City, in northern Michigan, that was where I really didn’t have a job. I moved up here. We had moved up here to focus on my wife’s internship. We knew this was where we wanted to land because of our family and I started this therapeutic sailing program where we take at risk kids out sailing, and then do counseling right on the sailboat, but that was not going to be a long term job.

The Beginning of Mental Wellness Counseling

I got a job as a foster care supervisor, but knew that I also wanted to get a private practice going and that’s when I really launched Mental Wellness Counseling and at first, the reason that I launched it and the reason I didn’t take insurance was that I wasn’t on any of the insurance panels here in Traverse City. I thought, eventually, I’m going to get on to some insurance panels and start building insurance and that was just the mindset that I had even though when I was in Kalamazoo I just despised taking insurance, because so many times you would work so hard to only have to turn around and just fight and fight and fight to get paid for what you’ve already done and often at a much lower rate than what people are willing to just pay out of pocket.

Initially, when I launched Mental Wellness Counseling, I did it out of necessity to just kind of open the doors and to just be able to find a way to start doing counseling. Then from there, I eventually kind of landed a full time job and some people can pull it off where they just do their private practice, and I say this all over my blog that that’s not me, just where I’m at in life. My wife stays home with our young daughter. She’s such a cute little girl and they’re just such precious years that to have the health insurance and to have the retirement and the secure income of a full time job and then to do my part time practice on the side, really is just an exciting kind of mixture for where I’m at.

I’m very upfront that I do not do this full time, but I do have two other counselors that I’ve brought into the practice and a lot of these concepts I know that if I wanted to go full time, I really could launch into it. It’s good for you to know that kind of right from the get go where my kind of background is and that for you to know that for one, I don’t take insurance and for those of you that do, that’s awesome. Keep doing it. If you love it, then your clients need you to take it and also, if you didn’t know, that I do this more on the side.

Really, that’s why I’m so transparent on my website I’d put out my income report every month so that you can see exactly where I’m making money. You can know how many sessions I did, how much money I brought in through those sessions and then also how much I’m bringing in through the website so that I can have some accountability that also we can just have some dialogue about how to develop an income that’s beyond maybe the typical counselor’s income. Also, maybe you have new ideas of how to bring in an income.

The Stagnant Income Myth

I think that kind of brings me into the first area that I want to talk about. That’s the myth of kind of the stagnant income for a counselor.

For counselors, so often, at least in my head, it was that you work in the non-profit world for a while. Eventually then, you’re able to just kind of grow into maybe a community mental health setting or the college setting and maybe you go into private practice, but you know that upper income is really going to be $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 and that’s about where it’s going to end. There’s really no way to get higher than that, because people just don’t pay it.

What I’ve been so excited about and has been so freeing for me in my private practice is to just know that if you do good work, people are willing to pay for it. People are willing to pay for an electrician, a massage therapist, a mechanic. When I started to realize that, for me it was just so freeing to realize that there’s really an upper income myth. That’s where, throughout my website and throughout these podcasts, I hope to really dive in deeper to what I mean by that in regards to building not just a counseling private practice but to also build maybe some passive income through side products, through different things that you offer to your clients in building your own expertise and focusing it on the types of clients that you want to bring in and really to just create a dynamic practice that people just want to come to.

Let’s talk a little bit about niche development. But first, let’s take a moment to just listen to some sweet music. As I do these podcast, one thing I love is art and music, and I just feel like there are just so many business type podcasts out there that I want you to hear some sweet music peppered in throughout these podcasts as well.

Creative Commons Side Note

I have links on my website to all the musicians [featured in the podcast] and I hope you’ll check them out. They’re all through the creative commons. The creative commons is really something important for you to know. It’s just a quick side note. Whenever you’re putting photographs on your website, don’t just use Google images. Google images are often not copyright-free and oftentimes you can get sued, you can get the crap sued out of you. That’s just not what you want to do to start off your practice. Make sure you use creative commons, photos. Flickr has a way that you can do searches for some really sweet creative commons, photos that people have given permission for, and often all they want you to do is say who they are, and it’s a great way to support artists without you having to pay money for awesome photos or awesome music such as this that we just listened to.

How to Focus on a Niche and Grow Your Client Base

Anyway, back to developing your niche. So, the value in having a niche is that it gives you an identity and it doesn’t mean you have to stay with that identity, but what it does to you is when people hear of a client that is dealing with those issues that you focus on, they’re more likely to refer to you.

I explained my history when I was working at this runaway shelter and I’ve worked in residential facilities and I’ve worked in all sorts of different places that really was with angry kids. We’d so often, as counselors, focus in on these clinical names for things we say. “We work with individual couples and families in a therapeutic setting and blah blah blah.”

