• Aisling van der Walt

Where to start in private practice?


I’ve taken the leap and decided to write my first blog post! I’ve wanted to start blogging for the past few months for two main reasons: to link with other occupational therapists working in neurosciences or private practice, and to provide some resources for people who are living with neurological conditions and have minimal access to therapy.

When I started my private practice 2 years ago I saw there is quite a lack of collaborative community and very few forums where occupational therapists can openly share ideas and practice in a non-competitive environment. From my online research it seems our American counterparts are doing this very well, with multiple OT blogs/ Facebook pages etc, but this side of the pond we seem to be more private and cautious, or at least that’s been my experience.

Some of the reasons I have been reluctant to start blogging/ promoting my business online may also be some of the reasons I was reluctant to start out in private practice. Am I good enough? Will it seem like I’m too big for my boots? No one else I know is doing this - is it not ‘the done thing?’

Fear of the unknown and ‘putting yourself out there’ holds a lot of us back from stepping out and turning those entrepreneurial thoughts and ideas into a reality, or at least the small beginnings of one.

I hope this blog can be a forum where conversations start, connections form and creativity is encouraged.

Where to start in private practice?

1. Go in with your eyes open

Talk to any friends you know working in private practice and ask them about their experiences. The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) specialist section for independent practice (SSIP) runs a ‘look before you leap’ course that covers a lot of the basics. I didn’t go on the course myself so I can’t vouch for it but I imagine it would be worth looking into. Networking at conferences and courses could also be a good way to find out what working in private practice is like if you don’t know anyone doing it personally.

2. Become a RCOT SSIP member

I am now an RCOT SSIP member but I didn't join until after I was already set up in private practice for whatever reason. They have some helpful resources and business start-up packs that I wish I knew about sooner. It costs £65 for the year and you can pay £75 per year to create a profile on their online directory of independent occupational therapists. It is not essential to list yourself on the RCOT SSIP directory but I strongly recommend it. When I have asked my clients how they heard about me, the vast majority have looked me up on the directory.

3. Sole trader vs ltd company

Us AHPs are not usually the most business savvy and it is a shame we are not taught more of these skills in undergraduate programmes. They result is I had to do a lot - a lot - of reading to get my head around the business/ tax/ official side of going into independent practice. Here are some of the links I found helpful in deciding to go Ltd company or sole trader:

https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2013/sep/12/sole-trader-limited-company-freelances

https://www.companiesmadesimple.com/sole-trader-v-limited-company.html

https://www.crunch.co.uk/sole-trader-vs-limited-company/

In the end I set-up a limited company in order to give me more options of expanding in the future, and to allow me to work with a wider range of clients as many companies will not work with sole traders. There are pros and cons to each option really so you are better off doing some research and deciding what structure works best for what you want to do. If you find a good accountant they could also give you some advice on this. The RCOT now offer professional indemnity insurance cover up to £6 million to members who are sole traders so that may influence your decision.

4. Deciding your name

I use my full name (Aisling van der Walt Ltd) as my limited company name, and then created a more general company name (Solas Rehabilitation) that would allow me to expand my practice in future to include associates or other members of the MDT. I have no idea if I will actually go there but at least now I have the option! Make sure you do lots of google searches to make sure your company or trading name is unique and not going to get confused with someone else! I registered my company name as a trademark to prevent other people from using it. Here is the official way to register.

5. Insurance

You need professional indemnity insurance to operate in private practice. The RCOT cover sole traders for malpractice, professional liability, and public and products liability for up to £6 million. If you’re a limited company you need to arrange your own insurance but you can get a discount through RCOT. I pay just under £30 a month for my insurance. If you want a recommendation just comment below and I will get in touch.

6. Accountant

An accountant will make or break you in private practice! I had such a terrible experience with my first accountant, but on the bright side, it meant I had to get very ‘tax/accounting’ savvy very quickly so I could spot their mistakes. I find it oddly empowering to understand things like dividends, shareholders and VAT. Now I’m with a great (and much cheaper) accountant - comment below if you want a recommendation. I manage all my invoicing online with them and the online software links directly with my bank account which makes reconciling my accounts a doddle.

The accounting and invoicing aspect of private practice is not to be underestimated! It takes me a couple of hours at the end of each month, on top of regular odd-jobs during the week, and it can be brain-numbingly boring for someone who is less-than-enamoured with numbers! Tips: get a great accountant, devote some time to learning the basics, and schedule enough time for yourself to keep ontop of your accounts.

7. Register as a data controller

This is something that I found difficult to find out about for some reason, but it turns out you definitely need to register as a data controller with the Information Commissioner’s Office under the Data Protection Act 1998. Anyone who is holding confidential information is governed by them and they state the requirements for storing confidential information safely. It costs £35 each year and you can register here.

8. Set up a business bank account

As a limited company I need to keep my business accounts separate from my personal accounts. Just book an appointment at the bank to set up a business bank account. I find it handy to use the same bank for my personal and business accounts because it is easier to pay myself and view both accounts using mobile banking.

I think those are all the basic steps I took to get set-up in private practice. It does take a bit of effort to get set up but they are mostly one-off tasks. There is loads more you can do to develop your business, like creating a website and developing your own paperwork which I think is the more fun stuff (maybe I need a hobby!). If you’re interested in aforementioned ‘fun stuff’ I have a follow-on post: ‘Where to go next in private practice?’

Thanks so much for stopping by and I would love to hear any comments/ feedback on other people’s experience and if you found this useful. Also, if you would like any recommendations or copies of any of the documents I have mentioned please just comment and I would be happy to help out in any way I can :)

#neurorehabilitation #occupationaltherapylondon #startingprivatepracticeoccupationaltherapy

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                                                                                                          Aisling van der Walt Ltd trading as Solas Rehabilitation