Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Private Practice for Social Workers: Interview with Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW

[Episode 100] Today's episode of the Social Work Podcast is about private practice. My guest, Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW is the founder and executive director of Wasatch Family Therapy. She is a columnist at,, and PsychCentral where she writes about private practice. She seems to be on speed dial for national media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Market Watch, HuffingtonPost Live, and magazines like Cosmopolitan, Health, Health and dozens of others. Dr. Hanks has developed a 6-week e-course called Rock the Media School which is designed to help health and mental health practitioners build their online presence through media interviews, blogging, and building an engaged social media following. Get details at She is the author of the 2016 book, The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships

Download MP3 [52:33]

In today's interview, Julie talks about key ingredients for a successful private practice including:
  • identifying your "big message;" 
  • building relationships online and offline; 
  • knowing what you're good at and outsourcing what you're not good at; and 
  • reconciling "social work" with "private practice." 
We end our conversation with information about resources for social workers who want to start or build a private practice


Julie de Azevedo Hanks, PhD, MSW, LCSW is an author, relationship expert, media contributor, blogger, speaker, songwriter, and licensed clinical social worker with over 20 year experience counseling women, couples and families. In addition to owning Wasatch Family Therapy, LLC  and serving as executive director, Dr. Hanks is an emotional health and relationship expert, media personality, and top online mental health influencer with an extensive and engaged social media following. Publications featuring Dr. Hanks' advice include Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Parents, Parenting, ReelzChannel, Fox News, Brides, Woman’s Day, Redbook, TLC, Discovery Health, Shape, Cosmopolitan and dozens of others.

Dr. Hanks coaches and provides consultation to mental health professionals who want to grow their practice through building a powerful online presence. She blogs about private practice management and marketing at and teaches a new 6-week e-course Rock the Media School designed to help health and mental health practitioners build their online presence through media interviews, blogging, and building an engaged social media following. Join the next cohort starting January 19, 2016. Get details at

Download MP3 [52:33]

References and Resources


Hey there, podcast listeners, Jonathan here. Welcome to the 100th episode of The Social Work podcast. Today’s episode is special because... every episode is special. In today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about Private practice. ​In the late 1990s, I was living in Austin, Texas. Frequent listeners of the podcast will know that I was doing crisis work and home-based family therapy. I was doing a lot of really complex difficult work with suicidal kids and their families. My coworkers and I would often help each other out with assessment and paperwork, but also with the family therapy. After a while, I realized I loved doing family therapy with other therapists.

Now, there were two therapists in particular that I really loved to work with, and we came from totally different theoretical perspectives. I was more strength based and solution focused and the other two were more insight oriented and psychodynamic. Well, we started working together on a regular basis by seeing families at the agency because it works for us, [and it seemed to work really well for these families].But the agency eventually told us we couldn’t work together because we couldn't double bill and they couldn’t afford to have two staff members putting time in and having only one staff member get reimbursed. So, we didn’t get mad, we got a private practice. We decided to start our own private practice, where we could do what we wanted, and provide the services the way we thought they should be provided. We found an office space in a wooded area, and the office building is in Austin, Texas and we call ourselves Tree Line Therapeutic Practice. I had visions of retiring from community practice for more clinical experience, better income, and more flexible schedule. We printed up business cards, figured out what our paperwork would look like, made a logo, and bought furniture. We even bought plants and paintings from consignment stores or brought them in from our apartments. We even hired an accountant to make sure we were doing this right. Then we saw our first clients.

I got to tell you. After the first sessions, sitting in my own office, looking at the paintings, I felt amazing. I was like “I have arrived." But the fairytale didn’t last long for me.

I was putting in 50 to 60 hours a week at my agency job, and if I had more than two private practice clients at a time, I was completely overwhelmed. What surprised me was that the issues that these private practice clients came in with were no different from the clients I was seeing at the agency, except I had no case managers or psychiatrists to consult with. No one knew who I was when I called the school, cause I couldn’t say, “Hi this is Jonathan from so and so agency. " I had to say, "Hi, This is Jonathan from Tree Line Therapeutic Practice." They were like "who?”

