Both Helen and I started our careers in the NHS before moving to independent practise. It was after finishing my maternity leave, that I started to work independently as well. Although being in charge of the money aspect was always a little worrying, the flexibility that it offers a working parent is great. You can read more about the pros and cons here.
So if you are thinking about starting some independent work in addition to another job or are thinking about taking the plunge and doing it full time, here are some of the important points to think about.
- ASLTIP – Both Helen and I attended an ASLTIP setting up in private practise course and would thoroughly recommend this. We would also recommend joining ASLTIP – not only will it bring you clients, but it also provides support, supervision groups and help with things like your DBS!
- Money – Set up a separate bank account for your business. It makes it much easier to track what’s happening and keeps everything above board. You will also need to find a way of recording your earning and expenditures. You don’t need flashy accounting software if you don’t want it. I record everything in an excel spreadsheet in a way that makes sense to me! Remember to keep all your receipts. Make sure you plan time each month to keep on top of your accounting so you don’t have a panicked week before your tax returns is due ( I have made that mistake a few times!). I personally use an accountant as well and she is great at finding things to claim for that I wouldn’t have known about. One last tip – I make sure I keep back at least 25% of my earnings each month so I know I will have enough to cover the tax bill when it arrives.
- HMRC – When I started, you had to register for National Insurance class 2 payments with the HMRC and let them know you would be completing a tax return. However the way you pay NI class 2 has now changed, so I’m not completely sure if you need to do this. Check with HMRC first! As a sole trader, I just use my name as it is easier. However, if you want to give your business a name, you will need to register it with Companies House and check that no-one else is using it.
- Travel – The chances are, you will be spending a fair bit of each day travelling. Firstly, try and organise your appointments sensibly so you aren’t driving from one side of your patch to the other – this can be easier said than done! Also try and use this time constructively. Helen and I are both avid podcast listeners! There are some great speech therapy specific ones – read Helen’s post here. There are also some great ones about running a business. I also have either a book, or something in my kindle app to read for when you end up sitting outside a school for half an hour!
- Record keeping – I do still follow a number of the protocol for note writing that we had to follow in the NHS, but not all of them! Obviously there are clinical standards we have to adhere to, but there is also much more flexibility. You can record your notes by hand, or on a computer. You can change your report format. You can assess and track data in a time frame and way that suits you.
- Saying No – Don’t be afraid to say no to appointments or clients that aren’t right for you. I found this hard at first. However, a parent wanting to pay you and wanting the best for their child would rather you say no, I don’t have the right skills for this, than taking them on and not doing the best for the child. We all have our specialities and areas we aren’t as confident in.
- Terms and conditions – You really should have some sort of contract/ terms and conditions that you get new clients to sign. Many therapists have them listed on their websites so go and have a look. I have been very lucky and never needed to chase anyone, but it can and does happen. Be very clear about what you can and can’t offer, when and how you expect payment etc
- Website – I also recommend that you create your own website. It doesn’t need to be anything flashy and you don’t have to pay some one to make it for you. There are many website providers that offer sites with click and drag type set ups that are easy to use. It has definitely got me more business having one, so do look into it.
- NHS/ Independent – Many of us start by picking up a little independent work whilst still working for the NHS. BEFORE you do this, speak to your manager. I had to let HR know in writing that I was doing this and there were rules. I wasn’t allowed to see children in the county in which I worked for the NHS. Luckily I live on county boarders so I worked for the NHS in Surrey, but could see children privately in Hampshire and Berkshire. I also had a very discrete caseload as I worked in a language centre and only had 20 children (This was working part time not full time!). I also knew in advance who would be starting the following September, so I could absolutely ensure there was no conflict of interest.
I’m sure there are other things as well, but these will get you started! Good luck!