LaToya is a professional counsellor, full-time mother and a certified Slay babe! Having worked alongside teachers in education for over a decade, she developed an interest in counselling and underwent the comprehensive training needed to become fully qualified. She always wanted to launch her own private practice but it was after the birth of her son that she took the plunge and went into business. In our interview, LaToya shares her journey into entrepreneurial-ism, the pros and cons of offering her services online, how she balances motherhood and growing her business and how she maintains a healthy work life balance....
On your website which is fabulous by the way, you describe yourself as being a qualified integrative counsellor in South London and a reflective practice facilitator. For those who don't know, what form of counsellor is this and what are the common practices of this style of counselling?
The counselling I practice is Integrative, that means that we were taught different approaches and with those different approaches I can tailor different types of counselling I can provide, depending on their needs and what they are discussing. Also, I like to incorporate an element of systemic approach, and that means seeing the person as a whole within their environment and how their environment, their family, their friends, the economic climates they are living in affect them. For example; here in the UK, Brexit and how it has affected a person would be looked at.
The process of training to become a counsellor is not easy feat and is comprised of over 4 years, if not more of studying the discipline. For that reason, it is more important than ever that you go into the profession because you have a real passion for it. When and how did you realise that you wanted to become a counsellor?
From working in the helping profession for many years, I was feeling quite limited, especially where I was working with children and vulnerable families. I decided to enroll onto a Level 2 Counselling skills course as I believed it would compliment the work I was doing. I actually remember starting that course and thinking this will be easy because of course I knew how to listen! and then, we had to do something called Triad, where you would have to be the listener and then you would have the client and then someone observing, and what I realised was that I always used to give advice and actually that was not what counselling about. It is actually about truly hearing and listening to what the client is going through and trying to walk alongside with them on their journey so they can really feel understood.
I realised I really enjoyed Level 2 and moved onto the next level and slowly but surely I started to make progress. I soon realised I was in my last two years and that's when you have to obtain a placement and that's when it became completely real that this actually was a transition of what I needed to do to become a counsellor as my main profession.
Branding is very important when it comes to launching your business, what process did you undertake to help you choose the colours, design and over identity of your brand?
Once I realised I wanted to launch my private practice I would research other counsellors websites and I kept coming up with the bog standard, generic images of what a private practice would look like. The aesthetics would be, pebbles, greenery, with cliche wording where everyone was saying the same thing. Things like " I provide a safe, warm and empathetic environment and even though all of that is important, it just wasn't the only message that I wanted to convey. I wanted to develop a website that would show my identity and who I am as person, down to earth and friendly. Also, I wanted the website to be clean, not have too much going on and be straight to the point and I think that reflects in my work with clients and also the type of clients that I attract. They are also like me and are very straight to the point.
You are a mother to a beautiful baby boy while running your counselling practice. How do you manage to find the time, and what steps do you have to implement to ensure you get what you need to get done, done!?
See this is very difficult as it's not just about seeing clients for 50 minutes. You have to keep up with the different researches, approaches, keep up with the clients health issues or knowing whether they are taking medication. I also write process notes which are separate from the clinical notes as the clinical notes are focused on what is actually happening in the session. Whereas the process notes is more for me to go over. For example noting how I was feeling in the session. Did I have any triggers from what the client was presenting?. Also, following up on emails, especially if someone wants to book a consultation to see how I work as a counsellor. So a lot of the time I have to be very strict with my time. Because in the beginning I was thinking " oh yeah, it's just a 50 minute session". But actually I need to make sure or what I'm trying to do now is to block out time in my schedule to ensure I get all these things done. Especially being self-employed now, I'm learning aspects of this as I go along. I'm making sure I am keeping up to date with legislation and bookkeeping and that is a lot different to being an employee getting your payslip each month to having to monitor your income, your expenses and putting money aside for tax.
What has been the biggest challenges you have faced so far since building your business and what steps have you taken to help you move towards the process of overcoming them?
For me, although this term has been thrown around quite a bit of late, it still rings true to me. 'Imposter Syndrome' comes to mind. Especially in the early days. Oh my God, I had thoughts of "am I good enough? "Do I know what I am doing in the business point of view?". I just felt like it was overwhelming, having a business and being a small business owner which too often felt like it was for other people. So what I've done to try and overcome this is taking the time to recognise my achievements.
When I think about the time when I was training on the last two years of my placement. I was juggling being pregnant and travelling very far to conduct my training every week. Sometimes I had to travel to courses which were taking place during the weekend. I was also attending my own weekly therapy sessions as well as attending supervision at my placement. I also juggled working and travelling, I did it all so I had to keep thinking actually, you've come a long way. You are a fully fledged counsellor. You've got this, you've done this! You shouldn't feel like a fraud. You've got not only the credentials but the experience as well. This was whilst training and then now in private practice. I've come a long way and I am proud of what I have achieved so far. I always focus on continually reminding myself of the value I offer and the fact that my clients come back week after week, seeking my services.
For anyone who is apprehensive about reaching out to a counsellor, what would you say to convince them and alter their opinions?
I would advise them to make contact with as many counsellors as possible. I know the process can be overwhelming particularly looking at the different directories. But picking people, reading their websites, their directory profile and seeing if anyone sticks out to them is vital. Then it's the process of calling them. I would really advise not to just send an email as we are getting caught up in email technology. With my clients, I will respond to them with an email, but I will also pick up the phone, just so they can hear my voice.