Eventually, we realized, we had a hard time finding families who were interested in having two therapists sitting in the room with them. After about three years, I got out. My coworkers continued, and they have thriving private practices to this day. I have since learned that private practice extends beyond the office to such settings as primary care courts, schools, and nursing facilities. Well, even though private practice wasn’t for me, I will never regret the decision to try it, or the things I learned by doing it. Now all of this is not a cautionary tale for social workers that are thinking of going into private practice or criticizing social workers that are in private practice. Like I said,  private practice takes all forms, and there is nothing wrong with social workers doing private practice. In fact, private practice is a totally viable, reasonable way for social workers to fulfill the traditional social work mission of providing services to the disenfranchised, marginalized, and depressed.

We will talk a little more about that in this episode. But first, I will be getting to the issue of money, which everyone talks about. So according to a 2009 survey by the National Association of Social Workers Center for WorkForce Studies, the average median income for a masters level social worker in private practice, that’s a solo practice, is $52,000 a year. Now if you have a doctorate in social work or are a doctorate level social worker, the average median income is $78,000 a year. Remember that’s median, meaning half make more, and half make less.

So, since we have already established that I am not an expert in private practice, in today’s episode I spoke to someone who is an enormous expert in private practice, Dr. Julie Hanks. Dr. Hanks is the founder and executive director of the Wasatch Family Therapy, and a columnist at, and Psych Central where she writes about private practice. When I was looking her up, it seems like she was on speed dial for National Media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Market Watch, and Huffington Post Live. As well as for magazines like Cosmopolitan, Health, and dozens of others. Dr. Hanks coaches and provides consultation to mental health professionals who want to grow their private practice through building a powerful online presence. She blogs about private practice management and marketing at She teaches a six-week e-course called Rock the Media school. This e-course is designed to help health and mental health practitioners build their online presence through media interviews, media vlogging, and building an engaged social media following. Now there is a new cohort that is starting January 19, 2016, l, so you can get more details about that if you’re listening to this episode. After that date, you can go to for more information.

Now in today’s interview, Julie and I talk about the key ingredients for a successful private practice including defining your message, building relationships online and offline, knowing what you're good at and outsourcing what you’re not good at and reconciling this idea of social work with private practice. We ended our conversation as usual with information about resources for social workers that want to start a practice or build their existing private practice.

And now without further ado on to episode 100 of the Social Work Podcast: Private Practice For Social Workers: An Interview with Dr. Julie Hanks LCSW.

Jonathan Singer: All right. Julie, thanks so much for being here on the podcast and talking with us about private practice.

Julie Hanks: Thanks, Jonathan. Happy to be here!

Jonathan Singer: Jonathan Singer: So, you have a very successful private practice, but you didn’t build it in a conventional business way.

Julie Hanks: No, I actually have zero business experience and never taken a business class.

Jonathan Singer: Well that’s it. Thanks. We're done. [laughter]

Julie Hanks [laughing]: Well, I was asked to guest lecture at a Women and Business class at a local university and I was like “I have to come clean that I have never taken a business class.” But what I realize is that social work training prepares you for business in that it’s about relationships. There is a saying,  People don’t work for the money they work for people.  I think in social work that is particularly true. We have this relational basis for what we do and that I have been able to take that and apply it to my business and building a business around relationships with my team.

Jonathan Singer: So, how do you build a business from a relational standpoint? As opposed to saying, well actually I do not know opposed to saying because I don’t have any business experience either. I am sure a lot of people listening to this podcast are like "Oh, that's good, because I do not have a lot of business experience but I want a private practice. " So what advice would you give to go about using these relational skills?

Julie Hanks: I use it first in hiring people.   People will say "How do you know how to hire?" It's really saying, "How do I feel in their presence?" I mean assuming they are qualified and you know, but do I feel at ease because clients are probably going to feel the same way. In my experience potential clients, they care about three things and it's not what we think. It has nothing to do with acronyms, like "I am trained in CBOT or EMDR!" or right it doesn’t have to do with that. Most people seeking therapy don’t even know the difference between psychiatrists, psychologists, social worker, marriage family therapist, credentials are valuable, right? But they’re not as valuable as these three things to potential clients: do I like you, do I trust you, and can you help me? That’s what they care about, and your online professional presence and your website can answer these questions with yes or with no. If you get all three, that person will likely choose you as their clinician.

