Starting a side-gig counseling practice | POP Bonus

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On this therapist podcast, Joe Sanok talks about starting a side gig

Do you want to expand your streams of income? Have you been dabbling in starting a side hustle? How can you set up a side-gig counseling practice to help you create the lifestyle you want?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks about how to start a side-gig counseling practice.

Podcast Sponsor: Gusto

An image of Gusto is featured as the sponsor on the Practice of the Practice, a podcast for therapists. Gusto automatically files and pays your taxes, it’s super easy to use, and you can add benefits and HR support to help take care of your team and keep your business safe.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the work Gusto is doing for businesses around the country. Gusto’s modern HR platform makes it easy to hire, pay, manage, and support your employees — all in one system of record. And with all the applications you’re jumping between each day, keeping everything in one place is a gamechanger. Gusto offers full-service payroll, comprehensive benefits, hiring and onboarding tools, and so much more to keep your team on track — even if you’re remote.

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In This Podcast

  • Educate yourself to position yourself
  • Take risks
  • What is the objective?
  • Build your network

Educate yourself to position yourself

Educate yourself. Figure out [the] gaps in your knowledge’, figure out your triggers, the money mindset you inherited from your family of origin? (Joe Sanok)

Spend some time figuring out where you are in relation to where you want to be.

What do you need to do to get there? What skills do you need to learn, which mindsets do you need to shift, and which connections do you need to make to get your side hustle moving?

Take risks

In the beginning, while you are figuring things out, take risks. Try new things to see what works and then change what does not work.

Take risks in:

  • Your hourly rate
  • Whether you will take difficult insurances or not
  • Being hyper-niched

Test it out to see if this is even something that [you] want to do, so you can do those things without fully jumping in. (Joe Sanok)

What is the objective?

What it is that you want to do? Who are you trying to help? Complete a basic business avatar and client profile to help you figure out which direction you are moving in.

  • What age is your ideal client?
  • What is their life generally like?
  • What sorts of things are they thinking through and worried about?
  • What are they Googling at night?

Once you have an idea about who your ideal clients are and what you are helping them with, consider:

  • Filing your business
  • Getting a bank account
  • Creating a website
  • Taking out liability insurance

Build your network

Find people who can refer clients to you.

Connect with other clinicians whose niches are outside of yours so that you can refer clients to one another.

Create your business in the way that you desire it to be.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Useful Links mentioned in this episode:

Check out these additional resources:

Meet Joe Sanok

A photo of Joe Sanok is displayed. Joe, private practice consultant, offers helpful advice for group practice owners to grow their private practice. His therapist podcast, Practice of the Practice, offers this advice.

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, bonus session.

Well, I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. As you may have been noticing, we’ve been doing four episodes a week. It’s been just so much fun to do this because we’re able to explore a number of issues, dive in and really help you with these very niche issue. Today we’re talking about side gig counseling practice. Specifically, I’m thinking about when people have a full-time job and they’re thinking about leaving and maybe they’re stressed out, maxed out, so we’re diving into that today. But if you’re at the very beginning stages of starting your practice, you definitely want our free 28 step checklist over It’s going to give you all the organization you need. As well you’re going to get a free email course that’s going to walk you through your very first steps of private practice.

It’s organized. It helps you just really focus on exactly what you need to be doing and when, so that you don’t have to worry about doing it right. It’s just, here’s the steps. This week, work on this. Next week, work on this. It really walks you through it. And it’s totally free over at Or maybe you know someone who’s starting a practice and you’ve been doing this for a while. Maybe it would help them as well.

Well, today we’re talking about starting a side gig counseling practice. For me, this is really important because I totally did this. This was my exact path. In 2004, I graduated with a double master’s degree in counseling psychology and community counseling. I had initially started just doing the LLP route, which is Limited License Psychologist in Michigan, but then I didn’t even realize that I would always have to be under supervision if I did that in Michigan forever. Master’s level psychologists can’t practice without having a fully licensed doctoral level psychologist signing off on it, even if you’re a psychologist for 20 plus years.

So I thought, well, I don’t want that. It was just a matter of taking a handful of extra classes, that coffee, delicious. I love good coffee. So yes, I started at a nonprofit where I worked in Michigan’s upper peninsula and was driving an hour and 15 minutes each way from where I lived to where I practiced. They paid for that time, which was great, and gave me a car. Then I worked at a place for at-risk youth that it was a residential facility and was also doing some private practice work through Catholic family services and another private practice, and really was like putting pieces together until I got a full-time job at Community Mental Health.

When I had that job first I was in the school doing school based counseling and then eventually worked for wraparound. You know, that was a full 40 plus hour a week job. But I was a 1099 contractor through child and family psychological services. I’ve interviewed Dr. Larry Beer about mega practices, selling a practice, a number of things here on the podcast. But it was just a side gig to just pay off student loan debt to have a little bit of money, but I wasn’t viewing it as my own business because I was just a 1099 at the time. Then fast forward in 2009, moved back here to my hometown Traverse City, Michigan, and was trying to get jobs at practices and just couldn’t find any place that would let me just practice part-time.

