How to Start an ABA Therapy Practice & Clinic

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If you’ve dedicated your career to providing specialized Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy in your community, you might be considering deepening your commitment even further.

As a Board-Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA), you have already played a pivotal role in supervising behavior analysis and mentoring other ABA therapy practitioners. Now, by starting your own ABA clinic, you can leverage your extensive expertise and experience to meet the growing needs of your community in these challenging times.

If the idea of launching your own ABA therapy clinic is appealing but daunting, don’t worry. Here’s a comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you get started.

Understanding the Market

Launching an ABA practice in your community is often driven by a humanitarian and compassionate mindset. However, it’s crucial to remember that this venture is also a business. Beyond utilizing your specialized ABA therapy skills, you’ll need to master some new business skills, like market analysis.

ABA Market Trends

Starting an ABA clinic is a significant financial commitment, and it comes at a time when the market is experiencing a global boom. This growth brings both opportunities and challenges.

ABA therapy providers are currently the fastest-growing segment within the “communication & behavioral therapies” category, particularly in treating autism spectrum disorders. This expansion offers vast business opportunities, but it also introduces intense competition, including:

  • Local and Multi-State Clinics: Direct competitors in your immediate geographic area and beyond.
  • Franchises: Established brands that can offer standardized services across various locations.
  • Private Equity-Owned and Large Corporations: These entities often have significant resources and market influence.

Despite the competition, local practices remain crucial to community well-being and the overall growth of the sector. They have a unique advantage in building close community ties and offering personalized care. Here are some tips to navigate this thriving industry effectively.

Administrative Operations

Running a local ABA practice is rewarding, but it’s essential not to overlook the complex administrative duties involved. While these tasks might not be the highlight of your day, enlisting the assistance of a proficient accountant and attorney can make a significant difference!

Develop A Business Plan

Whether you aim to operate a small local clinic or expand into a franchise, securing adequate funding is crucial. Consider various funding sources, including:

  • Self-funding: Utilizing personal resources to finance your business.
  • Investors: Seeking financial contributions from angel investors or family members.
  • Loans: Exploring options with specialized lenders or traditional banks.
  • Grants: Applying for support through agencies like SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) or HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration).
  • SBA Line of Credit: Leveraging programs offered by the Small Business Administration.
  • Local and Private Grants: Tapping into funding from local government bodies and private companies.

Your business plan is an essential tool for navigating your clinic’s journey. It should include your value proposition, mission, vision, and include financial projections, market analysis, competitive landscape, and your unique selling points. Here’s why it’s indispensable:

  • Guidance and Goals: A business plan serves as a roadmap, helping you monitor progress and stay aligned with your objectives.
  • Investor Confidence: A well-drafted business plan demonstrates your clinic’s potential to investors, showcasing why your business is a worthy investment with promising returns.

Selecting & Registering Your Business Model

Deciding on the right business model for your private ABA clinic is crucial, as it impacts everything from tax obligations to liability and funding. Here are some of the most common business structures:

  • Sole Proprietorship: This model allows you to own and run your business individually. While you only pay personal income taxes on profits, the major downside is unlimited liability, which can complicate efforts to secure capital.
  • Partnership: This can be a simple partnership, a limited partnership, or a limited liability partnership, depending on your agreement. Taxes, profits, losses, and liabilities are shared among the partners.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): An LLC offers flexibility and is regulated by the state. It can be managed as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation, depending on ownership. The paperwork to establish an LLC may be extensive, but it provides significant protection against personal losses.

For most private ABA clinics, registering as an LLC is advisable. Although setting up a sole proprietorship or partnership might initially seem simpler, these structures offer limited legal protection. Given that each clinic’s situation is unique, consulting with a specialized attorney or accountant is highly recommended to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Once you choose your business entity, you will need to register it with the IRS. You can do this by visiting their website and following the appropriate registration process for your chosen business structure.

Policies, Legal Contracts, and Compliance

Policies and legal contracts are critical in defining the relationship between your ABA clinic and its clients. These foundational documents are particularly crucial for ABA businesses:

  • Billing and Fees: It’s important to clarify payment models—whether fee-per-service or per-person payments. Contracts should detail billing schedules, cancellation policies, and accepted payment methods.
  • Confidentiality and Privacy: Given the sensitivity of managing patients’ medical histories and conditions, strong privacy policies and terms of service are vital.
  • Liability Release: Operating an ABA clinic involves inherent risks. While an LLC structure provides some liability protection, well-crafted legal agreements are essential to minimize potential losses.

Before opening your doors, ensure compliance with the following steps:

  • EIN: Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
  • Business Taxes: Prepare for your tax obligations.
  • Payment Arrangements: Decide on accepted forms of payment and select a payment processor for credit and debit card transactions.
  • Insurance Considerations: Determine if your clinic will accept insurance, which can influence patient accessibility and clinic operations.

