3 Steps to Better Money Conversations With Your Clients
However, in order to make an actual living from your private practice, you will need to know how to have successful conversations with your clients about money.
By the end of today’s post, you will have the tools to do just that!
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Step 1: Adjusting Your Money Mindset
In grad school we learned how to be good therapists, but most of us did not learn anything about how to run a business. Many private practitioners that I’ve spoken to don’t even identify themselves as business owners! Moreover, for some of us, talking about money with our clients can feel like it’s in direct opposition to being a caring therapist.
When it comes to money, we ALLLLLL carry some baggage, so there’s zero shame in it. This baggage is so common that there’s actually a name for it. It’s called “Money Mindset.” And, if you don’t want to create unnecessary anxiety, guilt, and confusion for your clients, it’s key that you understand what your unique money mindset is, and where it comes from.
Here are some common money mindsets that therapists might have. See if any of these are true for you:
- I’m not really worth “X”[insert number that causes you discomfort] amount of money.
- Therapists who charge a premium fee are greedy and don’t really care about their clients, and are just in it for themselves.
- Therapists who charge full fee, or don’t take insurance are in this field for the wrong reasons.
- My (supervisor, peers, own therapist, family, etc.) will think I’m charging too much.
- My clients can’t afford to pay full fee.
- It’s selfish to charge full fee, and talking to clients about your fee isn’t caring.
Let’s go through each of these, one-by-one.
YES YOU ARE WORTH IT.
- We do a job that most people do not want to, and cannot do. It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have, or how many specialty certifications you have.
- What we do as therapists is not only sit with another human being’s pain, but actually move TOWARD it. We don’t do a superficial “how are you?” We don’t try to take away people’s pain with platitudes like “look on the bright side” or “everything is going to be ok”.” We stay with people in their uncertainty and help them feel less alone in it.
- And not only that, we work with people’s defenses. All the not pretty, not flattering things that every human does to keep people at a distance. We work to see through those. We move towards, when maybe every other person in that client’s life has moved away.
- The work we are doing is essential, and cannot be done by any other means. The problems that people come to therapy for are only solved in real and true connection to another human. Most people have tried plenty of other things before they walk in our door.
THERAPISTS WHO CHARGE A PREMIUM FEE ARE NOT GREEDY.
- They know that they spend each working day helping their clients achieve their biggest dreams, and they know that it is not sustainable to do that, while simultaneously scrimping by themselves. They can only do their best work when they are achieving their biggest dreams as well.
THERAPISTS WHO CHARGE A PREMIUM FEE ARE NOT IN THIS FOR THE “WRONG” REASONS.
- You should not have to choose between taking care of others, and taking care of yourself. Making money and helping others do not have to be at odds.
- Just imagine for a moment, what kind of impact you could have in this world if you had more financial resources, more hours in your week, and more balance in your life? Might you volunteer somewhere? Do pro-bono work? Start a non-profit? Being in a better financial space can actually give you the freedom to give back in an even more substantial way.
- I also find it “interesting” to consider whether the same expectation to give and give, and not be well-compensated for it would exist if this field were predominantly men, not predominantly women? Why is it so wrong to want to make money? Why is it that there is an expectation in our profession that we put others first, to the exclusion of our own self-care when we wouldn’t ask the same of doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants and all the other professions that help people?
IT’S TRUE. OTHER PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE CHARGING.
- There’s no way around this one. People definitely will have reactions. If this is coming from other therapists, this might have to do with the fact that they have bought into the cultural expectations discussed above.
- But most importantly, you need to examine what you imagine people are going to think, and then do some personal reflection about where that comes from. This is the part you actually have some influence over. You have zero influence over other people’s thoughts and feelings, so while you certainly spend time trying to control for this, it’s not going to get you very far.
- Sometimes your imagination of what people are going to think is going to come from a very real place. And other times, it goes back to your own feelings about your worth. And usually it’s a combo of both. Either way, this is great fodder for deeper self-exploration.
YOU DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT PEOPLE CAN AFFORD OR NOT AFFORD.
- Setting your fee based upon what you think others can afford is a very shaky way to set your fee. We’ll talk more on how what actually goes into setting your fee below.
- Some people will not be able to afford your full fee, but I’ve always been surprised by how many people figure out a way to make it work when they value what they are getting out of the process of therapy.
CHARGING YOUR FULL FEE IS NOT SELFISH, AND HAVING A RESPECTFUL CONVERSATION WITH YOUR CLIENT ABOUT MONEY IS CARING.
- The feedback I have gotten many times from clients is that seeing me do what I need to do to take care of myself is actually really good modeling for them, and that it encourages them to do the same.
- Talking to your client about money, when you are able to approach it in a calm, clear and open way, is one of the most respectful things you can do. We are used to dealing with the more vulnerable parts of our clients. But we must always remember that our clients are whole adult human beings, who are capable of dealing with things, and we must show them that we know that by treating them that way!
- What’s not caring is avoiding conversations about money because you are trying to protect your client from their own feelings and reactions.
- What’s also definitely not caring is growing resentful of your clients as they achieve their wildest dreams while you are barely paying off your student debt and can’t afford to take a vacation! Making sure you take care of yourself financially is going to allow you to do better work.
Working through your money mindset is an on-going process
Just as with most things, money mindset issues always find new and fun ways of cropping up, just when you thought you’d dealt with them! It’s not a one-and-done, but rather a constant evolution.