I had a full-time job as a foster care supervisor, which was such a stressful job, and I knew that was not a long term fit. I ended up working there 11 months and then got a job at the community college where I stayed for five years. But during that time was slowly building up Mental Wellness Counseling. So just had this really stressful foster care job but I knew that I needed to have some other doors and at that time was really paying off student loan debt but also to know that I didn’t have to stay at, I think $40,000 a year I was paid as a supervisor at that point; that I could maybe add some extra income and at least have the scalability.

I remember that summer of 2009, that summer I took a six week road trip. On that road trip, I read the book Gorilla Marketing, and I found it years later and I had taken notes on how to make a hundred thousand dollars a year. I had done all the math of if I had this many clinicians or if I had this many clients. So I was already thinking that way, even if I wasn’t, I didn’t have any of the business skillset at the time. So many people we weren’t taught at all anything about, well, how do you make money? How do you run a business? How do you think through a plan? I’d have business friends that would say, “Hey, read this book or read this book,” and really that business plan generation was one of the first books I read that helped me think through a business plan differently than the average business plan.

Gorilla Marketing helped me think through not just marketing for Mental Wellness Counseling, but eventually for Practice of the Practice to find those areas where no one else is competing and dominating that market as much as possible, which was one of the reasons that I started the podcast because no one was podcasting at the time about private practice. So back in 2012, it was a total blue ocean. There was nobody that was there. So that way of thinking really was a great starting point, even as I was doing my side gigs. So I think one of the first things I would recommend is educate yourself, figure out your gaps, figure out your triggers, your money mindset that you inherited from your family of origin.

Do you have a mindset of therapists just can never make money or do you have maybe a mindset that says, yes, I just don’t know how to do it. I want to grow, but I’m not sure how to grow. I think that tends to be more of my audience that that you know you want to grow, that you want to make more money and make more of an impact, but you’re not sure how. So what’s nice about having a full-time job then a side gig is that you usually are paying your bills and financially, at least decent when you have a full-time job. So anything you make in the private practice is extra.

So you can take risks that maybe you couldn’t take when you are fully reliant on that private practice to help you get to that next level. So first let’s talk about risks. I mean, you can take risks in what you charge. You can take risks in regards to whether you’re going to take really difficult to work with insurances or not. You can take risks in being hyper niched in because at the beginning, maybe you only want to have three to five clients. Maybe it’s genuinely just a side gig where you’re testing it out to even see, is this something that I even want to do? So you can do those things without fully jumping in.

A few other benefits of it being just a side gig when you have a full-time job is that you can jump in and out. So not that you’re going to start counseling with someone and then just disappear but if after a year you realize this is not a fit for you, so long as you keep that job going you can just return back to it. So it could just be as simple as saying every Monday from five until nine, I’m just going to do five or six counseling sessions on the 45-minute mark, and they’re going to be virtual. So I’m going to make a room and my house look nice and make sure that if I have family members or roommates or kids that they know that Mondays are off limits, and you just say, I’m going to do that.

So maybe it is you set up a website, you set up a Psychology Today. If you go to, you can get six months for free of Psychology Today. So you can get that just tested out. You can get some basic logos done or branding, write a handful of blog posts so that you’re set up to scale, but maybe it’s not that you’re going to do it full-time for a while even if that’s a goal. So when you first get started, I think one of the things to realize is that the money is all gravy at that point if you have a full-time job that’s making ends meet.

So let’s talk through a few different aspects of the side gig approach. First we want to think through what’s the objective here? Who are we trying to help and what are they into? So doing a basic business avatar or ideal client exercise can be really helpful to walk through, okay, what age is that person, what are the pains they’re dealing with, who all is in their life, where do they hang out? What sort of things are they thinking through and worried about? What are they Googling at night when their kids are in bed if they have kids? Maybe they’re empty nesters, maybe they are teenagers. So if you’re focusing on teenagers, maybe your ideal client is teenagers, but who’s the decision maker in the house, usually mom or dad. So who’s going to be the one that calls to schedule an appointment, not a teenager. Typically, it’s usually going to be their parents. So a lot of your marketing and branding would be around that.

So even just starting there then saying, okay, do I feel like I need a website? You may not at that point. You may just say a six month Psychology Today profile, that’s good enough for me right now to test this out. Here’s where I help. I’m going to write it up super quick and make sure you look in your state, you need to have some additional licensing you need to file for a business. In most states you want an LLC, sorry, my brain stopped for a moment there. I almost said LLP after talking about all the Michigan licensure, so LLC or a PLLC. California wants you to be an S-Corp. You want to just make sure that you check with your state, check with your own accountant and attorney to make sure you do that correctly.

But we partner with Swyft Filing. So if you go to, they’ll walk you through the process. We do get a small affiliate link for that. But they they’ve been a solid company that we’ve connected with over the years. So file your business paper or get your business bank account set up, usually, because that’s going to separate out the business from you personally in case something happens. At the beginning, you really want to do make sure that you have also liability insurance through most national organizations. They have partnerships with different liability insurance places and they usually have a part-time and a full-time and a retirement status. So making sure that you have that.

