Jessica Tappana is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who had a vision for a private practice where every client would be matched with the right therapist who had the personality, training, and experience to help the client heal and move forward in their lives. She opened her own business, Aspire Counseling LLC (www.AspireCounselingMo.com) in May 2017 and that dream became a reality. Jessica has since filled her caseload, rented a second office, added clinicians and developed a website full of helpful mental health resources including a blog for individuals looking for healing from trauma, grief, fear and overwhelming stress.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
When I was 12, a friend told me that I was a good listener and should be a therapist. From there, a dream of owning my own practice was born. However, it was my strong work ethic and drive to help others that got me to the point of realizing that dream. I became engaged to my husband the day (actually the minute) I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. I was married and working full time while I got my Master’s degree. While working toward my clinical license, I had my first child and helped care for my terminally ill father. Then, I started my business while on maternity leave with my second child. I have always had an intense drive to be productive and accomplish my goals and it shows in everything I do.
What inspired you to start your business?
My belief in balancing evidence based practice with strong therapeutic relationships inspired my dream of owning a private practice and my desire to have the flexibility to balance my family and career inspired the timing for the business.
My mom also has a Master’s degree in Social Work, but after earning her PhD when I was a teenager, she went into academia and has focused on researching interventions that improve the lives of hospice caregivers. After growing up hearing about how research reveals which interventions are most likely to help people, I have personally sought out trainings on evidence based interventions since entering the mental health field. I individualize the treatment I provide a client, and these trainings help me provide quality treatment that has the best chance of helping clients find healing.
When I was pregnant with my second child and looking for a way to have more flexibility in my schedule, I decided that it was time to take my dream of a practice that centered around using evidence based therapies and make it a reality. I wrote a business plan at the end of my pregnancy and took my newborn with me to the bank to sign a loan for the business when she was only a couple of weeks old. That newborn is now 9 months old and my older child is half a year away from starting Kindergarten. I can’t even begin to explain how thankful I am for the flexibility owning my own business has provided our family!
Where is your business based?
Aspire Counseling LLC is located in Columbia, Missouri and serves clients in the Mid Missouri area. We’ve had clients travel from as far as 3 hours away on a weekly basis to receive therapy at our office!
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
The first step I took was to reach out to every therapist I knew in private practice and ask to meet. Whether we met for coffee or at their office I asked them every question I could think of and took notes about the advice they gave. While I did a lot of other things (making a business plan, reading books, etc) to prepare to start the business, there is no doubt in my mind that the advice I received from so many colleagues was the most important first step!
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Networking has been key to getting my name out there as a mental health provider in my community. At first I felt very self-conscious talking to people about my business, because I didn’t want them to think I was begging them to refer clients. However, I’ve found that mental health often comes up very naturally in conversation and people are often grateful for my input which organically leads to discussion about my business. I’ve found that I really enjoy reaching out and meeting up with former colleagues and the fact it helps keep me on their mind as a referral source is simply an added benefit!
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Finding the right work/life balance has always been my challenge. I am passionate about helping my clients, but I started the business so I would have the flexibility to meet the needs of my family. Sometimes I start to lose sight of this and find myself checking work e-mails or my home while I’m playing with my children or staying at the office really late writing new blog posts. I try to make up for those moments but carving out times that I am completely focused on my children. For instance, I take Monday’s off completely to spend with the kids and have a weekly lunch date with my son.
How do you stay focused?
I not only teach my clients mindfulness, but I practice it myself on a daily basis. My to do list is always longer than I’d like, but stressing out about it doesn’t accomplish anything. Instead, I am purposeful in everything I do fully committing to being mindful to a single task at a time. I still get distracted or overwhelmed occasionally, but I practice letting go of distractions and simply bringing my mind back to the task at hand. The same goes for goals I set for myself. I often break large business goals into smaller chunks so I can stay focused and mindful on one piece of the puzzle at a time.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
I try to go the extra mile to make sure my clients are able to get the most out of their therapeutic journey. This begins with putting a lot of time into matching new clients with the right therapist. Sometimes, this means referring a client to another agency because we don’t have the right expertise or someone who’s personality will fit what the client’s looking for. I know it’s in my best interest to make sure clients find someone who’s a good fit and I’ve found that people remember that I took the time to make sure this happens.
Every client has the chance to get a cup of hot cocoa/tea/coffee as they come into the office as well as choosing an essential oil to diffuse during their session. This ritual of preparing a drink and selecting an oil helps my clients transition from the “real world” into the therapy space so they can begin to feel centered in the moment.
Last but not least, I’m willing to think outside the box to meet client needs. For instance, I treat many clients with anxiety and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I found myself frequently referring clients to Yoga, so when I met a yoga instructor who had special training in trauma informed yoga practices and understood anxiety, it made perfect sense for us to partner and offer Yoga for Anxiety in a very small group setting at my office!
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
When I first started the business, I found codes to try several different therapist directories to see which would be the best source of referrals. There was one (Psychology Today) that brought in significantly more referrals than the others so that is the one I chose to keep. I now also have a website which I update frequently with blog posts and recently new clients have mentioned reading some of my blog posts before calling as well. While I think it was ok to go the first few months without a website, I think having a quality website took my marketing to a whole new level.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Prioritize where you spend your money when you are first starting out. Ask yourself, what can wait? Also try to find free trials of software that may be helpful for you. I was able to try various software programs and therapist directories for free which allowed me to save money the first couple of months and also figure out what was worth spending money on. I also didn’t have a website at first but I saved up and after a few months was able to use Brighter Vision which specializes in developing websites for therapists. It was absolutely worth waiting until I could afford to outsource the website development, because they did a much better job than I could have and the process was not only less time consuming but less stressful than trying to learn Word Press and create a website myself would have been!
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
I follow the Practice of the Practice blog and podcast. Joe Sanok provides practical information on owning a counseling business and it’s been very helpful in learning how to marry mental health with business.
My own blog (https://AspireCounselingMo.com/blog) is something I’m more and more proud of every day as well though. I was intimidated to start blogging, but have found it to be a lot of fun and am happy with the information I’m able to provide people on the mental health topics most near and dear to my heart.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
My favorite business app right now is QuickBooks. It allows me to upload my receipts right after purchasing something, makes it easy to categorizes purchases and even helps me track my mileage. Keeping my books has been much easier since I began using QuickBooks.
Who is your business role model? Why?
I don’t think I have a singular role model. It’s more like a group of people. I feel like I’ve learned little things from many different clinicians, including both colleagues that I know in person as well as those whose podcasts I’ve listened to.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
I have three major goals for the next six months:
Continue adding clinicians. At this point I’m fortunate enough that all of the clinicians I’ve added or am looking to add are people I’ve known from other professional settings. For instance, my first clinician that started seeing clients was also my field instructor back in 2008 so I have a very good idea of her clinical skills.
Add an intake coordinator. I’d like this person’s job to be getting to know each clinician well enough to know our specialty and then taking time with potential new clients to fully understand what they are looking for to make sure they are booked with a therapist whose personality will mesh well and also has the skills and expertise to help with the client overcome the struggles bringing them to therapy.
If all goes well, I hope to add even more office space around the summer! I love the office space that I’m in, but I don’t have a reception area. If my associates fill their caseloads as quickly as I did we will need more space around the time my current lease is up this Spring, but hope to stay in the same general location since we’ve had great luck with our current location.
How can our readers connect with you?