How to Start an ABA Therapy Practice
Starting an ABA program can be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things you can do as an ABA therapist.
Each day, you’ll get ready for work knowing you are about to make a profound impact on the lives of your patients.
But, starting your own ABA private practice is far from easy. Striking out on your own requires drive, determination, talent, and plenty of paperwork.
Today, we’re going to discuss in detail how you can develop a foolproof ABA therapy business plan, and start your own Applied Behavior Analysis practice.
While starting an ABA program involves plenty of hard work and determination, following the steps below can help simplify the hardest parts of the process. That way, you can focus less on running your practice and more on providing your patients with the tools and care they need to thrive.
1. Carefully Research the Process
Half the battle in setting up a successful private practice is fought long before you ever see your first patient.
Developing a private practice from the ground up involves careful planning and intimate knowledge of the steps required before you can open for business. In most ways, it’s not much different from opening up any other type of business.
You’ll need to research all of the different forms required to incorporate your business, decide where you’ll be working from (home or office) and consider the kinds of tools you’ll need to run your practice once you’re off the ground.
Of course, you’ll also need to make sure you have any certifications and licenses required to provide ABA therapy in your state as well. You may also wish to look into other certifications available that you can add to your resume to further distinguish your future practice.
Some of this work may require outside help, and it’s recommended that you have a lawyer and accountant at the ready to assist you with the aspects of the process you’re unfamiliar with.
2. Decide How You’ll Incorporate Your Business
When it comes to the business side of things, there are a few different options available in terms of what kind of business you are.
When starting an ABA program, the most popular ways to create your business are as an LLC (limited liability company) or a sole proprietorship.
Setting up your business as a sole proprietorship is arguably the easiest and most popular method of incorporation. But, keep in mind a sole proprietorship does not offer the owner of the company the same legal protections that an LLC does.
Sole proprietorships are also limited to companies with a single owner. If you’re working with a partner, you may wish to look into incorporating as an LLC.
This step can be difficult in the sense that most ABA therapists aren’t well versed in the benefits and drawbacks of setting up as different business entities. If you’re having trouble deciding how to set up your business, consult with a lawyer, they can always provide useful feedback.
This article from Entrepreneur about the pros and cons of different business entities is a helpful 101 course if you’re still unsure which business entity is right for your practice.
3. Get Your Paperwork in Order
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to set up your business entity, you can get into the brass tacks of forming your business.
This will no doubt require some paperwork from your city, state, or both. While you’re tackling this part of the process, you’ll also want to get your employer identification number (EIN), which you’ll need to set up your business and file taxes.
Many ABA practices choose to do business under a name different than their own owners. You’ll want to plan the name of your business carefully as it will play a significant role in how you market your practice.
If this name differs from how your business name appears on your paperwork, you’ll also need to file a DBA (doing business as) with your state.
Beyond the local and state paperwork you’ll need to get your business going, you’ll also need to consider how your patients will pay for services rendered. While some businesses are cash only, many more accept other forms of payment, including insurance.
To accept card payments, you’ll need to work with a payment processor to get this functionality set up for your business.
If you plan on accepting insurance, which can greatly expand the reach of your practice, you’ll need to work with individual insurance companies, who each have different requirements for joining their provider networks.
Most insurance companies require proof of licensure and require an application to be filled out to be considered for their provider network, so you’ll want to have that information handy as you begin the paperwork.
4. Get Your Money in Order
Perhaps the most critical aspect of this process will be securing initial funding for your business. While some ABA practitioners were able to start their business with outside financing, allowing them to focus on launching their practice instead of worrying about costs, that isn’t the reality that most aspiring ABAs live in.
Carefully consider the initial expenses it will take to get your business off the ground and consider them against the ways your business will make money.
If you’re starting your business by offering in-home care, you’ll want to have a modest cash reserve you can use to cover your expenses in your first year of business.
Meanwhile, if you’re starting a full-service practice, you’ll need to have a way to pay for your office and utilities as well as any additional equipment you require.
Keep in mind that while you’re first getting your practice off the ground, you are going to be stretched thin, and won’t have much free time to handle important aspects of your practice, like client management or billing.
While additional expenses aren’t exactly welcome during your startup period, spending money on practice management software can help free up your time. That way, you can focus on the important aspects of your practice without getting bogged down by minutia. Check out how our ABA practice management software can help your ABA practice get started without the hassle.
5. Set Your Wage
Your practice is built on a foundation of helping people who need your services. That said, you also need to eat, keep a roof over your head and put clothes on your back.
Now is the time to codify exactly what your wage is because both insurance companies and patients who pay in cash will need that information up front.
6. Get Familiar With Your Contracts
This step is especially critical if you’re going to be accepting insurance, or if you’ve secured a small business loan for the initial funding to start your practice.