Really, for me, I want to cut through all that, and I want that person that sees my website or that talks to me to really just understand the simplicity of counseling. That there’s so much to it. There’s some best practices we definitely need to focus in on those things, but when it comes down to it, your kid is angry and you don’t know what to do.

Angry Kids, Frustrated Parents, Distant Couples… and just about everyone else.

My tag line with Mental Wellness Counseling is, “We help angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples… and just about everyone else.” How I got there is that I had this huge background in helping angry kids, kids with behavioral disorders, oppositional defiant disorder — all these different things and, for me, I really just wanted to help them. Part of it probably came out of the fact that I got picked on in middle school and initially maybe I thought, “Well, if I can get one kid to pick on another kid a little bit less, that’s making the world a better place.”

Then from there, it moved in to realizing that there’s a lot of influence on a parent and the parenting styles that can really just help kids have a lot fewer issues. Then from there, when you have kids that are having behavioral issues, often you see that couples are having issues in their marriage, and so focused in on couples.

For me that’s been that kind of people really get that angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples. Oftentimes, people will say, “Hey, I want to refer this family to you because I know that you work with angry kids and this kid is really angry.”

I’m known, or I would hope that I’m known, in my community as the one that helps the angry kids and that I’m the go-to guy over those kinds of parenting issues. As you evaluate your history, both your personal history and your business history, really making it personal and having it carry through your website and having it carry through how you talk to people, when you go to say business after hours or a young professional event or any sort of thing that you have that niche in mind, because it’s going to just carry you through so much more than if you’re just a general practitioner. Even if you know that you would take anybody, focusing in on just a couple of key areas and maybe having a story behind it as to what drew you to those areas is going to stand out in people’s minds so much more that than just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Finding Your Niche

A couple of ways that you can start to identify what it is that you want to focus in on is think about your own personal life. Did you lose 50 pounds? Did you deal with weight loss issues? Maybe use that as a springboard. Did you work through issues with your parents? How did you do that and how can you frame it in a way that you feel like you can appropriately self-disclose those issues? What is it that you’ve been doing and just causes such a passion inside of you that you think that’s a population I just love love love love love working with?

If you can focus in on that, you’re going to have that extra X-factor, that extra chutzpah, or whatever you want to name it — that extra energy behind your practice because there’s going to be this unseen passion, this unseen excitement that when someone says, “So, tell me more about your practice.” It’s not just going to be about the practice. It’s going to be about something so much bigger than the practice, so much bigger than just doing counseling that you feel like you’re genuinely changing the world, that you’re genuinely changing individuals, and that they’re joining you in a journey and you’re joining them in a journey that you have just been prepared your whole life for.

When you can focus in on that, you’re just going to blow your competition out of the water. And referrals and we’re going to talk about strategies and different things that you can do on your website and all those sorts of things. But it has to start with you believing in yourself and in your product. That’s where us counselors often we don’t think on those business mentalities. We think that it feels kind of scummy to be like pushing our product or marketing ourselves and we just want to do counseling. That’s fine, but if we believe in counseling then selling it to other people and getting other people to understand the need for it and the desire for counseling and why counseling can help change families for the better and individuals and couples and all those folks — if we don’t really, really believe in it then it’s like, “Why are you doing it? Why are you doing counseling?”

When you can focus in on that one area, that’s going to show through on so many different levels. Another way to continue to develop your niche is look at who are some of the people doing that in your community, especially people that nearing retirement, because those people often have such insight into what brings in clients and often when they approach retirement, they just want to make sure that their clients are taken care of. If you can start meeting with that person as a mentor, taking him out to lunch every other month or once a quarter or even a couple of times a year, you will find that you will learn so much from those people that you can then apply.

Tips, Advice, and Ways to Continue to Grow Your Counseling Private Practice

Also as you develop your niche really looking at what types of natural speaking engagements or newspaper articles you can write in your local paper to really position yourself to be a person that’s that go-to person. I remember when I first moved to Traverse City, and that was in 2009, I had emailed — man it was probably like 10 or so different counseling groups. I should go back and look and see who emailed me back because I specifically remember one email where the person said there are already too many counselors here. Don’t move to Traverse City. And I was just crushed. I just thought, I can’t believe that someone would say don’t move here because there are too many.

