Is moving into Independent Practice right for me?

I am receiving more enquiries than ever from therapists who are thinking about working for themselves as independent practitioners. Often people express concern about the risk and the responsibility so I thought I would outline some of the things you need to consider.

It would be wonderful to tell you that moving into independent practice is easy however in my experience it is a daunting though exhilarating process. The comfortable working hours, guaranteed regular income and paid holiday and sick leave are all perks of employment not to mention the reassuring structure around what is expected of you and what service you can or can't deliver. But if you are anything like me, you are craving more creativity and more freedom to work more holistically with your clients and to mould your interventions around the needs of your clients rather than the service you work for.

I have worked within private practice for over 10 years now and one of the main difficulties I initially faced was answering the question - what service can I offer and who is interested anyway? This was closely followed by uncertainty about how I should charge for my service, what my services are worth and how I would manage payments. If you re asking yourself these questions, let me reassure you that they are perfectly reasonable questions and you are not alone. It seems hard to find answers to these questions initially but if you persevere you will gain clarity.

In order to begin to provide services you need to start with the basics. This means a way of communicating, of record keeping and a means of accessing your clients. This means a phone, a computer / device and transport (or video app in the current climate). Some therapists like to invest in many tools and equipment resources as part of their set up however, I would advise against spending on non essentials until you have money coming in. Your training, clinical reasoning, occupational therapy perspective and knowledge are what people will pay for and therefore your best start up tools.

Some of the practicalities to address will include ensuring you have adequate public liability insurance and that you are registered with the correct professional bodies including HCPC and ICO. I would also recommend you have some form of online presence but that doesn't have to be a fancy website - it might be a profile on RCOTSS-IP / LinkedIn or a Facebook page.

Once you have these things in place the only thing that is holding you back is usually self doubt and procrastination. You need to get talking to people about yourself - as OT's we are not very good at this. Practice introducing yourself and what you do, get comfortable with talking about what problem(s) you recently solved for someone and tell someone about it. Under normal circumstances I would suggest you get out there and talk with people at the coffee shop, the library, the gym class or wherever you find yourself to be however, currently this may look more like virtual meetings, membership chat rooms and social media

There are various options for referral streams when you work for yourself. You could get work through an agency as a locum or associate - this might offer regular work and income. You do need to be aware of the small print in some contracts and I would always encourage you to be transparent if you are wanting to develop your own direct clients - businesses providing referrals to you have a right to protect their own client base and contacts. You might work part time for a specific service and the remainder of time for yourself. If you are lucky enough to not have to worry about income and able to focus 100% of your time on developing your business then wonderful!

Referrals may come from clients or their relatives directly, benevolent agencies, statutory services, case managers and solicitors, employers and educators or housing providers to name a few. It might be privy to begin to explore these options and understand which might be more relevant to your service - then talk with them. Once you get over your fear and start conversations you should start to find your way and gain some clarity. Procrastination gets you nowhere - with action comes clarity.

So the main take home messages are to look at the journey ahead and get the basics organised, work out who to start talking to and take action on your journey. You will gain clarity along the way and may eventually be able to make the jump you are looking for.

I would love you to comment if this has inspired you to be brave and take action.

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