8 Steps to Starting a Social Work Agency

Starting a private practice is a career goal for many professional social workers. Running an agency will give you greater control over your working life and allow you the freedom to be your own boss and make important decisions relating to your business and career. You should also have the chance to build a reputable company and enjoy a higher earning potential. Starting a social care agency can bring about dozens of fantastic rewards, but you must be prepared to work hard to make your practice a success. Proper preparation and planning are key, and you must commit yourself to achieving your business goals. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge and setting up a private practice, then here are eight key steps to starting a social work agency.

Step 1: Create a detailed business plan

Creating a business plan is the first step in starting any business. You must take the time to write a detailed business plan before launching your agency. The document will assist you throughout your business journey and guide you on each step outlined below. Your business plan will also be used to convince essential personnel why they should invest in your company. This includes financial lenders, investors, and prospective employees.

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Some crucial things to include in your business plan are the executive summary, market and competitive analysis, marketing strategies, financial forecasts, and business projections. Your plan should also provide a general business overview with details of your business structure, your type of business, and so on. You should also include any information that will set your business apart from similar companies in your industry. For instance, make sure you outline if you hold a Master in Social Work MSW. Having a higher qualification like an MSW will give your practice a competitive edge in the social care sector and help you gain valuable financial support and investment.

Step 2: Gain social work qualifications

Before you consider starting a social work agency, you must complete the necessary training and gain social work qualifications. This will equip you with the skills needed to run a successful practice. The minimum qualifications for a social worker usually involve an undergraduate degree in social work or a related topic such as psychology or sociology. A social worker must then pass the licensure exam in the state where they wish to practice. The educational qualifications, minimum experience, and so on vary between states so you must do your research and find out what qualifications you will need. Keep in mind that you will also require a minimum amount of supervised experience before you can legally start a private practice. Many social workers go on to earn higher qualifications, such as an MSW to enhance their skills and knowledge. An MSW prepares social workers for leadership roles and advanced social work practice. Completing an MSW can also be a reliable way to boost your annual income and future earning potential. Social workers with an MSW earn an average of $13,000 more than colleagues without an MSW. This makes an MSW a fantastic option for any social work professional hoping to advance in their career, increase their salary, or go into private practice.

Step 3: Complete additional training

When you start a private practice, you will be expected to be an expert in your field. Your qualifications and experience will play an essential role in helping you build trust and attract new clients. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to complete additional training and earn higher qualifications such as an MSW. An MSW will teach you advanced social work skills and boost the credentials and overall image of your social work practice. Earning an advanced qualification like an MSW will also ensure that you feel confident in your abilities when you start working privately. When searching for an MSW program, make sure that you choose a course that has been approved by the Council on Social Work Education. Classroom-based MSW and online MSW courses are designed to meet intensive curriculum criteria. These standards are set to ensure that social workers have the skills and expertise needed to be successful in a professional social work setting.

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Step 4: Consider funding options

If you are planning on starting a social work agency, then you will most likely need some funding to set up your private practice. You may also need money to fund additional training and advanced qualifications like an MSW. You must have a clear idea of the costs involved with starting a private practice. Some key expenses to consider include office rental, employee salaries, utilities, insurance, and advertising costs. Once you have a realistic idea of the costs involved, you will need to consider business funding options to gain capital for your practice. Here are some of the most common funding options to support a new business:

  • Bank loan – Many entrepreneurs take out a traditional term bank loan to fund their business venture. However, you may struggle to get approved for a bank loan if you have a poor credit score or you are just starting in the business world.
  • Investment – Investors provide financial support for your business in exchange for an equity stake in your practice. Seeking investment can be a great way to gain capital for your business, although you will often be required to dilute the equity in your company.
  • Short term loan – One of the main advantages of short-term loans is that they are typically a lot quicker and easier to obtain than traditional bank loans. A short-term loan is ideal for covering urgent expenses such as office equipment or to fund training and qualifications like an MSW.
  • Crowdfunding – Gaining capital through crowdfunding is hard work, but it can be an excellent way to gain free money for your business set up. You can also apply for crowdfunding to cover costs like student fees and an MSW program. If you want your campaign to gain interest, then you must take the time to write an engaging pitch that clearly outlines your goals and objectives. The most successful crowdfunding campaigns are the ones that go viral online.
  • Grants – It is always worth exploring whether there are any grants available that could support your business. You can search for grant programs by referring to the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

