Running a solo therapy practice, you have the same challenges as other solo business owners of filling many roles you’re not expert in, but you also have to deal with the emotional drain of hearing people’s pain session after session. That’s the main reason I want to share with you things we learned from setting up and running my wife Risa’s practice, as well as my own solo businesses, to help you focus on making a difference for your clients. To that end, here are the next 11 tips to increase your profit by thousands of dollars a year.
1. Create and Stick to a Business Budget
I’m sure you’ve heard this many times, but to rein in expenses you have to create a budget and stick with it. It’s true with your family finances, and it’s as true in business. Running a business without a budget is like planning to lose money. When I first starting budgeting for my family I saw that my income wouldn’t cover our expenses (this was many years ago when my annual salary was $31,000 and I had to support a family of four). It was very tempting to budget nothing for eating out, but I worked full time and my wife attended grad school, so it would have been very difficult to prepare lunches every day. Ultimately, I budgeted an austere (for us) $4/day for lunches, which was only possible because I found that the cafeteria of the local hospital catered to guests and visitors, and lunch there was only $2, cheaper and much healthier than fast food. Similarly, when you budget for your business, you have to make reasonable assumptions as to your revenue, list all your expense categories, put plausible sums for each category, and start tracking (using e.g., Quicken, QuickBooks, Mint, etc.).
If and when you find that your budgeted amounts are off the mark, consider if that’s because you didn’t budget correctly in the first place, in which case update the amount; or if you allowed yourself to over-indulge in certain areas, cut it out!
2. Pre-Pay (some) Invoices
There are many services we have to pay for, and some offer discounts if you pre-pay for a year or more. This is how I got a 17% discount on alarm monitoring by paying for 36 months in advance. With 2% inflation and near-zero interest rates on savings, that’s a great deal. The problem is that if I want to cut the service before the 36 months are up, I’d lose the portion I paid for the unused period. This is why, as soon as I think there’s a good chance we’ll move in the next few years, I’ll go back to monthly payments. Similarly, I got a 25% discount on Constant Contact by paying for 12 months. So, if you’re convinced you’ll use a service for a long time, try to get a significant discount by pre-paying.
3. Cash-Back Credit Cards
Credit card issuers want to maximize their profits (just like you and me), so they try to induce us to charge as many things as possible, for example by giving a cash-back reward. If you have good credit, you can get rewards of 1%, 1.5%, 2%, and on some things as much as 5% or more. As of this writing, my favorite is Citi’s fee-free Double Cash MasterCard that gives 1% on everything you charge and another 1% on every dollar you pay off, for a total of 2% unlimited rewards.
If your business credit card gives a 2% reward and you charge an average of $5000 each month, the reward will add up to $1200 per year! What a great way to get a discount on everything you charge! Just remember to avoid buying things you don’t need, and make sure to pay off the balance in full at the end of each month. Also, if you choose a reward card that charges an annual fee, make sure their rewards are higher than that offered by fee-free cards enough to offset that fee.
4. Bundle Insurance
Insurers offer discounts when you buy more coverages from them, whether you buy multiple policies or add riders on an existing policy to cover something else. Adding riders like that is how I got general liability coverage for three solo businesses on a single policy, since the combined premium was still less than the insurer’s minimum.
Ask your insurance agent about getting better rates by bundling and/or adding riders. For example, she may be able to add a general liability rider on your malpractice insurance. It’s also a good idea to ask her to review what other coverages you may need or want that you haven’t thought of. One that could be very important is disaster recovery coverage. If you have several practices, see if you can get them all on the same general liability policy for the same price as just like I did.
5. Avoid Paying Interest
Many expenses are required to allow you to see clients (rent, utilities, licenses, etc.) or to promote new revenue (e.g., marketing). Interest charges don’t fall into either category, which is why you should do your best to avoid them altogether, or at least minimize them. Unless you have no choice (and make sure you truly have no choice), don’t borrow any money for your practice and pay off any credit card balance in full each month. It’s usually best to start your practice small and profitable from Day 1, growing your expenses more slowly than your revenue increases. In our businesses, the only loan we ever took is a mortgage to buy an office suite, and the interest on that is more than offset by the rental income from renting some of the space to other solo therapists.
6. Shop Around for Merchant Card Services
Some servicers charge 4% or more, while others charge 3% or less. Depending on your volume of charges, you may be able to negotiate your rates down significantly, especially if you get competitive quotes elsewhere. However, as we found out with my wife’s practice, some servicers slowly increase the rates they charge. She started out paying 3%, but that gradually increased to over 4%. A couple of phone calls later the rate went back under 3%. To avoid being blindsided like that, check your rates at least quarterly to see that they’re not creeping up. If your practice has $150,000 in fees paid by credit card (say 20 sessions/week at $150 each), a 1% difference in merchant service fees can save you $1500/year!
7. Pay Your Kids
If you have kids old enough to work who have skills you can use, hire them. You’ll find that even if you pay them much more than they can earn elsewhere, they’ll still be much cheaper than professionals. For simpler tasks, there’s no need to get a pro (and in some areas such as social media, your kids may even know more than many pros). Doing this also legitimately transfers some of your business profit to your kids, whose tax bracket is lower than yours is.
My wife hired our daughter to help with stuffing envelopes and stamping them, scheduling posts to social media, etc. and paid her more than she could earn working in the fast food industry.
8. Deduct Business Expenses
Another common piece of financial advice is to take advantage of all tax breaks to which you’re entitled. Some popular ones include business meals, drives from your office to business meetings, supplies, business utilities, business rent, continuing education, health insurance premiums, business travel, etc. Check with your CPA (or tax software) if you’re missing anything that can reduce your tax liability.
9. Ask Your Bank to Waive Fees
Banks are in business to make money just like us (see a pattern here?). They make money by paying low interest to people who deposit money in checking and savings accounts, while charging people who borrow that money much higher interest rates. When you have too little money in your accounts, they charge account maintenance and other fees. This is why it may make sense to do all your banking, business and personal, with one institution and ask them to waive those fees. If you have three checking accounts and get $15/month waived on all three, you’d save $540/year. I recently ran into an interesting problem with my bank. I was considering using their e-commerce portal to accept credit card payments, and their rep couldn’t waive the monthly fees. She tried finding a different fee that she could waive to offset that, but we don’t pay any other fees for any of our personal or business accounts… Needless to say, I’ll be finding a different provider that doesn’t charge monthly e-commerce fees.
10. Use Your Bank’s Online Banking and App
These days most banks have branded apps for your smartphone, and let you deposit checks online. When you have to make payments, use the bank’s online bill-pay service. These two will save you time (and as the old adage says, “Time is money”), gas, postage, and even the cost of checkbooks.
11. Choose Local or Online CEUs
Just like all therapists, my wife is required to get a minimum number of continuing education units, or CEUs, every two years to maintain her license. From her experience, between airfares, hotel rooms, and rental car or Uber rides, travel costs for a one-week conference easily top $2500. For some conferences, this may be worth it. However, if your practice is struggling to stay profitable, minimize costs by getting your CEUs online or from venues within easy driving distance.
As with the previous set of tips, about saving on your space, and the next one, about saving on business services, the message here is not to pinch pennies. The message is to reduce costs where you can do so without hobbling your business or making your life miserable. Then, use some of the money saved on things that promote profits or make your life simpler and easier.