Non-Profit Organization (NPO)

The Rhythm & Reason Blog has examined various business legal structures common for music therapy private practices: Sole Proprietorship, LLC, Corporation, and will now discuss Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs). These brief introductions are for educational purposes only and do not substitute for rigorous research and expert legal counsel.

NPOs are often associated with service and charity. Whereas the previously discussed business structures ultimately seek to increase profits or dividends, non-profits are dedicated to addressing community needs or advancing a social cause. After covering all costs of running the business, surplus revenues must be used to further advance their mission.

Every business can benefit from a well-crafted mission statement. Perhaps no other legal structure demands a more thoroughly investigated statement of purpose more than an NPO. If you aim to build a non-profit, you must pinpoint a need for your new organization, research whether there are any pre-existing organizations serving similar needs, plan how you will ensure start-up plus sustained operational funding, and whether a non-profit is truly the best legal structure for your situation. A non-profit has the best chances of success when board members are judiciously selected, volunteers are motivated to support, and additional resources and supports are utilized. This team should craft a detailed business plan, including marketing and fundraising strategies. You will need professional guidance, preferably from an attorney or accountant with prior experience helping non-profits, to best navigate all of the required paperwork.

Once your team is ready to move forward, you will need to incorporate at the state level, apply for tax-exempt status first with the IRS, file for tax exempt status next on the state and local level, and then submit all applicable annual reports. The IRS recognizes 29 different types of non-profits, but the most common NPOs are categorized under Section 501(c)(3): those whose purposes are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering amateur sports competition, or preventing cruelty to children or animals.

There are many decisions an aspiring business owner must make. Research, reflect, and seek counsel when selecting which business structure best fits your unique situation and vision. Whether working as a sole-proprietor, building an LLC, founding a corporation, or inspiring an NPO, remember that legal distinctions are just the beginning. Your business will only grow as big as you’re willing to go. Get out there! Live organized, be smart, work hard, study, meet important people, provide excellent service, keep effective records, develop lasting relationships, expand your network, advocate for music therapy, innovate, research, WORK, and flourish. Realizing your potential takes compassion, a willingness to ask for help, courage, commitment, and your own maturing combination of “intangibles.” Get out there and OWN IT!

Internal Revenue Service. (n.d.) Tax Information for Charities & Other Non-Profits. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits.

U.S. Small Business Administration. (n.d.). How to Start a Non-Profit. Retrieved from https://www.sba.gov/blogs/how-start-non-profit.

Wikipedia. (n.d.). 501(c) organization. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/501(c)_organization.

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Profile: Amy Kalas Buser, MM, MT-BC

Amy Kalas Buser founded Wholesome Harmonies, LLC in 2006 to, “provide high quality music therapy services to those in and around Miami, FL.” She brings extensive clinical, teaching, and writing experience to lead a large team of therapists and teachers. Amy uses all live music through a wide variety of instruments; she also composes (and publishes!) great original music for children with special needs. Presented below are a few insights Amy shared with the Rhythm & Reason Blog, but through Wholesome Harmonies’ website, she has already organized a TON of music therapy business and clinical practice resources. Check it out! Also, catch up on WH’s blog and follow Amy on Twitter!

Amy, what have you learned about clinical documentation, and are there any examples you would like to share?

 

Clinical documentation – I have learned the importance of creating professional documentation that can (and should!) be shared with the entire treatment team. Providing an integrated team approach has enormous benefits for the client. This approach ensures all team members are in communication about the client’s goals and progress.

How does this work? First, my intake paperwork contains a form entitled ‘Permission for Exchange of Information.’ Here the parent signs to give permission for me to contact the other professionals on the client’s treatment team. The parent then lists educators, physicians, SLPs, OTs, PTs, ABAs and psychologists that are working with their child and lists their contact information.

When I write up my Assessment Report and Treatment Plan, I send this to the professionals listed on the form. I also follow up with a personal email introducing myself to open the lines of communication. I share the goals I’m working on with the client in music therapy, as well as some of the techniques we’re using to address those goals. Then I invite them to share with me the goals they are working on in their sessions and see how I can incorporate those goals into my sessions, if applicable and within our scope of practice as music therapists.

I believe this integrated team approach opens the door for communication and a dialogue about the best way to approach treatment for this particular client. I’ve had some wonderful conversations where I’ve been able to share with an OT how I’ve been using the rhythm sticks to work on grasping and bilateral coordination with a client. Likewise, I’ve had a speech therapist share with me the target vocabulary words she was working on in her sessions with this client so I could incorporate them into my sessions as well.”

