EP 147: Scaling Mental Health Services With Move Forward Counseling Founder Alison Pidgeon

Aug 28, 2018 | Culture, Growth, Podcast

Tara McMullin is a writer, podcaster, and producer who explores what it takes to navigate the 21st-century economy with your humanity intact. Click here to support this work.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Why Alison Pidgeon left her Director role at two outpatient clinics to start Move Forward Counseling, a group mental health practice based in Pennsylvania
  • The reasoning behind Alison’s choice to stop taking new clients — plus, how she divides her time between counseling and running the business
  • What makes growing a group mental health practice work. In the conversation, Alison shares how she approaches team building and culture creating to keep her practitioners happy
  • How she structures pay for the other therapists in the group practice and what money goes where

Sometimes, the way you’ve worked for years doesn’t work anymore. Life changes and responsibilities shift. That was the case for Alison Pidgeon. As the former director of two outpatient clinics, Alison started feeling the itch to go out on her own. She was burned out, and with two small children at home, Alison yearned for more flexibility.

So she made some big changes. Alison left her position as director and started her private practice just days later. As her practice grew, Alison made the switch from a solo private practice to a group practice. Today, seven therapists work at Move Forward Counseling alongside Alison to serve the women of greater Lancaster County community.

Listen to this episode of What Works to hear more about what it took for Alison to scale her business from one to 7, how she shows appreciation for her staff, and how she’s established a thriving business through word-of-mouth.

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How to influence your company culture

“My staff feels valued. They feel respected. They have flexibility and autonomy over their schedule and what kind of clients they want to see. They’re paid well so they have time to take care of themselves and take care of their families.” — Alison Pidgeon

Every company has a culture: some companies are intentional about it while others are not. Alison is someone who cares about her staff — and through her own experience in community mental health, she learned what not to do.

“I saw what was happening in the agency and I did the exact opposite,” she says. And it’s paid off. Her staff are happy in their jobs, they aren’t overworked, and they have the ability to choose how they work.

Influencing the culture started early and found its footing in Alison’s own ponderings: “How would I want to be treated as a provider?” she asks. “It was easy to take that and develop that culture in my own practice.”

Why should you scale a high-touch business?

“Private practice can be quite lonely. It’s nice to have other people around. Obviously you can make more money and you’re able to scale your business and it’s not tied directly to trading dollars for hours anymore which really appealed to me.” — Alison Pidgeon

Sometimes there’s an identity crisis as you scale a business — but that shouldn’t turn you away from an opportunity that’s crossed your path. As Alison continued working solo in her private practice, she realized that she could grow the practice — and that doing so would round out the services that they provided in one place.

“I came up with the umbrella that we’re a practice focused on women’s issues,” Alison says. “Underneath that, everybody has their own specialty. Not everyone is doing the same thing but I’ve been able to tie it together for the purpose of branding and marketing.”

So far so good: there are currently seven providers (meet them here!) On the logistical side of things, every provider is set up as an independent contractor according to PA state law. In terms of money, 60% goes to the therapist and 40% goes to overhead.

Embracing the role of CEO

“I realized I have to stop seeing clients and hope that I’ve put everything into place that the other therapists start making up for the loss of income. It did happen but there were a little bit of growing pains and I was able to see: it’s much better for me to be the CEO. It’s what I actually enjoy doing rather than seeing clients all the time.” — Alison Pidgeon

When you scale your business, sometimes that puts you in the role of CEO. For Alison, she realized that in order for her to run and grow the business, that she needed to scale back her time in therapy.

Alison shares that she felt she was holding the business back by not being able to be the CEO. “I don’t have the space to think about big picture things and where this business is going because I’m seeing clients,” she adds.

So she stopped seeing new clients and jumped into the CEO role full force. Now, she seems to do it all: payroll, insurance, and company finances. And, at this point in the practice, she’s spending less and less time on branding and marketing because the practice is growing by word-of-mouth. She also consults with other business owners wanting to build up their own private practices.

Listen to this episode to hear more about scaling a high-touch service-based business, actively defining your company culture, and knowing when to scale up.

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