Private Practice 101 (Week 2): Who’s On Your Team?

by Kimberly on March 16, 2010 · 16 comments

In week 2 of the Private Practice 101 series, we’ll talk about other professionals you have on your business team that can help you develop a smooth-running, legitimate, successful private practice.

But before we dive in, I want to send a quick THANK YOU to everyone who wrote awesome comments in last week’s post. You have some great questions and I will try my best to address what I can in this series.

One point I want to make before we continue to today’s topic: our clients are not our “bosses.” Rather, we work to develop and nurture a professional working relationship with them. My role in this business relationship is to provide my clients with what they need. The client’s role is to compensate me for that service.

A boss tells you to do something and (in most cases) you have to do it. A client tells you to do something and you work together to make it happen. A contract goes two ways; either party can terminate the relationship if it doesn’t work out.

Now on to today’s topic…

Who’s On Your Side?

Bad news: Creating a private practice involves an incredible amount of knowledge.

Good news: You don’t have to know it all.

Given all the information available on the internet and at your local Office Depot, it is perfectly possible for you to create a private practice by yourself. Want to find out how to incorporate? You can do that online. Want to put together a website? Easy enough! Want to set up a bookkeeping and payroll system that works? Done!

However, just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you should. It may be worth the money to hire a professional to take care of your annual business taxes. Or it may be worth your money to hire a professional graphic designer to create a logo, business cards, and letterhead for your business.

The beauty these days is that you have the options. Here’s a list of different professionals you can have on your team:

1) Lawyer

I would highly recommend you have a lawyer on your team. Interview at least 3 in town. Better yet, get recommendations from friends who own small businesses, then interview those recommendations.

You’ll probably want to find a lawyer who specializes in small business, or at least has a lot of small business clients. As a bonus, use a lawyer who has his or her own private practice.

Questions to consider include: What are the fees? Is the lawyer easy to talk to? Can s/he provide a list of references (may not need to if referred from your friends)? How’s the rapport? What type of law firm is it? Who are their clients?

You won’t use your lawyer very often. In fact, you don’t really WANT to use him/her very often. I’ve used mine once, to incorporate my sole proprietorship into an S-corporation (more on that next week).

2) Accountant/Bookkeeper

There are differences between these two professionals:

A bookkeeper is in charge of the tedious part of keeping financial records. This involves entering transactions, reconciling bank statements, filing receipts. It’s data entry and organization.

An accountant is like an advanced bookkeeper. This is the person who takes all the information the bookkeeper entered and creates reports. Payroll reports. Annual tax reports. Profit and Loss Statements. Balance Sheets. An accounting firm will often offer bookkeeping services.

Now, there are many fantastic and easy-to-use financial software you can use (Quickbooks, TurboTax). Although it involves more time on your part, it may be more cost effective than hiring the service. Then again, maybe not. It may be more cost effective for you to hire someone to take care of the bookkeeping so you can devote more time to developing your business. Your call.

Even if you do-it-yourself, I’d highly recommend you have an accountant you can work with just in case. Like with the lawyer, interview at least 3 accountants, preferably ones who have already been recommended to you by friends in town. Ask about cost, services they provide, and get a feel for whether you can work with them.

3) Graphic Designer

A graphic designer can help you develop an image for your business. This includes, but is not limited to: logo, business cards, website, letterhead, envelopes, promotional materials, brochures, etc.

As with your business accounting, there are several ways you can “do-it-yourself.” Vista Prints provides cost effective business cards. You can easily create your own website (I recommend WordPress, but more on that another week) and develop a letterhead template on Word or Pages.

But the advantage of working with a graphic designer is that 1) s/he specializes in creating images (and, as a musician, I don’t) and 2) once the image is created, it’s easy to develop new materials. With my graphic designer, we originally created a website, business cards, promotional brochures, and letterhead. Then, two years later when I needed a flyer, it was easy and cheap.

A middle-ground approach is to use 99designs.com to create your logo, website, and more! I highly recommend this site. They are the most cost effective way I’ve found to have professionally-designed materials. I wrote more about it here.

4) Administrative Assistant

You may want to also consider hiring an assistant or an intern. There are so many tasks involved in running a business that don’t require any expertise. Making deposits. Mailing a letter. Sending invoices. Transcribing an audio recording. Taking minutes.

It may be worth your money to hire an assistant, even if it’s part-time. I’m fortunate enough to live in a university town that has a music therapy program. Two years ago, I looked for (and found) a music therapy graduate student who has served as my assistant. It’s been wonderful–for both of us, I think. She gets a look at the inner workings of running a practice and I get some help.

If you do end up hiring an assistant, keep in mind that it will make your business a little more complicated. You’ll have to figure out new processes for getting things done (e.g. how will you communicate that certain items need to be mailed and deposits need to be made). There’s certain “HR” type of paperwork you’ll have to keep track of (e.g. W-4s) and payroll you’ll have to process. But for me, and maybe for you, it’s worth it.