Advice regarding legal, financial, or other business related parts of private practice?

 

My advice is to seek professional advice from an attorney and accountant whenever possible. My accountant has saved me hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars by pointing out deductions I can take that I did not even realize. Not only has seeing an accountant helped save me money, it ensures my tax return is filled out accurately.

My second piece of advice is to not feel bad if you need to work another job as you’re building up your business. I worked a “9-5” music therapy job at an early intervention program and started seeing clients on the side, in the evenings and on weekends. Slowly, I built up my private practice caseload and slowly learned how to create the paperwork, documents, invoices, and everything else that comes along with running my own business. Then, when I had a big enough caseload built up, and I had subcontractors on my team, I was ready to go full time with my business. There is no shame in starting small and building slowly.”

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Profile: Kat Fulton! Part 2

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Kat, you are a huge inspiration for music therapists who are trying too build their online presence. Will you share any suggestions for the aspiring clinician?

 

“Building an online presence can be very time consuming, and it may not directly produce paying clients. Remember that your time should be focused on getting that first paying client! If you’re starting to work online, your minimum entry will be a Facebook page, and don’t even think about Twitter, Instagram, or whatever. And don’t be discouraged if you only have 36 ‘likes’! Businesses do great marketing by shaking hands, by being at this race for Autism, getting a booth at the race, by going to the charter school conference, by presenting for the charter school board of decision makers whoever they are! That’s how they get their work. So if online presence isn’t your thing, don’t get discouraged, just keep on keeping on. You’re doing fine just the way you are. And again, it has to do with looking for people you admire, not just within music therapy, who have a thriving company and learning how their clinic operates, or how they make it happen. Everybody does it differently! When you are opening a website and you have an area for a blog, but if you’re not fired up with the time and ability to write a bunch of great posts, I recommend you write at least three blog posts, then figure out how to hide the publication date.

“To take things a little deeper, in online marketing, there are different levels of engagement: There are a group of people who have never heard of your business, then there’s this group who have heard of you but aren’t engaging, there’s the people who like your social media page, who signed up for your e-mail list, and those who signed up for a free consultation – you can start to see these levels of engagement leading towards paying clients! Going through these levels can be a beautiful process for your audience. Keep guiding them forward. In your e-mail newsletters, include a link to your social media page. In your automation you invite them to join your newsletter to get the latest updates and whatever value you offer. Set up your levels so that’s it’s very clear to you where these people are and where you want them to go from there.

“There is a misconception that because we’re music therapists, we’re not good at business. ‘Oh, my skill set is only in therapy,” and, ‘Well, my empathetic therapist side thinks it’s okay to charge $15 an hour for my services.” But what I love to do is to turn that on its head. Because of your therapeutic skills, you actually are a better business owner. Period. When you’re starting out, the fewer levels you have, the better, the easier to understand and manage. You have to think about sustainability. You don’t want to burn out, and you want to be more effective. Collect data and figure out what’s really working. How can I do more of what is working, and less of what isn’t working? If you’re feeling overwhelmed or inadequate, then that is a strong indicator sign that you need to stop, write out all of the things that you have to do, and cross off any of those things that you have found simply do not work. There’s a principle where we probably spend 20% of our time working on 80% of the stuff in our lives, whereas the other 80% of the time is probably just goofing around, which, if that’s what you need, is okay!”

What are the intangibles that made you a successful business owner, and how have you, as a business owner, changed over the last ten years?

 

“I am a changed person! One thing that I have really honed in on is recognizing the value of my time, and then making decisions around time allocation. I used to spend so much wasted time doing stuff that I didn’t know didn’t work until I tried it, and then I realized that I was running experiments! I used to spend long days driving from session to session, six or seven sessions a day, and filling all these post-it notes front and back with ideas about how to better market myself. I would call my aunt, hyperventilating, and she would say, ‘Just take a deep breath, type them everything out on the computer, then turn off your computer and go to sleep!’ I did that and it kind of calmed me down, but now I can take it a step further. It doesn’t work for everyone, but now when I write out those long lists of things to do, I go through and start deleting almost all of it until there’s maybe two things left that I actually, really need to do. My time allocation has changed dramatically by this point. I even have a list of things I should stop doing.

