Private Practice Marketing: Eight Steps to a Thriving Managed-Care Free Psychology Practice
By: William Morgan
Solid clinical knowledge and skills may be enough for providing good therapy. However, it is not enough to get referrals and attract clients.
Getting clients is key to building a thriving practice. But this is where many practitioners struggle.
The thing is, you can make a living helping others. But you have to let go of the idea that the traditional way is the only way.
Psychotherapists can leverage their talents, expertise and abilities in many ways. There are many possible formats for delivering psychological help.
So, how do you, as a therapist, format what you have to offer? To begin, try looking at your services as a solution to a specific problem rather than as treatment for an illness.
The Eight Steps
To organize your efforts, you may find the following eight-step process useful.
1. Find a Niche
To niche or not to niche? There are many advantages to focusing your practice on a niche or set of niches, as described previously.
Specialties attract more clients than a general practice.
So, how do you decide on a niche?
To start with, look for the convergence of three factors:
1) What do you love to do? What type of clients, services or work do you thrive on the most? What are you passionate about?
2) What you are best at? Where do your talents lie? What do you have the potential to become the best at in your locale or region? What are your favorite skills?
3) What is lucrative? Will people pay for this service? Is there potential to have well-paying clients for this?
When you find a niche service that taps into these three factors, you have a potentially good niche.
Does that stimulate any ideas?
Ideally, you will find an underserved area that will continue to grow. For example, in my area, there are a shortage of child psychiatrists and play therapists.
Do some market research. Look in the media. What are the urgent concerns and felt needs that people have?
Your personal and professional experiences may give you some good ideas.
Colleagues may also be a good source of ideas. What are they talking about in the way of innovative psychological services?
To see what other professionals on the entrepreneurial side are doing, see the monthly newsletter Psychotherapy Finances (visit www.PsyFin.com for more information). Each issue contains at least one article about what practioners are successfully developing as niches.
2. Discover the Niche Markets’ Problems
What are the felt needs, which are not always the same as real needs, of the niche group?
How can you find out? Do some market research. Review literature on this target group. What are articles in relevant publications discussing? Read publications that people in this niche market read.
One of the best ways to do this research is to sit down over lunch with an individual in your niche market and interview him/her. While you are at it, you can also test market some of the ideas you have for services and programs you might offer to see what kind of reaction you get.
Another way might be to conduct a poll, forum or focus group. Survey the needs of your niche.
Know your target market.
3. Develop Solutions
How can you help meet the felt needs and address the urgent concerns of your niche market?
Decide on a service or set of services you can offer that will help the niche market with its challenges in an effective way.
To get ideas for this service, research the literature on what may be an effective treatment. Obtain training and supervision as needed. Are there any programs or approaches that you can adapt?
Niche Market: Heart surgery patients, post-surgery.
Problem: Compliance with post-surgery health recommendations, such as medication regimen, diet and exercise programs.
Solution: A behavioral health component to the aftercare program to help with cardiac care compliance. Some therapists are doing this with good results and profits.
Think in terms of a range of services for the niche market: workshops, groups, psychotherapy, consultation and coaching.
4. Design Packaging
Packaging is important.
After you have identified a solution for your niche market’s felt needs, I suggest you develop it into a step-by-step program.
Clients understand products easier than services, which are less tangible.
An example of a mental health package or product is a stress-management program with:
• A set of curriculum
• A workbook
• A fixed price
Have a process that you deliver. Let your prospective clients know you have as plan and a process to help them.
This gives you more credibility and the potential client hope that it will be beneficial.
The process description answers the questions about how you help people and what you would do with them in therapy.
Delineate the steps of your process in a way that leads a person to say, “I want that.”
There are several other advantages to this. One is the way this will crystallize your thinking. You will also become much more articulate in describing the features and benefits of your services.
Now you have a marketable service to add to your service line.
For example, years ago, I identified divorced parents embroiled in high conflict over their co-parenting issues as a niche market. This, as we know, has harmful affects on the children and causes stress for the parents. And it’s a common problem.
My solution was to do targeted counseling with these parents on co-parenting more collaboratively.
I packaged this into a six- to 12-session program I called, “Cooperative Co-parenting for
Divorcing Parents.” I outlined a five-step program and wrote a booklet describing the steps. This became a good marketing tool as well as an aid for my clients. (Niche + Problem + Program = Service)
• Pick a niche market
• Identify a specific problem that the niche market experiences
• Develop a program to deliver your solution
5. Develop a Marketing Plan
Consumers do not know you or what you do unless you communicate that to them.
Develop a plan to let people know what you do, how you can help them and how they can contact you.
For each service in your repertoire, write a marketing plan.
How will you fill your reservoir of contacts and attract people to your practice?
To whom will you market this service? What strategies will you use? What tools do you need to develop?
For example, for my Cooperative Co-parenting program, I realized that the target group for marketing this service was often not the embattled parents or the children, but the family court judges who would mandate the service and the divorce attorneys who see the struggling parents in their offices.
I developed a brochure as well as the booklet mentioned previously, and handed them out to many judges and attorneys with whom I networked.
A basic marketing plan will outline each service in your service line, each services’ target market and several strategies to promote your service to the target group.
How will you establish yourself as an expert in this area? Develop, disseminate and repeat your message to each target market.
How will you create opportunities to interact with your referral sources and prospective clients?
6. Implement Marketing
This is sometimes more challenging than it sounds.
Besides the challenge of initial inertia, there is the challenge of getting good and comfortable with articulating your services in a way that will connect with your target market.
I find that many mental health professionals are not great at articulating their services in laymen’s terms.
So, consider how you can develop your skills in doing this.
One helpful exercise would be to write out a 30-second commercial or description about the service and get feedback on it. Once you have a good one, practice it until it’s natural.
Marketing skills and execution get better with time, experience and practice.
To get the word out about you, become a good communicator so people can understand the impact that your services can offer. A business coach can be very beneficial with this step as well as the other seven.
Your task is to develop a referral engine.
Build a self-generating engine that keeps going easily and yields a steady flow of referrals.
You might do this by some or all of the following:
• Schedule a networking lunch with different referral sources each month.
• Give free talks to organizations.
• Send out a mailing every month or every quarter to your mailing list of past clients, referral sources and others.
• Get out of the office and meet people. Expand your mailing list by 10 names each month.
To work out a plan for marketing, you will need to set aside some time on a weekly basis.
To be successful, you will have to make marketing a priority and consistently engage in the most strategic activities.
7. Create a Follow-Up System
For those who do not initially accept your services, have a follow-up system in place.
The goal of marketing is to get prospective clients or referral sources to know, like and trust you. This usually takes multiple exposures to you over time.
A follow-up system makes sure you keep in contact with valuable referral sources and prospects and exposes them to you over and over.
Examples of elements in a follow-up system include a periodic newsletter, a database of contacts, periodic coffee or lunch appointments with referral sources and appearances at venues where these people circulate.
In addition, I regularly mail a brochure about each of my services to the target groups of each service.
You will, in time, accumulate a valuable mailing or e-mailing list and referral sources. I find each time I mail out the periodic newsletter or brochures, my phone starts ringing in the coming weeks with referrals as people are reminded of my services.
8. Keep it Going and Growing
Some suggestions to keep things going and growing:
• Maintain balance in your life and good self-care.
• Be persistent and persevere.
• Find support in friends, colleagues and referral partners.
• Develop and maintain good business systems. Automate things as much as possible. Invest in a good computer, software and telephone system.
• Maintain quality services.
• Provide excellent customer service.
About The Author
This article was posted on October 16, 2006
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