When psychotherapist Keri Fernald first sought help from the business advisors of New Hampshire Small Business Development Center, all she had to do was walk down the hall. She shares the same office building as the NH SBDC Seacoast Region office, and Regional Director Warren Daniel.
“He really helped me manage the business financially and to understand my cash flow,” Keri said. As a licensed psychotherapist, Keri says she discovered early on the many challenges of being a trained health care professional with no background in running a business.
That was back in 2014. Keri says the financial advice around cash flow and income projections really gave her the tools for success, so much so that she is now thinking about expanding her business scope and returning to Warren for further consultation.
Keri explains that nothing in her education prepared her for the business side of things. “I just had confidence that I could be a skillful therapist and do good work with people,” she said.
“What happens with a lot of therapists is we love the craft and we love being in a helping profession, working with people to transform their lives,” Keri said. “But part of the problem for me, and the others I know, is we don’t come to this thinking, ‘I’m going to be a small business owner,’ because that’s really outside our comfort zone.”
Keri’s “psychotherapy & expressive arts” practice opened in 2014 with about eight clients in any given week. She says she seemed to get referrals easily and never really had to market herself.
She graduated from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2009, with a master in counseling and expressive art therapy. She then had her first child and relocated to Vermont, all within a month. After a year of being home full-time, she returned to community mental health projects to earn her licensure, working with families by providing play and family therapy.
Keri says Warren would give her “assignments” to fulfill, and some of it helped her get right down to basics, like separating her personal finances from her business ones. “It was something as simple as opening a business checking account,” she said. “And thinking about when and how much I was going to pay for my quarterly estimated taxes.”
The day-to-day operations of her business are going smoothly, she says, giving her a chance to turn away some referrals in order to develop a few other areas of expertise in therapy she hopes to offer in the future. Last year she piloted a program that combined a yoga practice with recovery from addiction, and she wants to explore that model further. She wants to serve all the needs she sees in her Seacoast community.
Still, running a private practice can be isolating. She tries to meet regularly with her peers to discuss cases and how best to handle certain situations. She highly recommends these kinds of groups. “It’s so important to reach out and make connections,” she says.
In her practice, she does everything on her own—the billing to insurance companies, the follow-up phone calls for her patients—and she’s mother to two young boys. “It’s all worth it because I have a job I look forward to coming to every day.”
She passes Warren in the hallway every now and then and he always asks her how things are going. “He really did help me build a solid foundation. Now I refer a lot of my clients to him,” she said. “He’s a great resource for people who may have a lot of really great ideas and a passion, but no clue about turning it into a business.”