To succeed in private practice, we know that we need to be professional. But what does this actually mean?
Ethical? Of course. But being ethical isn’t enough to keep you in business for long.
Steven Pressfield has published a small book that packs a big punch: “Turning Pro”. He says that turning pro is a decision: “We finally listen to that still, silly voice in our heads…We find the courage to identify the secret dream or love or bliss that we’ve know all along was our passion, our calling, our destiny”.
That all sounds good in theory – who doesn’t want to live their passion? But how do we do it in practice?
Of the 29 professional habits I learned from reading Pressfield’s book, here are the first 11, with examples of how I’ve implemented or applied them in my speech pathology clinic:
1. The professional shows up every day.
First thing every morning, with all my sessions planned and ready to go for the day, I spend 5 minutes per client filling in his or her home exercises sheet, reflecting on goals, and thinking about what I can do to improve each session. It reminds me why I’m at work and that speech pathology is about helping people with specific needs, not “processing clients”.
2. The professional stays on the job all day.
I’ve always done the work. But sometimes it seems to take me forever. But over the last few weeks I’ve instituted a new practice. From 8am to 5pm, net surfing, newspaper reading, social media scrolling, chit chat and – especially – complaining, are all banned. I’m amazed how much more focused I’ve been and and how much more I’ve achieved within standard business hours. This has allowed me to finish on time more often and spend more time with my family.
3. The professional is committed over the long haul.
When I started my clinic, I introduced myself to local teachers and doctors. But I didn’t waste time and energy on an expensive or pushy marketing campaign. Instead, I built my business up slowly through word of mouth, recognising that speech pathology was my career – not a short term gig or hobby – and that my reputation is bound up in my practice.
4. For the professional, the stakes are high and real.
Early on, I was tempted to take on contracting and consulting jobs related to my former legal career to subsidise my clinic earnings. But I resisted. Having no safety net (especially with kids and a mortgage) is a terrific motivator to do great work for clients and establish your practice.
5. The professional is patient.
Patience is not my virtue! I’m a bit of a control freak and get frustrated when I have to rely on others or wait. I’m getting better (slowly). For example, my start up checklist helped me keep an eye on the big picture, and not sweat the small stuff, like waiting for registrations to come through.
6. The professional seeks order.
Sometimes it’s fun to ride by the seat of your pants. But it’s exhausting wasting energy putting out fires or reinventing wheels. Speechies in Business is all about systems, routines and processes to automate as much mindless stuff as possible so we can focus on front line care for our clients.
7. The professional demystifies.
I can’t stand it when professionals of any kind hide behind jargon or hoard their “secret information” behind pay-walls. I’m a big fan of transparency and Plain English. On my clinic blog, I publish a free article once a week – rain, hail or shine – about speech, language, voice, fluency and other communication issues relevant to clients, prospective clients and the general public. Here’s an example about how to help children learn new words and another about Auditory Processing Disorder.
8. The professional acts in the face of fear.
We all get scared. Professionals feel the fear and do it anyway. One of my mantras is to welcome new opportunities – especially the scary ones. When I opened my doors, saw my first client solo, gave my first community talk, lectured at a local University, and expanded my scope of practice, I was worried: my reputation was on the line. But I wouldn’t be where I was today without having done them.
9. The professional accepts no excuses.
Sometimes, we all have off sessions, forget to return messages or miss deadlines. When I make mistakes, I own up to them and apologise in person. Quality client care means being accountable and asking for continuous client feedback. My Complaints Policy encourages honest feedback and has helped a lot, generating loads of useful suggestions I’ve been able to incorporate into my practice to reduce errors.
10. The professional plays it as it lays.
I get sick. Equipment fails. Without warning, clients sometimes don’t show up. Over the years, I’ve learned to be more accepting of bumps in the road. I’ve recognised that private practice has its peaks and troughs; swings and roundabouts. Getting angry or frustrated with things beyond your control doesn’t change reality – but a good attitude can. Recently, I’ve been reading the Stoics, which has really helped. (More on that to come.)
11. The professional is prepared.
I have a simple rule of practice: I don’t go home unless my sessions for the next day are all planned, with materials ready to go. Recently, this rule served me well when my clinic had a 5 hour blackout on a busy day. It sometimes means late nights. But it’s a big motivator to ensure I don’t let myself get overbooked or behind in session-planning. I love going home to my family after a solid day’s work.
So, there you have it. 11 professional habits, with practical tips to acquire them. We hope one or more of them helps improve your practice.
Main source: Steven Pressfield (2012). Turning Pro: Tap into your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. Black Irish Books, NY, NY. Well worth a read. You can get it here.