Episode 7: Build Your Empire! [Featuring Jennifer Agee]
In this episode of the All Things Private Practice Podcast, I speak with my good friend, Jennifer Agee, owner of Counseling Community, Inc., which offers online and destination continuing education. She also has a private counseling practice in Kansas City, as well as a coaching and consulting business that focuses on helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
Talking Points Include:
- Risk-taking and believing in yourself
- Putting yourself out there in uncomfortable situations to grow professionally
- Going from a college mom to running international non-profits
- Creating multiple businesses and streams of revenue
- Retreat planning and hosting
- Setting business goals and going after them
For more information and to register for Jennifer's upcoming Dreamer's Retreat in Cabo, October 2022 click here: https://counselingcomm.kartra.com/page/dreamers_retreat_2022
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Season 1, Episode 7 – Jennifer Agee (Build Your Empire!)
PATRICK CASALE: Hey everyone, this is Patrick Casale, owner of the All Things Private Practice group and podcast. We are here today to talk about another journey into small business ownership, discuss some of the insecurities, fears, and struggles that come with that, and the triumphs once you start to really learn how to tap into your strengths and learn what your vision is. I'm here with a really good friend, Jennifer Agee. She is an LCPC in Kansas City. Again, another therapist with a different license type and acronym throughout the country, which is a big frustration for everyone involved. Jennifer has three different businesses. She's a really wonderful human being. And I'm really happy to have you on here today. Thanks again for coming on and making the time.
JENNIFER AGEE: Absolutely, I appreciate you having me on, Patrick.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. Jen, we talked about the topic of right-sizing your business and working into your future plans, your retirement, your money goals, and your vision. As I've been doing this podcast, what we've been talking about is journeys from where you started to where you are now and everything in between. Just give us a glimpse of how you got from point A to point B right now, because you're really doing some impressive stuff in the therapist world and community.
JENNIFER AGEE: Thank you. Yeah, I think learning people's origin stories really helps give you good background to understand why people do what they do, what motivates them and see their value system sprinkled all throughout those things. I got married when I was still in college. My husband's a little bit older than I am, and ended up having babies when I was still in college and feeding them in between classes, and all sorts of things. I've always been very tenacious. So stopping my education because I got married and had children was never an option for me. When I was in grad school and getting ready to graduate, I answered an ad in the newspaper, so a 47. Back in the day, people would put ads in the newspaper when companies wanted to find someone for a job. And so, I saw the job title was Executive Director of Adoption Agency, and I really thought I had no shot of getting that job at all, executive director. Again, I'm just finishing grad school.
But part of the beauty of youth too is you don't know what you can't do yet, or you don't have quite so many fears and doubts sometimes, and you're just a little more bold and ballsy. I just went for it, and I applied, and I got it. After I got it, they told me, “You are the executive director, but you are also the only employee, and the company is about to go under, and you have one year to either make it work, or we're going to pull the plug on this thing.” That was my entry into the work-
PATRICK CASALE: No pressure or whatsoever.
JENNIFER AGEE: Exactly. Honestly, that didn't worry me though. I just had peace I was where I was supposed to be. And within a year I had hired three employees. We were doing domestic adoptions. I had opened doing adoptions in Russia at that time, and we ended up working in Russia, Guatemala, China, South Korea, Ukraine, and of course, the U.S. which also added nicely to my passion for international travel. I got to go all over the world and not just as a tourist, but I lived in people's homes when I'm there for weeks at a time, small rural villages is where I would stay, and I loved, loved, loved that part of my career, and I'm still connected with adoptive families, adoptees and birth parents who I worked with, and I have loved watching the kids grow and seeing how the birth parents lives have changed. And that's been a massive blessing for me honestly.
But about 11 years into it, I was approached by a pastor at church and asked if our family would consider moving over to South Africa and helping the non-profit organization over there get things set up. We talked about it, we decided to go and when we got over there, again, found out it was more of one of those things like someone either needs to right the ship, or maybe we need to close this down. That seems to be my specialty area, that's coming again in a crisis.
