Your First 28 Days: How To Start A Counseling Practice | PoP 595

Share this content
On this therapist podcast, podcaster, consultant and author, talks about your first 28 days on how to start a counseling practice.

You want to start a practice: what do you do? What are the essentials to have in your practice? Which systems should you make sure to have on hand?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks about Your First 28 Days: How to Start a 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.

Everyone loves payday. But loving a payroll provider? That’s a little weird. Still, small businesses across the country love running payroll with Gusto. 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. Plus, listeners get three months free when they run their first payroll.

To get 3 months free once you run your first payroll just go to

In This Podcast

  • First steps
  • Digital
  • Paperwork
  • Practice
  • Financial
  • Launch

First steps

1 – The first step is to name your practice

A quick tip: don’t name it your name becauses if you, ever want to sell it, it’s going to be way easier. (Joe Sanok)

You can go one of two ways:

  • A more unique name that stands out and suggests a story
  • Something more traditional

How to name a counseling private practice

2 – Purchase your URL

Try to see if you can purchase a URL that is the same name as your practice to minimize confusion and to optimize SEO efficiency.


3 – Make sure that you are correctly licensed in your state

Each state has different protocols for whether you need a PLLC or an S-CORP or any additional business licensing.

4 – Create a plan

I hate five-year plans. Who I am now compared to five years ago is completely different and if I had made a five-year plan then, I would not have dreamed as big. (Joe Sanok)

Think in quarters instead of years so that you do not minimize your potential or get too caught up in the laid-out plan that you do not see potential wins or successes out of the corner of your eye.

5 – Get your liability insurance

Consider a $1m to $3m coverage. For counselors, Joe recommends HPSO.


6 – Get a website

Create a counseling website, and this is one of the first things you want to do so that you can boost your SEO, even if you do not have all your branding finished yet.

Brighter Vision – First 3 months free

To have your website built, email Sam. at [email protected]

7 – Sign up for a Google Business account

This ties your online presence altogether as it allows you to email with your practice’s name at the forefront instead of with a standard Gmail account.


8 – Set up your legal structure

Make sure to consult someone from within your state as sometimes the legal structures and protocols can vary between states.

To get your legal structure in place

9 – Organize a business bank account

Open an account at a bank that is solely for your practice so that your business finances are separate from your personal transactions.

10 – Have your private practice paperwork set up

You want your platform to be HIPAA compliant and it may help you for it to contain:

  • Progress notes,
  • Informed consent,
  • HIPAA compliance

Some HER’s such as Therapy Notes have these aspects built into their systems which protect you and your clients while saving time and money.

To create your own paperwork packet.


11 – Identify a specialty

If you say I do individual, couples, and family therapy, I see everyone, nobody’s going to refer to you. You got to have some sort of specialty. (Joe Sanok)

Having a specialty gives you a strong marketing point, a way in which to connect with your ideal client, and helps you to stand out from the average counselor in your area.

12 – Find some physical space

When you are first starting you generally want to keep your costs low, so you can sub-lease from another established practice and offer them 10% of your gross average income in exchange for using their office.

You can also have a per-day office usage system where you pay a percentage a day once-off, instead of renting per month if your needs for a physical office are infrequent.

13 – Get media savvy

Connect with local newsagents, media outlets, and online platforms to get the word out about your new practice that is soon to be launching.

Help A Reporter

10 Reasons to become a media-savvy therapist article

14 – Start an email list because it is a great way to help your specialty

Consider having an automated email maybe once or twice a month with a piece of great free content to your subscribers to get good information out to them.

15 – Design a good-looking logo

A great logo can go a long way and it will help you stand out from the crowd of other counselors in your area.

Get Your Logo Done

16 – Buy someone a sandwich

Get out there and network – in a safe way – to find 10 people that are doing what you want to do and start a conversation with them.

The more you can collaborate with people in your specialty, the better, so offer to buy them each lunch and pick their brains about the ups and downs. (Joe Sanok)

Take them for coffee, buy them a sandwich, and start a great referral source with them and connect with the other therapists who share your specialty in your area.

17 – Focus on one social media

  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram

Create a profile for your practice where you are already connected and learn how to take it further from there. Try not to pitch sales constantly. Post content that relates to your client’s pain points and that connects with your specialty.

The Practice of the Practice Pinterest

18 – Evaluate your cancellation policy

How can you do this in a way that benefits the client and the clinician? Can you create a system that serves the practice?

19 – Set up your phone systems

Landlines can be expensive and there are numerous other phoneline options that you can look at. Consider setting up your new practice with extensions in case you decide to hire more clinicians and grow it.

Spruce Phone Lines

Grasshopper Phone Lines


20 – Insurance-based or not?

There are both benefits and potential downsides.

