The Business of Private Practice: A Sampling of Who Is Doing What

Nancy J. Miller

For the purpose of this article an independent in private practice is any career professional working at least part-time managing their own business to provide products and services that enhance career success. As NCDA explains, “a career specialist in private practice may provide a wide variety of services from career counseling and planning, assistance with resume writing and interviewing, and career coaching.”

Survey Results
Findings from a Survey For Independent Career Professionals Full or Part Time conducted by myself and Sue Aiken, are shared here. While a response of 17 seems low, we achieve the purpose which was to show who was doing what. More results can be found on the website link at the end of the article. (Note, the highest response rate for each question is listed first and just happens to be 58% for each question.)

I. What is your title or what do you call yourself in your practice?

Career Counselor 58%
Career Coach
Career Consultant
Professional Clinical Counselor
Career Development Specialist and Professional

II. What is your education or background?

Master’s Degree 58%
PhD Counseling/Psychology
Licensed Professional Counselor
CDF Certification

III. Who are your clients?

Job seekers 58%
Career and Job changers
Students, Retirees, Entrepreneurs
Career Development Practitioners
Government institutions

IV. What services or products do you provide?

Most offered counseling, coaching, classes, and workshops for resumes, job search, career exploration, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Some career professionals show their expertise through writing, editing, and publishing books. Some work virtually at least part of the time and most work in person. Environments for work are as varied as the people they work with from private offices, phone, and Skype to coffee shops and businesses.

Despite all of the education and credentials possessed by career professionals, almost half of survey respondents (47%) are making less than $20,000 a year. Some may be retired or just starting out, but only 27% were earning more than $40,000 and almost half (47%) said they need more clients, products, or services to have a viable business.

What makes a private practice a viable business?

According to the IRS, “The term trade or business generally includes any activity carried on for the production of income from selling goods or performing services.” Generally, an activity qualifies as a business if it is carried on with the reasonable expectation of earning a profit. Does the passion for career work, a desire to help others, and expectation of profit motivate a career professional to stay in business longer than businesses in other professions that seem to fail in the first 2-5 years?

Here is a sampling of strategies career professionals are using to make viable or grow their private practice.

1. Get comfortable with social media.

Show clients how to stay safe, build a social reputation, do research, and find employers using social media. It is one of the quickest ways for career practitioners to stay current with employment trends. I’ve given presentations on my book to graduate career classes, and I am amazed at how few students use Linkedin or other social media sites related to business and employment. As career professionals, it is important to embrace the ever-changing world of technology.

2. Provide Virtual Coaching services.

Linda Crowder provides virtual coaching. For individuals or very small groups, she uses Skype or Google Hangouts. For larger video calls she uses www.anymeeting.com, and for conference calls with no video she uses www.freeconferencecall.com. Using technology she is able to provide services to more clients in less time.

3. Gain business savvy.

Many of us didn’t learn it in grad school and we sometimes keep adding credentials and experience without gaining confidence and skills in business. Creating a Personal Business Plan and then a formal business when hiring employees or applying for grants provides an opportunity for a businessperson to clarify their vision, state their goals, and create a plan. As career professionals we need to practice what we teach our clients.

4. Develop Partnerships.

Linda Crowder suggests identifying one or two people in nonprofit or government organizations that work with your target client population. Discuss with them what you do and how career development services can benefit their clients.

5. Create a referral network.

Mary Konow created a referral program with several key contacts throughout her area. Some shared her business cards, another shared her contact information at her presentations, and she also pays a small fee for referrals when needed.

6. Diversify your business.

A dual specialty and teaching provided business success for Beverly Baskin. Her degrees, license, and certifications in career and mental health counseling gave her the expertise she needed to grow her business.

7. Engage in contract work and leadership activities.

Sue Aiken coached employees of FDIC and TSA as part of the Career Development Alliance. She also chaired a graduate program, had a private practice and serves as Associate Editor for the Independent section of Career Convergence.