PATRICK CASALE: Kind of sensing a theme here.
JENNIFER AGEE: Yeah [CROSSTALK 00:04:14].
PATRICK CASALE: That’s another big move, though. Like, taking a leap of faith, that is ballsy to just apply for a position that you feel like, “It might be out of my league, I don't even know, but I'm just going to go for it.” That's really, really amazing to hear that that worked out and you righted the ship. That's incredible. And experiencing other culture, you and I have talked so much about how important that is in our jobs as professionals and as human beings, and it sounds like all of those experiences were really transformative. That leads you to the ability to go to South Africa, and then what happens then?
JENNIFER AGEE: When we got over there, it was pretty clear pretty quickly that they were lacking in some strong leadership skills. And so, I was then asked not to be a volunteer, but to be the executive director of the organization. I am a natural-born leader. I don't mean that egotistically or anything, just whatever I go into, I tend to be able to see pretty clearly what's not working and help. I enjoy the helping part of that. Anyhow, we were over there, we had two kids at the time, middle school, and one just starting high school. Moved overseas, we were there for just shy of four years, and I loved it. I really, really loved it. I'm surprised we moved back. To tell you the truth, I could have stayed there forever. I enjoyed it so much. I enjoyed seeing how there may have had economic poverty. But a lot of Americans have relational poverty, and they were relationally rich and economically poor and we were the opposite. I just loved my time there.
When it was time to move back, though, I had always had this dream of private practice. And to be honest, I needed a break from leadership. I needed also a break from the heavy, heavy stuff. We experienced quite a bit of really heavy stuff when we lived in South Africa. I worked with a lot of trauma over there, and I also needed to not be responsible for anyone else and talking about right-sizing your business, for me at that time, even though naturally, I enjoy leading and having teams, I'm very extroverted, I knew that I needed a period where I didn't have any of that responsibility. For me, that was the next right step.
PATRICK CASALE: Next right steps are sometimes, they can feel like we're downsizing in a way, they can feel like we're moving away from something that feels secure. But it sounds like doing it for you, your mental health and your family's health too. I imagine you did see a lot of trauma over there, and it had to be really hard and really heavy to experience on a daily basis, let alone how the people in South Africa are enduring that, and apartheid and all the stuff that comes with a lot of the experiences in Africa, in general. Then you decided to move back after giving four years up over there, and doing the work. Starting a practice here, were you scared? Were you nervous? I don't get the sense that you were, just knowing who you are.
JENNIFER AGEE: I wasn't scared, per se, I was cocky in the beginning, as I think a lot of us are, of like, well, I'm just going to set my rate at 125 bucks, and all I need is 15 clients, and then I'm fine, I don’t know, because I had no experience in the private practice world at all. I very arrogantly was like bada bing, bada boom, yeah, it'll be fall in a couple of weeks, and life will go on. And that's obviously not what happened. It takes time to build your name, your reputation and those things. But so I did have a bit of a wake-up call. Thankfully, the next right step for me was aligning with other therapists who had gone before me, and humbling myself, and just saying, “I don't know what I don't know. Can you teach me? Can you help me? Can you give me a handout?” And they did, and it was transformative to my business.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, that's a really beautiful example of humility, and just recognizing that we need to ask for help in order to be successful. Was that well received by therapists in your area? They were willing to help or were there any situations where it was like, “No, you're new, you're young. We don't want anything to do with you.”
JENNIFER AGEE: Well, I wasn't very young at that time. But actually, everyone was really lovely. I do think that people can sense from you when you are genuinely coming in. When you’re, “I'm not trying to take anything from you. I'm coming here with openness.” I think people feel that from you. And when you really come in with right intentions, people want to help you. Most helpers in our field want to help. The next right step for me was asking those questions. I did make some changes in my business. And even as I started to grow, my business was full, practice was full. I kept having this push. People started wanting to really work with me, other therapists, “Would you take interns? You know, could I be a 1099 for you?” Different things like that. I still wasn't having a feeling that it was the right timing. I still really, really needed to not be in charge of anyone else.
