Sue Pressman, ACA’s 69th president

“Everybody has a calling. And your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is, who you were meant to be, and to begin to honor that in the best way possible for yourself.” Oprah Winfrey

As a counseling professional, have you ever thought about starting your own business?

When I decided to launch my business, many years of experience — in education, career counseling, teaching and training, in university, government and corporate settings — helped me prioritize choices and make decisions. I developed transferable skills such as how to read a request for proposal, write a proposal, review and understand a contract/task agreement, build business relationships and negotiate. Those transferrable skills became the drivers that turned into actions and set my business in motion. My business grew from a counseling practice to include training, curriculum design and organizational studies using quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.

Today, the impact of COVID-19 is affecting how we work and how we will conduct business in the future. The age of digitization has changed the means by which we provide services. Providing these services requires creativity, determination, planning, the development of new skills and the use of different technologies (e.g., search engine optimization, online learning, accessible and purposeful websites). In other words, the new normal.

Get started and grow into the future. Balancing your needs and requirements is different for everyone. When I decided to launch my business, I kept a part-time job so that I could still depend on steady income. This created multiple income streams and provided me with the flexibility to volunteer, network and write proposals. The business grew and became sustainable.

Moving beyond the dream requires a plan and a structure. These will be your guiding lights. In the United States, there are several business structures and certifications available to you. Here are three: sole proprietorship, limited liability company (LLC) and incorporated business (Inc.). Your business goals and objectives will be your starting point to deciding which is right for you. If you are uncertain about what structure might work best for you, I strongly recommend consulting with a certified public accountant and your state’s corporation commission.

Establish your brand. Branding provides an identity and becomes an integral part of your business capabilities statement. Know your niche! What distinguishes you?

When I see ACA’s logo, I can easily identify the “C” — representing counseling — that is encompassed in the blue circle against the white background. This tells me a story without words.

Be consistent with all of your marketing materials. Your logo and graphics should be easily recognized on all of your communications and marketing materials (website, social media, brochures, emails and so on).

Communicate your services with passion. Aligning your personal values and passion with your business vision and mission will help guide your practice. As counselors, we understand that open and honest communication with our “clients” builds trust. The same is true in business with your “customers.” This will help establish your reputation, which is essential to success.

Build your legacy. Building a business and your legacy begins with a vision — or starting with the end in mind. What is it that you want people to remember about you and your business?

You will need a network of people and resources, including family, friends and colleagues, to build your legacy. In addition, you must know your referral sources: people who love your work. It is also useful to volunteer or to take on leadership roles. Identify professional associations, organizations and agencies that you can participate in or otherwise benefit with your skills.

The easiest business to get is “legacy business” or “repeat business” as a result of your clients’ and customers’ success.

“You have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world.” — Oprah Winfrey