“I’ve learned a lot about relationships. I never knew that I had this fiery passion. Music therapy is the future of healthcare, and I truly believe that from the bottom of my soul. Before I went to grad school and discovered this passion, I was a shy person, and though I still see myself as an introverted, shy person, when I’m talking about music therapy, I’m ready to go! I’m a totally different person! I think in my work relationships I can even be too intense, so I’ve learned to hire a middleman. Dawn is my director of operations, and she helps me filter stuff out, tone stuff down. I’ve learned how to maintain and sustain healthy relationships not just within my team, but with my colleagues, community partners, and everyone else.

“Another thing that’s changed is the way I speak about music therapy. I’ve learned to put myself in another person’s position, to ask them more questions about who they are, what they do, what they need, and just immediately fit music therapy into their life. It doesn’t always work, maybe I can’t always fit it in, but I can still build rapport and trust because I genuinely care about them. I’ve been able to know them better, I’m able to hear their story. We’re always learning new things, so something else that I’m always playing around with is how to always be a student, while still being a leader and an expert. We need to be able to be vulnerable. If you don’t know something, it’s okay to let someone know that you don’t know that. At the same time though, if you don’t have an answer for a question about music therapy, you can say, ‘I don’t know the answer to that question, but I can let you know within three days!’ Because – man! – there are so many resources available in our field!”

As practices grow, they can keep branching out and providing new series or products. What are some of the coolest things that you or other successful music therapy business owners have done?

 

This is the great thing about having a business – there is no ceiling and there is no end to the possibilities! MusicTherapyEd.com has really turned into a great success; we inspire people to take action to do the best they can to improve their practice. People have also written books, there’s a radio show, in the ‘expert world’ people will provide their own live events outside of conferences, such as retreats, they’ve offered consulting, online mentoring, and people do incredible advocacy for the profession!”

Kat, thank you so much for your time and insight! What are some of the great things we will find if we jump over to MusicTherapyEd.com?

 

“We have a lot of opportunities for professional growth at MusicTherapyEd.com; we have a free CMTE course on professional success, and we also have all sorts of freebies. For the month of April, Autism Awareness month, we’re going to knock your socks off, you’re going to love it, it’s going to be all about presuming confidence, what that means and strategies to help you. It’s going to be about sensory processing, and connecting you with all these wonderful resources and experts in our field. In May, we’re going to release this really awesome guide that will help the parents in your life get music therapy in their IEP. Make sure you sign-up for the Tuesday Shout-Out, which is at http://www.musictherapyed.com/sign-up/. We have more than 4,000 music therapists who have opted in to receive the shout-out in their e-mail inbox every Tuesday. More than 4,000! And finally, check out our YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/MusicTherapyEd. You could spend a good afternoon checking out all of our videos, and we’ll be adding a lot more about Autism topics soon. Thank you!”

Read the first half of our interview with Kat Fulton here!

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Profile: Kat Fulton! Part 1

Kat, what do you wish you knew when you were first starting your clinical business Sound Health? What are some of the best resources? What advice would you give?

 

“To give you a bit of a candid answer, I’m a bit of a person who tends to have anxiety. So when I was starting my private practice, I was so overwhelmed trying to figure out what to record and how to do it, what I “should” do to be a business, and everything. Months and months later someone told me something I wish I learned earlier: The single most important thing to focus on is getting your first paying client, and then to multiply it from there. All of the details about bookkeeping, filing your taxes, setting up systems, developing a website… those can come later! It’s okay that they’re not in place before you begin. If you don’t have revenue coming in, then it’s just a hobby, not a business. You have your revenue goals, such as how much you need to live off of, but only your real work will bring any financial results. As you continue, or especially before filing taxes, you’ll want an accountant who can help you set up bookkeeping software, and I highly recommend you find a good accountant, it is so worth it to avoid the extra work, uncertainty, and headaches. Ask your accountant to help you figure out your system so that you can work smarter instead of spinning around in circles – just go the experts. You’re going to get so many other opinions and resources while saving yourself so much valuable time by just reaching out to the experts. You need to be very resourceful. Being resourceful and reaching out for available resources is part of what makes someone successful. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help! If there’s someone you look up to and admire, ask them for help! The worst that can happen is that they’re too busy and may have to say no, but who cares? Big deal! A lot of people will be there to help.