Step 5: Hire skilled staff

Another key step in starting a social work agency is to attract and hire staff for your private practice. Keep in mind that your team will be the face of your business. You will not be able to run a successful agency and achieve your goals if your staff are of poor quality. The current job market is highly competitive, and you will be competing with similar organizations for the best candidates, i.e. social workers with an MSW. With that in mind, you must invest heavily in creating effective recruitment strategies that will attract top talent. According to recruitment experts at TalentLyft, you can attract top candidates by clearly communicating job requirements in your job advertisements, creating a flexible working environment, and offering perks like free health insurance, buffet lunches, and bonuses. Social media plays a key role in modern recruitment strategies, and you should utilize social platforms to connect with prospective employees online. Use social channels like Facebook and Twitter to promote your company and show people why your practice is an attractive place to work. You can also use social platforms as a way to headhunt top talent and reach out to candidates with the skills and expertise needed to drive growth within your business.

Step 6: Choose a business location

When you first start your social work agency, you may decide to run your practice from home. Managing your business from home can offer several benefits, including lower running costs and business overheads. That being said, you are likely to require a commercial office space as your business grows, especially if you hire a team of social workers or expand your agency operations. You must consider your business location carefully and choose an office space that will suit the needs of your practice. For instance, you should choose a commercial property that offers easy access to your client base. You should also make sure that your office has facilities such as free on-site parking and good access to public transport. Some additional factors you should consider when choosing an office space for your practice include rental cost, utilities, competition, and the site’s image. You can refer to business blogs for more tips on how to choose the perfect location for your company.

Step 7: Promote your agency

There is a lot of competition between private practices, and you will need to have a strong marketing strategy in place to promote your agency. You should start promoting your practice at the earliest opportunity to build brand awareness and attract clients. Ideally, you should explore a combination of advertising tactics, including online and offline marketing techniques. Creating brochures is a popular offline marketing technique that will allow you to publicize your practice to people in your local area. Design attractive brochures that clearly outline your services, level of expertise, and how you can help people with their problems. Make sure you include details of anything that sets you apart from other practices, i.e. an MSW qualification. Business cards are another basic marketing tool that you can use to promote your practice. You must also focus on advertising your agency using online channels like social media. Digital marketing is a powerful way for businesses to expand their audience reach, grow valuable connections, and build brand awareness. Statistics show that there are around 3.5 billion social media users around the world. This opens up huge opportunities for businesses to promote their services and achieve sustainable growth through social media marketing. One of the major advantages of social media is that it is free to use. That being said, you may decide to invest in paid advertisements to boost your visibility and increase your overall marketing results.

Step 8: Establish a work-life balance

Running a business can bring about countless rewards, but it can also be demanding and stressful at times. There is no doubt that you will need to work hard in the beginning to build a successful practice. However, you must also take some time for yourself to relax and de-stress. Working too much can damage your health and lead to numerous medical issues, including high blood pressure and depression. You must focus on your health and wellbeing and set clear boundaries between your work and personal life. Establishing a healthy work-life balance is a vital part of running a productive business. One of the simplest ways to maintain a work-life balance is by sticking to a clear work schedule. You should also try and leave work in the office at the end of the day. Make time to see family and socialize with friends and enjoy hobbies outside of work. These activities will allow you to switch off from your work responsibilities and take a well-deserved break to relax and recharge your batteries.


Starting a private practice is an exciting milestone in your social work career. Setting up a private practice is not easy, but it can be hugely rewarding and bring about a wealth of benefits. This includes greater control over your work schedule, higher earning potential, and the opportunity to manage a skilled team of social work professionals. If you’re considering starting a social work agency, then you need to complete extensive supervised training before you can go into private practice legally. You may also need to gain advanced qualifications such as an MSW. Follow the above steps to help you on your journey to running a successful and profitable social work agency.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

By Sasha Douglass

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