Uncommon Practice: Our Private Practice Growth Story

We want to let you know why we started this business and what it stands for. You can learn more about our personal stories at Our Personal Stories, but this page is about why Uncommon Practices exists and how we can help you reach your private practice goals.

If you’re like us – and most clinicians – you learned little or nothing about business or marketing in graduate school. In contrast to the confidence you probably feel about your clinical skills, you may feel inadequate or uncomfortable in knowing what to do or how to proceed in promoting, marketing and growing your practice. Or you may know what to do, but just really dislike doing it. We were just like you, when we embarked on a relentless study of business and marketing.

Uncommon Practices, helping mental health professionals with private practice marketing and growth, was founded by Joe Bavonese, PhD and Melhim Restum, PhD in 2005. Joe and Mel first met in 1976 as doctoral graduate students in psychology. Later in our careers, we worked as Directors of separate Outpatient Mental Health and Substance Abuse clinics in the same organization. What follows below is the story of how we both entered private practice, and how we learned – the long, hard, expensive way – what it takes to create a very successful private practice.

Joe BavoneseIn 1992 I started my private practice in psychotherapy. I was told by five colleagues not to start a practice, because private practice was a dinosaur and no one could make money in private practice anymore. I decided to do it anyway, with an office in a run-down office building, three clients, a beat-up old couch, and a box of tissues. I had another full-time job, so I started part-time to see if I could make it on my own.

To no one’s great surprise, people did not come running to my door. Despite having good clinical skills, I struggled to maintain a consistent caseload. I liked the freedom of my practice, but it was up and down. I averaged about six referrals a month, mostly by referrals from other therapists and past clients.

I survived, but my practice was certainly not anywhere close to where I wanted it. I’d have some great weeks following by lots of empty spaces in my schedule I tried a number of different things, but I was guessing at what to do, I had no real theory or knowledge guiding my marketing decisions. But I was willing to experiment and try new ideas, some of which were working out well.

In 1996, my wife and I wanted to have a second child and unexpectedly got a bonus: we had twin boys in 1997. I now had three children and no longer had the option of a mediocre practice: I had to do better financially. But what to do?

I started reading some small business marketing books, which helped a little (see Resources). I hired local marketing consultants, which was almost totally worthless and a complete waste of time and money.

I was frustrated. Nobody seemed to really understand what we did, how unique it was, and I couldn’t find any marketing consultants specializing in psychological practices.

So I looked elsewhere. I decided that if I was really serious about this, I should find the best small business training available anywhere. So I sought out nationally known marketing training and consultation for small business, with some of the biggest (and most expensive) names in the business.

(You can read more details about my journey into the business world in my July 2007 article in Psychotherapy Networker, entitled Developing a Money Mindset ).

What follows is a summary of my greatest marketing and business development mentors. I encourage you to visit their web sites, download their free information, and consider signing up for their services (if you can afford them). But when you read their material, keep two things in mind: all of these consultants are VERY expensive from the average psychotherapist’s mindset; and 25-75% of what they teach will have no relevance for you (which is actually okay and still valuable, if you understand Return on Educational Investment).

While you may not have heard of some or all of these small business consultants, I assure you they are all superb at what they do. In my summary, I’ll include what I spent on my training. This is not for any reason other than for you to see how expensive really top-notch marketing consultants are in the real world of business.

I started with Jay Abraham who, according to Fortune magazine, is the most expensive marketing consultant in the country at $5,000 per hour.

I didn’t have $5,000 to spend, so I started with a book of Jay’s that cost $350. I had never paid that much for a book, and I was very ambivalent about buying it. But I finally bought it and was immediately impressed by his ideas. I quickly made some changes in my practice that resulted in a twenty-fold return on my $350 investment. I was hooked, and I wanted more knowledge.

So I attended a 3 day seminar with Jay Abraham in Los Angeles. There were 400 people there, and I was the only mental health professional in attendance. The seminar cost $3500. All my friends told me I was insane to pay that much for a 3 day seminar. But I went because I was beginning to understand Return on Educational Investment. I came back from the seminar and using what I had learned, I made changes in my practice that increased my referrals by 40% in just six months.

Inspired by these results, I applied and was accepted in an Incubator program with Jay Abraham, where he personally worked with 10 small businesses. It was great having Jay’s personal input into what I was doing.

I also studied with a master of implementation, Scott Hallman. Scott has an uncanny ability to help businesses optimize and then systematize what they’re doing, and thereby create a powerful improvement in your bottom line.

I also studied with super salesman Chet Holmes. Chet is the guy who could sell the proverbial ice cubes to the Eskimos. He taught me that we’re all in the business of selling, even in mental health services, and how to do it most skillfully. Chet is also the mastermind behind the art of Setting the Buying Criterion in any sales situation

Neither Scott or Chet had ever had a mental health professional study with them.

I also studied with a fascinating and brilliant business teacher Toby Hecht, founder of the Aji Network, in his nationally known Business Professionals Course. Toby teaches people how to create more powerful results in the marketplace by understanding some of the unconscious cultural forces that effect all of our thinking and actions as a business professional, and by learning how to design the best possible offer. I was the first mental health professional to take the course in the 18 years he has been doing it.

The cumulative effect of all of this learning was that I developed a new mindset – a business, marketing mindset – that allows me to view business challenges and opportunities in a new way. I consider this mindset no less significant than the clinical mindset I developed in graduate school and beyond. And surprisingly to me, this mindset is not unethical as I had always assumed business people to be. Some of the people I have met in my business trainings have been exceptional human beings, living lives of great integrity and service to others.

In the past 10 years, I have spent over $52,000 in consulting and training fees to acquire this mindset. To many psychotherapists, this is an absurd amount of money to invest in marketing and business education. In my mind, it was money well spent! I have come a long way from my original reluctance to spend a mere $350 when first starting out. I have already made back multiples of all of the money I spent, and I will continue to benefit massively from this knowledge for the rest of my career.

My solo practice filled up so completely years ago that I never have a concern at all about having a full caseload. The thought ‘how can I fill up my caseload’ hasn’t entered my mind in several years. A full caseload is just a given – a fact which I attibute to my business acumen, not my clinical skills. There are many excellent clinicians in my geographic area – I realize that my advantage lies elsewhere.

In fact, I created so many referrals that I have taken the next step in leveraging my work: my practice has evolved into a group practice with 24 therapists and 3 offices, and we now average 125 referrals a month. In sum, my original six referrals a month has increased twenty-fold; my annual income has risen every single year I’ve been in practice; and I’ve been in the top 1% of all psychologist’s income since 2002.

My approaches to private practice growth began to attract attention. I have been featured in the Psychotherapy Finances newsletter on three different occasions since 1996. I began doing marketing consultations with psychotherapists around the phone in 1997 and have always been pleased to find out that what I have to tell them has been a new, fresh perspective that they had never been exposed to before.

As I said earlier, I encourage you to do as I have done: study with great marketing masters. It is well worth the time and effort.

But if you’d like to streamline the process, what we’re offering you is to benefit from our having sorted out the wheat from the chaff, in the time-tested practical applicaton of an ongoing group psychotherapy practice, for a fraction of what it would cost you to hire these consultants and teachers. Our program The Business of Psychotherapy: Creating Your Ideal Practice will teach you all of the best and most useful things that I have learned in all of these marketing trainings and consultations.

To read about all of our services to help clinicians grow their practices, please go to: Uncommon Practices Programs and Services. Or give us a call at 248-270-8132, or shoot us an email at info@uncommonpractices.com