Member Spotlight: Alison Salter
President of CARTSS, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counseling Corporation
CARTSS has brought evidence-based creative arts therapies to hospitals and community organizations throughout Southern California. We’ve led more than 80,000 group therapy sessions, established a 99.1% delivery rate-even throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and watched individuals and organizations blossom into their full potential with our unique, reliable, and compassionate patient care.
Can you please introduce yourself and your business and the date it was founded?
I’m Alison Salter, President of CARTSS, a licensed professional clinical counseling corporation. Our organization specializes in offering creative arts therapy, recreational therapy, and social services to hospital-based psychiatric programs. It all began when I had just graduated from UCLA as a dance/movement therapist. Excited to begin my career, I was devastated to experience three layoffs in two years. Being a single mother, this situation was far from ideal or sustainable. I needed to secure my family’s financial stability in order to support my children. Consequently, I began contracting my specialty, dance movement therapy, to hospitals. That was 34 years ago. Since then, CARTS has expanded. We are a team of eight board-certified creative arts therapists, recreational therapists and licensed psychotherapists. We provide group therapy services in twelve different mental health programs throughout Orange County, California.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I actually stumbled into it. Besides the financial aspect, when I was laid off for the third time, I was approached and asked, “Can you provide dance movement therapy here? Can we hire you as an independent contractor?” I agreed to the contract and from there, more and more people began approaching me, requesting my services for their programs. Eventually, I thought, “I can do this. This can support my family.” I decided to go all-in, dedicating myself entirely to independent contracting.
How has your identity impacted your journey so far?
In my field, I’ve noticed that approximately 65% of the mental health providers are female, making it a predominantly female-dominated field. However, what I’ve observed is that most of the CEOs I collaborate with are male. To be seen and heard, I must provide more research and data to substantiate the value of our services when talking with the CEO, CFO, and other hospital administrators. Not only do they not fully grasp the nature of mental health serves in general, they struggle to comprehend the unique value the creative arts therapies offer for the treatment of trauma and non-verbal conditions experienced with a wide range of psychiatric patient populations within hospital settings. Consequently, I find myself needing to emphasize the value and expertise we bring to the table, as well as how it positively impacts their patients’ outcomes and the hospital impact on their surrounding communities.
Can you share any challenges you have faced as a business owner and how you have overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was in California when Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) was enacted. This bill essentially eliminated the possibility of continuing as an independent contractor with my team of subcontractors. Doctors appeared to be the only professionals given a carve out from the bill. I had to quickly transition to an employee-based model, shifting my eight subcontractors into employees, a move none of my subcontractors were eager to make. This transition occurred right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit; CARTSS, A Licensed Professional Clinical Counseling Corporation was officially formed March 3rd, two weeks before the March 2020 shutdown.
Our team of therapists continued to provide services within the overwhelmed hospitals, despite COVID-19. During that time, while switching from an independent contractor to an employee-based structure, we were the primarily service providers for the hospitals within the mental health programs. We continued to offer one-on-one, face-to-face, psychotherapy to our COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. Majority of the other disciplines in the hospital used zoom or the telephone to communicate with the patients during this initial uncertainty. We persevered and continued to provide our services. Remarkably, we achieved a 99.97% service rate throughout the entire duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and were blessed that all our team members remained healthy. This transition to an employee-based model, coupled with the challenges posed by COVID-19, was a significant ordeal, but we managed to ensure job security for all our team members while maintaining our commitment to providing essential care.
Can you share an example of how a particular aspect of the Founders First accelerator program supported you in discovering new avenues for growth?
We are currently in the process of developing a new service delivery model for inpatient psychiatric programs. The inspiration for this idea came during Founder’s First Bootcamp program. In the midst of the program, while discussing recurring revenue stream, the concept emerged. About a year has passed since then, and we are now fully committed to bringing this idea to life. We are excited about our progress and anticipate launching it in the market next year.
Can you offer any advice for other entrepreneurs who are just starting their business journey?
Take advantage of Founder’s First programs. Be a part of any of the start-up, entrepreneurs, and accelerated programs offered to the early entrepreneurs. Engage with the SBA and other business programs. They make a difference on how you see your company, how you run your company, and how you succeed as a company. CARTSS has certainly evolved and changed in ways I never had thought we would. I’ve gained a better understanding of how to handle financial data, reports and forecasting, which was initially as daunting as learning a new language when I first started taking these classes. I now feel confident, in not only understanding, but also effectively communicating who we are as a company, what we do as a company, and where we are going as a company. This newfound confidence allows me meet influential decision-makers in my field with knowledge, data, and influence. I’m genuinely excited about the potential opportunities these classes have opened up for CARTSS and can’t wait to see where they will take CARTSS and me. I highly recommend Founder’s First Business Accelerator and Zebra Leadership classes; they are truly awesome.