Legal expertise is invaluable in navigating these areas, so partnering with a specialized attorney is recommended to ensure your clinic’s policies and compliance measures are thorough and up-to-date.

Selecting the Right Location for Your Clinic

Choosing the right location for your ABA clinic depends on several factors:

  • Service Delivery Mode: Determine whether you will provide in-home services or offer therapy through online platforms. This decision influences the need for a physical space.
  • Clinic Requirements: Assess if a dedicated clinic space is necessary for your services. If so, consider whether renting an office space hourly could meet your needs instead of a full-time lease.

The cost of buying or renting varies significantly based on location and size. Typically, urban areas feature higher real estate prices compared to more affordable rural locations.

Choosing a Name for Your Business

Selecting the right name for your ABA therapy company significantly impacts your marketing strategy and brand identity. Consider these guidelines to ensure the name effectively represents your business:

  • Clarity and Simplicity: Choose a name that’s easy to spell and remember to facilitate word-of-mouth referrals and online searches.
  • Uniqueness: Verify that the name is not already in use by checking with your state’s business registry. This avoids legal issues and confusion.
  • Relevance: Make sure the name reflects the services you offer, which helps potential clients understand what your business is about.
  • Flexibility: Avoid overly specific names that could limit future expansion or diversification of your services.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: If you opt for an abstract name, ensure it does not have unintended meanings in other languages that could affect your brand’s perception.
  • Web Presence: Check the availability of domain names. Ideally, secure a .com domain that is free of dashes and numbers to enhance credibility and ease of access.

Insurance and Enrollment

Establishing robust partnerships with insurance providers is crucial for ABA clinics. Accepting insurance not only enhances the value of your business but also increases accessibility to your therapies and broadens your client base.

Key Considerations for Insurance Acceptance

  • Provider Requirements: Understand that each insurance provider may have different prerequisites, payout timings, and reimbursement rates.
  • Insurance Contracts: Negotiate appropriate contracts with insurers in your network to effectively manage your cash flow.
  • Credentialing Process: Familiarize yourself with the credentialing process, which is essential for becoming a recognized care provider within an insurance network.

For your ABA clinic to accept insurance as a payment method, an agreement with the insurance provider is necessary. This agreement is part of a process known as credentialing. Credentialing is critical because it allows the insurance provider to assess and verify your clinic’s qualifications. During this process, your clinic’s education, certifications, and training are thoroughly evaluated to ensure compliance with the insurer’s network standards.

Building a Diverse and Skilled Team

The success of your ABA clinic heavily relies on the strength and diversity of your team. Here are key roles to consider when assembling your staff:

  • Registered Behavior Technician (RBT): RBTs perform similar tasks to Behavior Technicians (BT) but also hold a certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), indicating they meet stringent professional standards.
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA): BCBAs are graduate-level certified practitioners who can independently supervise ABA treatment delivery by BTs and RBTs.
  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA): With an undergraduate certification, BCaBAs work under the supervision of BCBAs, handling more complex tasks than BTs and RBTs.
Critical Non-Clinical Roles
  • Biller: Essential for managing billing, revenue cycle, eligibility checks, and insurance verification. Effective cash flow management is crucial for the clinic’s viability. You may opt to handle this role internally or use outsourced services to free up more time for client care.

Leveraging Outsourced Expertise

Consider outsourcing non-core functions like marketing, accounting, IT, and legal services, especially in the early stages of your clinic. Outsourcing can provide flexibility and reduce initial costs, allowing you to focus more on patient care and less on administrative tasks. As your business grows, you might consider transitioning these roles in-house.

Investing in the Right Technology

As technology becomes increasingly integral to business operations, ABA clinics are no exception. However, technology can be a substantial expense, especially for a new clinic. It’s critical to discern which technologies are necessary, beneficial, and offer a good return on investment.

Selecting A Practice Management System

Integrating a tailored Practice Management Solution is crucial for the efficiency and scalability of your ABA practice. Whether you’re managing a small clinic or planning to expand to multiple locations, a Practice Management platform that meets your specific needs can offer significant advantages:

  • Data Management: Efficiently collects and analyzes important client data.
  • Client Management: Helps streamline client interactions and care.
  • Appointment Scheduling: Simplifies the booking and managing of appointments.
  • Financial Operations: Manages billing, fees, and insurance reimbursements efficiently.
  • Cybersecurity: Enhances the security of your practice’s sensitive information.
  • Customized Services: Allows for the provision of tailored services to meet client needs more effectively.
  • Document Accessibility: Gives authorized personnel quick access to necessary documents and information.
  • Communication: Improves communication channels with clients, enhancing satisfaction and engagement.

Investing in the right system not only reduces costs but also helps prevent financial losses, damage to your practice’s reputation, and customer dissatisfaction. While starting with traditional methods like paper and pencil might seem simpler, they can become cumbersome as your practice grows. A scalable practice management system allows you to focus on expanding your business without the need to switch or adapt systems later.

