How to Take a Vacation as a Private Practice Owner

What’s the greatest benefit to being in business for yourself?

If you answered “freedom”, you’re absolutely right. But here’s the irony: When it comes time to take a vacation, you feel anything but free. How will you handle your weekly client load when you go on vacation? Who will answer calls, schedule incoming appointment requests, and handle invoices? How long should you go on vacation? Can you afford to go on vacation?

It’s enough to make you wonder if you should even take a vacation.

You should! If anyone deserves a vacation, it’s you! You spend your life dedicated in service to others. Burnout is real. You need time to recharge and get a fresh perspective. So, let’s talk about how to make that happen with practical tips that can help you take a break in peace.

Start Small

You may not be able to take a sprawling two-week vacation, but you can sneak away for a day or two.

Create an extended weekend, where you take Friday and the following Monday off. Four days off in a row can give you much-needed respite from your grueling work week. Consider doing this extended weekend vacation several times a year. Since you’re only technically taking off one day for each week, you may find that it’s easy to schedule your clients, as they can still catch their weekly appointments with you.

This option is perfect for any therapist, but especially for those who’ve just started a solo private practice. The last thing you want to do is lose potential clients in your early, establishing years. Taking mini vacations for the first few years can give you a break without breaking your momentum.

Lean on Outside Help

Solo practice can be defined in different ways. For some, that means you (the therapist) handle everything from scheduling clients to collecting delinquent debt. For others, it means that you work with a small team of individuals that help run your practice.

No matter how you operate your solo private practice, when it’s time to take a break, you’ll definitely need some outside help.

That is unless you enjoy fielding work phone calls while on vacation.

As a mental health therapist, you probably don’t want to refer your clients to another therapist while you’re away. Your established clients have already built a trust and rapport with you, and the idea of seeing someone else (even one time) can be unsettling.

On the other hand, what if your client decides they like the other therapist better and switches to them permanently? That’s a nightmare scenario, and definitely not the kind of help you need.

The kind of help I’m referring to is a virtual assistant. Hiring a virtual assistant can set you up for a stress-free vacation. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself — and it can be on your own terms. Your arrangement can be short term (extending only the length of your vacation), or it could be a full-time agreement.

As we outlined in this post, Should You Hire a Virtual Assistant for Your Private Practice, a virtual assistant can take many roles. A virtual assistant can help you accomplish something creative (write your blog posts) or technical (set up your email newsletter), but you’ll probably want someone who’s able to handle administrative tasks.

Hire a virtual assistant to answer your incoming calls, return calls, respond to emails, invoice your clients, and reconcile the books while you’re gone. Your virtual assistant can even help coordinate your vacation plans and make sure that you’re all set for your destination.

Learn more about hiring a virtual assistant here.

How to Afford Your Vacation

Can you afford to go on vacation?

While you’re calculating airplane tickets, the cost of the hotel, and so on, you should also consider this: You won’t actually be making any money when you go on vacation. Because you operate your own private practice, the amount of money you make is directly tied to how many clients you see. When you go on vacation, you won’t see any clients (hopefully). The downside is that you won’t see any money either.

Carefully plan out how much it will cost you to take your vacation, and decide whether you can truly afford to miss the revenue.

That said, there are things that you can implement to make money while you’re on vacation. Diversify your income by writing a book, contributing to a blog, or creating a course (just to name a few ideas). Check out this post for more details: Therapists, This is How to Diversify Your Income.

Let Your Clients Know Ahead of Time

You’ve established a relationship of trust with your clients, so honor that by informing them ahead of time that you’ll be taking a vacation. You probably won’t need to do this for the short, extended weekend type of vacation, but if you plan to be away for at least a week (or longer), it’s a good idea to give them a heads up.

Let your clients know a month ahead of time. I recommend sending both an email and a physical letter to make sure that your clients receive proper notification.

Truly Disconnect

Vacation means taking a break from all of the stressors of life. Your clients should have, at most, limited access to you. However, I recommend truly disconnecting from work, if you can swing it. Ideally, you should allow your assistant to handle it. Challenge yourself to turn off the phone, avoid checking your text messages, and ignore incoming emails. You’re on vacation, and if you don’t respect that, no one else will.

However, I understand that this is probably an impossible challenge for most therapists in solo practice. This is especially true if you handle serious mental health disorders and the insurance companies you work with requiring that you’re available 24 hours a day.

So, if you can’t turn off the phone, at least limit yourself to checking your messages at set times while you’re on vacation (for example, once in the morning and again in the evening). Instruct your clients and staff not to contact you unless it’s a true emergency.

Have an Emergency Plan

Emergencies happen at any time — even when you’re nestling your feet into the sand. So, be sure that you’ve covered all the bases.

In addition to hiring a virtual assistant, have a backup therapist (or two) on call if you should need it. While you may not want or choose to send your clients to another therapist for a routine appointment, there are times when a client has an emergency and must be seen right away. For example, what will you do if you’re on vacation when your suicidal client needs an emergency session?

This is when it’s a great idea to have a backup therapist who can step in and diffuse the situation.

Find at least two therapists you can trust to cover for you in the case of an emergency and extend the same courtesy to them. Consider providing them with client care index cards, too!

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Originally published at TheraNest.com on January 13, 2017.

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