If you’re a therapist entrepreneur (or a coach,) marketing is your lifeblood. When starting a private therapy practice, it’s easy to get caught up in office decorations, getting business cards printed and deciding on your office location. Marketing is not exactly an afterthought, but it’s almost certain that many behavioral health professionals have spent more time browsing Pinterest for therapy office furniture ideas than they have spending time creating a marketing plan. The best business advice for therapists I have is simple: create an Agile marketing plan.
Before we jump into how to do this and why it’s important, it’s helpful to understand two common models for project management. Bear with me, the relevance will become clear when we get to the “how-to” section of this post!
A brief introduction to the Waterfall Method of project management
Traditionally, software development used a very inflexible model, called “Waterfall.” The Waterfall model is a sequential design process. It has 5 steps.
The Waterfall Model
The Requirements step requires that stakeholders come up with a very exactly, fully comprehensive set required features for a particular software project. Once the requirements phase is done, it’s set in stone (more on this later.) These requirements are handed of to the next step.
Design involves the architecture of the infrastructure as well as the visual design of every single aspect of the project. After the Design phase is complete and signed off on by the stakeholders, it, like Requirements, are set in stone.
Then we move on to Implementation which is actually writing the software code. Finally we have Verification which is also known as Quality Control. This is where what was built is verified against the original requirements. Then, as with anything, there’s the Maintenance stage, which is typically ongoing.
What problems can you predict in this model of project management? One of the biggest issues is that the project depends on an absolute understanding of the problem domain. What happens if, six months after Requirements have been established, you discover that one of the requirements was wrong? It’s a very expensive way to make software because the finished product, while it might conform exactly to the requirements might not meet any new requirements that have arisen in the interim!
Agile to the rescue!
Agile is a method that depends on continuous feedback. There are some initial assumptions about the goals of a project and those form the basis of initial requirements. However unlike Requirements (with a capital R,) agile requirements are the absolute minimum requirements necessary to get started. The concept is that you start with some assumptions and then you build something simple based on those assumptions, you then try it out (or let users use it,) then you take what you’ve learned and feed it back into the process. You confirm or reject assumptions and you build more and more until you get to a point where the project is solving your needs. There’s always maintenance, but even more important than maintenance is constant learning and adaptation; the software evolves as life evolves rather than as a “finished” product.
The Agile Model
Therapists and coaches aren’t building software!
What does this all mean to you? You’re not building software right? That’s correct! You aren’t building software, however you are building a business. You are trying to sell a product. Your product might be online therapy, online counseling, coaching, in person therapy, couples counseling, children’s therapy — whatever it might be.. So while you aren’t building software, you are doing something conceptually similar; you’re trying to improve your therapy practice.
You’re (hopefully) interested in creating a marketing system that will go beyond a simple therapist website, business cards and an advertisement in the local Yellow Pages. You want a system of behavioral health marketing that will help you get more clients and improve your therapy practice. You do want that right? The median mental health counselor salary in 2013 was $40,580 per year. In 2015, it rose to just $40,957. You might be “lucky” and making more than that, but unless you’re happy with your income, keep reading! Even those at the top of the scale can earn more if they just know how to market their therapy practice.
Building a marketing system
As you may have noticed in the previous paragraph, I emphasized the word system several times. This is important. You aren’t just going to create a marketing plan, you’re creating a system. Kind of like software when you think about it.
The goal of software is to make doing something easier, to automate, to simplify. Imagine if I were to hand-write this blog post! However, many behavioral health professionals are doing the marketing equivalent of hand-writing their marketing. You need a system and now, with no further delay, I’m going to show you how to do it.
Agile Marketing for Therapists
The first step in any endeavor is to decide what you want to accomplish. The goal setting process is something that almost every therapist or coach has discussed with a client at some point in their career. Now, it’s time for the physician to heal thyself.
What are some reasonable goals for your marketing? Of course, you want everyone that visits a find a therapist website to book an appointment with you right? You also want to “increase your client base” and perhaps “have a more regular income from your practice.” Those are terrible goals! Wait! Don’t stop reading! Before you leave this blog in disgust, let’s think about what a goal actually is.
- are specific.