Jonathan Singer: Can we back up for a minute?

Julie Hanks: Sure.

Jonathan Singer:  So let's say you’re interested in starting a private practice, but you’re not at the point where you’re thinking of hiring others to work for you. Like what are some things that you would suggest that people think about that either might be common wisdom for starting a private practice, or the kinds of things that people don’t think about until they have been in private practice?

Julie Hanks: One of the things that have contributed to my practice being in business for 13 years is that I have embraced technology, social media, and Google. Google is our number 1 referral source. So by building an online presence, and you can do that when you're still in school.You can start creating content, developing a Twitter following, and you know you have to represent yourself as a student or under supervision or whatever. You can start budding that, at any time, and people go more and more to the Internet for health information and for provider information. What I have done is putting the business out there that makes it easy for people to find us. People in the areas we serve to find us. I have started doing consulting a few years ago with therapists on how to do this and a lot of different disciplines as well.

Jonathan Singer: I think it's interesting what you said about building an online presence, even while you're a student.Because what Dr. Hanks is really saying is to start to put your professional identity where people are looking for professionals, which is online.

Julie Hanks: Right, and I can’t emphasize building an online presence enough. I think it's really uncomfortable, especially for social workers because we want to help people. It’s uncomfortable to put ourselves out there, but what I found is if you are  not willing to be visible, then you can’t get your message out. It's really about your message and not about self-promotion, but you have to be willing to be seen in order to have your message be heard and to attract clients to your practice.   

Jonathan Singer: So what do you mean your message?

Julie Hanks: So all of us have a reason that we chose this profession and it's usually not the big bucks right? It’s usually some personal passion, some personal experience, family experience. When I help my consulting clients I help them by asking, "What is your message?", and I call it your big message.This is a good question to help you think about it is "If you're invited to do a Ted talk right now and it's your one and only talk what would it be about?",and that’s your usually the big message.

Jonathan Singer: What is your big message?

Julie Hanks: I have several, but for my practice, it is healing relationships. that’s it, that’s our tagline, what we're about. We are about healing relationships, the therapy is the healing relationship and attachments and relationships with family members and loved ones.

Jonathan Singer: You know when you say that healing relationships it’s short, it’s to the point, and it covers so much ground.

Julie Hanks: Right! It covers how I run my business, how I interact with my team, how we interact with clients, and also the services we provide. So it doesn’t have to be some big story, but online you have to clearly convey what you are about and have your online presence and your professional presence match that message. 

Jonathan Singer: It's sort of like Carl Rodgers talked about being congruent. You got the way you think, the way you feel, and the way you act, if all those things lined up you are in congruence.But you are adding to that, and saying that your online self-has to actually reflect who you are in person.

Julie Hanks: Right, and that is one of the biggest compliments that a colleague that I met online has given me. In May this happened, I met someone, we have been interacting, and planned a conference together. We finally met and she said, "You are exactly how you are online, except you're a lot shorter."

Jonathan Singer: This is an audio podcast, so no one has any idea.

Julie Hanks: Yeah, I am 5’10. Well yes, having that congruence between who you are online and who you actually are in the office attracts potential clients. You can’t fake that, you can’t fake caring about what it is trying to do, even online that comes through.

Jonathan Singer: So having, having your message what are you about, what is your thing? and yours is healing relationships. But I can see other peoples being things, having to do with spirituality or trauma or whatever right whatever it is that fits them. So having an online presence is really important and for right now cause I know technology changes. Dr. Hanks, what do you see as being as the most important or most useful venues for being online for people, specifically around having a private practice?

Julie Hanks: I have actually developed a checklist, so I blog private practice toolbox for therapists in private practice. So my number one is website because people just assume you will have a website. Second is the blog on your website. Do not send them off of your website, to another BlogSpot or blogger, have it be integrated. Over time that’s going to help your SEO, search engine optimization, which will make it easier for people to find you. So that is number one.

Jonathan Singer: I have to say, it's so interesting you say website because I think a lot of times these days people, everybody, is on the web but people don’t talk about websites. They talk about Twitter, they talk about Instagram,  and they talk about all these social media things. But what you are saying is, "No, you got to start with the website."