I always offer my clients a free 15 minute phone or video call consultation because again there is something about seeing a persons face and getting a real feel for them and it helps them to make a more conscious decision about whether they want to go forward or not. So that is what I would advise; getting on the phone or video call to be helped to make more clear decision. Using this time to ask them questions such as what type of counselling they offer, establish what areas they specialise in, and if possible trying to gain a trial session with them to see if it could work for them.
What are the pros of online counselling?
Put simply, the flexibility. I have one client who said it's having the comfort of being in her own space. Rather than each week, having to travel to a session. This is particularly important as we are all busy leading busy lives and it is not always practical. Some counsellors may move somewhere or the client may move somewhere but they want to keep that continuity by sticking with that same counsellor. Also, working with clients internationally is also another perk. Some clients I find lose their inhibitions because they don't feel as apprehensive or intense. It can be quite daunting opening up yourself to someone you do not know. Telling them all of your life stories, sharing your pains and distresses and they are not giving you anything back as they don't know anything about the counsellor.
Not everyone is suited to online counselling. Especially if a person is suicidal or are self-harming or dealing with certain addictions or eating disorders. Online counselling wouldn't be the best option.
What have you found have been the most effective ways so far of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers to check out your services?
With counselling there are quite amount of directories. So in the beginning, I made sure I joined a few of them. Even though there is a lot of payment involved. What I always did and still do is review my metrics so keeping a tab of where clients find me from. On my assessment form, there is a section where they can state where the found me. Sites like Psychology Today is a big one. This allows me to filter through and establish what directory is good for me to keep a profile on and which one can I discontinue using.
At the moment, using social media is a way of getting more out there. However, no matter what word of mouth is still so powerful and is so valuable. So I always make sure I connect and network with other counsellors. This is really helpful if you are fully booked as there was one time that I was and I was able to refer this potential client to another counsellor.
This year, I want to get out to more networking events and that is not necessarily in the counselling world but networking in general like business events.
Being a counsellor and listening to the issues and traumas of others is not easy feat, what action steps do you implement to take care of your own mental health and personal development?
For me, it's about trying to catch up with other people, watching videos and shows on YouTube. I've got this entire playlist with different categories. From videos on cleaning hacks to finance videos. Just making sure I watch programmes outside of counselling so I can really switch off. Once I leave the counselling role, I take that cap off and I typically don't write my notes straight away as I like to take time away from it. It's important that I maintain a balance between work and life to not run the risk of a burn out which would not only affect my personal life but my business life also. To be effective in my role as a counsellor, I cannot take on too much clients as I am raising a young child and I also have other responsibilities.
A key subject area for your brand is working with teachers? what made you focus on them and why was this an important target audience for you?
Working within schools for so many years and working alongside teachers, I realised how regularly stressed they were. Working within a highly pressurised environment and having to deal with exam season, having to deal with children's behaviour, having to meet targets and dealing with children mental health and/or learning disabilities. You know, teachers are of course human beings too and they have their own issues that they need to face and deal with on a regular basis. Then they come into the school and have to deal with 30 children at one time and then the next few hours they have another group of 30 children; it's non-stop. I've seen first hand how non-stop it can be and this is especially true of newly qualified teachers too. Then when a teacher moves into a more senior position, this often means that the friendship groups they used to have, changes as they are in a different position of power. So it can become pretty isolating at the top.
What inspires and empowers you the most in life and in your business?
First and foremost my son. He is the main drive for my business and being a mother was another catalyst for my wanting to run my own private practice so I could create my own schedule where I could choose my own hours. Being able to be there for him when he goes to school or being able to take him to his school events; sports days and activities like that. Without having to ask a boss or manager for time off or to ask to leave early to attend to your child and get back to his school. I wanted to become my own boss for these reasons. Even before I had a child, I was getting fed up with being accountable and answering to some one all the time.
If you were only given the option of two sentences to sell and promote your business, what would those two lines be?
" I help busy and professional freelancers get their life and relationships back on track. I help people to get that buzz and that spark back into their lives."
What are your plans and vision for LHTherapy sessions in this new decade?
I am quite excited that I am expanding my private practice and will now be offering my services in the London Bridge area. This is great for the type of clients I attract as the area has excellent transport links for the busy professional after work. It's also convenient for professionals who want to pop out on their lunch breaks and have a session before returning back.
I will also be focusing on expanding my delivery of online counselling sessions and being able to offer clients appointments at hours like 9pm because again as I work with parents by the time they put their child to bed after working a full day, they come home, it doesn't stop as they need to be with their child, cook dinner, etc. They don't have the time to leave the house to go and visit their counsellor so again, offering online sessions of this nature would prove to be very useful. Also, I would eventually like to run more workshops and more group led sessions.
Finally what have you learned so far in business that you can pass on to others?
To not get caught up in writing extensive to-do lists. Sometimes it's just about taking action and starting. You will make mistakes but that is inevitable. I would also advise them to track and journal their journey to see what strides they have made. Also I would definitely say don't compare yourself to others. It's so easy to do this sometimes. I know I've been there and it can be even more difficult when you are trying to build your brand from scratch and navigate around social media and you see people with their lovely Instagram grid. But you honestly have no idea of how far along someone is in their business. It's good sometimes to log out and take some time out.
Book LaToya's services via her official website HERE
Follow LaToya on Instagram HERE
Interview by Sasha Shantel @women_who_slay_