Next, what you’re going to want to do is you’re going to want to think through how much branding do you want to do. You can use Moo for your business cards. I don’t even know at that point if you even need business cards or brochures. It depends on what you want to do at the beginning. Sometimes it makes a bit more of a splash to be able to hand something off to doctors or other people, but maybe the networking side isn’t really a major priority for you at that point.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about the work Gusto is doing for businesses around the country. Gusto’s modern HR platform makes it easy to hire, pay, manage, and support your employees all in one system of record and with all the applications you’re jumping between each day, keeping everything in one place is a game changer. Gusto offers full service payroll, comprehensive benefits, hiring and onboarding tools, and so much more to keep your team on track. Even if you’re remote head to That’s, for three months free. It’s what we use here at Practice of the Practice.

So after that really it’s finding those people that can refer to you. So imagine you set a rate, your private pay. You don’t want to get all the infrastructure set up for insurance. So you start to look at well, what options then do I have, if I’m going to be private pay? How do I set my rate? I’ve talked about this on other Ask Joe’s but to start with your lifestyle to say, how many weeks a year do you want to work? How many sessions a week do you want to do? How much do you want to take home? So you may not care how much you take home if it’s a side gig, but I would definitely add probably 25% above what you think is the norm in regards to sessions. So if the average session in your area is going for say $125, and we multiply that times a factor of 1.25, that’s $156.

So maybe you should be at $150, maybe at $165, to push that upper limit because it’s going to be a lot easier if you’re looking to replace your income to do those numbers. So say your income is say $75,000 a year. You’re saying to yourself within the next year I would love to be positioned to be able to replace that. So to make $75K a year I usually recommend we multiply that times a factor of 1.5 to give us plenty of money for taxes, for running the business, those sorts of things. So 1.5, that means 112,500 would need to come in for you to replace that income. Now let’s think about how many weeks off do you want a year? Maybe you want to have four. So we’re going to divide that by 48 weeks, which means you need to bring in $2,343 every week.

Now say you want to do 20 sessions a week. That means you need to be charging $117 or making $117, 20 times a week to do that. So when you see that it’s like, wow, I’m working this 40 hour a week job. I want to replace that income. Is that going to be that hard in my community? Could people pay $117 per session or does insurance or private pay? Could you easily be charging more than that? Then you need even less, so if we even say, say you’re getting $165, if we start do that whole thing again, where $75,000 we’re multiplying times factor 1.5, dividing that by the 48 weeks and then say, we’re averaging $165 per session, that means you only need to do 14 sessions a week.

That’s where the numbers can actually help you figure out with your side gig. When can I leave this? We’ll actually put in the show notes, we have a, when to leave your job calculator that we had created, we can embed it right in the show notes. It’s this great way that you can put in all of your W2 information, just look at your payroll that you get from your paychecks and say, well, how many sessions do I actually need, at what rate and how many weeks? It’s the exact formula I used to leave my full-time job back in 2015 to really think through that. So then once you’re setting your rates, really, it’s getting that first client, finding that first client, going from zero to one is always the hardest. Going from one to two is next hardest. Then after that, it really topples over typically.

Then to me it got addictive. Like I’m charging way more than I’m making at the college, or especially as a foster care supervisor and to say, holy cow, I want to take out one more client. I want to take in two more clients. Then to set boundaries around that where it was just for a while, Monday and Wednesdays, that I was in the office and then hiring 1099’s, even when I was part-time, it can start to take off where this side gig very quickly can become a full-time gig if you want it to be. That’s where, to me, it’s all about us having the choice that we want in regards to what our careers look like.

We were taught a very specific modality in graduate school as to what it looks like to be a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist, social worker, but the truth is the world needs our voices. Oftentimes, we don’t know or understand just how broad that need is. There are corporations that want mental health people, either on staff or to consult with. There are banks that want to be able to consult with people on how do you de-escalate situations. There’s people that are seeing trauma as being something that we should discuss within the business world or within different types of small groups like in schools. So depending on what your specialty is, or you desire it to be and what you want to do, there’s just so many options out there and how we can help the world beyond just our individual counseling or that individual working at a nonprofit or CMH.

I hope this feels inspiring to you that a side gig is very realistic. We have a full free course it’s over That’s aimed at people that are starting a practice. You’ll get that 28-step checklist that I talked about that you can get at but if you really want to dive in and get some free lessons, it’s within Teachable. We have videos and all sorts of expert interviews that will help you go from, could I start a practice to I’m starting a practice. I’m going to actually do this. Have that blueprint, to have that infrastructure totally free over at That’s also an area that if you have a group practice that you’re growing and we have a different track instead of courses if you’re growing a practice. So is a great place for you to head on over to.

Also, we could not do this show without our sponsors. Today’s sponsor is Gusto. Gusto is the all-in-one HR platform for growing businesses, everything you need to empower your team and drive your business in one place. You can automatically file and pay all your state, local federal payroll taxes. It’s super simple. Does time tracking, time off requests and more so as you grow your business. You can get three months totally for free when you run your first payroll. Head over to, to get three months for free to run your first payroll. Again, that’s

Thank you so much for letting me your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing day everybody. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.