Julie Hanks: Yes, I say your website and your homepage are your "Hello!", that’s your introduction. People get a visual of who you are, what you are about, and that’s going to be different depending who you want to attract, and who your client is. So there is a colleague who specializes in working with adult men, well that’s going to be a different feel if you’re doing play therapy with kids, right? So in my consulting,  I help therapists make it congruent.  So I am not getting people calling for play therapy when I am really love working with adult men who are depressed. So matching up colors, pictures, visuals, and then blogging about things that your potential clients are going to be searching for help.

Jonathan Singer: So let's talk about that for a second, let's talk about the blogging. I would imagine there are a lot of folks out there who are saying, "What would I say in a blog, especially when I am not allowed to talk about my clients. What would I actually talk about?"

Julie Hanks: On my private practice toolbox, I do a blog challenge and you can rotate through them, basically the first one was " Let Google Pick Your Topic". What you do is look at the top ten Google searches for the day and you pick something and you put your spin on it. Your mental heath angle, your experience, whatever so it’s not about writing a dissertation with all these citations. It is yours, make can also post something scannable and conversational, and relevant to people. So you can post are graphic with your favorite quote and talk about why that inspires you. It's not just about text, although that’s a lot of it, you can embed a video. Let's say you're a huge Brene Brown fan, you can embed your favorite Ted talk onto your blog post to write about how it changed you, and how you practice it. That’s a blog post, it can be an audio, podcast kind of things, you're talking about something. So you can get really creative, and it's not talking about clients. It's just like anything else, where you are presenting a case, you are going to conceal identifying information by making a composite. This isn’t about talking about your clients, it’s about letting people know who you are, what you do, and reassuring them that you can help them.

Jonathan Singer: So that’s the most inspiring description of a blog that I ever heard.

Julie Hanks: I am going to take a bow, thank you!

Jonathan Singer: Really, what you said was It's about sharing who you are and what you think and your philosophy and that’s good enough. In fact, that’s better than writing a dissertation which most people listening are like "Thank God, cause I have no interest in writing a dissertation."

Julie Hanks: That is a huge block with consulting clients who don’t know what to write about and so that’s why I started this blog challenge. Pick a parenting style, a new research study about parenting and summarize it everyday language and link to the original journal article that no one will read. Yet it shows that you are responsible by citing your source. So what it is actually really fun, (and I think of as reframed marketing), I don’t like the word marketing and social workers hate the word marketing, right? It's like self-promotion and just feels slimy so I reframed the word marketing as REST(Relationships, Educating, Serving, and Trust). So this counts for your professional online presence, your blogging, it’s about building relationships, educating your community, serving your community, and building trust with your community. That’s all it is, so blog posts are a way to educate. You can share new research, good resources, funny things that help use humor to help your mental health, whatever it is so you can have fun with it. It’s about building those relationships of trust and it’s a great way to educate and serve your community.

I am located in Utah, but there is a divorce attorney I think in Seattle, that links a lot to articles on our website about transitions after divorce. They’re not going to become clients, but it’s a way you can serve the whole world. We never had that much potential influence and I will tell you there was a moment that I got it. I was like, "This actually makes a difference." I got an email, maybe in 2011 or 2012, from a company called ShareCare. I never heard of them and it was a social media health site.  Then I looked into their site, and it was founded by Dr. Oz Web MD, Jeff Arnold, and Discovery Health.  I was like "Okay!"'

Jonathan Singer: Those are some heavy hitters.

Julie Hanks: They said “Oh, you have been named the number one online influencer for depression on the Internet. "

Jonathan Singer: Which includes the National Institute of Mental Health, CEC.

Julie Hanks: Everyone, Psychology Today, and I was like "What?"
I’m a little therapist in Utah blogging on different websites, writing, and doing podcasts. Through this algorithm having to do with the amount of content on the topic, the number of channels, and the amount of engagement, I came up number one. I was floored. I really got
"Wow, this is actually is powerful! I am not writing for some top website, I am kind of doing my thing. " That was really cool, I saw the potential one person can have a voice, you can make a difference for people. So, exciting!