When my kids left home it felt like that shift had happened. I had given so much of myself when I lived overseas, that a lot of times I wasn't as present of a parent as I wish that I could have been, because I was serving all the time. I felt like that time when I came back, not only did I need it to be restorative for me, but I needed it to be restorative for my family balance. Once the kids left home, the next right step for me was that the entrepreneurial side said, “All right, I've been sitting on the back sidelines too long, it's time to let loose.” I just started dreaming. One of the first things I did was not a success at all, and that was a pride killer, and that hurt. It was not fun. But in hindsight, I realized what I was doing was I was not honoring what I knew I needed to do or wanted to do in the first place. I started chasing what would make more money.
PATRICK CASALE: So, not aligning with your value system?
JENNIFER AGEE: Right, and as we know, often when we don't align with our value system, things don't work out, because your motivation really isn't there because it's not in alignment with your values.
PATRICK CASALE: Absolutely. So that had to be another humbling experience to admit this isn't exactly my passion project right now, this isn't what's really fueling the fire.
JENNIFER AGEE: Absolutely. It was painful, I licked my wounds, and then here's where the next big shift took place. One day, it was my day off, and I was in the kitchen. I keep a whiteboard in my kitchen, because ideas strike. And also, when you run out of stuff you want to write in on the list real quick. I thought, “I need to have a no-bullshit honest conversation with myself, and I I need it to be completely unfiltered.” What I did is I took that whiteboard, and I wrote down everything I really don't like doing as a part of this business. What are the things that I do not enjoy? Drew a line. What are the things that really fill me up and give me energy? Wrote all of those things down. Based on that, what theme started coming up. My brain thinks strategically. I'm an Excel spreadsheet [INDISCERNIBLE 00:10:51], you know that, so my brain had to put things in the right order. That's what I was doing on my whiteboard.
I was trying to clear out the what should I do, because when we lived overseas, yes, I had a great title and everything. But the truth is, we raised all of our own support. During our most financially lucrative years, which should have been, right? We were actually not earning income. We're not putting into our 401K, we're not doing all of that stuff. I did have this kind of responsibility of family. Those were competing things. When finally, I quieted that fear voice of not having enough in the end, or whatever, and just said, what is it that I'm really good at? What do I really like to do? And then I put all of that together, things have flowed so beautifully, and abundance has also followed that. That's not always a guarantee when you work in alignment with your values. But thankfully, so far, that's touch wood, it's working out.
PATRICK CASALE: That is such a great example of how to gain clarity into what you want and what you don't want. I think we feel a lot of guilt when we start to think about things that way, especially, in this profession, and start to think about what do I want to see out of my career in the next 5, 10, 15 years? And where do I want this to go? Because it doesn't have to just be seeing clients for 60 minutes of our time. I think we lose sight of that, and maybe it's the bleeding hearts savior syndrome of, I've got to be helping in up service all the time. But you've found ways to do that and other ways that don't necessarily come into contact with clients one-on-one. I know you do a lot of supervision and taking on interns in the Kansas City area. And really, I think what you said to me at the retreat you just hosted was your mission was to really ensure that you are helping develop, not only good clinicians but good human beings as well.
JENNIFER AGEE: Absolutely, and that's my mission statement, is a part of that brainstorming is what do I actually want to stand for? What do I want this next phase of my career and my life to be about? And it's to not only help create good clinicians, but solid practice owners, because what I found is in my years of running the business side of things, I knew how to do things that I learned over the years that became intuitive to me that are not very intuitive for a lot of therapists. I saw a lot of very good clinicians who were making steps that were not wise financially, that were not setting them up for success, or they were taking on more than they needed to, things of that nature. Out of that mission, I do the online and destination CEU, so I do retreats, I do recorded in like continuing education, and I do clinical supervision, and then individual strategic business coaching, because my brain does think in a strategic way. It comes naturally to me.