Setting Up a Business Email Address

A custom business email address is essential for professional communication and organization within your ABA clinic. Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 are highly recommended options due to their extensive functionality, including integration capabilities, document and spreadsheet tools, calendar features, and robust team management solutions.

Consider creating specific email addresses for customer service, therapists, and other key roles to enhance direct communication with clients. This setup not only improves service quality but also boosts your clinic’s professionalism and efficiency.

Installing a Phone System

Installing an integrated phone and VoIP system that supports multiple lines greatly enhances communication in your ABA clinic. These systems are cost-effective, even for startups.

If you choose Google Workspace for your clinic’s needs, consider integrating Google Voice. This service syncs with your email system and provides a unified communication platform. While using your personal phone number might seem convenient initially, it’s advisable to avoid this practice. Over time, your personal number could become a target for sales calls and unwanted solicitations.

Developing a Marketing Plan to Grow Your ABA Therapy Business

With your ABA therapy business established, the next crucial step is increasing its visibility and accessibility to attract potential clients. Developing a tailored marketing plan is essential to meet your business goals and effectively reach your target market.

If your focus is primarily on managing the practice and overseeing ABA therapies, it may be beneficial to hire a professional marketer. A skilled marketer can craft and implement a strategy that enhances patient attraction and retention, allowing you to concentrate on delivering exceptional care.

Your marketing plan should include:

  1. Establishing Brand Voice and Visual Identity: The cornerstone of effective ABA marketing is establishing trust. Develop a brand voice and visual identity that resonate with your target audience to not only increase traffic but also bolster your clinic’s reputation.
  2. Building a Business Website and Optimizing for SEO: An accessible online presence is crucial. A well-designed website, enhanced with local SEO strategies, ensures that potential clients searching for ABA services in your area can easily find you.
  3. Utilizing Google Business Profile: This tool is vital for any business looking to increase visibility. A Google Business Profile allows potential clients to quickly find essential information like your contact details, reviews, operating hours, and location.
  4. Creating a Social Media Community: While social media may not initially seem like an ideal channel for ABA practices, it offers unique opportunities. Engaging with your audience by providing valuable advice and tips can yield significant returns and strengthen community ties.
  5. Generating Reviews and Testimonials: Positive reviews enhance your visibility and credibility, helping to convert prospects into patients. Ensure all testimonials comply with the Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts to maintain professionalism.
  6. Networking with Other Practices: Collaboration, rather than competition, can enhance service quality. By networking with other ABA clinics and practices, you can provide comprehensive care and support for your clients.

Planning for Long-Term Success and Scalability

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that businesses within the social assistance sector are some of the most enduring. Yet, the overall survival rate for businesses has declined over the past two decades. Today, only about 25% of businesses celebrate their 15th anniversary, and over 65% of new businesses do not survive beyond their first five years.

These statistics underscore the critical nature of the early years in a business’s lifecycle. It’s essential during this time to prioritize investments that enhance the growth and resilience of your ABA therapy clinic. Careful planning and strategic development are key to navigating these formative years successfully and setting the stage for long-term stability and scalability.

Kickstart Your ABA Therapy Clinic Today

Throughout this guide, we’ve detailed the essential steps for establishing a successful ABA therapy clinic. Remember, the foundation of your clinic’s success lies in the relationships you cultivate with your clients.

Engaging with skilled professionals such as accountants, attorneys, and marketers is crucial. These partnerships facilitate the development of new client relationships, enhancing your clinic’s reputation and reliability. To further support your clinic’s growth and strengthen client relationships, consider partnering with ABA Therapy Sites to build your website. A custom website optimized for SEO and local search can significantly enhance your clinic’s online visibility, attract more clients, and provide an accessible platform for information and services.


1. What qualifications do I need to start an ABA therapy practice?

To start an ABA therapy practice, you typically need to be a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or employ one. A BCBA requires a master’s degree in psychology, education, or behavior analysis, and must pass the certification exam offered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). Additionally, maintaining ongoing education and adhering to ethical standards is necessary to keep the certification valid.

2. How do I find clients for my new ABA therapy practice?

Finding clients can be achieved through various methods including networking with local healthcare providers, schools, and community centers to get referrals. Establishing a strong online presence through a professional website, optimized for search engines and local directories, and engaging on social media platforms can also attract clients. Participating in community events and offering workshops or free screenings can further raise awareness of your services.

3. What are the legal and administrative requirements for setting up an ABA therapy practice?

The legal and administrative requirements include obtaining the appropriate state licenses to practice as a healthcare provider and ensuring compliance with local business regulations. You’ll need to register your business, which might involve choosing a business structure like a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation. It’s important to have liability insurance and possibly workers’ compensation insurance, depending on your staffing. Proper client data protection measures, following HIPAA guidelines in the U.S., are also critical to ensure confidentiality and security of patient information.

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