When Your Practice Plateaus

By Allison Puryear, LCSW, CEDS on September 4, 2019

Maybe you’re chugging along. The phone is ringing, you’re seeing clients, you’re thinking, “Finally! It’s happening! They’re coming!” From what I’ve seen—and depending on your personality, of course—you either sigh with relief or worry that it won’t last.

But then you hit the dreaded Practice Plateau. I see this mostly when people are in the 8–12 clients per week range. It’s often a combo of the phone calls slowing down and clients graduating from therapy. It’s far more likely to happen in your first year. You know, right when you’re feeling most insecure about the future success of your practice. 

Let’s talk about why this usually happens and what to do about it. 

Why Is This Happening To Me?

First, know that you haven’t done anything wrong. If you’re like most private practice owners, once the phone really started ringing, you probably slowed down a bit with your marketing. That makes sense! As we talked about in the blog post about how marketing is mostly time-limited in the life-span of your practice, referrals get on autopilot after a while. You just pumped the brakes a little too soon, but not to worry! 

Take an honest look at how your marketing may have changed as you got more clients. Did you slow down your networking because it was harder to fit colleagues in with all your new clients? Did you stop writing a weekly blog when a new client slipped into the time that you set aside for it?

If you’re someone who relies really heavily on an online listing site, like Psychology Today, it may be that you got bumped to the bottom of the list in their ever-changing rotation. 

Another cause for the plateau may be the time of year. Different niches tend to have different ebbs and flows. As an eating disorder therapist, I find that the holidays are ripe for deep work with current clients, but that referrals trickle in when they usually cascade. My ideal clients tend to have an “I’ll start on Monday!” mentality and with January around the corner, their “New Year, New Me” seems to include therapy. So, any lull I see in November and December is balanced by a surge at the start of the year. My referrals go up in the summer, but I know a lot of people early in their practice may experience a bit of a slowdown. Across the practices I’ve worked with, I’ve seen that the Summer Slump tends to even out after your first few years of practice. 

How to Un-Plateau

Good news: this will be easier than you think! Look at the clients you have had so far. Where did most of them come from? Do more of that. If it was networking, get back out there and get some coffees with people. It could even be the people you’ve already met and already like if they’ve sent folks your way. This nurtures the relationship. If it was blogging, get back on that train! If it was an online listing, try tweaking a few words or reordering a sentence to see if editing puts you back up top (this is rumored to help, but directories won’t tell what their algorithm really picks up on). 

Above all, know that you already did the hardest part: getting your first few clients. You’ve proven to yourself that you can find good-fit clients who want to work with you. You can do it again!

* The content of this post is intended to serve as general advice and information. It is not to be taken as legal advice and may not account for all rules and regulations in every jurisdiction. For legal advice, please contact an attorney.


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