But once I started aligning myself with that, and realizing, okay, I can't keep adding more to the plate without taking some things off, I decided to start bringing on insurance, because again, that's in alignment with my mission and my core values. I only bring on non-traditional interns. That's the right thing for my business. A lot of the calls that I get are from people around my age, and they want to see clinicians around my age. And so, I love that my interns have had another life before they come to me. And that's been great, because it's helped replace my income so that then I'm freer to do these other entrepreneurial endeavors and take more financial risks. Again, I could not have taken some of this financial risk when I had little kids at home. It was not in the right phase of life for me to do some of those things. But right-sizing your business is honoring what phase of life am I in? What does my schedule and structure require or ask of me? Those kinds of questions just make things clear.
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, absolutely. I love the fact that you like non-traditional interns, people who may be counseling as a second career for them, or just a different phase of life in general. It sounds like you're really helping a lot of clinicians in the Kansas City area. I love the fact that you're also helping them become successful practice owners because that's another example of living in the abundance mindset of we can all be successful. Just because I help you create your business, it doesn't impact mine negatively. It actually helps mine, because it's growing my reputation. It means that we're all doing good work, and we're getting referrals together. I love that mentality, so that's really amazing. You're doing some really cool stuff.
You mentioned, you see some really good clinicians just not be able to maybe handle it on the business side or they make unwise choices. Are there any examples of things that kind of stand out where you see clinicians making choices that are, “Ooh, this is not going to support you in the long run.”
JENNIFER AGEE: A few really stand out to me, and one is not saving for your retirement, because as self-employed people, we have access to Stuff IRAs, where we can put away a lot more than you can in a Roth. I fully fund my Stuff and my Roth every year. Those are non-negotiables, because I'm in a place to do that now. So I can, and I will, and I do. But also, most of us are not brilliant with money, right? We're not accountants, CPAs. Our brains don't think that way. Not hiring out the right kind of help and trying to do it all on your own is just unwise. I could pay somebody 100 bucks, 200 bucks for their time, and they could set me up right from the beginning rather than me fighting this or then finding out 10 years later, I could have done something else that saved me tons of money, taxes and all that good stuff. Not hiring the right people to come alongside you, not saving for your retirement.
The other big mistake that I see clinicians make and been there, done that have. I have the t-shirt, so no judgment, but we keep doing stuff that we don't actually enjoy doing. There is some part of business ownership that is sometimes embrace the suck, right? There's some parts that you don't love that we just still have to keep doing. But what I have learned is when I release the parts that I really don't enjoy, or drain my energy, I make more money in the long run, because I have energy for the things that I want to say yes to. Hiring a virtual assistant for me is a game-changer. I hear therapists, they all the time, “I can't afford a virtual assistant.” I said, “You pay him by the minute.” So if you're not getting calls, they're not getting paid, number one. In our field, the person who answers the phone gets the booking most of the time, so you're leaving money on the table all the time that you're in session, and you can’t answer the phone. Your virtual assistant usually makes less an hour than you do, so it's not a one-for-one ratio. It's that kind of fear-based mentality of not thinking strategically, but thinking about what do I have to do versus what's the wisest next thing to do to fulfill the strategic vision that I have for myself?
PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, absolutely. Couldn't say it better myself. I think a lot of therapists struggle to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. So it’s like we’re in the thick of it, we can't think about how paying and outsourcing can actually lead to a bigger return on investment, because it's essentially freeing our schedule and our time up to think more creatively to do the things we enjoy, like you mentioned, to maybe focus in on our business, our schedule, our rates, and our future planning, because it's like, I can't do that, because I can't think clearly enough or I don't know the strategies to do that. I see a lot of therapists try to be their own accountants and financial advisors, and really try to budget, or be as frugal as possible in business ownership. And that's fine to some degree. But I do think we need to treat our businesses like businesses, and I really think that we need to really understand that we have to spend money to make money essentially. And that's always stuck with me. I think that a lot of us don't know what we don't know. I think you said that perfectly.