Action Steps

This week, your job will be to get started building your team. Here’s your action steps for the week:

  • Talk to friends in the area who have their own small business. Get recommendations from them for a lawyer, an accountant, and a graphic designer.
  • Call and set up appointments with at least 3 lawyers, 3 accountants, and 3 graphic designers. (Even if you end up “doing-it-yourself” it is still a good idea to have someone in your rolodex should you need it).
  • Do some background research on the internet for do-it-yourself options: Quickbooks, 99designs.com, and Vista Prints for starters.
  • Create a list of questions you can ask each type of professional.
  • When in the interview, take good notes. File appropriately.
  • Analyze your situation, financially, time-wise, task-wise. Get a feel for what services you will use and which will wait.

NEXT WEEK: Next Tuesday, we’ll talk about your business structure.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Megumi Azekawa March 16, 2010 at 10:34 am

This is a great series! Thank you for all of your effort to put things together for readers like me who wants to learn more about how to run a private practice in the future.

I LOVE working at Neurosong with you, Kimberly, and wonderful team members!

– Megumi

Natalie March 16, 2010 at 2:31 pm

wow really already? It seems like going ahead and doing all this is a big jump. Do you have some examples of questions to ask the lawyer and accountant? I ask especially with the lawyer because it seems like lots of lawyers like to charge for just talking to you.

Rachel March 17, 2010 at 7:22 am

In addition to Natalie’s question- I find that an accountant for tax purposes is essential. However, everything costs money, and until you even know how many cilents or what type of clients (i.e individuals vs a larger business), it is hard to truly set everything up… let alone it is a larger start up fee. It seems like there needs to be talk about taxes and deductions..all of this does feel like it is good to be aware of, but there are some steps first?

Kimberly March 17, 2010 at 9:10 am

Good questions, Natalie. I do think this is a good step to go through at this point. I have never been charged by an accountant, lawyer, or a graphic designer for that initial consultation meeting. They should be free. And the reason to go through this now is that you may decide you need their services to help you set up a business. I also put this step early in the process because it will take time–probably a couple weeks–to actually meet with all those people. As for questions to ask, I gave examples in the article. For all of them, you can ask about fees, ask about the services they can offer to you, get a general feel for whether you can work with them (is the rapport there?), and ask for a list of references. For the graphic designer, you can take a look at their portfolio, see if you like what they’ve done. For the lawyer and accountant, I would describe to them what type of business you envision for yourself, then ask them about the different options for structuring a business (e.g. sole proprietor, LLC, S-corp). I’ll talk more about these next week. ~Kimberly

Kimberly March 17, 2010 at 9:31 am

Hi Rachel! I’m with you–I use an accountant for my taxes and feel the money is worth it. But I also know people who would rather spend less money and do it themselves using different software available. It’s a personal choice. Regarding “setting things up”–I don’t think you need to know how many clients or the types of clients you have first. In fact, this is something that will change over time. You need to have your basic business structure in place before you sign your first contract. Maybe I was not clear about the purpose of this week’s task–we are still in the information-gathering stage. You are not necessarily going to be hiring anyone just yet. But at least you’ll have someone to go to should you decide to outsource accounting, legal, or marketing services. Does this help? ~Kimberly

Natalie March 17, 2010 at 11:33 am

Oh okay, gotcha. I actually made a phone call last night and cleared up some questions I had about what exactly an LLC was with an accountant I was talking with! I guess in my question of what questions to ask, I’m a bit fearful sometimes of calling someone and being like “Hello, I’m new to this and have no idea what I’m doing, would you like to take me for a ride?”
This accountant, however, was very friendly, very helpful, and while I have no idea what the prices were in comparison to the rest of the world, I would be very amenable to working with them.

Kimberly March 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Good for you! I think you’ll find (as I’ve found) that most people are very helpful. And accountants and lawyers get these questions all the time. I’m glad you got some answers…and possibly a new accountant to work with:D ~Kimberly

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CJ Diachenko September 6, 2010 at 7:36 am

Although I am not a certified music therapist (yet :), I appreciate this series so much because it is so applicable to my private music studio. Thanks!

Kristine B-T April 10, 2012 at 2:20 am

I stumbled upon your post while googling “administrative assistant for Music Therapists.” I am planning to start my equivalency course work soon, but in the meantime plan to work as a virtual admin to support my family. I was pleased to see you recommended hiring an assistant. I hope to gear my business to musicians and music therapists (work on both my loves simultaneously). Good info given to let me know how to approach MTs to offer my services. Can’t wait to embark on my new career path though.

Kimberly April 10, 2012 at 11:36 am

Wonderful! Thank you for your note, Kristine, and best of luck to you! ~Kimberly

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