Taking insurance can:

  • Opens immediate markets,
  • It is a lot more convenient for the average person,

But if you focus on private pay:

  • That’s going to mean less paperwork,
  • Autonomy over your income and time,
  • Reducing your stress

21 – Order your business cards

Now that you have a great logo and new website, get some good business cards, and start handing them out. Give them to clients and business partners when you are building your referral sources.

Discount on Business Cards


22 – Schedule a community talk

Now that you have your specialty, you want to find partners that have an audience.

This could be:

  • Local non-profit organizations,
  • Schools,

It can be any place that will allow you to give a free talk to get your practice name out there and into community conversations that relate to your counseling skillsets.

23 – Evaluate your electronic medical records system

Find one that works best for you and that serves the needs of your practice as much as possible. It may be difficult to find one that is an exact match, although there are electronic record systems out there that are popular and stand with a good reputation.

Therapy Notes

24 – Set up a payment system

You can use credit cards, insurance, and so forth.

25 – Start blogging within your website

This is the single biggest way to build authority and boost your SEO ranking.

Aim to write 26 blog posts within the first half-year of your practice’s launch.

26 – Optimize your website

Look for keywords:

  • Your city + your niche
  • Your niche + counseling
  • Your city + counseling

Look for keywords that you can incorporate into your blog posts to further rank higher on your SEO.

27 – Become an Amazon associate

Amazon pays you 3 to 10% of sales that you refer to them. This counts if you refer to books and services but make sure to disclose it.

28 – Go check out Practice of the Practice’s One Year Practice Plan. One Year Practice Plan at $17

Books mentioned in this episode:

Image of the book Thursday Is The New Friday written by Joe Sanok. Author Joe Sanok offers the exercises, tools, and training that have helped thousands of professionals create the schedule they want, resulting in less work, greater income, and more time for what they most desire.

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!

Feel free to leave a comment below or share this podcast on social media by clicking on one of the social media links below! Alternatively, leave

Podcast Transcription

Look, paydays are great, but running payroll, calculating taxes, deductions compliance, that’s not easy, unless of course you have Gusto. Gusto is simple; online payroll and benefits built for a small business. I use Gusto personally. Gusto automatically files your payroll taxes and directly deposits your team’s pay. Plus you can offer all kinds of benefits, 401ks, health insurance, workman’s comp, and more. And because you’re a listener you get three months free once you run your first payroll. Go to That’s

This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 595.

Well, welcome. I am so glad you are here. Sometimes things don’t go how you expect. We had recorded an awesome interview with Lori Gottlieb who came into our Next Level Practice community and something with that recording just fell apart. We were going to share that with you, but then it didn’t record properly. So it’s not even going to share in our community, which is super sad because Lori is amazing. And I actually was at my annual diabetes appointment during it and LaToya ran the meeting. So I don’t know what happened, but technology happens, but also because we were going to do that as a podcast episode, Mitchell, the amazing sound engineer just texted me and said, “Something’s up with this recording.” And I’m like, “Okay, what can I do?”

So I decided I’m going to go old school. I’m going to go back to a quick solo show. I’m not sure how long it’ll last. But I’m talking all about starting a practice. I want to go back to those basics of just the 28 steps that you need to do to just launch this practice, make it amazing. And actually you can get this checklist over at So you don’t have to take a bunch of notes on this. I thought I’d tell you that now instead of at the end.

So first thing you need to do is name your private practice and naming a private practice can be tough. Do you name it your name or something else? A quick tip, don’t name, your name, because if you ever want to sell it, it’s going to be way easier. In naming a practice you can kind of go one way or the other. You can go with a very unique name like down in Ohio, there’s Blue Boat Counseling, because this guy, Andy he loves the color blue, always has when he was a little kid. He would always wait on those ride when there’s like the boats going in a circle. He’d wait for the blue boat, even if few is next for the red boat. So he named it Blue Boat, like going after what you want to go after. So you can have a unique name like that or you can go with something a little bit more traditional. There’s a bunch of options or ideas over at That’s going to help you out.

Next buy a URL. So a URL is that [Dot com] is always preferred. When you name your private practice, make sure you can get the same URL as the name of the practice. You don’t want to say we are Holistic Counseling, go over to You want them to line up. so if you go over to, that’s going to help you be able to figure out what domains are available and that’s going to help you out as well.

Next, make sure you’re licensed correctly in your state. Each state does it a little bit differently in regards to if you need a PLLC, if you need to have an S-CORP, if you need to have any additional business licensing. You should know how to do this. So for example, in Michigan if you’re an LPC in Michigan, you need to know that for you to do a private practice, you need to have supervision and at your stage of license, are you allowed to do a private practice or do you need to have a supervisor somehow sign off on it?

