Putting together this practice took (and continues to take) a lot of work. But some parts were easier than others. The financial aspects were the scariest for me because they were the most foreign part of this experience. Visiting families at home? Did that as an early intervention specialist and I loved the rapport I could develop. Website and marketing materials? I write this blog and love to design documents (plus I have a husband with some web experience). Taxes? Um, anything beyond basic TurboTax is uncharted and scary territory…
So, I am going to put a disclaimer right here: I am not an expert. So, take all of this information I’m about to give you with a big grain of salt and be sure to do your own homework in setting yourself up financially. But, I’m sharing information that I found helpful getting started.
1. How do I keep track of expenses and tax information?
Since you will be operating a small business, you will need to know about the rules for taxes and record keeping. I found the books and resources from NOLO http://www.nolo.com/ to be very helpful. I recommend reviewing information geared toward “self-employment” and “working for yourself” as much of the small business literature is geared toward businesses with several employees, retail and food service. As a sole proprietor, I don’t have to have a separate business account. However, I wanted to open a business account as a way to more easily track expenditures and payments. This will also be helpful come tax time and if I ever decide to create an LLC, which requires separate record keeping. I don’t want to have to “disentangle” my personal and professional finances if I move to a different business structure. I use a spreadsheet to track money I’ve spent from the business account and payment from clients. Each time I purchase something for the practice (business cards, marketing materials, etc.) I save the receipt. If it is a paper receipt I write a brief note of what it was for (ex: cards for marketing) and then scan the receipt. I save these scans with a naming convention of date, name of company I purchased from, and receipt (ex: 2013_11_12 target receipt.pdf), so I can easily locate them in my computer files.
Many banks will require you to have a tax EIN number from the IRS in order to open a business account. As a sole proprietor, the IRS does not require you to have one, but you can obtain one. So, I applied and listed my reason for applying for an EIN as “primarily for banking or financial purposes”. Applying is relatively simple and can be done online at the IRS website. I reviewed information on business accounts at local banks, met with a banker, and set up an account.
You will need to research rules for when and how to make the appropriate tax payments for your area (county, state, federal).
2. Do I need liability insurance?
I do recommend having professional liability insurance as this protects you from legal action that might result from professional activities. While our liability as child life specialists is relatively low, it never hurts to be prepared, and not having coverage could be financially disastrous if you ever needed it. I purchased mine through HPSO, as I had a policy from them for my child life internship, but there are other options available. The cost is dependent on your activities, hours you work, and where you conduct business. Check the Child Life Council forums for groups that offer insurance for child life interns. If you are a member of a professional group like NAEYC, they might also offer liability coverage.
5. How do you decide what to charge?
Deciding what to charge can be tricky. You can choose to set an hourly rate, offer sliding scale payments, or price services differently based on how “intensive” you feel the preparation or work is. Honestly, I’m still trying to determine if I’ve chosen the right structure and priced services appropriately for my area. What did I consider? First, I researched local services and classes marketed for infants and children. I also researched what student mental health professionals were charging for sessions. I looked at infant massage providers, infant/toddler classes, tutors/organization coaches, social workers, and talked with a few child life specialists in private practice. I decided to set an hourly rate for all one-on-one services with a bit of flexibility for family finances and number of sessions (lowering price for sessions requiring multiple visits). For any group classes and services, I set a minimum # of participants and then have a flat charge per participant. I came up with my rates by investigating what people were charging/paying for similar services and classes in my area (baby yoga, play sessions, infant care classes, counseling sessions).
5. How do you get paid?
So, you’ve thought through your business services, structure, taxes, rates, and other technical information. Now, how will you get paid? You will need to be able to accept, record, and track expenses and payments. I wanted to avoid a delay between the time of service and when I got paid. Sending invoices/bills can be time consuming, requires tracking, and leaves the possibility of a client not paying for your time. So, I require payment at the time of service.
I decided from talking with other professionals that I wanted to be able to accept credit card payments, cash and personal checks. The large credit card readers that you see in stores often require you to buy the equipment and pay monthly operational fees. This might make sense for a large practice or retail situation where you are processing multiple cards daily. But for me, it meant a large monthly expense without knowing how much I would be making. Luckily, there are now many simple mobile devices that work with your phone or tablet that let you swipe a credit card. I reviewed several options and got a Square Reader (free!) so that I can accept credit card payments. They charge a small percentage fee that is deducted from each transaction. I have linked my business account to my Square account, and payments from Square are deposited directly. This means that I don’t have to pay anything to Square unless I use the reader, and I don’t have to worry about transferring money from a different service or account. There are several different platforms similar to Square including Intuit’s Go Payment and Paypal Here reader.
That about wraps it up for today. Since it’s the day before Thanksgiving I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. I’m grateful to be where I am on this journey and to have the opportunity to figure out the next steps in my professional life. I’m also really grateful to get to share my experiences with you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a bright Hanukkah dear readers!