8. Share your expertise.

Through writing, social media, radio shows, presentations and interviews, you can share your expertize with career professionals and job seekers alike. Karen James Chopra was a regular guest commentator on a radio show, developed numerous videos on job search that are available online, is active on Twitter, served as online “Career Coach” for the Washington Post, has been interviewed by the Washingtonian and Quintessential Careers and she was a presenter at the 2012 Career Thought Leaders’ Conference. Karen will be presenting at this year's NCDA Global Career Development Conference in Denver, CO on July 2nd at 8:30 a.m.


What is your purpose for being in private practice?

Join the conversation at the presentation on “Celebrating the Business of an Independent Career Professional at the NCDA Global Career Development Conference in Denver June 30th. Share your business success and challenges in the article comments below and at the conference.



Baskin, B. (March 1, 2015). Best Practices For Career Counselors: The Advantage Of Having A Dual Specialty Private Practice. Career Convergence. Retrieved from http://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/103097/_self/layout_ccmsearch/false

Celebrating First Jobs Through Encore Careers. National Career Development Association Global Conference. June 30-July 2, 2015. Denver, Colorado. Retrieved from http://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sp/conference_agenda2

Chopra, K. J., Brand, P., & Carroll, M. Best Practices for Your Private Practice. National Career Development Association Global Conference. July 2, 2015. Denver, Colorado.

Creative LifeWork Success Plan: Your Personal Business Plan. Retrieved from http://lifeworkplan.weebly.com/success-plan.html

Crowder, L. (September 1, 2013). Beating the Odds: Building a Private Practice. Career Convergence. Retrieved from http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/79973/_self/layout_ccmsearch/false

FAQS About NCDA and NCDA Members. Retrieved from http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sp/govtrelations_ncdafaq

Konow, M. (May 1, 2015). Establishing a Business Referral Network: A New Revenue Approach for Career Counselors in Private. Career Convergence. Retrieved from http://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/105585/_PARENT/layout_details_cc/false

Survey For Independent Career Professionals Full or Part Time. Retrieved from https://www.surveymonkey.com/analyze/dtTrqEbM_2BpxIk_2BLbb0jHmTMk9eMJLVul_2BIjztBcI2jk_3D

"Trade or Business" Defined. Retrieved from http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Trade-or-Business--Defined



Nancy MillerNancy J. Miller, M.S. is a Career Counselor and Coach at Creative LifeWork Design. She is author of the books, Fire Up Your Profile For LifeWork Success and Vegetable Kids in the Garden. She is a Field Editor for Career Convergence web magazine, has written numerous professional articles, and gives presentations at conferences and community events. Nancy uses a holistic practical approach to coaching entrepreneurs, professionals, and writers to create business and career success in harmony with their values, lifestyle, and talents. Connect with Nancy at success@nancyjmiller.solutions, www.njmiller.weebly.com, and connect with her on Linkedin.

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Beverly Baskin   on Monday 06/01/2015 at 07:25 PM

Thank you for this article, Nancy. It shows that career counselors are as varied in their personal preferences and successes as the types of career clients they serve. It was extremely interesting information.

Susan Chritton   on Monday 06/01/2015 at 08:25 PM

Nancy - I was shocked that 47% of respondents make $20,000 or less. It is hard for us to be seen as professionals when we are not valued. I consider myself on par with attorneys and other professional services and feel we need to pay attention to valuing ourselves and valuing our profession. I know I value what I bring to the table and my business is thriving.
Susan Chritton - Master Career Counselor; Author-Personal Branding for Dummies

Nancy Miller   on Monday 06/01/2015 at 08:53 PM

Thank you for your comments. I too found the information very interesting. The survey was a small sample which was also interesting since I had a very broad reach through emails and social media to career professionals in private practice asking for participation in the survey. I appreciate all who responded. There seems to be career professionals at the high end of earnings who are very successful especially when using multimedia, technology, and social media as well as having strong networks and then many who are struggling.

I agree, Susan, that we need to elevate our profession. We have so much to offer. Career Convergence articles from private practitioners are welcome. We invite everyone to the NCDA Conference presentations on private practice. Let's share our experiences and knowledge to show what we can do as career professionals.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.