Tips and items to consider on setting up a private career counseling practice

By Patrick L. Kerwin, MBA, NCC, MCC

As someone who has had a Career Counseling private practice for 16 years, I can tell you that having your own practice is filled with its share of joys... and headaches! So before you place your order for business cards and hang out that shingle, take a look at some of the following tips and items to consider...


It's a Business


While working with individual clients can be a delight, there's no way to avoid it: a private practice is a small business. And with that business comes record-keeping, bank deposits, tax forms, billing, and bills, to name a few. You don't need to be a CEO or have a degree in business, and you can certainly outsource it all and hire an accountant – but the most successful private practices are ones that provide outstanding, quality counseling, and that are run with income and expenses in mind.


Starting Up Is Easy


The bare-bones basics to starting your practice are actually quite few and simple. All you need for starters is:


Some other basic items to get you going are:


"Tell Me About Your Services"


This is the most common question you'll hear when someone inquires about your practice. And while it may seem like a perfectly simple request, your response requires consideration of the following questions first:


Once you answer these, practice what you'll say when the phone rings and someone asks, "Tell me about your services."


Location, Location, Location


Then of course comes the question, "Where?" Unless you're certain that you'll have a steady stream of clients and income, I'd advise against signing a lease and having a fixed monthly rental expense. 

Many therapists and other small business practitioners (e.g. insurance agents) are more than happy to rent out their office or excess office space on an hourly basis. When I first started my practice, I rented a therapist's office suite for $10/hour (remember, it was 16 years ago!). The only trick can be scheduling hours, but with a little flexibility and ingenuity, it's doable – and it sure beats writing a monthly rent check when you're first starting out. 

Another option is to work out of your home. The main consideration with a home office is security. If you have even an inkling that you won't feel secure, then don't do it; you need to feel safe and secure in your work space. The second consideration is the actual office in your home. A separate room with its own entrance is ideal, and helps keep "work" and "home" separate for both you and your clients. I've had a home office for 12 years, in the form of an office off the back of my home with its own entrance. I've never felt my safety or security threatened, and I thoroughly enjoy the ease of working from home. If a client cancels, it's not a problem – and you can't beat the commute!


"If You Build It, They Will Come"


This may have worked in the movie Field of Dreams, but it's unfortunately not true in private practice. The standard marketing tools can be surprisingly effective: an ad in the Yellow Pages, attending local networking events, and doing presentations for local businesses or other membership groups. 

Some other tools may be less obvious: a good website, and building relationships with fellow counseling professionals. A surprising number of my clients find me by doing a web search, finding my website, liking what they see, and making the call. Another Career Counseling colleague has created a steady stream of clients by connecting with Marriage & Family Therapists in her community and getting their referrals, and from creating a Career Counseling referral arrangement with a local university. And of course, there's no substitute for doing great work and creating a good word-of-mouth buzz.


What Not To Do


There is plenty of room for good private practitioners, and it can be amazingly satisfying and rewarding work. The key, as with any kind of work, is to go into it thoughtfully, with both self-knowledge and knowledge of the career. 

So now, where's your shingle?


Patrick Kerwin has a Career Counseling private practice, is an MBTI®MBTI Certification Program faculty with the Association for Psychological Type International and the American Management Association, and an Adjunct Faculty for the University of San Diego's graduate counseling program. In addition, he is the author of the Kerwin Values Survey® career values assessment. His website is