Entering Private Practice

From Wiki

Navigate back to Emerging Conservation Professionals > Getting Out on Your Own > Entering Private Practice

ECPN Webinar on Private Practice

Recording of Q&A from ECPN Webinar Considering Your Future Career Path: Working in Private Practice with Paul Messier, Rosa Lowinger, and Julia Brennan; November 30, 2012



Business Structures

Starting a private practice can be daunting, but there are steps you can take to approach the endeavor with less anxiety and more appreciation for the rewards of working in the private sector. The following information regarding business structures and setting up shop is drawn from a presentation given by objects conservator Lara Kaplan during a Starting a Private Practice Seminar held at WUDPAC Spring 2016.

Begin your adventure by drawing up a business plan. This will help you organize your major goals and business decisions about your practice. You will also want to assemble a team of professional advisors including an accountant, attorney, and insurance representative to help you set up your small business and begin a relationship for future consultation.

Consider various business structures for tax and legal purposes. Three of the most popular business structures for conservators are sole proprietorships, limited liability companies (LLC), and corporations (Inc.). It’s important to note that these are controlled by state law and you may wish to consult with your lawyer or accountant about these options.

Sole proprietorship is the simplest and least expensive option (the default option if you are self-employed and have not selected another structure). This could be a good starting place and you can always upgrade to another structure in the future as your business progresses. The one disadvantage to sole proprietorships, is they do not offer any liability protection, and your personal assets may be at risk in case of debt recovery or lawsuit. This may be less of an issue when you’re just starting out and have few assets, and though lawsuits do occur, they are not very common, and there are other steps you can take to make them less likely to happen.
A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a hybrid of sole proprietorship and corporation. This structure requires submission of articles of organization and a filing fee (specific paperwork and yearly maintenance fees vary according to state). The IRS does not recognize a LLC as a taxable entity so you must specify whether to federally tax your practice as a sole proprietorship (default) or as a corporation (requires additional paperwork). Filing the LLC as a sole proprietor means that the business is separate from the owner but is federally taxed as though it is not. LLCs do offer liability protection, and so can keep your personal assets safe from litigation, but this should not be seen as a substitution for proper insurance coverage.
Corporation (Inc.) is the most complex structure and can take the forms of a C or S corporation (S corporations are more common among conservators). These structures require additional incorporation paperwork, filling fee, and other actions include electing a board of directors, shareholder meetings, and keeping corporate minutes. Taxes also become more convoluted and will be difficult to do without an accountant. Corporation offers limited liability, but it is no more than you would get with an LLC. As a conservator just starting a private practice this may not be the most straightforward option.


Choosing a work space is another important decision. Options can include:

  • Home studio: often cost-saving and convenient, but spaces are often not ideal and you may run into difficulties separating your personal life from work
  • Rented studio: will cost a bit more, but may offer more space, a more professional setting, and a will get you out of your house
  • Studio sharing: dividing up a rented space with other conservators will help to decrease the cost and provide you with colleague interaction

Setting Up a Studio

When gathering supplies for your new practice, especially on a budget, be sure to pace yourself, but be prepared. Focus on getting materials that are absolutely necessary and consider keeping pricier or more specialized items on a wishlist or purchase them on an as-needed basis. As tempting as it may be, you do not need to have a fully stocked studio before beginning your first treatment. Be sure to have proper personal protective equipment and know how to properly dispose of chemical waste in your location. For further reading, see the article by the Sustainability Committee in the March 2013 AIC News vol. 38 no. 2.

Emerging private practice conservators may find supplies and equipment at discounted prices through several ways:

  • Find generic or lower grade versions of certain supplies like solvents, UV lights, vacuums, and microscopes
  • Repurpose tools or supplies around your house
  • Purchase items that come in large quantities or have high shipping costs with other conservators
  • Look for student, alumni or educator (if you decide to teach a class) discounts or access to research databases. Sometimes just taking a single class can qualify you as a student.
  • Inquire with companies for freebies. Sometimes sample sizes last quite a while.

Additional Resources

Additional resources can be found in Business Practices for Conservators wiki page, Setting Up a Conservation Lab wiki page, and the Conservators in Private Practice (CIPP) specialty group homepage.