Jonathan Singer: I think that point is so important for people, on social media, on the internet, you can have a huge influence, regardless of what your day job is, regardless of what you think you are doing out there. You can reach people. I know Twitter is huge for reaching thousands of people. You can be a case manager and if you are active on Twitter, and you are  engaging with folk by posting interesting content in a relatively short period of time, you can get thousands of followers. Your tweets can be retweeted and you can reach thousands upon thousands of people and have an impact. That when you are sitting in your agency’s weekly meeting, nobody’s going to be like "That’s Jonathan who influences of people on a daily basis.".

Julie Hanks: I love what you are saying! In addition to building an online following and putting out education information, you can build community with people all over the world. That is so exciting. So I have a Facebook group where there are over 3000 private practice therapists from around the globe, and it’s a community where people are business focused media marketing. So not clinical, but people say,  "Hey,  what do you think of this tagline, or check out my new website design." It's very supportive and nurturing. Out of the thousand of people, I probably met 5 of them.

Jonathan Singer: 5 of the thousands of people.

Julie Hanks: Yeah! So it gives an opportunity to build space with like-minded professionals who care about the same things you care about and create this community that you may not have in person. 

Jonathan Singer: So, Julie, social media and being online is a passion of mine.

Julie Hanks: Yeah! That’s how we met on Twitter.

Jonathan Singer: Right, and I think  I first heard of you because of the NASW media awards.

Julie Hanks: Oh, we were up against each other!

Jonathan Singer: It was a competition.

Julie Hanks: And you won.

Jonathan Singer: I did win.

Julie Hanks: So in the next year I could win because you can’t win again. 

Jonathan Singer: No, no. That’s actually how I first heard of you - this NASW media awards for best website. I saw a Julie Hanks, and thought  “Who is this?”. So,  I checked you out and said, “This person is amazing, and has built this empire”.

Julie Hanks: Yeah empire.

Jonathan Singer: You said, "Social workers are not known for being out there." Yet you put yourself out there by having this great website and everything was this complete package. It was like the complete package, this is amazing. How does this translate into getting clients in the door into your private practice?

Julie Hanks: So online presence I think that is important, and it is not the only thing. It's important to be visible in your local community, and there are a lot of different ways to do that. Sometimes people are like, "I don’t like to speak, or be on TV" or " I don’t like my voice or to do radio."  It might be meeting with health professionals regularly or taking them out to lunch.  It might be teaching a class at a local university,  or it might be blogging. Right, you don’t have to put your face out there as much. But it may be speaking for your professional organization in your area to get your name out there. Really, building a private practice is about building trust and serving people. I have been speaking in my community for over a decade just regularly with small groups and you know like I am here for you like our mission at my clinic. We are here to serve our community and there are lots of different ways we can do that providing excellent clinical services are one way, but it's just one way.
So, I think that online presence goes with a lot of other aspects too. But we kind of learn about in-person networking, but we don’t learn about the social media. With my consulting clients are like " I have done five blog posts, but I have not gotten any clients" So it's really important to remember that this is a long-term strategy. Over time, you build backlinks from websites to link to you. You begin to create a body of work on your website where people find your articles about mental health or suicide prevention or homelessness or whatever your passion is. Over time, people begin sharing that on social media, so it's like these little exposures and I think in marketing this seven. Someone needs to be exposed to your product or brand like in traditional marketing seven times before they will buy it. So that’s how I like to think about it. Okay it might be a tweet they see or you share something that is helpful or read a blog post or saw you on TV or they listened to your podcast or whatever it is, those are just little exposures so when those people need help, you will be a top of mind they already trust you they already know your approach. They know you care about them because it's so vulnerable to go to someone and seek help so if you have that trust it feels a little safer.

Jonathan Singer: I think that’s a really good point, all of this social media, all of this marketing, is like there is a long game in this. Which is that, which is tough if you’re starting out? I just got my LCSW, I have been doing this agency thing I really want to start a private practice it is hard to think about that this is going to pay off five years. Right cause you want it to pay off next week for literally paying off bills, you know things like that.

Julie Hanks: It might I mean you know it might, but it is more of a long term. It builds over time and that’s how I have grown my practice. I started out as a solo practice, but my vision of eventually collecting like-minded clinicians and building something bigger than me. So the way I been able to do that has been through being visible, serving our community, and being visible online, in person, in the media, and have also been visible in the national media. To which someone you know may open up women’s day and think   ‘There’s my therapist’. I had someone say,‘I was looking through Cosmo and I had an appointment with her next week.  That’s so weird'.  Being out there and serving it does make a difference.