Each insurer is different, and the time they take to pay out claims will vary. Make sure you’re intimately familiar with how and when you’ll receive funds from different insurers and memorize their funding schedules (most insurers pay out claims within 30 days, but some require 60 or 90 days to pay claims). Also become familiar with reimbursement rates, not all insurance companies pay out the same amount for services––this might ultimately impact which companies you contract with.
Cash flow will be critical to your budding practice, and the best way to ensure you have the cash you need coming in is by becoming an expert of the terms in each insurer’s contracts.
7. Draft Your Contracts and Business Policies
Before you begin to see patients, it’s critical that you lay the foundation for each aspect of the care you’ll be providing. This information should be readily available to your team internally, as well as to the patients of your practice.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, you’ll want to make sure you have these policies drafted in writing by day one:
- Fee schedule
- Billing policy
- Cancellation policy
- Insurance forms
- Scheduling Forms
- Evaluation forms
This is another area where practice management software comes in handy, as many programs will be able to help you manage each of these policies, forms, and patient intake processes. You’ll also be able to find plenty of examples of these forms and policies online.
Since these forms are mostly legal, it’s a good idea to run them by your lawyer before setting them in stone, to ensure that your best interests, as well as the interests of your patients, are accounted for.
Beyond these forms, now is the perfect time to establish procedures and policies internally. Make sure you’re on the same page with your employees and establish company-wide practices that govern the care you provide.
This will help you provide consistent care, which is critical to the success of your business, as well as the wellbeing of your patients.
8. Never Underestimate the Importance of Scheduling
As the owner of a private practice, you’re in the business of selling your time. Since time is quite literally money in your case, strong scheduling is a practical requirement of your business.
Not only is scheduling important for the day to day operations of your practice, but it also pertains to insurers and funding sources as well.
Your contracts with these businesses will outline the services you can provide, the time you have allotted to provide those services and the frequency with which you can provide them.
Staying abreast of these scheduling requirements is important, and it’s one of the more tedious aspects of practice management. This is all the more reason to invest in a practice management software from day one, as quality software will be able to manage and automate these scheduling tasks on your behalf.
9. Never Forget: You Are Running a Business
While running your own business can be infinitely rewarding, it also comes with unique challenges that you don’t have to grapple with as an employee.
While it should go without saying, always keep your business and personal life separate. Don’t mingle your business and personal bank accounts and expenses. Don’t take extensive vacations that will have you away from your practice while you work to get your footing.
Above all, never forget your business is your livelihood. Owning your own business in the healthcare field can at times be a slippery slope. Presumably, you’re in the business to provide exemplary service that genuinely helps your patients. That love of helping others can sometimes get in the way of sound business decisions.
Make sure you have sound procedures and guidelines for different situations and that you stick to them. This means knowing what to do when people cannot pay and having safeguard policies in place to ensure you are protecting the health of your business while also providing quality care.
In other words, make sure you’re caring for your business with the same passion you care for your patients.
10. Market Your Practice and Plan for Growth
Make sure that you have basic marketing materials in place as you get your practice off the ground. These materials help to legitimize your business while also putting your services in front of potential patients.
At a minimum, you’ll want to start with business cards, pamphlets that highlight the services you provide, a social media presence and a well-designed website.
Fortunately, these are all marketing tools that can be leveraged affordably. Business cards and pamphlets are both affordable, and professional quality websites can be developed in just a few hours using easy to understand web software. One such software is WordPress. It’s free, easy to understand and finding a good agency that does WordPress design and development is easy. Creating a social media presence is another step that takes just a few minutes.
You may want to take a hands-on approach with your marketing, but if you don’t have the time or interest to do it on your own, hiring a freelance expert can be cost effective and help you save time.
You’ll also need a plan in place to accommodate growth as your practice expands and begins to see new patients. While growth is certainly one of your goals, not being prepared to accept growth can do more harm than good for your practice.
Anticipate the things you’ll need to do as your practice expands, and have a clear plan in place for how to execute the steps you need to take to accommodate your growing practice.
11. Seek Out Help When Necessary
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that can also be said about any thriving private practice. Starting an ABA program can be difficult, and it can be very helpful to have people you can turn to who have been in your shoes before.
Network with other ABA professionals, and pick their brains whenever you need advice on running your practice. You may also want to look into professional organizations, which are full of ABA therapists who are quick to offer their guidance and assistance to you.
Of course, as your practice expands, and your expertise grows, feel free to pay it forward and offer other aspiring ABA therapists some of the wisdom you’ve developed through running a successful practice.
Schedule a demo with CodeMetro to learn how we can help you build the practice you’ve always dreamed of–with over ten years of experience in the ABA space, we’re here every step of the way to get you started.