Setting up an ABA Clinic: Top eight mistakes to avoid

1. Not having a plan.

A business plan is a key and often overlooked component of any business. Not only can this document help you secure financing, but it will guide you through a valuable exercise through which you will look fairly deeply at your industry, your target market, how to advertise, what works / what does not work, your staff model, etc.

A Business Plan is a living document. Even if you have the funds to BootStrap your business (which is what I have always done and if you can do that – Fantastic!) you will still want a scaled-down version of a business plan to guide you. It is also a great resource for your future C level executives as they join your team. Remember, to see where you are going, you need to see where you have been and how you got to where you are now. Seeing the gaps clearly makes it much easier to make the right changes. There are great templates to use on online, including how to complete a SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats).

You might want to invest in a CEO Mentor, at the very least someone who has entrepreneurial experience.

BDC has a great starting place for a Business Plan including a template. See

BDC offers advice on mistakes to avoid when preparing one. See

2. Financing

You need to have 3 months of expenses in your bank account. Period.

If you are relying on insurance /government funding to foot the bill, you should be aiming for up to six months of expenses. This includes payroll, rent, taxes, utilities, etc.

If you are looking for financing options, of course, you can turn to family, friends or your current lender (bank). A lender will want to see a sound Business Plan.

3. Grow carefully

Businesses often fail not due to starvation but to indigestion. This is a critical piece of entrepreneurship. Growing too fast is as dangerous as not growing at all. Your company’s growth needs to be monitored and controlled; quality of care & service is paramount. When you lose your reputation of being a top-notch service provider because you are hiring any new BCBA grad or anyone who can pass an RBT exam just to take on more clients = you have a real problem. Quality will suffer, your team will suffer = people are worked too hard, paperwork starts slipping, and most importantly, your clients suffer. This transfers from your front-line staff to the back-end office workers sending out the billing claims. Your Company Culture suffers, and you have gone from a great launch to a sinking ship.

4. Hiring the right people

We all want to hire our friends because we have fun with them, therefore they must be good people and therefore good workers, right? Nope. Not even close. Although it seems daunting, interview as many people as you can for every position. There are truly great people out there who want to work and have a great work ethic. You just need to find them!

5. Clinic Location

If you want to have a physical location (offer services in – clinic) then you need to think about where your customer base resides.

  • Close proximity (home or school) to a large population of target clients
  • Families congregate around schools, you will find more opportunity here or in a business park (most people do not want to drive out of there regular route, you need to consider this as a barrier to entry)
  • There are multiple “local” sources (i.e., College) of new graduates entering the ABA field
  • Affordability and suitability of clinic workspace
  • Ability to expand easily with clinic growth.
  • This point has been key for our centers. If you think you are going to have a handful of clients to start, you are not going to rent a 10,000 sq ft facility. Starting small and growing is easier to sustain. Finding a building with neighboring units that you can expand into is a smart way to start.

6. Bookkeeping

You need to stay on top of our accounting. Unless you are proficient at Quickbooks I suggest you outsource this or hire a part-time bookkeeper.

This will save you a lot of sleepless nights, be aware of your current state.

More importantly, spend your working hours on activities that will drive revenue and goodwill to your business. Meaning, if your expertise is on the clinical side, then you should be spending your time there. If you are trying to figure out insurance billing, credentialing, bookkeeper – this is a time sync. Either hire someone to do it or outsource it.

7. Managing Cash Flow

Operating a business is not easy, if it was everyone would do it. If you are working with Insurance Companies, bill as soon as you are able to, waiting weeks to invoice can lead to cash flow problems. If parents need to pay a co-pay, get it the day the service is rendered (at the least within the week). Your company’s policies and procedures need to be outlined in your client contract… it is easier to enforce a rule if it is agreed upon prior to commencing services.

SVB (Silicon Valley Bank) has a wonderful article on this; see TACTICAL TIPS FOR MANAGING YOUR STARTUP’S CASH FLOW. See:

8. Be a Boss

OK, this term is all over the internet, but seriously, if you are the captain of the ship, then be it 100%. You need to be a leader that your staff wants to work for.

For BCBAs… treat them well and they will stay as you are the best boss and run the company that they WANT to work for. This leads to company culture – which will make or break you but will be discussed in another article.


The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide any type of professional advice. Portia does not guaranty the accuracy or reliability of any information contained in this blog from third party sources. You should consult a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or other qualified professional for specific advice. Portia International assumes no responsibility for any reliance made on or misuse or omissions of the information contained in this blog.

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