- are measurable
- are achievable.
- have a deadline.
Doing something like “increasing your client base” is more of an aspiration than an actionable goal. However, let’s take that aspiration and turn it into an actual goal.
“I want to increase the number of my active clients by 5% by the end of the year.”
That’s a good goal! First, it’s very specific. You’ve said, “active clients.” This is very specific because it isn’t just about getting more numbers, it’s about getting more numbers based on a specific criteria. Let’s say you define active as having a session at least once per month. That is very specific.
Next, this goal is clearly measurable. At the end of the year, count your active clients. If that number is 5% higher, then you’ve won.
It’s certainly achievable. If you have a practice of 20 active clients, that’s just adding 5 more until the end of the year (unless of course, you’re making this goal on December 26!)
Finally, there’s a deadline. That’s important. You need to hold yourself accountable. Without accountability, you will not achieve your goals.
So, think to yourself, what do you want your marketing to achieve? Come up with a specific, measurable and achievable goal and establish a deadline. Write that goal down. Put it on your bathroom mirror. Write it with a Sharpie on your significant other’s arm. Carve it into your desk. It’s ok to have several goals, just be sure that you maintain focus. You can also create shorter term and longer term goals as well. Be sure the goals are complimentary.
Now that you have the goals of what you want your therapist marketing system to help you achieve, now we need to brainstorm. At this point, we’re not brainstorming specific marketing ideas, but instead brainstorming about your assumptions about who you are trying to reach with your plan.
Know your audience and create personas
What would be your average demographic for your clients? What is their age, their sex, their typical condition? What is your ideal client? Create a “biography” of this archetypal client. Give him or her a name, an age, a background. Creating this “fake” client is important. Now do this with a few others. You should have perhaps 3-5 personas of the people you are trying to reach. Get to know these people. They’re going to be your best friends as you develop your therapist private practice marketing plan.
Make a list of questions your personas might have
Let’s assume these personas have never had a therapy session with you before. What do they want? What kinds of question might they have? Don’t think about just yourself, but think about them in general.
For example, let’s say Lydia, a 28 year-old single mother of two has periodic bouts with anxiety. She works as a paralegal and spends her spare time with her kids. She likes reality TV but she also reads the NY Times on her iPad when relaxing in the bathtub.
When her anxiety starts getting out of control, what do you think she might Google? What kinds of blogs might she read? What kinds of solutions might she try before booking a therapy session?
Lydia might read an article on WebMD or perhaps look on YouTube for some tips on how to cope with anxiety. She might even read the iCouch Waiting Room blog to find some tips on how to cope with anxiety. Perhaps she has tried to find how her diet could help her situation. Maybe she looks for some blogs or articles about beating stress for parents. She might have even looked for therapy appointment reviews on Yelp or some other online resource.
Now for our assumptions:
- is reasonably educated.
- is interested in new ways to beat anxiety.
- is probably a stressed parent.
- wants solutions but doesn’t necessarily think she has a problem needing medication.
Granted all of this stuff is just our imagination. However, by understanding your potential client, you can start to create a plan that will speak to Lydia. If you know the psychology of Lydia, you can understand how to provide her with content that will attract her into your sphere of influence.
The power of inbound marketing
I’m a huge believer of inbound marketing. If you’re reading this right now, then you’re experiencing the power of inbound marketing! I’ll let you in on a little secret: at iCouch, we love helping therapists and coaches however, we’re also a business. Our goal is to provide our audience with great, useful content, but at the same time expose you to our company.
We aren’t asking you to subscribe to our practice management software or use our system for video therapy, however the fact that you are reading this means that now you get a chance to find out more about iCouch if you so choose. You might not have ever have heard of us if not for this blog. And, what did it cost? Zero! We got our company in front of your eyes without spending a dime. How did we do that? By creating content that our personas want to consume.
This is definitely not a sales pitch — it’s a demonstration of the power of inbound marketing. If five out of every 100 therapists and coaches read this end up signing up, then that’s five more customers that we have that we wouldn’t have had without this content. Pretty powerful stuff right? You can do it too! The best part is that even if a therapist doesn’t sign up for iCouch, we’ve still (hopefully) provided some value to our readers. After all, we want therapists and coaches to be successful because it elevates the entire industry, benefiting all of us: practitioners, service providers like us and most importantly, the people that need help.