Jonathan Singer: One of the big criticisms that social workers have to address, either internally or externally,  is this idea that social workers shouldn’t do private practice because then you are not actually being a social worker.  You're being more like a psychologist or a counselor or something like that. How do you reconcile these things?

Julie Hanks: So, I did work in the trenches for several years and I remembered in grad school,  private practice was a bad word. Even though everyone was like, " I am going to do part time private practice." But no one could talk about them, certainly not talk about them openly. So,  part of how we serve the community is through the educational piece and that’s just us speaking.  We do interviews for free and then another thing I am really passionate about, is that when anyone calls us; we make sure they get the help they need. It may not be a great fit with us. But we will give them a list of sliding fee scales, and clinics in your area, or say "Here is the name of some of our associates. " Then because of my social work background, I wanted to offer reduced fee services, yet I am not funded by United Way or a grant or anything like that. So what we did for several years, is we had graduate students in training where they offer a significantly reduced fee. So that way we are able to serve a broader population in a private practice, without going bankrupt. I look at that as self-care. I cannot be a good supervisor or a good clinician or business owner if I am living in fear that I am not going to be able to pay the bills personally or professionally. I had one of my consulting clients say something that really helped. She said, "I think of money as an energy exchange. We give it this power and this weird thing, but it's just an energy exchange." So, what I offer is my energy exchange is being present in the session, my expertise, my years of learning, my continuing education,  and my relationships skills.  What they offer , in that energy exchange is financial.

Jonathan Singer: Our code of ethics precludes from doing things like bartering. Like, I will be your therapist,  and I will do therapy. I will be your therapist if you paint my house.

Julie Hanks: We have to charge.

Jonathan Singer: We have to charge money because we can’t do other things that people might feel better about.

Julie Hanks: Here is something that I share a lot, if your practice is doing well financially then you can afford to do pro-bono therapy. If it’s not, then you can't do pro-bono therapy. So, I mean because my practice has grown and is going well, most of the work I do, I don’t get paid for. I get to do things that help other people that I love to do that I may or may not get paid for.  But I don’t have to worry about that since the other things are going well.

Jonathan Singer: Which is an amazing place to be and I can imagine if I was starting out a private practice I had that as a vision for the future. Which is to say I want my practice to be big enough, to be successful enough so that I can actually provide services at this reduced cost, free, or whatever it ends up being that it's part of that long game. Right, I am okay with charging. At the end of the day, I want to be able to do this and I can’t do that without the money come in and building that up.

Julie Hanks: Another part of my business that is a social worker aspect, that specifically I am really passionate about, is hiring women with children. There is so much discrimination, and like are they going to be around.  I also look for younger men and women or who are in that childbearing stage, and to provide a flexible good paying job. Where they can take as much time off for maternity leave or they can see clients just at night, when its works for their family. So that fulfills that social worker part of me. They are not my clients, yet they are my employees. But I want to create a nurturing, healthy place for them to grow professionals without sacrificing their family life.

Jonathan Singer: That’s fantastic. I think that’s awesome,  and it reminds something somebody....
Actually, It doesn’t remind me of anything. But what I thought was because you created a successful business on multiple levels,  you were doing things that were consistent with social work values.  What you just described providing employment for a group that is traditionally discriminated against. People that need flexibility in order to have their families as a priority that is part of the social work social justice mission.

Julie Hanks: I don’t think that being financially successful and doing social work are mutually exclusive,  but it is not abandoning,  it actually helps enables more of it.

Jonathan Singer: When I was in grad school, I went to UT Austin for my MSW, Master of Social Work. I was in a discussion and I think I made some disparaging comment about business. The professor said, "There are 250 in the MSW program right now. If each one of you decided to start a business that could employ 10 people at a living wage, and those businesses went on for 50 years, it's likely that you will do more good for this world by going out there and being whatever you imagined a social worker is.

Julie Hanks: Wow! I never heard it put like that! But that really speaks to my passion for my team as much as for the client. I mean, of course we love the clients we serve and we try to provide good services. I become equally passionate about providing a family-friendly place that supports individuals.  This supports individuals by having support and mental health and balance and recreation. So that’s why we don’t think of that in a social work in school providing a business where people can be whole people and have balanced lives.

