What I Expected vs What Happened: a Guest Post from Lindsay Melka

I am so grateful to have gotten to consult with Lindsay Melka and I’m honored that she is writing for the blog this month. She is brilliant, thoughtful, brave and so honest it sometimes makes my heart ache. You’ll get to hear more about her story (the really hard part where she had to stop working entirely to take care of herself) on the podcast June 5 when we flip the usual podcast structure and talk about some unspoken about things that can happen to us as we build. I know a lot of us learn by example (*raises hand and waves it vigorously*.) Lindsay is a great example to learn from in about 100 different ways. Here’s some of her experience:  

What I expected, what happened, and where I am today 3 months into full-time private practice.

  What happened.   Approximately one year ago today, I began obsessively listening to any podcast I could find on how to build a full-time private practice. A 20 minute daily commute was perfect for fitting in that quick “how to” information session. Not enough time, no problem. I’d just put on my headphones and walk the one and half minutes to my office in order to get every last drop of this golden, top-secret information. My lunch breaks were occupied by walks around the hospital campus wherein I could get more of my daily fix. I wanted my own practice so badly that I dedicated every spare minute to finding out how to do it.   Podcasts led me to articles, articles led me to personal success stories and personal success stories led me to consulting and SEO.  It was all so much I didn’t know what to do first. I had been working in private practice on the side for some time, so I knew the basics. I did not know, however, how much time and effort it would take to become the real deal, the CEO, the woman with one job and no boss.   So this is a brief run down of what I did, what happened and where I am today, 3 months into full-time private practice.   My fiance designed my website without any experience of prior website design. I wrote the content. This took a crap-ton of time. Then, I hired a consultant, was advised to do a bunch of experiential exercises like “what does your dream client/job look like” and my fiance, let’s call him Eric, re-did my website and I re-wrote my content. THANK GOD! I can’t stress the importance of niching down. My first website was super clinical and wordy and listed all my specialties to include what I had been doing for the past decade-addiction work. When I learned that I didn’t have to specialize in addiction anymore it was slightly mind-blowing. What? I can work with those really shy people who can’t find a mate? I can work with insecure men who feel shameful about their feelings? I can work with WHOMEVER I WANT???   Don’t get me wrong, I still work with addicts and alcoholics and I enjoy it, but I also get to work with much more than that, and it is very rewarding.   Eric spent possibly hundreds of hours designing my site from scratch. I got help from various websites on how to write the content and spent literally one whole rainy Sunday looking for one photo for my cover page. It was a second full-time job for sure. Would I do this again, I don’t know. If it was just me, hiring someone to build my site would have been a no-brainer. Many professionals will tell you building a site is easy. I personally couldn’t have done it. Writing my content on the other hand was definitely worth it. My site is my voice. Clients can really get a  vibe for who I am and how I work. About 75% of the time I spent trying to build my business was spent on my website. Interestingly enough, about 2% of my business thus far has come from my website. Do I think my website is not important? Of course not. I got the hard shit out of the way. I have since hired someone to help with SEO, blog writing and website maintenance, leaving me plenty of time to focus more on what has gotten me business in the short term—networking and building relationships. When I was working 40 hours a week at my nine to five, I was only able to get coffee with therapists on the weekends. This was tough as many people save their weekends for family and friend time. There were a few days I could break free from work and stop by a doctor’s office to drop off my cards, but this was rare. Long story short it was hard to network while working banker’s hours on top of working part time in my practice. Because of the difficulty getting out there, and (how could I forget) the fact that I was told I didn’t have to take insurance, it took me a little bit longer to build. The “magic number” of clients needed to leave my hospital job kept changing and I was losing my cool. When would I be ready? When could we afford to take the leap? I finally made the decision to quit my job at a time that was least expected. It would take a while to share the whole story, but you can hear it soon here on the Abundant Practice Podcast next week. Basically, I had a series of panic attacks putting me out on medical leave, which miraculously, turned into a great reason to leave the 60 hour work week behind and begin the desirable life of private practice. What happened next... The week I gave my notice, I got an influx in calls. The universe was waiting for me. A few of those doctor’s offices I visited on my breaks ended up sending me patients. Did I know at the time which ones would turn into potential business? No. Referrals weren’t coming from where I expected. Perhaps the most surprising referral stream has come from my old colleagues at the hospital. I don’t know why I didn't think this would happen, but I understand now. They know me. They know how I work and how I care about my clients. A couple of those clients have sent me their friends. Therapists in the community hear that I’m in practice full-time (and doing well) and thus have more faith that I’m good at my job. They then send me referrals. Doctors/psychiatrists see that my clients have made improvement and have stuck around so they send me more clients. It’s been like a rolling stone collecting moss.   I can’t forget to leave out the importance of having more time to network in general. Coffee dates have turned into lunch dates, lunch dates into dinner events and work trips. I get to spend real quality time, get to know you time, with other professionals. I want to send them clients and vise versa. I’m getting to know and trust other practitioners in the field. This has been immensely important in building my practice. All of this takes time though. Time I didn’t have working full-time for someone else.   Today.   3 months in and I am close to being full. This past week I had 22 appointments. I am private pay. I’m worried that my SEO consultants are too good that I will get too busy here soon. Not a bad problem to have I suppose. I’m sure my experience looks very different than others and also very similar. I thought I would get all my business through my website and a few stragglers from folks that I know. Did that happen? No, but I imagine it will start to!  That’s going to get me started on a whole different chapter. I don’t want to jump the gun, but I have faith. What can I say, I’ve had incredible encouragement throughout the entire process (wink, wink Allison Puryear).   I imagine everyone’s path to success looks different. For some new clinicians their stories will be the complete opposite of mine.  In the end it doesn’t seem to matter. I believe every little thing I did to build and continue to build a successful practice will prove important.   Faith is huge. Support is necessary. Abundance is real. Lindsay Melka, LPC is based in Denver, CO. She is the founder of Empathic Counseling and Therapy, a psychotherapy practice that specializes in counseling individuals who struggle with shame, insecurity and personal relationships. She has worked in the field of addictions for over a decade and has overcome her own personal battles, ultimately, transforming her life. After years of varying therapeutic work, she has found her true calling is simply connecting with folks who have trouble connecting. She loves her catahoula leopard dog “Page,” exotic scents, Maui beaches, worldly novels and music. You can stay up to date on her Facebook page where she regularly blogs and shares new info on new and intriguing topics in the therapy world, or on her website.