In this town we have some university partners that have programs up here in both counseling and master’s in social work and so our area for our size of community is really flooded with people that are entering private practice. I have found that when I came in 2009, that if you can get onto local radio or start writing for your local paper, that is one of the best ways to get your name out there. When I first moved here, I had an opportunity to speak about that therapeutic sailing program that I talked about at the beginning of the show on a local radio station. I was nervous. I was worried. I kind of had my talking points that I wanted to cover, but didn’t know how it was going to go. I don’t think I had been on the radio really at all before then. I felt like it went really well and at one of the commercial breaks, I said to the lady, “I don’t know if you’re ever looking for having a counselor to do like a call-in show or anything like that or any topics, but if you are, I would absolutely love to be that person.”

She said, “Why don’t you email the producer a couple of ideas and we’ll give it a test and see how it goes.” Right away, that afternoon, I emailed the producer. You always want to strike while the iron is hot and make it happen. Don’t second guess yourself. Do it while it’s fresh in your head, and I sent her like three or four different ideas of topics we could cover. They gave me a test and then, every other week after that, they had me come in, and we covered just a different topic. I had to get up super early in the morning. It was this morning show and it was so I would just feel like why am I awake this early? But then I started getting more phone calls in my private practice and it was people saying that they had heard me on the radio. They felt like they really connected with me, and that they really wanted to just start the counseling process.

The same thing has happened. I’ve been writing for our local paper now for just over a year. I have a monthly column so it’s not a huge commitment, but I write on a variety of issues. They give me a lot of freedom to just write about what I think people need to hear, and as I do that, more and more I hear from other people, “Oh, yea. Somebody was talking about you as a local writer, how much they like your column and you know, that’s great to hear, but I’m also getting more clients as a result of it. By focusing in on these kinds of issues, it just really, really helps you to grow your practice.”

How to Avoid Consultant Fees When You Can Do a Lot Yourself

I just want to give you a couple of challenges/action items/things that you can do to really just boost your practice. The first thing is we have tons of free content. I say, “we”, because I’ve got a couple of really just amazing guest bloggers. Recently, we had a young lady named Tara who has written some different articles. She’s a graduate student about to graduate who wrote about what she wishes that she had known going into graduate school. Some great articles there. We’ve got some business consultants that have written articles as well. I’ve written probably over 50 articles at this point.

Second, if you feel like you want to do something even more than that, I’ve got this 52-week private practice creation e-newsletter and you get it once a week and it really helps you go from having no private practice or having a struggling private practice to launching and having just an amazing private practice over 52 weeks. That’s 10 bucks a month and it’s some great money you can invest.

Whenever I make any sort of product, I always think about what do I wish that I had had when I first started out in counseling private practice, in my counseling private practice? What would the guidance have been that I would have wanted? To me, I realize that it’s so hard to sometimes make those dollars. Everything that I do on that, I want it to be as useful as possible and that handful of affiliate links that I have there I want them to things that are genuinely going to make your life easier and not cost you an arm and a leg.

Then, the last thing that you can do is really seek out a mentor. Seek out a coach, someone, and I’m not talking about a paid consultant here, I’m talking about someone in your community that’s doing the work that you want to do, take him out for lunch. Go out on a limb and say, “I really respect your work. Could I buy you lunch?” It’s just such a great way to really just connect with people in your community, connect with referral sources, and start to just build your clients.

Thank so much for joining me on this very first podcast. I hope that you’ll join me again and listen to future ones. Any of the links that I listed are going to be on the podcast website. I still haven’t even posted this at the time of this recording, obviously. But if you just go to and look for the podcast link or just search for “podcast”. For future ones, I’ll have the link directly for you, but all these that I just mentioned are going to be on that when it’s posted.

Thanks for joining me, and I’m so glad that I could join you in making your counseling private practice more awesome.

I just want to really thank the following four bands for their awesome music. Our intro was from Silence is Sexy. Then you heard the song from Löhstana David and then also we had Anitek and then we wrapped it up with Leslie Hunt. We just really appreciate that you have given your music to be free because for one, it’s awesome to hear, and also we are just happy to have some fabulous music on this program.

Thank you so much to those artists. We hope that you will support them and go to their links and check them out more.

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that the author and the publisher are not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the service of a competent professional person should be sought. Thank you.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC

Joe Sanok is a private practice business consultant and counselor that helps small businesses and counselors in private practice that are starting a private practice. He helps owners with website design, vision, growth, and using their time to create income through being a private practice consultant. Joe was frustrated with his lack of business and marketing skills when he left graduate school. He loved helping people through counseling, but felt that often people couldn’t find him. Over the past few years he has grown his skills, income, and ability to lead others, while still maintaining an active private practice in Traverse City, MI. To link to Joe’s Google+ .