Jonathan Singer: Right, and so now I am going to come work for you.

Julie Hanks: It's actually our team meetings are more like parties. We cater them and catch up. It's really a fun environment, and it's an ideal place I have ever worked.

Jonathan Singer: That is beautiful cause you created it. Another thing is I think that is a mental hurdle for a lot of social workers is we think about social work as being a synonymous with being in these large organizations. Sort of being a cog in the wheel by sort of making it a difference in people's lives, one person or one family at a time.  But we don’t think about stepping outside of that and creating something and you have.

Julie Hanks: Well,  one of my common sayings is "I am the red tape." So there is really a huge need for a group for boys with you know on the autism spectrum, okay put together a group I will approve, were am done. It allows you to be so nimble and change quickly, which you don’t get in large organizations. Like, " I am the red tape. Give me the proposal, and let's do this. " So it's really fun to be able to have that much, to move quickly and create things quickly that serves the community. 

Jonathan Singer: So I suspect most people listening to this thinking, "Yes,  I want to be where Julie is, right? " You started out with the qualities that make you, you. But you didn’t start out with this team, and you mentioned a couple of things that are important for folks who are starting out in private practice.  Is there a couple of other quick tips that you would have for folks who are starting out? Or for folks who have been doing private practice for a little while and want to do it a little differently?

Julie Hanks: Yes, there are great resources online for businesses. Every state has a business, a government business site where you can file your incorporate an LLC, a business plan, or a template. So there are a lot of resources that each state has and was not taught to access business resources. We don’t even like to think about ourselves owning a business and that is a part of starting to see yourself as a clinician and a business owner.  When that happens, you begin to wear those two hats and sometimes that’s not comfortable. Using your professional NASW legal resources, malpractice, there are a lot of pieces of support that NASW provides. I was on the private practice board for NASW a few years ago.

Jonathan Singer: So there is this specialty private practice section?

Julie Hanks: Yea, there are tons of resources about the DSM 5, billing codes or how to set up a private practice. These will also have risks to watch out for. There are tons of resources.

Jonathan Singer: So, full disclosure I am the chair of the child, adolescent, young adult specialty practice section for NASW. So I need full disclosure because what I am about to say is sort of promoting that. But to be a member it's only $35, and as an NASW member it’s nothing and you get access to articles, resources, and webinars.

Julie Hanks: Webinars for NASW on building a media presence, developing multiple income streams, lots of different things. So there are tons of resources, there are a lot of people who blog about private practice. So there is me and a lot of others who are just fabulous and it’s free. Free information out there, Google search is your friend.

Jonathan Singer: So Julie,  so everything that you have been talking about is great! It’s like why wouldn’t everybody do private practice, but it isn't all wine and roses right?

Julie Hanks: Right, a lot of hard work! I remember when I was first starting out, I was a solo private practitioner and most social workers in private practice are.  I was doing everything. I was answering phone calls, doing the billing, emails, doing my website, doing the therapy, and being the accountant. I realized I got really overwhelmed, this shouldn’t be this hard and I don’t see that many clients. I realized, "okay I am doing things that I am not very good at then sacrificing."  I felt really confident in my therapy skills, but there are people who are more detail oriented. They could do the billing or scheduling. I am horrible with details! I will employ someone else and then I’ll do the thing that I am uniquely qualified to offer at this point. It was a great decision and it was really hard to let go knowing everything that was going on and to trust.

Jonathan Singer: I am sure there is a financial leap cause then you're paying somebody.  I mean, I think when you first start out, you're not making a lot of money. You begin seeing a lot of clients, but whatever and when you think about paying somebody $20,000 or whatever, it becomes $20,000 out of your pocket.

Julie Hanks: Right,  but I start to think about the hours unpaid that I spent that made me want to get better at attracting clients to my practice.  I wanted to do therapy and so that’s a good incentive, okay I am responsible for someone else’s salary.

Jonathan Singer: So you might now have an answer for this.

Julie Hanks: I can make one up.

Jonathan Singer: Just make it up.  So what should people look for if they are thinking of hiring somebody to do the billing? Who do they hire,  and where do they find this person?