And just for anyone listening, get a financial advisor, get an accountant. I cannot stress that enough. It might feel scary at first, but if they're going to save you thousands in the long run, and help you avoid making mistakes with the IRS, it is absolutely worth it. Same thing for financial advising, same thing, like Jen is saying about VA is when you have the ability to open your schedule up. These are the ways you start to grow your business because you can't do that if you don't have the capacity, the space or the energy, and you can't see your vision, because you're too inside of your business. Work on it, not in it. I think that's really important. Jen now to this day and age, so from grad school, as a mom with two children, becoming the executive director of a sinking ship moving to South Africa to do the same, coming back to Kansas City, starting your practice, starting multiple businesses, helping non-traditional interns and therapists. It's a really incredible journey. I'm really proud to be considered to be a friend and colleague of yours because you make everyone better. Everyone around you feels really supported by you.
For those of you listening at home, Jen has incredible offerings, and I want to just highlight those. What do you have going on? Where can people find more about you? Tell us about the businesses that you're running right now?
JENNIFER AGEE: Sure. I have three businesses. The first one is counseling community. The website is counselingcommunity.com. On there is where are the online and destination CEUs. For me, the next retreat is in Cabo, in October. If you want a tax write-off, an excuse to come to Cabo, hang out with Patrick and I because he's also a coach at that retreat. You can sign up there or any of the continuing education. If you're interested, that's fine. I would love to have you at any of those. I also then run a coaching business. So that's jenniferagee.com. And then my private practice is connected in KC. What I had to do was divide the three, again, strategic thinking. I had to divide all of my passion areas into three distinct and separate businesses, so that it wasn't confusing in my head, it wasn't confusing to my accountant, or my liability insurance company. It was the next right step.
One of the things, I guess, before we wrap up is one recommendation that I would really make to any therapist that's listening, and it doesn't matter where you are in your career, is be a therapist that is open to other therapists. I have found so many times I'll meet with people for free, and help them with this, that or the other on their business, because I've gone before, and I have knowledge. Not that I don't think I should get paid for my knowledge, that's not what I’m saying, because sometimes someone needs a little help or whatever. And be open, keep your hands open to both share and receive. What I found is, it just comes back to you tenfold. You enjoy your community a lot more. We see the nastiness on some of the pages and just don't be a therapist that's about that. We can all win here. There's more than enough need to go around. It's not a competition.
PATRICK CASALE: Those are great closing words today, it's not a competition. There is enough to go around. We do need to step into the abundance mentality and support each other because we've all started out at one point or another. We were all fearful, insecure, and anxious about what was going to happen, and if our businesses were going to be successful, and we need support. We need to be able to build each other up in this community. And you can see from Jen's ventures, and my own, that there is a lot possible once you start becoming open to possibilities, saying yes to things, and putting yourself out there. That's a scary fucking thing. But it can lead to tremendous growth and fulfillment. I just want everyone to hear that, especially if you're just starting out and thinking, “I don't even know if I'm going to be able to get clients.” We've been there. We've all been there. Maybe Jen not so much at first, but then reality checks kick in and it's like, “Yeah, this is scary. We don't know what we don't know.”
I want to say thanks to everyone for listening. You can download this episode wherever you listen to podcasts. Please feel free to subscribe, share. You can find more of me at my Facebook group, All Things Private Practice. My website is allthingspractice.com, where I offer individual, group, and course coaching for private practice startup and destination retreats. My next one is in Ireland, in March of 2022, super excited. Jen will be coaching there too. And you can also find more of my information at resilientmindcounseling.com in the North Carolina area for group counseling experiences and appointments. I really appreciate everyone listening, sharing our journeys, talking about failures to triumph, and just really supporting each other, and building one another up. We'll see you next time. Bye.
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