As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Ann Dine, MA, LMHC, LPC.
Priding herself on providing down to earth mental health therapy and relatable wellness, Rachel Ann Dine is a Licensed Professional Counselor in both Virginia and Florida and is a Registered Supervisor for Residents in Counseling.
Rachel Ann has been in the mental health field for 15 years and has worked in a variety of mental health settings from crisis hotline, inpatient long term residential and acute short-term psychiatric hospitals, military and family life counseling, emergency department providing mental health assessments, and has written educational courses on psychiatric disorders for hospital employees. She has been featured in national publications to include Thrive Global, Medium, and Bustle and is the author of a women’s wellness book, Live. Learn. Love. Real-talk tips for the woman who is ready to be her best self.
Currently, Rachel Ann is the owner of her group mental health private practice, Humanitas Counseling and Consulting, LLC in Chesapeake, Virginia where she specializes in helping high achieving and perfectionistic women manage anxiety and find more balance in life. Her passion for mental health also afforded her the opportunity to host Living Freely, a mental health podcast for her local city’s Public Libraries System, in addition to hosting her own mental health podcast, The Three L’s, available on all major streaming platforms.
Rachel Ann also owns an online business, The Three L’s Solution, LLC, where she offers wellness courses for personal growth, and business consulting for wellness entrepreneurs to assist them in creating their dream private practice or coaching business.
In her spare time, Rachel Ann is an artist who loves painting coastal and landscape pieces and you can most often find her spending time with her husband and dog, exercising, or enjoying time outside and at the beach.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Before I made the leap to business ownership, I worked in mental health agencies for almost 11 years. My personality type lends itself to being take charge and efficient and I was frustrated with some of the aspects of working for someone else. However, I took the decade of working in agencies to learn everything I could about owning a service-based business, what I liked, what I felt did not work, and knew I would eventually apply it to my own business one day. My own outlook on business ownership developed after I opened the doors to my mental health private practice in 2017. There was so much I did not know, I took it upon myself to learn the ins and outs of marketing effectively to my ideal client population, creating systemized approaches to the back-end of the business, and providing excellent customer service.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I’m a firm believer life naturally opens up opportunities, but we have to be ready and confident to take the leap and try something new. This very concept played out after I had relocated to a new area with my husband and continued working in the mental health agency setting for the first year. At the time, I was doing contract work and when my contract ended, I used my own discontentment with the agency I had been working for to research and create my own mental health private practice. Many people will simply let unhappiness or anxiety paralyze them, but I’ve learned to harness these emotions into helping me create a drive to push forward. Whether we realize it or not, negative emotions (i.e. unhappiness, anxiety, irritability) can be great change agents if we allow them to be. I look back and still view the process of having my contract end, being settled in a new area, and experiencing the “it’s now or never” experience as my A-Ha moment.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Laugh with life and you’ll always be joyful! I had started my practice, had everything set up and ready to go, and had booked my first client. I remember being so nervous about seeing my first client in my office that I accidentally took the wrong exit on the interstate and had to circle back to my office! Good thing I had left about an hour early for the first appointment despite my office only being about 8 minutes away from my home. I still arrived for that first appointment very early and just had to laugh at myself.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My vision was to create a mental health private practice that offered high quality clinical services (in all domains: customer service, counseling modalities, business practices) from a clinician who practiced excellent self-care and provided down to earth, straightforward therapeutic services. My belief is that in order to provide the highest level of care to others, we as service providers must practice our own excellent self-care in addition to engaging in our own personal growth. Ethical business practices were part of my vision as well, as my own personal value system includes being honest, hardworking, and setting healthy boundaries with others.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
First, I can speak for myself before I speak on my amazing team. I personally strive to provide a therapeutic experience that demonstrates high levels of care and expertise to any individual who I meet with. The seemingly “little things” also greatly matter to me. Arriving to appointments on time, ready to work, and being highly engaged with the individuals who I serve is of great importance to me. Time is our most precious commodity, and I’ve witnessed too many providers in the field who forget appointments, show up late, and or appear disheveled and these are pieces of providing service that diminish the experience.
