Raise your hand if you’d like to see your calendar full of booked sessions, be considered an expert in your field, be invited to speak at conferences, or simply be remembered as the counselor who helped many get happy. Go ahead. Raise you hand! Higher! Let’s see it!
So let’s make it happen.
Your university has failed you
Most therapists go to school and only focus on becoming experts in their fields. Unfortunately, they often see themselves as a mental health practitioner and fail to see themselves as a business owner. I doubt many psychology majors have taken a class in accounting, marketing, entrepreneurship or business management. They may have taken a workshop on writing a CV, but how about writing a business plan? Yet, many of these same students aspire to becoming a successful private practice therapist. Many psychology programs have no required courses in business management. This is a tragedy and a horrible failure of the educational system. Ignoring the business of the profession is ignoring the reality of making a living in the profession!
If you are a private practice therapist (or want to be,) you are an entrepreneur!
So what’s an entrepreneur anyway?
An entrepreneur is someone who starts a business. It comes from the French word entreprendre, which means, “to undertake.” But, just because you’ve started up a business doesn’t mean that you’re set. Nope! I wish it was that easy, and I bet you do too. There’s a lot more to starting a private practice than just hanging a shingle.
How entrepreneurship has changed
Centuries ago, most of the people in a town were considered entrepreneurs because the only way of obtaining things you needed was through bartering. A family would trade their output with another family’s output in order for both families to get what they needed. Let’s say that my family had cows and your family made shoes. I need shoes and you need leather. I trade one of my cows for some shoes, then you could use the remaining leather (after you’ve made our shoes) to create additional shoes to trade with someone that made clothing. The cycle gets repeated on a massive scale and that became the economy we know today. At that time, it wasn’t hard to know the quality of the goods my neighbors made because our families had been friends for generations. We trusted them, and they trusted us. Marketing usually consisted of chatting with your neighbor. Word of mouth made it quickly known who made the best bread in town or who had the highest quality sausages.
Obviously, times have changed. As cities and towns grew and the industrial revolution resulted in huge economies of scale, the cobbler turned into a shoe factory producing thousands of shoes so bartering became rather unwieldy. This also resulted in the reach of the shoe company increasing to other towns, cities and even countries. With competition, marketing became extremely important to help differentiate your shoes from the other guy’s shoes. Eventually that guy making shoes at his home turns into a company like Nike (with the marketing budget to match!)
2015 vs. 1995
Would you rather be an entrepreneur now or 20 years ago?
I’d be willing to bet that at least 90% of the people reading this would say “now.” However, a large percentage of people reading this are probably marketing like it’s still 1995. I best more than a few of you actually have an advertisement in the Yellow Pages! How quaint! (And ineffective!) Conventional “old school” marketing developed over hundreds of years, but probably most profoundly within the 20th century. This was the era of telephones, radios and TVs. Print magazines with color photos were in everyone’s den. Marketing was something controlled mostly by Madison Avenue advertising agencies. The small business operated similarly: placing advertisements in local newspapers, hanging signs, sending out postcards. Then the internet happened and changed everything.
Welcome to the future
Over the past 8 years or so this thing called Inbound Marketing started happening. For a deeper look into inbound marketing for therapists, read our earlier post. (It’s totally worth your time!) Inbound marketing is a huge, paradigm shift from traditional marketing. Unfortunately, most people have missed the boat! They’re still listening to marketing “experts” and various therapy marketing books that still actually mention Yellow Page advertising with a straight face. Even my father-in-law, who’s in his 70s, doesn’t even use the Yellow Pages anymore! Ideas like personal branding, blogging, social media.. these are cornerstones to building your business for the long term. The best part is that most of them are free or very inexpensive.
Without any further preamble, here they are..
5 Steps to becoming a successful therapist entrepreneur
Here are 5 steps the modern therapist should be taking to maximize their potential to gain new clients and build a sustainable business.
