Maybe it’s New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe it’s “Blue Monday” (January 23rd) the day by which we’ve all broken our resolutions. Maybe it’s a post-holiday emotional hangover. Maybe it’s just that the days are depressingly short, and dark, and very cold. Maybe it’s a combination of all these things that makes it so that, for many counseling practices, the first 3 months of the new year are the busiest!

You don’t want to be caught unprepared! It’s time to ready your practice for success in the new year. Here’s a 11-step to-do-list.

1) Expand Your Hours

In retail, businesses make their money between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For many counseling practices, the same can be said for January through March. These are months when counselors should get to the office early, stay late, and maybe even work some weekends. Consider yourself fortunate; persons in the hospitality industry work extended hours during the holidays, often missing out on celebrations with family and friends. Your busy time is after the party has ended, in the dead of winter. What else is there to do anyway?

2) Ready Your Team

Talk to your team early about their availability in the new year. What do their schedules look like for Q1 (Jan-Mar)? Is everyone able and willing to see new clients, and even expand their hours? Is there any reason a team member might be out of commission, or otherwise on leave (i.e., are there any snowbirds plotting an extended retreat to Florida)?

3) Grow Your Team

If you’ve been considering adding a new team member, this might be your opportunity. Give yourself ample time to recruit a licensed counselor who is both clinically strong, and a good administrative and cultural fit for your practice.

4) Get on Insurance Panels

There’s no sugar-coating it, getting on insurance panels is a lengthy process. Ask Blue Cross and they’ll instruct you to allow “120 business days” to be added to their network. If you’ve been putting it off, don’t delay any longer. You might find that your phone is ringing, but you’re turning away 8-out-of-10 potential clients because you can’t accept their insurance. Realize that more potential clients have insurance than ever before, their insurance is costing them more than ever before, and you better believe they want to use it! Speaking of the phone ringing…

5) Don’t Rely on Voicemail

When a potential new client calls your practice, if he/she doesn’t reach a live person, he/she is more likely to hang up and call someone else than leave a voicemail. I’m always surprised by how many practices have nobody to answer their phone and instead rely on their mailbox to be their first impression and first contact with new potential clients. Don’t rely on voicemail! If you don’t have anyone on staff to answer calls, consider hiring an answering service to take a message and relay to callers that their calls will be returned within the hour. Then, and this part is important, actually return the call within the hour.

6) Research Deductibles

If you’re already accepting clients’ insurance, be prepared that many persons’ deductibles renew in January. Check, and re-check, client benefits to determine any client out-of-pocket responsibility.

You don’t want a pile of denied claims to start the new year, and you certainly don’t want to need to chase clients for payment.

7) Prepare for Snow

Begin to prepare your clients that, in the event of snow or ice, sessions can be conducted by telephone or video. An online/telephone option can work very well for clients paying for services out-of-pocket, and a growing number of insurance companies will now reimburse for online sessions (call you insurance companies to inquire whether they cover online sessions). Note: If you wait until a storm to communicate with clients that sessions can be conducted at a distance, you’ve waited too long–the cancellations will already be pouring in!

8) Reconnect with Former Clients

The new year is an excellent time to send a note to clients who haven’t been in session for a while. The busyness of the holidays is over, and (as stated above) many clients might possess some new goals for the new year. Consider an email newsletter, a physical letter, or even reaching out by telephone! The latter might sound time intensive, but it’s well worth the extra effort.

9) Raise Team Spirits

Your team isn’t immune to the doldrums of winter. Keep them motivated and in high spirits! Whether you decide to cater lunch, or hide gift cards and candy around the office, plan some treats to surprise and delight your counseling team while they’re putting in those long winter hours.

10) Set Your Resolutions

Counseling practices can have New Year’s Resolutions too. In fact, the new year is a perfect time to set your practice’s yearly goals. Decide where you want your private practice to be at the end of the year, and then create 90-day milestones (for Q1) to keep you focused and on track.

11) Take a Fresh Start

The new year is a new beginning. Take the opportunity to set down any baggage you’re still hanging onto from last year, or earlier. Carrying those heavy bags around will only slow you down. All that matters is what’s ahead.

Are you ready to hit the ground running and grow your private practice in the new year? Let me know @thriveworks or @anthonycentore

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