May 20, 2011
FORT COLLINS - Eleven years ago, Chris Berger was a film industry marketing executive with an office at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Then he lost his mother to cancer, throwing Berger into a deep depression. Within three months he had started seeing a counselor to help him navigate through his tragedy.
The experience turned his life around, and Berger returned to grad school to pursue a degree in psychology. It was the start of a new career, and ultimately, the start of Foundations Counseling LLC, a mental health and family counseling practice with offices in Fort Collins, Loveland and Windsor.
Foundations Counseling opened its doors on Aug. 15, 2007, after 18 months of careful business planning.
"We set out to assemble an excellent team; each member is intelligent and has outstanding training, an innate ability to relate to people and a strong work ethic," Berger said. "We created a culture of excellence and integrity."
The Foundations team is demanding - of themselves and each other - and continuously work to improve their skills. Their work has paid off. Foundations grew 73 percent from 2009 to 2010 to rise to the No. 10 position on this year's Northern Colorado Mercury 100 list of fastest growing companies in the region.
Berger also uses a team of outside advisers including his accountant, attorney, two different business consultants and specialized marketing experts.
"We used one business consultant with the initial plan to start the practice and then six months or so into the business, we worked with another consultant to help us develop our growth strategy," Berger said.
The Great Recession has created a highly stressful environment for many people, manifesting in anxiety and depression. "We've seen our patients struggling and turning to a variety of unhealthy coping skills ranging from addictions to problems with relationships," Berger said. "We've had great successes with helping them to develop healthier ways to manage their stress, as long as they spend the time it takes to turn themselves around."
Building during the Great Recession Planning and building a business during the recession has required some turnaround, too.
"All this business has known is a struggling economy," Berger said. "We knew we had something valuable to offer potential patients, so the overall business structure stayed the same. We put a strong emphasis on marketing, which we consider an investment, not an expense."
A significant percentage of clients find Foundations Counseling on the Internet and get to know the practice and the staff via the company website. The company works with an agency out of Denver on search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising, according to Berger, as well as with local marketing firms on a per-project basis.
Looking forward, Berger sees strong growth potential. His strategy is to double the size of his practice every year for the next six to seven years, aiming to have 12 counselors on staff by the end of this year, up from the current eight. Double that in 2012, and you're looking at a practice with 24 therapists. "We'll expand all three locations and add a possible second office in Fort Collins," Berger predicted.
In order to achieve that growth, Berger has been forming strategic alliances with what he has dubbed "The Big Four" - churches, schools, physicians and attorneys.
"We make sure that we're known as a viable resource so that when someone who is struggling reaches out to their lawyer, or minister, their doctor or their children's school that they can be pointed in the right direction and they can get the help they need. I also spend a lot of time networking and getting out into the community," Berger said. "We're a sponsor of a Rotary event called 'Heroes Among Us,' and do pro-bono work at churches, conducting seminars such as divorce recovery workshops. We don't charge for these events - reaching out to people in our community who are trying to find their way is just the right thing to do."
By Michelle Venus
Read the Original Northern Colorado Business Report article here