“There are so many good resources, and which resources you need depends on what kind of business you want to build! Our values in our company have to do with self-care and leadership, so that’s what I build everything around. That’s what I make every decision for the business based upon. So if you can find a mentor who shares similar values, then ask if they help you along. MusicTherapyBusiness.com is a program that I run on an annual basis; it’s called the 90-day activator and it’s really to help you get jumpstarted. It includes templates for contracts, checklists, and sorts of different things to help you with your private practice. I love the work of Rachel Rambach, just Google her because she has a couple of amazing websites, but rachelrambach.com is a good start. Jamie George might offer mentorship; I really admire her work, she’s just on fire. If you want billing to be part of your map for what you’re creating, then go to her and ask her for help. I would get to know different practices and find out what their values are, and find a mentor for supervision – which could count for CMTE credit hours, called “unapproved” CMTE hours, but you figure out how to make those supervision hours count. A final resource I want to bring up is the Therapy Business Blueprint by Kimberly Sena-Moore; It’s a nuts and bolts checklist and outline that is really helpful. It’s really well structured with all of this information about starting and growing your business. But… don’t forget to get those paying clients first!”

What are some of the most important to spend your money on when you’re first starting out?

 

“Most music therapy and other healthcare practices bootstrap; they’re not seeking outside investors, but investing their own capitol into the business. When I started out I had to sub-contract for other agencies on the side of building my own business for the first 2 or 3 years. I think by the end of year 3 I only worked 2 hours a month and the rest was directly through my own business by then. So if I had to do it all over again, I would probably do it the same way: Buy the minimum level of equipment that you’ll need. I focused my purchases on what I need for Alzheimer’s groups. I knew that I needed some sort of rattles for each individual in the group to hold on to. I wanted to work up my drum equipment, but I never got there until just a couple of years ago. I would drive up to REMO every other weekend where they have a warehouse full of used drums. I would scope out as many deals as I possibly could. There are people who buy things and then realize they don’t want them, which you can find on a closed Facebook group called Music Therapy – Buy, Sell, Trade. You can also keep your eye on Craig’s List and different places. Spend your money on an accountant and on equipment. Otherwise, you gotta spend money on gas and basic requirements. And there are marketing aspects you can spend money on, such as brochures, business cards, and and the list goes on, but you can get a lot of that very inexpensively by going to the internet! But remember that all of this is directed towards generating real clients. The direct way to generate revenue is actually connecting with people, giving presentations, offering your services, and literally saying, ‘I am looking to build my practice right now,’ and telling everybody you know that you are in this space of growth, and that they can help. ‘Oh you love my services over at this place? Great! So tell me, are you a member of a group where I can give a presentation for people who are like you?’ That’s gotta be your focus!”

How do you market yourself and your business?

 

“So I like the direction of this, because first you asked about resources, and now you’re asking about time. Time is your most valuable resource. Time might even be more valuable than money at the point of starting your business. The way you spend your time is important and valuable. What I have found to be the most successful way to market myself is by word-of-mouth. When I hear someone say, ‘Kat! Your session, it’s not even close to entertainers! There’s an obvious difference.’ And they’re regurgitating all of the education I’ve provided them. If I notice that they’re regurgitating the education I’ve given them, then I tell them how I appreciate that they’ve noticed and say, ‘I’m curious, since you’re in this position, maybe you have a family member or know any other families who may benefit form a service like this, or are you a member of any support group outside the setting I normally see you in?’ Offer yourself. Do presentations. Get in front of a group of decision makers, and make sure they make some decision before the end of your presentation. There’s gotta be a flow to your presentation. Be strategic and be smart. By the end of your presentation, you want to make sure everyone knows, ‘I’m building my private practice now!’ Maybe you give a little marketing freebie out or something, but also pass around your calendar and have them sign up for free 30-minute consultation within the next two weeks. There’s only so much you can cover in a group, so make sure they know that you want to meet again to dig in and get to know them and their situation on an individual basis, you want to help meet their individual needs. Whenever you have the opportunity to get in front of a group, you want to wow them, provide them with the neuroscience and research behind music therapy, engage them in something experiential and share real experiences, and get them excited – you have to have contagious excitement coming with you wherever you go, and it’s easy for us to do that because music therapy is our passion, our life calling. Word-of-mouth is an active process of selling music therapy. When you start out, you want to do events whenever you can, but over time you might eventual start weeding out which to do as you start learning which opportunities will turn into the most real clients. Collect data! How many people or what percentage from which presentations actually led to consultations? And then how many turned into paying clients?”

How has ethics played a role your work?