Part of my brand is providing excellent customer service. Part of providing excellent customer service, to me, extends beyond the therapy room. I take time in my personal life to get enough rest, read the latest literature on mental health therapeutic modalities and topics, and engage in my own activities for wellness so I can be the best provider and business owner for my clients. In addition to this, the systems I have in place for billing, insurance verification, and all of the administrative work is fairly seamless because this part of business, in my opinion, is also a vitally important part of having a service based business — being organized so that the customer feels secure.
As for my team, I have only hired individuals who also share similar values because I want the experience at my practice, Humanitas Counseling, to be stellar. I’m constantly blown away and grateful that the two clinicians and my administrative assistant place such high levels of care in the work they each do!
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Early on in my business ownership, the principle or concept I constantly kept in my mind was “Failure is not an option”. When something felt difficult, I used the anxiety of the situation to plow through and propel me forward.
As the years have gone by and I’ve learned many ways to assist in safeguarding against failure which is shown through the consistent growth in my business, the guiding principle has changed. While the above is a consistent principle I live by, I now adhere to the principle of “Be proactive, not reactive”. It’s easy to let emotions take over when there is unpredictability and major change in your business. Consider 2020. Due to COVID, I had to make the change to fully telehealth when I have only ever been an in-person therapist. This meant notifying the hundred-plus people I serve clinically, getting my admin the necessary information, selecting our telehealth platform, converting the other clinician’s caseloads to fully online, and figuring out how managed care (insurance) was going to reimburse. This was not done without major stress, but as a business owner, you have to be proactive amidst the stress to be successful.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I’ve always been a person who has lived by the concept that 1. I’m going to jump in the deep end, then learn how to swim after, and 2. If you tell me I cannot do something, it’s going to make me want to do it more (a concept I’ve coined called being “healthily defiant”). My own drive is innate. It’s always been there from the time I was a child, really, but business ownership has shown me, fortunately, I don’t suffer from the malady of paralysis by analysis.
I think about when I first started my practice, business was very slow (no one knew about me!) but I knew there was some marketing code I had to crack to get clients coming in. This was a very difficult time for me. I didn’t have income coming in, my husband was out of town with work at the time for weeks, but I decided instead of wallowing, I was going to make networking and getting my practice name out there, my full-time job. The first 6–8 weeks my doors had opened, I attended networking events from morning until evening!
From meeting people in my community, they started asking me to speak at their events on mental health, or in networking, I can’t tell you how many times people would share they had a sister, or a son, or a wife who had been looking for a therapist and sure enough, the calls started rolling in. Therapy is so personal that if someone can meet you first, they are so much likely to call. Not to mention, to this day, despite so many different marketing attempts, word of mouth continues to be the most powerful.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
So much has changed since 2017 when I opened. I’ve been able to hire two clinicians, an admin assistant, and myself and my clinicians all have a waitlist of clients wanting to seek therapy from my practice. I’m looking to continue to expand my team sbut remain very intentional with who I want to hire. My values of good old fashioned hard work and staying on top of a potential issue before they become a problem have been key facilitators of positive customer service and success. My own immersion in my community mental health system allowed the local library system to learn about me and reach out — and I am currently the podcast host for their mental health initiative (their podcast, Living Freely) to provide mental health resources to our Hampton Roads community!
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Set healthy boundaries with clients, your business, and anything in your personal life that feels draining. In terms of boundaries in business, you have to establish a cut off time for work. There will always be something needing to be done in your business, a client who emails, etc., but it’s up to you to establish hours of availability and a time for your own rest.
- Have dedicated time for administrative work. At this point in my career and business ownership, I have one full day dedicated to administrative work. This has served me so well in staying on top of finances, marketing, and making sure I’m available to provide support to the team at my practice. If the back end of your business is messy, it will eventually catch up with you. Stay on top of your administrative needs whether this is website development, having appropriate forms in place, contracts, calling back others, running payroll, the list could go on and on!
- Time batch tasks. Tuesday is my current administrative day. In my calendar, I have a specific amount of time set for consistent tasks I need to attend to. Allot a specified amount of time to each task and put your nose to the grindstone. Set the phone aside, don’t take calls, and focus on completion of one task at a time. When you try to do three to five different tasks in an hour, it’s very easy to not complete all of them or feel scattered. My golden rule is one thing at a time if at all possible!
- Provide excellent customer service. Create a policy within your organization of how soon you respond to client inquiries and stick to it. If you don’t currently have someone answering your phones and you’re still covering them, provide alternative ways customers can reach out (i.e. email, website, a client portal where clients can self-schedule, etc.). Next, if you provide a service, be on time. It sounds so simplistic, but it’s still a problem for many service-based providers! Your clients are most likely taking time from work or their families to seek a service from you so be present and ready to engage at the time they have booked.
- Take excellent care of yourself and be ready to pivot. In my own clinical work, I have very much niched down and serve a very specific client population. If someone falls outside of my expertise, I have no qualms with referring them to a provider who could better serve them. This allows me to remain proficient in my own expertise and is part of providing beautiful customer service of helping the client get plugged in with a provider who specializes in what he/she needs. Setting boundaries around when you work also is part of caring for yourself. Practice the very skills you are encouraging clients to use.
- A quick bonus tip: Outsource, but only after you are profitable. I see so many entrepreneurs outsourcing tasks they could very well be doing themselves and in turn, putting themselves deeper into the hole of debt. In the day and age we live in, there are so many articles, easy to use systems that all but do a task for you, it’s just up to you to take the time to learn the system and research how to do something!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am so incredibly blessed to have a network of people in my life who believe in me. My main sources of support started with my mom and dad who have encouraged me since I was a little girl. They are such an influential part of my life in addition to my extremely supportive husband and my in laws who are absolutely my second set of parents.
The pivotal moment for me in my business ownership and start-up was honestly, speaking to my husband. In the initial stages of the development of my business, blogs were huge (created authority, web presence, etc.) and I told my husband I was thinking of writing one. Without even wavering, he was in full support and I remember him saying “Go for it!” After the blog, I went to him and said, I’m writing this blog because I want to start my own private practice. His response was the same.
So many exciting opportunities have opened up for me that I am incredibly grateful for and any project I embark on, I will tell my network of people, and their responses have stayed steadfast in the “go for it” mentality. I’m a firm believer that first, you have to believe in yourself and your capabilities, but secondly, it’s a strong, life changing forward-propelling experience when you have a supportive network of people around you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could start a movement, it would the dispersion of mental health curriculum at the high school level with mandatory classes prior to graduation so teenagers could receive life skills and emotional coping skills. With the presence of social media, I’ve seen major upticks in body dysmorphia, anxiety, and depression. Teens being in abusive romantic relationships is also a huge issue I see happen way too often and teens don’t have that knowledge on what constitutes emotional abuse.
To have a mandatory class on mental health concepts such as setting healthy boundaries, decreasing negative self-talk, time management, development of self-confidence, communication skills training, substance abuse awareness, and education on healthy relationships are all topics that in my opinion, have the potential to be powerful change agents for teens, especially if they were required in high school! I would absolutely love to create curriculum and provide a class nationally on mental wellness concepts for high schoolers to assist them in emotional development and personal growth.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram is the portal to reach me and get to know a bit more about my work! My handle is www.instagram.com/rachelanndinecounseling and from there you can find links to listen to my podcasts, The Three L’s and Living Freely (available on Apple, Spotify, Anchor + where ever you like to listen!) and find out more about my online wellness course and business mentorship programs through my online business, The Three L’s Solution (www.rachelanndine.com).