Editor’s note: Alison Pidgeon, MA, LPC, is the owner of Move Forward Counseling in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She will present her GoodTherapy.org marketing webinar, titled How to Build an Insurance-Based Private Practice and Market to Medical Professionals, at 9 a.m. Pacific on Monday, March 27, 2017. The event is good for 1.5 continuing education (CE) hours and available at no cost to GoodTherapy.org members. Learn more or register.
One of the hardest parts about starting my private practice was figuring out marketing strategies that would be effective. In the beginning, when you don’t have a lot of money to pour into advertising, you don’t want to make an expensive mistake. I didn’t take any business or marketing classes in graduate school, so my knowledge in this area was very limited.
Through a lot of trial and error, I figured out what works (and doesn’t work) in my area for getting referrals. Ultimately, I see an effective marketing plan as one that gets referrals from a variety of sources. That way, if one referral source slows down or dries up, the number of referrals coming into the practice isn’t significantly affected.
In my experience, some of the best marketing strategies center on networking. In the following list of my seven best marketing techniques, I purposely separated each type because I think they are all important enough to stand on their own.
Here they are:
1. Network with Other Therapists
This may seem counterintuitive—why would you talk to other clinicians who are potentially your competition? Consider, however, that other therapists need you just as much as you need them. When someone calls who you can’t help (perhaps you don’t take their insurance or don’t have experience with their particular issue), you can refer them to a therapist you trust. In turn, the other therapist may do the same for you. I also get referrals due to other therapists’ schedules being full. We all do different things and have busier periods as well as lighter times. Relying on a community of other helping professionals is good for the people we help and good for us, too!
2. Network with Doctors
In my experience, if someone is referred by their primary care physician or pediatrician, they will almost always follow through with making an appointment. People tend to take their doctors’ recommendations seriously. If a doctor hands someone a list of providers, but adds, “Alison at Move Forward Counseling is great, I know her personally,” you’d better believe the person will be calling us and asking for me by name!
3. Network with Whomever You Can
I went to a general business networking event a few times in the early days of being a small business owner. I met an opera singer, a magazine writer, and an insurance salesman, among others. Obviously, these aren’t typical referral sources for a counseling practice, but attending these events helped me get the hang of networking and brought some unexpected benefits, too. I got featured in the magazine, and I found insurance for my practice. Don’t underestimate the power of talking to people, even if it as simple as describing what you do and handing over your business card.
4. Get Local Media Attention
Getting the attention of your local newspaper or television station may be easier than you think. If you are holding an event, consider sending a news release to the newspaper to see if they will cover it. The more unique your practice or the event you are holding, the more likely the media may be interested. When contacting local TV news stations, write your news release to make it obvious what the “hook” is and why covering your event would make for “good TV.”
5. Blog, Blog, and Blog Some More
Writing for well-known sites can help get your name out there and raise the profile and authority of your practice. GoodTherapy.org, for example, refers to its carefully screened member contributors as “Topic Experts” and links from each article to the author’s directory listing.
Writing for well-known sites can help get your name out there and raise the profile and authority of your practice. GoodTherapy.org, for example, refers to its carefully screened member contributors as “Topic Experts” and links from each article to the author’s directory listing. GoodTherapy.org also shares the content it publishes with hundreds of thousands of social media followers, further funneling potential therapy seekers to contributor profiles. Although personal and practice sites generally can’t compete with big directories in terms of traffic and visibility, there is also value in blogging for your own website, as adding original content typically helps a site move up in search engine rankings. If you don’t have the first clue about how to blog, take a course or ask a web-savvy friend. The course I took was invaluable in helping me understand the technical side of blogging. Since I started writing regularly, my site has jumped significantly in search rankings. It also has provided plenty of material for Facebook ads.
6. Facebook Ads
This is more of a long-term strategy; after all, it takes a while to build an audience on a business Facebook page. What helped my own Facebook page to take off was doing a free talk at a local community center. The community center advertised the talk, and as a result, a lot of locals “liked” my page. Boosting blog posts and running ads (like announcing when a new clinician joined the practice) has also been helpful to grow the audience, and has motivated some callers to make an appointment. I don’t always hear people cite my Facebook presence specifically as the reason they called, but the weeks I run an ad, we always get more calls. Many callers say they found us “online.” Facebook ads are cheap enough it is worth experimenting to see what works.
7. Become an EAP Provider
Signing up to be an employee assistance program (EAP) provider is a good marketing strategy because it sends people to your practice who might not otherwise find you. Many people continue counseling beyond their allotted number of EAP sessions. So even if you are getting paid less through EAP channels than through other insurances or self-pay, it may be worth taking the hit to get people in the door who may want counseling beyond their EAP benefits.
Obviously, not every strategy for growing a practice is likely to be effective in every circumstance. The important thing is to be willing to try and fail at certain approaches (getting media attention, for example), to be patient with others (such as blogging), and to learn from the results.
I would love to hear about what has or hasn’t worked for you in terms of marketing your practice. Are there strategies here you haven’t tried? Try something new and see if it works!
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