Julie Hanks: Ask around and ask people in your area. Now,  we have seen when I first started out,  there was no such thing as virtual assistance. There was and I one of the first in my area to have a web page. So this was yea in the early 2000s, so yea I had a web page it was one page it was not even a site. Payroll companies, ask people I mean that’s like the Facebook group I mentioned earlier, people ask that they ask ‘how do you hire a good virtual assistant, where do you go?’. So connect with other private practitioners in your geographic location and just start asking that’s the best place to start. I like personal recommendations before I hire someone, especially when they are dealing with money,  and confidential information. You can’t just hire any office manager, and they have to be somebody you trust.

Jonathan Singer: Because you are all about relationships.

Julie Hanks: Cause I am all about relationships and trust. 

Jonathan Singer: So this whole money thing is interesting because it takes a time to build a practice.  I think I heard somewhere like where the IRS gives you three years to be profitable before you lose money. You cannot lose money on a business forever because the IRS thinks that’s a scam and so they get upset.

Julie Hanks: So you would starve.

Jonathan Singer: So you would starve or it’s a scam, so it’s either a front for some illegal activity, that is the concern on the IRS’s part. So, are there any tips in the beginning?

Julie Hanks: Yea, one thing that I learn is to start small and grow slowly. Quick growth is the thing that most frequently kills small businesses. Which I think "What?"

Jonathan Singer: Why?

Julie Hanks: Well,  you get in over you head, right? So you start thinking, "I am going to start this practice,  and I am going to take on this office space. I am going to hire people." So you have this overheard that is way more than you think, you have an awesome office, and zero clients. You want to keep your overhead minimal, and start by subleasing space from someone. Don’t get into huge financial commitments. There is really great free practice management websites now. They add the support and they are really good.

Jonathan Singer: When you say "practice management,"  what do you mean?

Julie Hanks: Like,  where you take your notes,  and input the billing. It's pretty cool.

Jonathan Singer: Wow, its really free?

Julie Hanks: Yeah, for solo practitioners. It does not work for what I am doing, but now there are really great free options and then if you do. When I started practicing, the yellow pages existed in book form. Right, you remember those Yellow Pages, right?

Jonathan Singer: Of course I do!

Julie Hanks: People spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on yellow page ads, but now it’s free. You can build your own website, Wordpress and go. You know,  just start a Facebook page for free! So I mean you can keep the costs down,  and that grow slowly. Just don't take on to many financial commitments before you have the client to support that because there is an ebb and flow. It seems like December is always really slow. The first several years I would think, "Oh my goodness! I am going to have to close my doors!”  Then the clientele would pick back up. Now I know to save for that month cause expenses don’t go away just cause clients don’t want to go to therapy during the holidays.

Jonathan Singer: I know you’re a musician, so that might have been a mental shift because in the music business January is a slow month.

Julie Hanks: December is crazy and all the concerts.

Jonathan Singer: Nobody hires anybody in January.

Julie Hanks: Right! It's just crickets! So yea, no one wants to go. August seems to be a really slow month as well. Just there are things you learn over time if you keep it small and keep your vision big. But keep your expenses small.

Jonathan Singer: You got your big message, you have an online presence,  and you fulfill the social work missions by being out there and providing in the community in various different ways. If you're first starting your business, you can connect with other professionals, healthcare professionals and whatever your referral source is.  You start slow,  and grow slowly. Once you minimize your expenses and then you expect not to make any money in December.

Julie Hanks: Exactly, that’s it. I know a lot of people have a full-time job and they do private practice on the side. A lot of times they consult with me about moving to full-time private practice. There is that transition where you say to yourself, "Okay, is this going to work?" You know it works, and if you have another day job, full-time job, or part time job, it becomes kind of a nice way to ease into private practice.

Jonathan Singer: Well Julie, thank you so much for talking with us. You are this amazing resource and expert. I really appreciate you coming onto the podcast and sharing some of that with us.

Julie Hanks: Thanks so much Jonathan.

Transcript generously donated by Tierra Montgomery.

APA (6th ed) citation for this podcast:

Singer, J. B. (Producer). (2016, January 13). #100 - Private practice for social workers: Interview with Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW [Audio Podcast]. Social Work Podcast. Retrieved from

No comments: