Five Questions to Design or Redefine Your Private Practice

By Marie Zimenoff and Ruth Pankratz

While there is not a recipe for building a successful private practice in the careers industry, there are, fortunately, many ways to build a practice that meets the needs of the practitioner and those they serve. A private practice is also a business. Considering business best practices is key to success for both parties. Whether you are just thinking about striking out on your own or looking to redefine your practice, the following are a few key questions to ask yourself to build a stronger foundation.

1. Who is my target audience?

Trying to serve too broad of an audience in any business is a recipe for failure (not to mention exhaustion). There are so many individuals who need career help and, as a counselor or coach, it will most likely be your nature to want to help them all! Resist the urge and get specific. What are the demographics of your ideal client – gender, age, geographic location? What industry do they work in? What are their most common needs or problems? Your marketing content and approach will be the most effective when you can define your target audience down to visualizing an individual customer, diving deep into their needs, and building your story to share how you address those needs.

2. Why would a client choose me?

It is no surprise that there are many career professionals offering services similar to yours. You are unique! No one else will have your experiences, your approach, or be you! Your challenge is to resist the urge to be generic and, as personal branding gurus William Arruda (2007) and Deb Dib would say, “flaunt your flaws.” Once you’ve decided on your target market, dig for your own answer to the powerful questions:

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Why are you passionate about that audience?
  • What about your experience or approach makes you uniquely qualified to serve this audience?

We ask our clients to be able to speak to why an employer should hire them in an interview, now it’s our turn!

3. What services should I offer and what should I charge?

Deciding the structure of your services and costs can take time and the answer to these questions will be revisited regularly. The key to success is considering your target audience, your approach, and your competitive landscape when making these decisions. In other words, don’t make these decisions in a vacuum! We all want to do something we are passionate about and be able to support our families. Stepping into that space – your unique definition of success – doesn’t happen by accident. If you know you want to work with a certain audience, do your research.

  • Who else is offering services in that space (geographic, industry, or audience specific)?
  • What are they charging?
  • What will you do that is different than what they offer?

By doing your research, not only do you give yourself a chance to stand out, you can determine a pricing model that reflects these differences … and, perhaps forge referral relationships!

4. How will I reach my target audience?

The tools you can use to reach your target audience seem to be growing daily. Should you be on Twitter? Facebook? Put an ad in the yellow pages? The answers to all these questions will go right back to your target audience. If your audience is not on Twitter, it will, most likely, be a waste of your time to be there – and time is money! There are no “free” marketing channels or efforts, so choose wisely. Be consistent in whatever you choose, stick to providing content that displays your unique value to your specific audience, and use your strengths (if you are a writer, write; if you love to speak, speak). Experiment, give your efforts time, and monitor the results by tracking where your favorite prospective clients come from.

5. How will I sell and manage my clients?

Yes, you will have to sell. Fear not, however, as the highest level of sales – becoming a trusted advisor – will actually come natural to you as a counselor or coach! Your challenge is to focus on the prospect, not the fact that you are nervous or need the sale, ask questions that provide insight, and have tactics for not giving away too much information during your consultation. Creating systems for emailing prospects, outlining expectations, and running your consultation will help this process be more effective. Practice telling someone your pricing structure and sounding like you know you are worth it. If you manage your client relationships well, your business will become highly based on referrals, making these sales conversations even more comfortable. Will you offer a regular newsletter to stay in touch with prospects and clients? How will you track progress and communicate with your current clients? Don’t get caught up in technology too quickly! Spending your days implementing a customer relationship management software (CRM) can be a few months or even years down the road.

As career counselors and coaches we know the importance of setting boundaries; being clear about the type of clients we want to help, what services we provide, and how we will manage our businesses can help us do this while still fulfilling the mission of our practice. If you would like to connect to other career industry business owners, join the conversation by following @CareerTL or joining the Career Thought Leaders group on LinkedIn.



Arruda, W., Dixson, K. (2007). Career distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.


Marie Zimenoff, M.Ed, NCC, MRW, CMCC, CELDC, is the CEO of Career Thought Leaders and Resume Writing Academy, and on a mission to change the world one career success story at a time. She develops content and training across multiple mediums to keep careerists and careers industry professionals ahead of trends. Using pioneering strengths-based coaching and marketing techniques, she consistently improves outcomes for job seekers, entrepreneurs, and organizations. Marie holds a master’s degree in counseling and career development and the industry’s top certifications in career coaching, leadership coaching, branding, and resume writing. She has served as president of The National Resume Writers’ Association and the Colorado Career Development Association. She is also sought out as a speaker on leadership topics for Rotary International across the Rocky Mountain region. She can be reached at marie@careerthoughtleaders.com, @workwithpurpose, www.linkedin.com/in/mariezimenoff/


Ruth Pankratz, MBA, NCRW, CRPW, is passionate about writing and helping clients reach their goals. She has 15 years of corporate marketing experience and has built successful writing and training businesses. Ruth is a dual certified résumé writer, has served for 5+ years as a board member for The National Résumé Writers’ Association, and is an active member of Career Thought Leaders and Professional Association of Résumé Writers. Ruth is a career industry leader and résumé / LinkedIn subject matter expert for professionals, workforce centers, higher education career centers, and career practitioners. She can be reached at Gabby Communications / Career Bridge Institute, 333 West Drake Road, Suite 11, Fort Collins, CO 80526

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Ellen Weaver Paquette   on Friday 09/02/2016 at 09:05 AM

Thank you for providing this structure, so helpful for new entrepreneurs!

Marie Zimenoff   on Friday 09/02/2016 at 12:26 PM

Thank you, Ellen! So glad you found it helpful.

Eric Hynes   on Monday 09/12/2016 at 09:27 PM

This was very helpful. My background is in recruiting but I have a desire to help job seekers create and design job search plans that will help focus their career aspirations. It's sometimes overwhelming to see all of the articles and information on this topic but I found this article to be easy to read and succinct. Thanks for sharing.

Marie Zimenoff   on Wednesday 09/14/2016 at 01:00 AM

Thank you, Eric! I am so glad it was helpful.

Lisa Park   on Sunday 09/25/2016 at 01:32 PM

Great points! As a person who tends to want to help everyone, your reminder about targeting a particular audience is appreciated.

Marie Zimenoff   on Wednesday 09/28/2016 at 01:25 AM

Yes, Lisa. That is definitely a challenge for those of us in the counseling/coaching profession. It is scary to think about turning business away because it doesn't fit for us, and very empowering when we get the clarity and courage to do so!

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.