Guest Post By Brandy Walters, BBA, IBCLC
I run what I consider a successful yet part-time private lactation practice called In Home Lactation Specialists, LLC. That being said, I am currently working on hiring IBCLCs that do the same consulting I do to cover more service area. I adore my job and truly know that it is my calling in life. However, I am also called to be a Lutheran Pastor’s wife, soccer mom to three growing boys and woman of interest. As such, my private practice is part-time and thus my income is too.
I currently live in Troy, Michigan which is a middle class suburb 8 miles north of Detroit. I am one of about three IBCLCs who are in private practice in my surrounding area. My service area includes all of Oakland County and surrounding cities. I do not have an office. I visit every mother where she is most comfortable – in her own home. I would see more mothers if I did have a central office but I wouldn’t be doing my job well or in the way that I am marketing myself. I travel no further than 30 miles one way from my home. I can see 3-4 families in their homes in one day, a very busy crazy day. Before we moved here five years ago, I started my business in Fredericksburg, Virginia which is less populated. The demand was minimal for my job. I am not an RN, nor did I want to be one, and that was my first barrier to work in a hospital setting. I needed to find my niche. And in Troy, Michigan I did.
The following are things that I learned are necessary components of a successful private lactation practice:
Let me first start by saying: I am not able to serve as a mentor to anyone sitting for the IBCLC exam, wanting to start their own private practice, needing clinical hours, or be a shadow. The work I do is flexible for my family and the families I work with. I get weekly inquiries about what I do and how I do it and I tell everyone step one is to become IBCLC certified. So, step 1 is:
- Become IBCLC certified. Check out the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) – the actual international board that accredits lactation consultant and the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) for more information. See here for a detailed explanation by ILCA of what an IBCLC is.
- Charge a legitimate fee and stick to it. Research the area you live in and set a price. Talk to other IBCLCs already established in the area. Poll forums on line. You need to know what your mothers will be willing and able to pay. You put in a lot of time to be certified, you should charge for that knowledge and time. You are valuable. Decide if and what you should charge for a visit, an hour, travel time, follow-ups, emails and texts. You will
need to decide what works for you and the area you are serving. I charge by visit and my consults are usually no longer than 1.5 hours – babies and moms work hard when I am with them. And in private practice, you need clear boundaries to be a good support to mothers but not let every mom be all consuming to your mind and move into your family or off time.
- Read The Lactation Consultant in Private Practice: The ABCs of Getting Started by Linda J. Smith and get to work. The book may be dated but honestly, it is really really good stuff. READ IT. LEARN IT. Mine is folded, highlighted and used to its fullest. I pulled it out the other day to review a couple things.
- Make yourself known to the people who matter. I cannot stress enough how very important it is to get your name, business and what you do into the hands of those who refer you: PEDIATRICIANS and OB/GYNs! Everyone likes mail, the kind that shows up on paper in the form of a card or letter in the mailbox. Personalize your letter to everyone you want to know you. Then, walk into those offices like a pharmaceutical representative. Introduce yourself; bring flowers or goodies and plenty of business cards to leave behind.
- Business Basics. Of course, you need the business basics: your name, branding, website, social media, to establish an LLC, get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS, open a SEPARATE business checking account than your family’s and apply for your NPI. Order your business cards, postcards and marketing stuff. (I use VistaPrint). That is all business related and necessary. But don’t get hung up on it and don’t spend a lot of money on it. Get a scale, but not the best on the market. Women trust stepping on scales and then stepping on the scales with their babies in arms if they are worried about their baby’s weight. You do not need the $600 scale. Figure out how you will keep track of your clients. However, it doesn’t have to be electronic, an app or complicated. Find out what works for you and use it. I use Excel to keep track of how many clients I serve monthly and yearly, how much I charged, how many miles I drove and who referred them.
It is a whirlwind, I know and this is just the tip of the iceberg for the successful private practice. Stay tuned for more tips in part 2!
Are you a lactation specialist (of any kind) in private practice? Consider sharing your experience – tips, lessons learned, challenges, etc. in Galactablog’s “Words from the Wise” series. Contact us here or at firstname.lastname@example.org.