 

Ethics pertains to the relationships within your work. So, ethics pertains to the relationships you have with your clients, your relationships with colleagues, and the relationship you have with the general public. When you’re considering ethical decision making, I highly recommend Cheryl Dileo’s book, which goes through this ten-step process of ethical decision making. Of course, we have a couple courses on MusictherapyEd.com too, which are really helpful: cultural ethics, and then a course on web ethics. Ethics plays a part in every aspect of your business. Don’t discriminate if a client can’t pay; If you cannot financially take them, you can make the ethical decision to refer that client to a different agency or organization. Instead of shutting them out, of course you always want to refer them to services that they do have access to! Depending on your state, there’s probably some health and human services available to help that sort of individual. Give them additional resources and point them in the right direction. It’s very important to maintain healthy relationships with your colleagues. Sometimes a colleague turns into a direct competitor, and maybe they’re in the same area, and maybe even serving the same population! There are a lot of examples of how music therapists in this situation maintain very healthy relationships. You don’t want to solicit places who already have music therapy services, so if you can build relationships with other music therapists and learn where they’re already working, you can cross those places off of your list and then discover everywhere else where you can reach out to!”

Continue reading our interview here!

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Shout-Out! The Music Therapy Round Table

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Shout-Out! to the Music Therapy Round Table. Thank you Michelle Erfurt, Matt Logan, Kimberly Sena Moore, and Rachel Rambach for your great insights and delightful discussions. With over 75 podcasts on a great variety of important and interesting topics, your passion and dedication continues to produce some awesome listening material. Check out these easy-to-listen podcast episodes covering music therapy advocacy, grant writing, private practice, clinical work, internships, musicianship, interviews, and so much more.

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Tracking Mileage

There are several great mileage apps for your smart phone. If you’d prefer to track your mileage on paper, here is a basic template free for your to download and customize:

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Corporation

This brief introduction is for educational purposes only. For those considering incorporation, please seek legal and financial counsel. You dreams are stronger with a well-crafted team.

Unlike a sole-proprietorship or LLC, a corporation is an independent legal entity. The corporation is separate from, and owned by, its shareholders. The corporation itself is held legally responsible for all business actions and debts. Business stock can be sold to attract financial investors or offered to entice premier employees. If you are just starting out or planning on a very small business, corporations may be too complex and expensive for your needs. This business structure is best for larger, well established practices with more employees.

State laws will vary and you should seek legal help when forming a corporation. You should consult legal and financial professionals before making any large decisions. However, to understand the general process, incorporation requires registration of your business name, filing of required documents, and obtaining licenses or permits as needed.

Before building your brand, think and research business names. Most states will require you to include one of the following terms: Co., Company, Corp., Corporation, Inc., Incorporated, Limited, or Ltd. For more information on selecting a business name or fictitious name (DBA), see R&R’s text from earlier posts in this serial.

Before incorporating, the initial owners will appoint directors. Directors must make policy and financial decisions. Owners often appoint themselves to be the directors, but may select people who are not owners. A corporation will also appoint officers; there should be a president and a secretary, but any other positions may be developed as well.

You must file Articles of Incorporation (sometimes referred to as the Certificate of Incorporation, Certification of Formation, or Charter). Your Articles may be short and simple, which will provide your more flexibility, but they may also be more elaborate to enumerate various powers and functions. You will need to state your business name, principle office and mailing address, the number of shares (and designations of different classes of stock if actually applicable), and the name and address of the Registered Agent. Single-owner corporations can be completed by a single person, but co-owned ones will need to be signed by all owners. Every state will be a little different, and may require additional information. Depending on state fees, filing your Articles may cost several hundred dollars. Some states may require additional fees or documents.

An organization should develop bylaws in order to govern how the corporation and those involved within it will operate. Once directors have been appointed, Articles have been filed, and bylaws have been written, an initial board meeting will be held. Shareholders must meet at least once per year and record minutes. The first meeting should address company finances, adoption of bylaws, issuances of stock, and more. The directors may also decide if their “C” Corporation will instead elect for “S” Corporation status.

With ordinary C Corporations, the business itself is responsible for taxes on business profits and owners responsible for income taxes on what they received in personal salary, bonuses, and/or dividends. An S Corporation is taxed more like a sole-proprietorship, partnership, or LLC; business profits pass through to the personal tax returns of the owners. S Corps have stricter requirements than LLCs, but offer tax benefits as your revenue increases. Whereas members of an LLC must pay self-employment tax on all business income, S Corps must pay reasonable salaries and deduct payroll expenses such as Social Security and Medicare taxes, but can split any additional profits as dividends among the owners at a lower tax rate.