1. Brand yourself
How are you going to sell your product if nobody knows what you’re selling? With therapy (and coaching,) the product is you. Therapist branding is nothing more that making yourself stand out because of some unique characteristic that you bring to the table. Are you an expert with adolescent depression? Are you someone who really loves helping older people with relationship problems? Pick a niche, become an expert and then you’ll have clients seeking you out because you’re the best at ____. If you’re just a “normal” therapist, how is it that you expect to stand out? If I’m looking at 10 listings on iCouch of Psychology Today and they’re all some variation of the same thing, getting me to book a session with you is really just about luck. The key to winning is to find a niche and own it. You certainly can have other clients, at least until you’ve built your niche and brand. But the goal is to become notable within your specific area of specialization. Clients will seek you out! With tools like iCouch’s online therapy platform, you needn’t be confined to just your own area either.
2. Have an online presence
As you know, websites are not just for booking flights, searching hotels, or finding your perfect match. Websites are 24/7 worldwide stores. So if you don’t have an online presence yet, what are you waiting for? Your clients are not going to look for you on the Yellow Pages anymore. If your audience changes, why aren’t you? You don’t necessarily need iCouch for this, but it does give you a simple way to have a “homepage” without having to worry about managing servers or other website technicalities. Here’s what my profile looks like so you can see an example. There is no need to spend $60 per month on a therapist website. The folks over at TherapySites love to overcharge. ($60 per month for a circa 2004 website builder? That’s robbery!)
3. Write a Blog
I don’t think we can emphasize it enough. Blogging is like putting money in the bank. Free money! The way Google works is that it indexes content across the web. When someone searches for something and your blog happens to be about that something, there’s a good chance that your blog post will show up in the results. A potential client who clicks your post and reads your blog is now aware of who you are. If you wrote some great content, there’s a good chance that person might want to book a session with you. If not then, then maybe later, however the point is that you reached that potential client for free! Over time, your awesome content will boil to the top of Google results meaning you get free advertising every time someone searches for something you’ve written about.
Want to see some examples? Google the following: inbound marketing for therapists. What is the top result? That’s right, the iCouch blog! Here’s another one to Google: why is everybody always angry at me?. The iCouch Waiting Room blog is either the first result or within the top ten. The iCouch blogs rank for hundreds of different keywords. It isn’t because we’re a huge company or spend lots of money, it’s because we use blogging effectively. iCouch Cofounder Brian Dear has written considerably about starting a therapy blog. Be sure to read that post for some great ideas.
The bottom line is that blogging is putting free marketing money in the bank. It pays slowly at first, but the results compound over time.
4. Be an expert
This gets to the heart of therapist branding and the value of blogging. However, blogging is just an expression of your expert status. To actually be an expert, you need to become one! If you already have a niche, dig deeper. Attend conferences, present papers at conferences. See about publishing whenever possible. Learn everything you can about your niche. You should be able to lecture on it or even write a textbook on it. The key is that even if you think you’re “good” at a particular area of behavioral health, you can always get much better. Take this seriously. The better you are at your niche, the more in demand you’ll be. You’ll also have more fun because you’ll be doing something you love!
Don’t be afraid to write a book (or an e-book) on your area of expertise. Give talks to anyone who’ll listen. Create worksheets or methods or other materials that you can share with other therapists. When they have a client who needs an expert in your area, you’ll be the first one they recommend! Of course, you should return the favor. Networking with other therapists is a valuable (and free) opportunity to build your credibility and help your colleagues build theirs.
5. Be Social
Your social profiles are important! Be sure to read our article about how to use social media to market your therapy practice, but the bottom line is this: you want to build an audience. That audience might not all book a session with you, but they’ll know someone who knows someone and they’ll think of you when they need a therapist (or coach) who is an expert in an area in which they need help. Of course your social profiles will link to your online profile (i.e. your iCouch listing,) and your iCouch listing links to your blog, so it’s a marketing circle that will help you with sustainable (and affordable) marketing. You certainly don’t have to use iCouch of course, but whatever you do, be sure your social profiles have links to your online homepage, wherever that might be. Be sure your contact information is easy to find! Be sure you’re also being ethical! The Online Therapy Institute has a great ethical framework on responsible social media use by therapists.
You now have the ingredients to bake yourself a successful and sustainable practice. It’s up to you to put that apron on and get your hands dirty. Be sure to ask us for help! We love helping therapists. If you have a question, be sure to ask us on Twitter, Facebook or post it in the comments below!