Marketing Your Practice
Practical tactics for getting more clients.
Posted October 18, 2018
Sometimes, a less competent practitioner gets more clients than a more competent one. Why? Often it's marketing. The following has helped my clients obtain more clients.
Identify a niche
For fear of failure, some practitioners stay broad. For example, a marriage-and-family therapist might think, “I can’t afford to turn anyone away so I’ll take any sort of marriage-and-family problem.”
But staying broad forces you to compete with every MFT with your only differentiation being quality or price. But it’s tough to compete on quality because that’s often hard to pin down, especially in a field such as psychology. It’s also dangerous to compete on price because unless you’re the lowest price practitioner, you’ll still not get many clients. And alas, too many practitioners are willing to work so cheaply or for free that competing on price often is a path to poverty. Also, if you compete on price, some people with the money to pay you well will view you as likely not being very good because you’re so inexpensive—the you-get-what-you-pay-for mindset.
Also, not nicheing yourself makes your marketing efforts too diffuse: Your articles, talks, and pitches to your friends force you to be all things to all people. And if you’re contemplating buying ads, you're marketing to the full range of people who might want to hire an MFT. That’s lots of people, so the cost of advertising is high. It’s more expensive, for example, to advertise on PsychologyToday.com than, for example, the Journal of Eating Disorders.
Of course, not all niches are equally worthy. You’ll want a niche that capitalizes on your interests, expertise, and experience.
It also helps to focus on a narrow niche. The narrower the niche, the more targeted your marketing can be. Also, narrow nicheing makes it easier to become a true expert in it and thus be more helpful to clients. That, of course, is of value in itself but also makes it more likely that those helped clients will refer people to you. Even today, when social media marketing is so touted, word of mouth probably remains the most powerful source of new clients.
Your niche can be content and/or clientele. Often, it’s best to use both. For example, I am a career and personal coach specializing in for- and non-profit leaders, scientists, physicians, professors, and other intellectuals.
You also need to consider market trends. A societal megatrend is the increased focus on race, gender, and non-binary sexuality. You might find it easier to obtain clients if your niche climbs on such a bandwagon, for example, specializing in interracial relationships, gender issues (both men and women) and sexual identity. Too, it can’t hurt to focus on people of your age, gender, and race. For better or worse, clients are more likely to relate to someone similar to you. People may claim to celebrate diversity but, when given a choice, especially regarding something as important as a mental or physical health practitioner, they tend to follow the aphorism, “Birds of a feather flock together.”
Choosing your wisest marketing strategies
Checking in with your satisfied clients. It’s a marketing axiom that the best source of new clients is old clients. So make a list of your satisfied clients and phone them. You might word it this way, “Hi Joan. You popped into my head and I thought I’d pick up the phone and see how you’re doing.” Listen carefully, maybe ask a follow-up question or make a suggestion. Then—and this is important—Don't ask if s/he would like to make another appointment or would refer people to you. That would indicate that your call was a solicitation, not a check-in. If you’re lucky, s/he’ll say something like, “You know, I could use a follow-up session.” Or, “I know someone who would benefit from working with you.” More often, the person won’t say something like that. In any case, just graciously end the call with something like, “It was nice connecting with you again. Of course, I wish you all the best.” By getting off the phone without asking for business, you'll have generated a good feeling about you and be top-of-mind for that client when s/he decides s/he needs more help or comes across someone who does.
Mining your network. Make a list of everyone who likes you. Most of them will not hire you but more likely will be in a position to refer you to a friend, relative, or colleague. For each person in your network, decide the optimal way to make the ask: email, phone, or in-person. If the latter, decide what you should offer to do together: coffee, lunch, a drink, dinner, a hike, shopping, a sports event?
When you feel it’s the right time to make your ask, wording matters. The following example balances assertiveness and pushiness: “As you know, I really enjoy being an eating disorders counselor, so if you ever hear of someone who might need one, I’d welcome your referring them to me.”
Mine professional referrers. One of the benefits of specializing is that generalists in your field can be a referral source. For example, if you specialize in helping men with relationships, you might reach out to MFTs who are generalists or who specialize in women. Of course, your reach-outs can be by email, phone, speaking at their professional conference, or joining a committee in their professional association, for example, a local chapter of the Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies.
Public speaking. It’s difficult to improve public speaking quickly, so if you’re trying to build your practice, you might prioritize public speaking only if you’re already good. Of course, “good” is difficult to define but a good sign is if, after your previous talks, you’ve gotten louder than obligatory applause and at least 1/5 of attendees lined up to talk with you.
When wanting to give a talk to build your practice, picture your target referrer or client. Then choose a topic they’d find compelling and, of course, on which you feel you have much of value to say. Include anecdotes from your work with clients. Give a “cheat sheet” handout with your talk’s major points. Include your contact information.
Consider making one-to-two-minute YouTube videos on topics of interest to your target clients.
Writing. If writing comes easily to you, as in planning a talk, pick a topic for an article of compelling interest to your target client. Include a tagline such as “Dr. Jane Jones is a psychiatrist specializing in treatment-resistant depression. Reach her at JJones@depressionwell.com.” Submit it to multiple publications because the chance of one biting is small. (Only a very few publications, e.g., the New York Times, requires exclusive submission.)
Unless you’re already nationally prominent, I no longer recommend writing books. The effort/reward ratio is too low in today’s era in which most people want their information more concise and free: e.g., articles on the Net or short videos on YouTube.
Social media. Disseminate your article, videos, or even a tip-of-the-week on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and/or blog. Get active in one or two of a professional associations' online forums. Offer tips and answer questions in your niche. That builds your brand and, hopefully, number of referrals.
Ongoing, but certainly quarterly, reevaluate your plan:
What marketing approaches are working best? Do more of what’s yielding the most clients you enjoy working with and, if income is important to you, the most income. Of course, do less of what’s not working, or stop doing that.
Which tactics are you enjoying? Those you enjoy probably are more effective and on which you're more likely to devote more time. For example, if you enjoy public speaking, that probably means you’re good at it and are willing to spend more time obtaining speaking engagements.
Are you putting in enough time? It’s unfortunate but true, but until your practice is full and with the kind of clients you want to work with, a rule of thumb is to spend at least 10 hours a week on marketing. Are you doing that? Importantly, that time need be spent on activities likely to yield clients. I’ve had clients say they’re working 10 hours a week on marketing but, on probing, the time was spent on low-yield activities, for example, primping their website or business card beyond what’s needed, or on lunches with friends well beyond those that likely to yield clients.
If after a few months, even after making adjustments, you’re deriving too few good clients for the amount of effort, the next step is to look inward. Are you effective enough of a practitioner? If not, do you need more training, a pivot of niche, or even a full career change?
Many helping professionals in private practice have trouble finding enough clients. Might one or more of the tips in this article help you?