Start researching how to prepare for employees by visiting https://www.sba.gov/content/hire-your-first-employee. In brief, you will need an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS, worker’s compensation, employee eligibility verification, records of employment taxes withheld, and more.

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Profile: Jamie George, LPMT, MT-BC

Jamie George, LPMT, MT-BC is the owner and director of the George Center for Music Therapy, Inc. in Atlanta, GA. Since she founded the George Center in 2010, the business has grown to employ 10 board certified music therapists, plus a billing manager, an office manager, and a university-affiliated intern.

 

Jamie, what are your first thoughts on running a private practice?

 

Not for the faint of heart. Best decision I ever made. There are tons of perks to starting and running your own business; People say, “Oh, I can make my own schedule, I can choose the clients I work with,” and all these things sound really great, but at the end of the day, making your own schedule means that while you can go grocery shopping at 2:00 on Thursday, you’re also in QuickBooks on a Sunday until 3:00 in the morning. To build a successful business, you will work eight days a week. Being a business owner is truly a great responsibility. Perhaps too many people go into private practice thinking it will be flexible and you’ll get to be your own boss, when really, everyone is your boss – every client is your boss, every employee is your boss, and you are your own boss, because if you’re like me, you’re tougher on yourself than anyone else. I feel a great responsibility to my employees, and I want to support them as much as possible. I treat them well for being on my team; they make this business look better.”

 

How can beginning business owners pay rent when we’re first starting out? What can we do to bring in enough money while we’re still working to build up our clinical caseload?

 

“Well first of all, I think it’s a mentality. You need to be hungry. Nothing’s just going to fall into your lap. No one is going to knock on your door and ask you to be a music therapist. When I started, I had a part-time contract in the public school system, and I also was consulting and contracting with a private school; It was my first music therapy contract, so I was doing music therapy groups there, but they when they first asked me to look into their QuickBooks and see what was going on, I found that they had lost over $400,000! So they asked, ‘Can we hire you to fix our QuickBooks and get us up and running?’ That first year that I had my own practice, I was still working part-time in the school system and working at this private school, because I didn’t want to go into debt while building the business. It was important to me to build my business the right way. You’ve got to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk to sell music therapy, and to sell yourself! Making a website and a blog is not enough. You’ve got to be hungrier for it. You literally have to pound the streets, network, and meet as many people as you can.”

 

What are some of the most important things to spend money on when you’re first starting a music therapy business?

 

“My investment up front was nothing: I had my car, my own instruments, and I was just going to facilities and doing home visits. I really think my biggest investment in the beginning was time. Time spent going to special needs events, meeting parents, talking to administrators, getting meetings, and more, because that’s the biggest investment. Time, energy, and hunger are things you should be spending your currency on, not necessarily your money. If you’re planning on having employees and a team, start investing in instrument early. A) They’ll break, and B) when your practice begins to grow, you might someday have four groups running at the same time, and you will run out of sticks and shakers real fast! Also, liability insurance is worth it. We live in a litigious country and culture, and you need to protect yourself and your employees.

“What you spend money on also depends on your long-term business structure. The whole reason I started the George Center was to have a place where music therapists earn a livable wage, have a place to work as a team, feel supported and be able to bounce ideas off of and be creative with each other, and won’t need to work out of their cars driving 50,000 miles a year. I wanted a place where music therapists feel appreciated, and so I knew my long-term business plan would have employees, not independent contractors. I wanted a big team approach to music therapy. As I’ve grown, I’ve spent my money on my employees. My employees make more money than I do. You have to respect them, you have to appreciate them. That’s what keeps them doing what they do, which keeps me in business, which makes my clients happy!”

 

Can you share any advice for the paperwork side of running a business?

 

“Get a mileage app. Everyone has a smartphone these days. There is also an awesome app called Dragon Dictation, and there is a version for medical so it’s HIPPA compliant. It’s awesome. Progress notes are the bane of my existence, but now after a session, I get my phone, open the app, click the dictation button – and the more I do the better it works – then I just say, ’It’s this client, I saw him this day from this time to this time, he did this and didn’t do that, he got three prompts on this, we worked on that,’ and so on. I click send and it sends the note to my e-mail. That night, or the next week, or whenever, I open my e-mail, make a few edits, and simply copy and paste it into my progress note documents.

