Jessica McClung always had the passion to succeed as a business owner. As a former high school teacher and now the founder and clinical director of Alpha Behavior Solutions and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, McClung has devoted her life to helping children with special needs.
Alpha Behavior Solutions, based in Key West, provides Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy and consultation services for children and others who need support reducing problem behaviors and improving skills for communication, social settings and daily acts of living. ABA is the therapy of choice for children with autism and is typically covered by insurance, McClung said.
McClung launched her business in 2017, but her career in the field goes back much future. After working as a high school teacher, she went back to school to earn and M.S. degree in Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Behavior Analysis at Nova Southeastern University. Also in 2011, she began working for ABA companies supporting children with behavioral needs in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties as well as Freeport, Bahamas, and received her board certification in 2013.
While she always dreamed of owning her own business one day, she also loved the island lifestyle and moved to Key West. “I used to work in Freeport and I felt the island life was for me. I thought it would be a dream to live here and do the profession that I loved. I got here and I never looked back.”
McClung instantly fell in love with her new slice of paradise – but full-time job prospects were near non-existence. It was time to start her business, though she did not know the first thing about that. “I spent countless hours researching how to get an LLC, how to get approved with insurance companies, etc.”
In 2017, McClung launched the business with one client. The first year went well — she was winning business through referrals and finding business by servicing the military families – but the following year, she began to learn that passion and industry expertise are not enough to sustain a successful business.
Hiring and retaining talent became an immense challenge, particularly in a small area like the Florida Keys. “There are very few ABA professionals in the area, so I have to train them from the ground up and support them through the certification process,” McClung said. Adding to that challenge, she was losing clients because they were military families who were being relocated. And there were other challenges arising from the way she structured her business – she just didn’t know it yet.
In 2019, McClung sought the services of Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the university’s College of Business. In the Florida Keys, FSBDC business consultant Margie Smith and her team provide no-cost consulting and other services to small businesses. The help McClung received was “life-changing.”
Smith helped her learn about branding, employment and streamlining various business processes and she started to get the business back on track. Then came COVID.
“I was unable to do home therapy as we did in the past,” McClung said. “I was unsure how I would continue to maintain the business.”
Smith helped McClung secure an SBA EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) to keep her business afloat while she worked on a survival plan.
In September, Alpha Behavior Solutions opened a clinic, enabling her to safely see patients again. “I was able to open up an alternative site to continue providing services to families in need. We are able to limit exposure to germs this way. The clinic has also benefited us in regards to company exposure, quality control and an increased capacity for a higher volume of calls,” McClung said.
Today, Alpha Behavior Solutions is thriving again. The company is a team of four people — two full-time employees and two contractors. Two are Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and two are Registered Behavior Technicians, but one of the technicians is in the process of soon gaining her BCBA certification. McClung plans to continue to work on her hiring and training processes, as that will always be a challenge in the Keys. Through the FSBDC consulting she received, she has learned to accept a wider variety of insurance plans, keep a waiting list for clients she can’t immediately take on, and continuously market her company, including through networking opportunities.
“I want to build up my clients slowly and improve my training program to make sure I am maintaining a high quality of care. My mission is to effectively service the needs of every single client.”
McClung is also working on an expansion plan now that the new clinic gives her space to do that.
“Margie has given me the confidence and encouragement to grow my business and dream big … but I still have much to learn. Starting this business was – and is – much more work than I ever imagined but I have not regretted it for one second.”