The Phone Is Ringing!
COLLEEN MADDEN PELLEGRINO
Every once in awhile, I have one of those moments. Those moments when I recognize that we did it. We made it happen. We created this place that wasn’t here before. Our idea, our draft notes for a business plan, our many discussions around a kitchen island, have morphed into a thriving business with letterhead, a website and drawers full of client files.
Sometimes the moment happens when I pull into the parking lot and see the logo on the marquee. The same logo that started as a doodle on a crumpledup napkin from the depths of my driver side door pocket.
Or when I answer the phone call from someone who was referred by their doctor, friend or school to one of our therapists. In fact, that’s happening right now! I’m sitting in the conference room at my office as I write these words. The office is quiet today…except for the phone that keeps ringing. I remember how excited we would get when it rang in the early days—not only did we create this place, but other people know we are here! Now it happens so often that it just feels normal.
Through the journey of starting an outpatient mental health private practice, my business partner and I have learned many lessons. Surprisingly, the biggest lesson comes down to putting into practice something we teach our clients every day, the use of empowerment language in our thoughts and speech. Like I do with clients, I started with a list of “I wants.” You need to know where you are headed in order to figure out how get there. Wants allow you to dream bigger, however wants have no power of their own. A want can become an obtainable goal through the use of empowerment language.
Empowerment language has movement and specific action. Stating “I want to start a business” will not make it come to fruition. Wants take work, so they need to include specifics to work on. Expressing “I will start a counseling practice with a partner in office space that has four therapy offices” is far more likely to become that and a whole lot more. Not only does it shift the language from “I want” to “I will,” it also lists four different specific goals to pursue.
Utilize your empowerment statements to develop a business plan that breaks down all the steps necessary to reach each goal. We attended a business plan seminar held by a local university’s Small Business Development Center. Later, we met with a consultant from the center to review our plan. The consultants were able to help us develop a budget and consider factors that we’d missed. Their assistance was invaluable.
Once you have your business plan, create a timeline. Give yourself time and expect delays. We looked at over 20 potential office locations, much to the chagrin of our realtor. At times this was very disheartening and frustrating. One space was too large. The next too small. One just didn’t have the right feel. Of course, several were too expensive.
In the end that extra time was a gift.
Those months of uncertainty allowed us prepare for the start of business in a thoughtful manner. We were afforded the opportunity to ask a lot of questions and seek the answers. As a result, when we signed our lease we were ready to take referrals immediately.
Through this preparation, we learned to fully OWN our business. By this I mean the ability to believe we are in charge, that we can manage all we needed to be successful, that we have the competence, capacity, and confidence to make it happen in a way that was financially sound and supported the emotional health of our clientele. In starting a business, you are selling a concept that does not yet fully exist, so you need to believe in your success enough so others will want to also believe. This includes your family, employees, realtor, and clients. If you don’t believe, why should anyone else?
Our want list did take work, along with time, frustrations and roadblocks along the way. It has not come easy, especially juggling 3 kids in sports, a husband with his own demanding career, and a dog who the rest of the family forgets needs to go out. There have been times when I have questioned: why do I want to do this? Honestly, it is easier, in so many ways, to let someone else be the boss. Yet I wanted to prove to myself that I could.
That original list of I wants included: “I want to work where I am excited to answer the phone.” This ultimately became: “I will own a practice where referrals are greeted by a voice that is eager to help and listen, more focused on their emotional health than their co-pay.”
I chose the field of social work to help others, not to become rich. It’s important that the passion that called you to your given field is not lost in the operations of business. This means that sometimes clients are offered a sliding scale or we help a client find another practice that has different expertise that better fits their need.
Our practice is thriving. We are making it happen. Like marriage and parenting, we have not gotten everything right, nor have we got it all wrong. We continue to have wants for our business. We understand that wants take work. We set goals that are active and specific. We continue to learn, ask questions, and seek answers.
When I feel overwhelmed, or frustrated, I look around at this place that we created, this place that was not here before, and I take a moment to reflect… until the phone rings again.
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