“Moving on to intake paperwork, make sure you have a financial agreement. It doesn’t matter if it’s a facility, a corporation, or an individual client. I highly suggest that if you bill with insurance that the intake start with, ‘Our relationship is not with your insurance company; it is with you,’ making it clear what you promise to do on your end financially, and what exactly the client’s responsibility will be. Not just a signature at the bottom, but sign each individual statement. If there is any issue with reimbursement, the client is ultimately responsible for paying for services. Long story short, financial agreements are really important. With your intake paperwork I would try to be as well-rounded as you can. The more you know before the client even walks through the door for an initial assessment, the better it’s going to be, and the better you can tailor your communication. Remember that music therapy is often family based; We’re not just treating the kid, we’re treating the family, especially those with a newly diagnosed kid. Communication with the whole family is so important. What are their expectations of music therapy, what do you expect of them, what’s going on at home, what are their immediate needs, and so on. Long-term, of course we’re going to work developmentally, but sometimes we need to get the parent to a place where they’re able to support their child, and if they’re losing their mind, we’re not there yet. We ask a lot of history questions, questions about behavior, favorite songs, and motivations, and what happens if their child is upset. Ask family-centered questions whether it’s children or even adults that you’re taking care of. It still affects the whole family.

“Next, I think assessments are the single most important thing and should take the most time, be the most detailed, and be the most well-rounded of any of your paperwork. If the assessment is done well, then it’s easy to write your goals. It’s easy to communicate value to the parent or caregiver.

As for treatment plans and progress notes? We all make it way too hard on ourselves. Our progress notes fit on a single page for a whole month. Part of that is because we bill insurance, and though we learn SOAP notes and DAR notes in school, the insurance companies don’t care. If that sort of documentation helps you as a therapist, then that’s great, but no insurance company is going to sit and read a page of subjective, objective, and so on. We have a treatment plan with our long-term goals at the top and our SMART objectives on the left hand side, then we have small boxes that we can type into saying, ‘Objective met 3 out of 5 trials.’ If you want to make a subjective statement, such as, ‘Client fell asleep during session,’ or ‘Client started new seizure medicine and was drowsy,’ you can write it in an area for comments. But we’re really just focused on marking if the objective was met, how it was met, and how many times. I created our current document based on the documentation my OT, speech, and PT friends shared with me, because I wanted to match what they were submitting to insurance companies. I melded them together and adapted them to music therapy in order to sort of look the same.”

 

What are the intangibles a music therapist private practitioner should have in order to succeed?

 

Hunger. Drive. Ambition. Empathy. And a true, true motivation for the betterment of our profession. We are in a position as private practitioners where the whole world is our oyster. Our advocacy reach is not limited to a single facility or population. We can truly grow our profession to the same size as OT, ST, PT, or any other allied health profession, and I think it’s up to us to do that. We get to go into tons of different facilities, corporations, schools, non-profits, families, and more. I really believe that our image and our success as a profession depends more on private practitioners in this country than anyone else. While the work of our researchers and our writers is very important – and that helps us earn funding! – it’s the private practitioners that are out there working it, who are able to sell music therapy in a clear way such that people can understand the work that we’re doing and will get behind it in an ambitious, motivated way.”

 

How did you choose your business name?

 

“Atlanta is a great place to own a business because music therapy is known here, and it’s huge. Fulton County schools has the largest music therapy department in a school system in the country. Music therapy really is a household name. There are 12 private practices in the Metro Atlanta area. With 12 private practices and 12 names, there already are a couple practices that use the city of Atlanta in their name. A very popular name for practices across the country is, “Music Therapy Services of…. different areas,” but I wanted something that would stand out. Something that could be shortened without being too MT specific, because we also have some art therapy here, we have performing arts groups here, we do kindermusik, a mom’s fit group, and more.”

 

How did you choose your business structure?

 

“I knew long-term it wasn’t going to just be me. An LLC was out to begin with because my business plan and business goals were much bigger than that. I’m an S-Corp, and I like the pass-through taxation of an S-Corp. Also, here in Georgia, and some other states that may be similar, there are tax benefits as a corporation. For instance, we have something called the GaSSO Scholarship (http://www.georgiasso.us/), where every year I can give money to the state and I can say which private school I want it to go to, and I can even say which student I want it to go to, so if it’s one of our clients, it’s mutually beneficial when I donate because I get it back next year, plus a credit on my federal taxes.”

 

What is your perspective on music therapy?

