Your practice sells services, therapy services. You also buy services from others, so you can learn from your own thoughts on providing a service to save money on those you have to pay for. The following 11 tips are based on lessons my wife Risa and I learned on how to reduce our costs for business services while running her therapy practice and my consulting business.
1. Ask your pros for help saving money
Wouldn't it be great if the people you have to pay would tell you how you could pay them less? Sounds as likely as meeting a unicorn on your way to the office, doesn't it? But if you do it right, you can actually get from your CPA and attorney advice on what you can do to save money on their services. In general, it works by making their life easier.
When I first started my consulting business, I told my CPA that I’d always provide him with the information he needed in a timely and organized manner. I also pointed out that since I was just starting out there would be few transactions and questions, so he wouldn’t need to spend as much time on my accounting as for most other businesses. I asked if this would let him charge me less for his services. He gave me a 50% discount that first year, and only gradually raised his rates. Five years later, with a much more active set of businesses, he still gives me a few percent off his usual rate.
Your CPA and attorney are there to help you with things you don't know how to do for yourself, which makes them part of your team. Ask them if there are things you could do to reduce their load working for you in return for a break on what you pay them.
2. Buy the right insurance coverages, the right way
My business insurance agent sends me every year a list of all the coverages I could buy from her. Seriously, there's stuff there I couldn't even dream up! I'm sure there are businesses who can and do insure against each of those risks, but the majority are not relevant for me.
On the other hand, when I asked my agent how I could save on my coverages, she was very helpful. For example, she suggested canceling the separate general liability policies on some of my businesses, and then covering them using riders on a single policy, since that still costs less than the minimum premium. This saved me over $1000/year. Ask your agent if there are ways you could bundle your insurance coverages to save on your premiums. Perhaps getting a general liability rider added to your malpractice insurance can save you compared to getting a separate general liability policy.
3. Hire a pro to teach you
If you're a pro, there are jobs you love to do, things that challenge your expertise and make you grow. Then there are tasks people ask you to do that feel like you'd rather stick a knitting needle into a live socket (please don't try that at home!). Mundane things that need to be done, but take little expertise and offer the pro little satisfaction (think placing a blog post on a website).
Knowing this, Risa asked her Web guy to show her how to add blog posts, edit pages, etc. so she wouldn’t have to pay him for his time to do those relatively simple tasks. Since those tasks would be a waste of his talent and expertise, he was happy to show her what to do.
If you’re willing to put in some time and effort and want to expand your own skills, consider paying a pro to teach you how to do something, rather than repeatedly paying her to do it for you.
4. Advertise online
Advertising can cost an arm and a leg if you try to do what big businesses do. A television ad costs a fortune to produce and another fortune to place on the air. I don't know about you, but I sure don't have that sort of spare cash. Placing weekly ads in a newspaper (does anyone do that anymore?) is also very costly. On the other hand, Facebook ads and/or boosted posts, Google AdWords, directory listings, etc. are all much cheaper, and arguably more effective for a therapy practice.
5. Free marketing can’t be beat in terms of bang for the buck
There are many ways to market your practice that cost nothing, other than some time and effort. Here’s a very partial list of ways you can build on your time and knowledge to become known as an expert serving as PR opportunities for your practice. Risa uses these to great effect.
- Writing blog posts for your website or guest-blogging and sharing on social media
- Writing an article for a local publication
- Giving a free talk at a community meeting
- Giving an interview for a local paper or radio station
- Networking with colleagues who offer therapy services that complement yours
When I left my last position as an employee and started consulting full time, we had to buy continuing health coverage under COBRA. We paid nearly $20,000 in premiums that first year. You could almost hear the rush of dollars leaving our checking account. Ouch! When we looked for private insurance, there were many choices, each with its own set of tradeoffs. One had a low deductible, low co-pays, and low coinsurance, but the premium was almost as high as the COBRA policy. Others had a combination of higher deductible, co-pays, and coinsurance, but the premiums were much more reasonable.
6. Pick a plan that fits your personal situation
Since there was no perfect option, we had to figure out what made the most sense in our situation. We’re both fairly healthy, so a low premium was more important than low deductible. We see health insurance as an affordable means to prevent financial ruin, rather than a way to avoid having to pay for health services. That’s why for us, a low-cost plan with a high deductible is best. It also lets us set up a Health Savings Account (HSA) and use before-tax dollars to pay for health-related expenses. To figure out which way to go, estimate how much you paid for doctor visits and prescriptions last year, subtract the portion of that expense (if any) that would exceed the deductible in a plan you're considering for next year, and add the premiums. The one that ends up cheapest in that calculation is what I'd go with.
7. Separate plans are sometimes better than a family plan
The current crop of plans charge the same premium for two individuals, each with his or her own plan as for a couple sharing a family plan. However, the deductible and maximum out-of-pocket costs are also added together. If you and your partner are both healthy, or if one of you is suffering from significant health issues while the other is healthy, it’s more likely that one of you would reach an individual deductible earlier in the year than one or both of you reaching a doubled deductible. In this situation, buy separate plans. If you both have very high medical bills, either type of plan should work, so opt for the family plan as the simpler option – only one set of forms and one premium check to send each month. If your health is not great, and you have children, a family plan may also be your best bet. Run the numbers for each option to figure out your own best path.
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8. Go green to save some green
Risa runs a paperless practice. Some advantages were immediately apparent – costs for paper and ink dropped dramatically. Other impacts were less intuitive, but no less important – you need a smaller space and fewer filing cabinets and bookshelves if you don’t have to store lots of client files. Non-financial aspects also make this a great idea – it reduces time wasted on shredding once the legally required time passed since the client’s last appointment, and it avoids the risk that all client files will literally go up in smoke in case of a fire. This last means you need to set up a robust and HIPAA-compliant backup.
9. Buy in bulk, intelligently
We often buy supplies in bulk at Costco, which dramatically reduces costs for toilet paper, paper towels, printer paper, coffee, creamer, etc. compared to most other stores. However, we don't buy more than we can store, and definitely don’t buy perishables in bulk that we won’t use up before they expire. It would sort of defeat the purpose if we bought stuff 30% cheaper but ended up throwing half of it away.
10. Review subscriptions annually
We found that over time we add more and more subscriptions, including e.g. magazines, membership websites, etc. Reviewing each year which ones we actually use and value lets us identify candidates for canceling, downgrading, or possibly replacing with lower-cost options. Magazines, for example, seem to charge super-low prices for an initial subscription, but when you renew, you suddenly find the costs double or triple. Instead of accepting the higher auto-renewal rate, find a lower-cost subscription offer elsewhere (Amazon and MagazinePriceSearch.com are good places to search) and either buy that or ask the magazine to honor it for the renewal.
11. Your cell phone plan may no longer be the best out there
We periodically review our plan to make sure we’re not paying for rarely used capacity, that we never pay overages, and to see if other carriers offer a better deal that meets our needs. When we find such a better deal, we ask our current provider to match it. Almost every time we get a special discount for a year or more.
As with the previous sets of tips, about saving on your space and being financially wise, the message here is to think like a business owner, which means reducing costs where you can do so without hobbling your business or making your life miserable. Then, use some of the money you saved on things that increase your revenues or just make your life simpler, easier, and more pleasant.
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