Next, create a plan. I hate five year plans. Who I am now compared to five years ago is completely different. And if I had made a five year plan, then I would not have dreamed as big. But think over the next four quarters, kind of quarter by quarter, what are you going to do to keep on track, to meet your first year goals? Actually over on our Pinterest page, I’ve made this thing step by step for your first four quarters that I think it’s been reppined, last I looked, we were almost at a million repins of it, which is insane that that many people have looked at it.

Next you’re going to want to get your liability insurance. Typically you’re going to want at least a 1 million, 3 million coverage for counselors. I usually recommend HPSO we’re not affiliates or anything with them. But I’ve heard there’s a lot of other great things out there. I’ve also heard from others that sometimes HPSO hasn’t been reimbursing all legal payments like they should. So let me know if you hear differently with that. You’re going to want to get your liability insurance next.

Next we’re going to have you create a counseling web website. That’s going to be one of the first things you want to do so that you can start to build that SEO, even if you don’t have all of your branding and everything down. You can build your own counseling website. You can have a website through Brighter Vision. gets you some free months there. You can have one built. If you do it yourself, you can have Blue Host help you with that or we have a full-time web designer now that if you’re looking to get a website custom built, that we can help you with that. So just email [email protected] to get more information about that.

You want to get rid of that old email. You don’t want the AOL or the Gmail. So you’re going to sign up for probably a Google Business account. Because you wanted to say hey, like [email protected], not Joe@AOL, Yahoo, or Gmail. You want to have it be at your domain name. So you’re going to set that up. Usually through Google Business is the fastest way.

Next you’re going to want to set up your legal structure. I had an accounting friend help me. But you can use Swift Filings. You can use other things. We have a lot of information about setting up your legal structure for your state over at It usually takes about 15 minutes to get most of those set up. In most states it’s PLC, but I’m not an accountant or an attorney, so make sure you consult someone that knows what they’re doing in your state.

So after that, you want to find a bank for your business. You want a business bank account so that your business finances are completely separate from your personal. So you want all money that comes into the business to go into the business account and all money that’s going out for expenses to go through that account. So it never is coming in and out of your account, unless you’re doing a disbursement to yourself as the owner.

Next, you’re going to want to have your private practice paperwork set up. A lot of EHRs, like Therapy Notes already have this kind of built in. You want your progress notes, informed consent, HIPAA, especially if you’re doing online counseling, making sure you disclose how you’re using a HIPAA-compliant platform, not FaceTime not Zoom unless you’re paying for the really expensive Zoom Business. Most EHRs now like Therapy Notes have that just built into their system. So usually you want to use that to protect yourself or you can also create your own paperwork packet. We have some tips over at so that can help you out save a little bit of time there too.

Next you’re going to identify a specialty. So if you say I do individual, couples and family therapy, I see everyone, nobody’s going to refer to you. You got to have some sort of specialty. So is it I help angry kids? Sure. Someone that helps angry kids can probably see other people as well. So you’re going to want to do that as well.

Next, you’re going to want to try to find some space you can use. Now, if you’re doing just online counseling, of course, you’re not going to need that. But you really want to kind of find some space. So when you’re first starting out, you want to keep your costs low, like dirt cheap, low. So the best way to do this is to sublease from another established practice and offer them 10 to 20% of your gross come exchange for using the office. You could also have a per day office where maybe it’s 50 bucks per day if you get to use it all day Tuesday. So it can really help out.

The next step most people don’t really think about is getting media savvy and quickly getting some media help. Using Help A Reporter Out is a really great way to do that. Help A Reporter Out sends three emails a day of news reporters that are looking to quote experts and professionals. So right away you can really kind of grow how well you’re looked at in the professional world. In fact, Julie Hanks is a friend of mine who wrote this great article called 10 reasons to become a media savvy therapist. She said, this decision to become media savvy has altered the course of my professional life and exciting in new ways. So make sure you do that.

Next you’re going to want to start an email list. So this is a great way to help your specialty. So say you help angry kids. You might have an email that has a PDF of seven quick tips to reduce your child’s anger, and then having an automated email, maybe just once or twice a month to just get good information out there for your potential clients.

Next, we want to have a nice looking logo made. So a nice looking logo can really go a long way. Very few private practice owners have a quality logo, so right away, you’re going to stand out with that in your website. Doing that step alone, we’ll put you in the top five to 10% of private practices. A few of the resource logo designs out there are 99designs, Fiverr, your own network. We help people do designs. So feel free to email [email protected] if you’re interested in getting a logo done. But that’s great way to really kind of amp things up for you.

Next, I’d say buy lunch for someone. Assuming that the time you listen to this, that feels like a safe decision with all the pandemic and all that. So after you determine your specialty, find 10 people that are doing what you want to do. So if you help angry kids find other people that are helping angry kids. The more you can collaborate with people in your specialty, the better. So offer to buy them each lunch and pick their brains with the ups and downs. Here’s how that email might look. “Good afternoon blank. I was reading through your website and I see that you help angry kids. I love your video about what you do in tough situations or what you do in tough situations. I’d love to pick your brain about the ups and downs of private practice. Also it’ll help me know who you are if I want to refer to you as those opportunities come up, I’d love to buy you lunch sometime.

