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A practitioner with a healthy practice is in the best position to serve the needs of patients and other clients. A healthy practice helps ensure continuity of service and a broad experience base. Practitioners worked hard to get the training and education they need to help people, but in today's marketplace, it takes more to succeed: They need good business skills, said representatives of the APA Practice Organization at a session during APA's 2007 Annual Convention.

David Ballard, PsyD, the Practice Organization's assistant executive director for corporate relations and business strategy, with assistance from Paul Burney, PhD, a special member of APA's Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice, offered tips on how practitioners can assess the changing marketplace, think strategically and set their own course for professional success. For one, said Ballard, psychologists need to figure out who they can best serve, and how to best to reach them.

"In today's marketplace, your clinical skills and your credentials are not enough," he explained. "Practitioners need to be able to identify emerging needs, develop services to meet those needs, connect with potential clients and referral sources, and provide them with the information necessary to make well-informed treatment decisions," said Ballard.

Walking around the room microphone in hand, Ballard turned the gathering into an impromptu town hall meeting for practitioners, starting the session by asking audience members to list the core competencies they already have as psychologists that can be useful in addressing the business aspects of their practices. Those competencies included:

  • Relationship building: The ability to listen, establish rapport, understand the needs of others, manage difficult people and work effectively in teams.

  • Analytic thinking: Collecting and integrating complex data from a variety of sources and the knowledge of how to find solutions to problems.

  • Communication skills: Knowing how to provide the right information at the right time, using the most effective channel of communication.

  • Passion: Confidence in the knowledge, skills and abilities that psychologists bring to the table to help individuals, groups, organizations and communities function more effectively.

Using those core competencies and others, practitioners then need to develop a business plan individually tailored to their personalities, strengths and weaknesses, as well as their practice goals, Ballard said. The business plan involves:

  • Developing a vision, or "big picture" view, of the type of practice you want.

  • Writing a mission statement that explains your values and beliefs as a practitioner, the services you offer, the clients you serve and how you measure success.

  • Performing an environmental analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Look at external factors such as changing demographics, emerging technologies, and legislative and regulatory developments. Recognize the increasing role individuals play in making their own health-care decisions. Understand your practice's operations in terms of the different services you provide, the types of clients you see, how they were referred to you and how you get paid.

Such an environmental analysis can help you spot trends that might open up opportunities for your services, or pose challenges you must be prepared to address in order to remain viable in the future, Ballard said.

  • Developing a marketing plan. Practitioners need to determine how they'll build contacts and let people know about their services, whether it's speaking to community groups, participating in professional organizations or writing columns for local newspapers.

Then, said Ballard, psychologists need to get out of the office and start making connections. For starters, they should:

  • Network. Build a network of contacts with whom you share common interests. Always carry business cards, and when you meet people, be prepared to explain the basics of your services in a 30-second "sound bite." Send articles, referrals and other information to the people you've met if you think they might find them useful. Interact with other mental health professionals through such as means as "open houses" at your practice or inviting them to meet for coffee or a quick lunch.

  • Establish a Web presence. Get a Web site, register it with search engines and make sure you are listed in online directories, such as the APA Practice Organization's Psychologist Locator, your state, provincial or territorial psychological association's referral service, and your local community's small business listings.

  • Develop a good brochure. Like your Web site, a good brochure clearly and concisely lists how to reach you, describes your practice and explains how your services can help. As with any material you use to promote your practice, be sure to adhere to legal and ethical guidelines. Err on the side of caution in terms of what to include, review all materials for accuracy before they go out, and take time to run it past other colleagues for feedback about content and tone.

"Good business practices are essential to providing quality psychological services in today's marketplace," Ballard said.