As a therapist, you know that finding the right office space for your private practice is critically important. Your office location can be crucial to attracting and retaining clients and to your quality of life—after all, you will be spending a large part of your time there. Equally important, the interior environment you create in an office establishes the overall vibe for your practice—it needs to feel safe, secure, and welcoming for clients.
As you prepare to search for office space for your practice, we recommend taking some time to ensure you have a good sense of your client base, location needs, monthly budget, and the type of lease you’re looking for. Here are four questions we’ve found it helpful to consider (or re-consider, as the case may be) as you prepare to start looking at properties.
1. Who Are Your Target Clients?
Defining your client base will help bring your office location requirements into focus. Who are you looking to serve and where are they located? Do you specialize in practicing with a specific population group? For example, do you envision working middays with office professionals on their lunch breaks, or are you hoping to serve children for after-school counseling sessions? If you’re doing individual sessions with office workers during the day, you might look at properties in downtown areas that have a concentrated number of professionals, whereas therapists working with children or adolescents may consider locations close to schools or related health services to maximize cross-references and convenience for the child and guardian alike.
Do your best to meet your clients where they are and when it’s convenient for them—but, obviously, within the parameters of your own work style and preferences—for example, you may or may not mind a longer commute. This is, after all, one of the advantages of running your own business.
2. How Much Rent Can You Afford?
As you can imagine in this real estate market, for most private practice therapists, rent is one of the largest items on their monthly budgets—if not the largest. There’s no fixed number for what percentage of business income your rent should be. Most financial guidelines suggest spending anywhere from 2 to 20 percent of your total practice income on rent, with the majority falling in the 5 to 10 percent range. If you are new to owning a small business and don’t yet have at least a year’s worth of data to determine your annual revenue, we recommend being conservative with your projected figures.
Five to ten percent of your revenue is still likely to be a large range. So how much rent can you truly afford?
There are multiple factors that affect rent prices and some of these factors may be more or less important to you based on your target demographic and how you want to work. For example, if you’re conducting most of your therapy sessions online, geographical features might be less important than, say, noise control. Clinicians practicing somatic therapies or play therapy may need more space for equipment, for instance, while other therapists may value a window over more square footage. Some considerations include:
- Urban or rural location
- Type and size of building
- Square footage of office
- High-traffic area and/or easy to find
- Easily accessible by public transportation
- Ample parking
- Services available nearby, including potential competition
- Secure, reliable internet access (especially for those practicing telehealth)
- Noise/privacy levels
- Maintenance and repairs
- Windows and lighting
We have found that it’s helpful rank your priorities for office space from one to ten, with the top three or so being must-haves.
From there, you can determine what your bare minimum requirements are for office space and what you would be willing to splurge on. Would the more expensive rent benefit your business in a tangible way? Whichever percentage you settle on within the suggested range, set it firmly in your mind before you start visiting properties, and stick to your budget.
3. What Type of Office Lease is Right For You?
There are three main types of lease contracts in commercial real estate: full service (landlord pays for all expenses); net (tenant pays the rent and a portion of taxes, insurance, and maintenance fees); and triple net (tenant pays the rent and all of the taxes, insurance, and maintenance of the property).
If some of the fees are paid in a net contract, you’ll want to understand exactly which ones are included in the rental price, including expenses for common areas (such as the parking lot, building lighting, and property landscaping). Remember to adjust your budget accordingly if you have taxes, utilities, insurance, and cleaning/maintenance as separate expense categories.
In addition to these types of office leases, you may also be able to find subletting options or flexible terms, such as a monthly, six-month, or yearly lease. Perhaps you can share an office with another professional whose work hours are different than yours. And your landlord may be willing to negotiate their asking price, especially if you are entering into an extended lease. If you can be creative within the lease contract, it may save you money in the long run.
4. What Interior Factors Create the Right Environment?
Unlike some small businesses, the layout and interior design of an office rented for therapy use is critical. We all know that physical environment affects our emotions and behavior. When a client feels comfortable, relaxed, and safe in a therapy office, it builds therapeutic rapport and enhances self-disclosure.
When scouting offices, occupy the space under consideration and imagine a therapy session taking place there. Is the space inviting as is? Are the walls thick and the doors solid to satisfy privacy concerns? Who controls the temperature? Is it quiet? Is the lighting warm and adjustable?
Consider which elements in the office you are allowed to change and whether or not you want to spend the time and money to make those changes yourself. Can you paint the walls, hang artwork, and so forth to create a comfortable environment? Is the office semi-furnished? How much will furniture and other design elements add to your costs? What do you need to add to effectively soundproof the room?
You can promote positive interaction with your clients through office modifications that follow healthcare design principles, such as clutter-free, light-filled spaces with greenery and soft seating. And don’t be shy about displaying your credentials: a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology (Devlin, 2009) showed people rate mental health practitioners most favorably when they have more diplomas on the wall.
Another thing we have found it useful to keep in mind is your client’s experience with the entire building location, from the first step of their visit to their last. Can they easily find a parking spot or bike rack? Is there a security system in place? Are accessibility aids incorporated throughout the building? Is the waiting room clean and well-maintained? Who are your neighbors? Is the bathroom centrally located? When you thoughtfully consider how your client will feel throughout each moment of their therapy session, your private practice is more likely to have positive therapist-client interactions and an advantageous retention rate, which will be reflected in your bottom line.
This Health Affiliates Maine blog post is another in our series on Managing Your Private Practice, where we explore how to successfully run your private practice as a mental health clinician. Previous articles covered how to market your private practice [link to https://www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com/how-to-market-a-private-practice/], create office policies [link to https://www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com/writing-policies/], and billing and finances [link to https://www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com/managing-your-private-practice-finances/].
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