Next focus on one social media. So which social media are you already on? Do you love Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram? Start where you’re already connected and learn a ton. There don’t be sales pitchy. You want to create content that really mirrors your specialty and that really focuses on that particular specialization.

Next evaluate your cancellation policy. Private practice consultant Evan told me once, it occurred to me that the standard 24-hour cancellation policy, most therapists have no connection to anything therapeutic or business focus. What will be yours. So really thinking about that cancellation policy, how are you going to do it? How are you going to grow it? How are you going to make sure that you help people.

Next you’re going to set up your private practice phone system. So landlines can be crazy expensive. There are a lot of phone systems out there like Spruce or Grasshopper. You want to make sure that you talk to them about HIPAA-compliance. will get you over to them and let them know that we’re promoting them on the podcast.

Next determine if you’re going to take insurance. This isn’t a lifelong decision. There’s many ways to add or leave insurance and each one has its benefits. Taking insurance can open up immediate markets well. It’s a lot more convenient for the average person, but if you focus on private pay, that’s going to reduce your paperwork, give you more kind of autonomy over the income you bring in and what time you have to work and reducing your stress. So really sorting through which insurances you want to do.

Next I’d say order your business cards. Since now you’ve got a sweet logo and a sweet website get some that are good. Places like Vista Print, those look pretty cheesy nowadays. I personally like Moo. You can get a discount through them. I’m an affiliate there through [MOO]. I use them for all my business cards. I just went to Podcast Movement and got some really thick business card. People kept trying to pull them apart. They were so thick, but I’m like, “No, no, no. That’s how thick they are.” They’re just super thick. So they stand out. So I use Moo. I love Moo.

Next schedule, a few community talks. So now that you have your specialty, you want to find partners that have an audience. This could be local nonprofit organizations, maybe united way or schools, places that can promote a free talk to their audience to get your name out there.

So after that really evaluate your electronic medical records system. I was talking to Rob Reinhardt from Tame Your Practice, and he has a great review of a number of cloud-based practice management systems. And he said, even when you’ve narrowed the field, there are so many factors to consider. It can be difficult to make a final choice. Very rarely will readers find that one of the solutions meets every single one of their needs. We at Practice of the Practice have had Therapy Notes for probably five years as one of our main sponsors. We really like them. We hear great feedback from people but yes, make sure you interview a bunch.

Next you’re going to set up a payment system. So this could be Square. Credit card companies usually charge 2 to 3%, but if you do the math, every 33 times, you get a payment. If that person would’ve, say forgot their checkbook it’s worth it for that 3% to just be able to have somebody pay.

Next, you’re going to start blogging within your website. Blogging’s the single biggest way a to rank and Google and build authority. So make sure you’re really focusing on that SEO, the search engine optimization to help you rank higher. And I recommend trying to have 26 blog posts written within the first half year of your practice so that you can be internally linking them and growing them.

And next after that, you’re going to want to optimize your website. So after you’ve completed all the things we’ve already talked about, just go through your website, optimize your keywords you’re looking for, your city, plus your niche, plus maybe counseling or your counseling plus city, and really look for those ones that you can really grow as well.

Next I’d say become an Amazon associate. Amazon pays you 3 to 10% for sales that you refer. So if you’re referring books, if you’re referring people to different products on Amazon, you can monetize that. Always disclose it though. so that people know that you’re an affiliate through Amazon.

And then lastly I would say, go check out our one year practice plan. The one year practice plan is a step by step guide where you get an email every single week on how to start a practice. You can get that for only 17 bucks over at to get access to that one year practice guide. It’s only 17 bucks. So we would love to have you head on over there.

So that is my episode. I didn’t plan to have to record 28 things to start a practice. Boom, such a busy podcast schedule. I’m going to have over 200 podcasts that I’m interviewed on to help promote the book Thursday is the New Friday, which is my book that drops on October 5th. You can order your pre-release copy now. If you get five, you get to come to Killin’It Camp. And then you just submit your order over at I’m so excited about all the people that are coming. It’s going to be an awesome group of people. It’s the private practice conference of the year. So make sure you join us for that.

And then Gusto, oh, Gusto, you have my heart. Gusto is our payroll system that we use, that lots of people use, Recently my accountant bookkeeper and attorney had to all sort through some things and Gusto made it so easy to pull reports and get past statements and all those things that are just such a pain if you don’t have a good system. If you’re not using Gusto for payroll, you definitely should try it out for three months at

Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have a great day. Talk to you soon. Bye.

Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. We really like it. And this podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It 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.