 

“My short answer is that there’s room for all philosophies, and I don’t necessarily treat by just one, and certainly my team doesn’t. I get hung up with these people that are ONLY Nordoff-Robbins, or ONLY NMT, or ONLY Guided Imagery. We do patient-centered work, so the philosophy should be patient-centered, and treatment should depend on what their individual needs are at the time. I am a NMT and I absolutely use NMT techniques and methods in my sessions. I also live in the southeast and we have a very behavioral approach; Having worked with a lot of kids in need of some behavioral interventions, I use music as a contingent reward as well. I absolutely improvise in sessions, but all of that depends on the client! I’ve got a client that started when he was very little. He moved from music therapy sessions, to him becoming innately musical to the point of being a savant. He is now 16 and is a much better musician than I am, but we can still work on non-verbal communication, interaction, and these non-musical goals. I’ve also got some severe-profound clients who are not going to participate in the same way, so I use a much more sensory approach with them, dealing more in imagery and auditory stimulation. There’s room for all philosophies. I’ve got a lot of people on staff and they all use different approaches, and with different personalities, too. In addition to being client-centered, you have to find what fits your personality and what serves your work best. It’s best to match clients with the right therapist.

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Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Your Limited Liability Company (LLC) will be a legal “step-up” from a sole-proprietorship. An LLC  provides protection of personal assets similar to a corporation, yet the one or more “members” or “owners” still possess total operational flexibility and enjoy pass-through tax efficiency.

To form an LLC is pretty easy. Legal professionals can help guide or even complete the process for you, but personal initiative and thorough research can save you money. The U.S. Small Business Administration website, and others such as Nolo.com or How to Start an LLC are great online resources. For the record, this serial will help you get started, but can not substitute for independent research and consultation of a legal professional.

Details will vary widely from state to state, but the LLC formation process is conceptually the same everywhere: Register a name, file some paperwork, pay some money, check for any state-specific requirements, and prepare for annual fees and taxes.

First, make sure your business name is available (Look it up here!). If your name is unique, does not include state-restricted terms such as “bank” or “insurance” (which are organizations usually prohibited from filing as LLCs), but does include the term “LLC” or some variant, then you’re ready to file!

File the formal paperwork, often called the Articles of Organization, and pay any associated filing fee (around $100, but can vary widely by state). You will need to appoint a Registered Agent, which for most music therapy private practices will be you! An RA is the person designated to send and receive papers, such as the annual fees required to keep your LLC active. Your Articles will include basic information about your business, the RA, any additional members if applicable, and the desired effective date of LLC. (Note that this information is made public, so expect some spam mail, and navigate all LLC responsibilities and correspondences with prudence.)

Most states do not require you to develop an LLC Operating Agreement, but California, Delaware, Maine (if more than one member), Missouri, Nebraska, and New York currently do. Regardless of legal necessity, people going into business together should write an operating agreement to discern rights and responsibilities. Further, you are not required to develop a business plan, but a carefully crafted, objective road map to pinpoint short-term action steps and guide the business towards larger, long-term milestones can be a tremendous asset.

What next? Obtain all required licenses or permits, if applicable. Beyond the MT-BC credential (and state licensure or registry if applicable), you may or may not need anything else – do your research here. You may also (but probably not) be required to publish your intent to form an LLC; this is an outdated practice, and other than New York, I’m not sure which states still uphold this step. If needed, newspapers will be happy to take your money to publish your statement of intent to incorporate.

You may want to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if you’re going to open a dedicated business bank account, host multiple members, or hire employees. An EIN is easy to apply for, free, and assigned quickly. Apply here.

Voila! You’re a business owner! Now that you have filed a little paperwork and spent some of your start-up cash, it’s time to actually serve your community, keep organized records, file taxes on schedule, and grow! To maintain your LLC you will have to file an annual report, which means paying the state another fee every year. I also encourage you to set aside at least 20% of your monthly income to prepare for taxes. Study your state tax obligations here. As your business earns more revenue, you may save money by electing for your LLC to be taxed as an S Corporation. Treated as a corp will mean a little more paperwork, but after paying yourself a reasonable salary, surplus income can be distributed through dividends to reduce the amount subject to self-employment tax. 

The internet and bookstores are full of incredible resources, your familial and social networks may be better guides than you expect, and legal professionals are always available. As you study accounting, learn which expenses are deductible, improve your clinical prowess, boost your business acumen, etc., you will become a stronger clinician, a bolder entrepreneur, and a proud business owner.

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