Start your plan
Now that you know something about Lydia, we can start creating your initial plan and, even more fun, start executing it!
1. Start a therapy blog
This is really important. Do this right away. We’ve written about this in the past, so please go check out “Why you should start a therapy blog and how to do it.”
The reason that starting a therapy blog should be done right away is because Google indexes what you write. The longer your content is on the internet, the higher it will go in the Google search results. As far as what to write about, just write to Lydia. Think about the kinds of things she might Google and then write posts based on what you think she’ll search for. For example, “5 ways to beat anxiety as a single parent.” Your posts don’t need to be long, just high quality. Write as if you were trying to help a friend. Try to write one post per week at a minimum. If you have 3 personas, then you should rotate “who” you’re writing to. Be sure that the bottom of each post has a “Call to Action.” For example, you can include a sentence like this:
“If you want to talk more about beating anxiety, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.” This gives the reader an opportunity to take the next step. You should also have the ability for readers to subscribe to your blog.
2. Create an email newsletter
Think about a newsletter that Lydia might want to read. In it, you can include excerpts from your blog (with links of course) as well as links and excerpts from other great content around the web. At the end of the newsletter, be sure to include a call to action! You can have a newsletter sign up form on your blog, but you can also have a pen and paper sign up form in your office. Your existing clients might love your newsletter and it’ll keep them engaged with you and your practice. Don’t use the newsletter as an advertising tool — provide great content! You should send out a newsletter monthly and consistently. If it’s good, people will forward it as well! Check out Mail Chimp. They’re a great company and it’s super easy to manage your mailing lists and create beautiful emails. You can also embed sign up forms on your Facebook page as well.
3. Tweet and Facebook!
Post links to your blog on Facebook and Twitter. However, try to make your Facebook and Twitter pages not all about you. Post interesting content from around the web that Lydia might want to read. Follow and retweet interesting content that you think might be something Lydia cares about. If you aren’t familiar with using Twitter, be sure to read our article about why therapists should use Twitter. You can also read more about responsible social media use by therapists in our post “How to use social media to market your therapy practice.“
4. Get listed on online therapy sites.
Being able to offer online therapy and, more importantly, having an online profile for potential clients to visit is going to open up your potential client base to many more people than simply those that live near your office. You don’t have to become a full-time online therapist, but augmenting your existing practice makes it easier to get new clients. Read about how to add online counseling to your existing therapy practice for more information. This will help supplement your marketing because you’re making it easier for clients to potentially “buy” your services.
5. Talk to Lydia on YouTube
We recently wrote about YouTube for therapists and the basic idea is this: create a short video on a regular basis on a specific topic that Lydia might search for on YouTube. You don’t need fancy production, you just need to “talk” to your webcam or video camera providing some quickly digestible content. It could be as simple as a one minute explanation of how to do deep breathing exercises or a short chat about some new piece of anxiety research you’ve read about. Of course, at the end of the video, you should have a call to action such as “If you want to learn more about coping with anxiety, please visit my blog.” Don’t try to sell them. The goal is to get them to your blog so they can enjoy more content and then maybe they’ll consider a session with you. Don’t force it. Just invite your audience into your world.
The most important part of this plan is that you do not fix anything in stone. If you notice that readers are responding to a particular type of content, create more of it! You should be constantly responding to feedback and data and adjusting course as necessary. Remember, our Lydia persona was based on assumptions. She isn’t set in stone. It’s critical that you refine as you go and be open to changing course (i.e. revising your personas) as you go. Don’t assume that all potential clients will respond to the same types of content, be sure to be constantly learning!
I know, this was a huge post and a lot of information. Hopefully, it provided some great ideas on how you should create a marketing plan, but more importantly, how you should be flexible, respond to change and avoid creating content that you care about, but that your audience cares about. All of this social-bloggy-persona “stuff” might seem like a therapist productivity killer, however the reality is that marketing has changed. The internet is pretty much the first stop people go to for information. Please read our article about inbound marketing for therapists if you want even more information about how all of this stuff works.