Start with some of the above, as food for thought. And if you are interested in going deeper, I would recommend a couple of resources:
Lean In. MAKE BANK. This is a one-of-a-kind intensive program designed by a therapist, for therapists to help them work through their money mindset, and develop a marketing plan with their newfound mindset super powers! There is also a podcast by the creator of this program, Tiffany McLain which is really inspirational, as well as practical. Check it out!
Worthy by Nancy Levin This is a self-help book chock full of exercises to help you examine and change your relationship to money at your own pace. The author makes a link between “boosting your self-worth to boost your net worth” that I think really gets to the heart of things. I would say this is a must-read for all private practice therapists!
Step 2: Set your fee with confidence
If you set your fee with confidence, then you can talk to your clients about it with confidence, and that starts with understanding your fee, inside and out.
Too often I hear people setting their fees based upon things like “Well, it’s better than what I was making at my agency” or “It’s less than what my therapist charges.”
Those factors have absolutely ZERO to do with how much you need to be charging in your practice.
Your fee should be based on the following:
- The cost of your business expenses
- The cost of your life expenses
- Factoring in the cost of state and federal tax payments
- How much money you need to live a life that you love so that you have all the energy you need to put into your work
To help you work through this, I’ve created a free worksheet you can download by filling out the form below.
Click here for the accompanying guide to the download.
Step 3: Take Action
You can do the first two steps all day long, but until you take action and talk to your clients about money, nothing is going to change. Here are the strategies I recommend to set yourself up for success:
- Bring it up at the beginning of the session. Whether you are raising your fee, or perhaps you are going off your client’s insurance panel, bring up the money conversation before the client starts talking about how they are doing, otherwise it’s prone to getting lost, or not having enough time to process. If this is a brand new client, make sure you discuss your fee in the first session (this should also be part of your initial paperwork, more on that below).
- Be calm, and project confidence. If you are wavering, it’s going to create unnecessary anxiety for your client. If you need to (and I have totally done this), write it down and practice saying it out loud, either by yourself or to a supportive person in your life. You will sound more calm and confident the more times you’ve said it out loud.
- Be clear. Don’t over-explain! Keep it informative and brief.
- Go slowly. If I’m nervous, I speak a mile a minute. Don’t give a whole 5-minute spiel, and then ask for your client’s reactions. Give them time and space to respond. By slowing down you will also cue yourself to relax.
- Breathing is always good. While you’re at it, relax those hands, unclench the jaw, and roll those shoulders down away from your ears. Ahhh, doesn’t that feel better?
A sample of some language you can use
In supervision or consultation I often find myself asking “OK, but exactly HOW would you say that, like, word-for-word?” So if you’re like me, you might want the same.
Here’s a sample of things you might say:
- “I wanted to let you know that I will be raising my rate from (amount) to (amount) as of (date)”
Or If it’s the first time you are ever raising your fee, and this will be something new for some long-time clients, you can add a little something like this:
- “I wanted to let you know that after reviewing the finances for my business, I need to do a rate increase from (amount) to (amount), starting (date).”
- “Do you have any questions or concerns about this change?
- “Sometimes people have feelings about me raising my rates, and I want you to know that I really want to hear about any feelings you might have about this, either now or if they come up in the future”
Notice that all of the above are short and sweet! You are sending clear messages about the business side of the work, while making space for the therapeutic side of the work.
Step 3a: Processing the talk with confidence
In the therapeutic space, all feelings are allowed and can be talked about. But, in order to do that, the boundaries have to be crystal clear. By setting really clear boundaries about the business side, you are actually making room for better therapeutic work! Whenever I have had conversations with my clients about money it has always strengthened and deepened my work.
Be prepared to talk about what actually comes up. I have often done prep work in supervision if there is someone that I think might have a tough time. This would help me feel more confident approaching the conversation, because I had a better understanding of what was being stirred up, both in me, and in my client.
That being said, you can prepare, but remember, you never know how people will actually react. From experience I can tell you that usually the people you think will have a hard time turn out to be the people that are like “OK, no problem”. The best preparation is really clarity on your end about your decision.
Notice if you’re not talking about it. Another way to use supervision is if you notice yourself not having the conversation with certain clients, or putting it off altogether. There is likely something JUICY to explore there! It might be good work for your own personal therapy as well.
A few more strategies to make things easier going forward
- Make fee increases a regular practice and put it in your initial paperwork. Make sure you let your clients know that you re-evaluate your business each fiscal year and make a rate increase, that way they are prepared that it’s going to happen, and it’s established as a norm.
- Give some notice before you make any financial changes. I have normally given 90 days, but there is no hard and fast rule. It’s up to you how long of a notice you’d like to give.
- October or November is a good time to let your clients know about financial changes to your practice. This is the most common time for open enrollment, aka the time when companies let their employees make selections for insurance plans, and health savings accounts (HSA’s). This gives clients the chance to factor your rate change into those choices.
- Document any financial changes in an official letter. It’s good practice to write down any changes you are making to your business, and hand it out (or send it digitally) to all of your clients. This is not in the place of conversation, but rather for extra clarity.
- Let your insurance clients know about rate changes even if it doesn’t impact them right now. If you decide to go off insurance in the future, this conversation will have helped lay the groundwork for what your services actually cost.
If you’re having a hard time with any of this, just remember that it’s a journey. Break things down into one do-able step at a time if you need to. You don’t have to do some huge overhaul of everything to be “doing it right”. This isn’t about success and failure, and it’s not even necessarily about money. It’s really about learning to take care of yourself and your business, so you can do your best work.
If you liked this post, come visit me over at www.PracticeBoss.me where I post business tips every week and you can find out more about how my services can help boost your practice!
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