Marketing For Therapists: a comprehensive guide for starting, and growing a private practice
Download this guide as a PDF When it comes to starting and growing a private practice, therapists start with attracting clients through referrals, word of mouth, and insurance panels.
And in a way, it's the most logical way to fill your practice if all you've learned during your time in academia is how to raise your qualifications as a professional. How to be a great therapist.
Marketing for therapists is strangely neglected in virtually all psychology grad school programs, leaving clinicians to figure it out on their own in the real world, despite the fact that nearly 50% of therapists end up working in private practice.
With the prevalent demand for mental health and the promotional tools available to everyone who wants to grow their practice, relying on referrals only will slow down and even prevent your success in business.
Marketing for therapists in private practice is as important as all the continuing education programs and professional development.
This is the process I recommend to all my clients starting with marketing.
Before you start
Starting a private practice without calculating all of your future expenses first is unwise. And although most therapists go into private practice with some kind of a starting capital and a general idea of how much their largest expenses will be, there're also hidden expenses that you may encounter in the future.
Not being meticulous about those expenses and ignoring them, in the beginning, can cause you to set low fees and create a situation in which you're overworked and underpaid.
As we all know from our personal finances, little things add up to big amounts. This is also true in marketing. Creating a budget spreadsheet for marketing your private practice will help you get a better understanding of what you can expect on a monthly basis. You can use this spreadsheet as a starting point. But here are your basic expenses.
Marketing. That includes everything from buying a domain name, to hosting your website, design services, training, advertising, and memberships.
Rent. Even if you have a home office, you need to calculate it into your monthly expenses along with internet connection, electricity, etc. Your accountant will be able to help you understand how you can use this for tax deductions.
EHR Software. Managing your practice will take a lot of your time, a time that you can't bill your clients for. Having a good system in place for scheduling, note taking and billing will help you stay organized and manage your time better. There're great EHR software systems for therapists out there like Simple Practice and Theranest, but you need to calculate your monthly payments into your expenses.
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Creating Your Therapy Practice Brand
If I was going to create a college course "Marketing for Therapists", I would start it with branding.
In your private practice, you're your main business resource. Your clients chose to work with you because something in the way you present yourself online or in person, attracted them to you. That something is your brand and it's your job as a business owner to cultivate it and control its perception.
And despite the intangible nature of a brand, the process of building one is pretty straightforward.
Start by naming your private practice. A name for your business is an obvious step that people like to leave to the last minute. If you're thinking of opening your own practice, start thinking about a name right now. Make sure it's available in your state for creating a business entity and test it with your colleagues and people whose opinions you trust.
Buy your domain name. This step should really go hand-in-hand with choosing a name. There's nothing more frustrating in starting a business than falling in love with a name and finding out that someone else has bought the domain name for it already. So if it's available right now with a .com extension, just buy it.
Create a logo for your private practice. You can start simple and adjust it in the future. If you have a clear idea of what you'd like your logo to be, you can hire a designer or use applications like Canva to design it yourself. Here's a 5 minute tutorial on designing your own logo.
Focusing on a niche. For those of us who're afraid of alienating clients by focusing on a specific "niche", don't worry it won't. Single adults will still contact you even if your niche is couples therapy. The reason I recommend focusing on a specific niche is because without focus it will be very difficult to create a strong brand, establish yourself as an authority and attract clients who are a great fit for your practice. By choosing a niche, you will be able to develop a strong message for a specific audience, an audience that makes sense for your business. If you need help with figuring out what your niche should be, you can start by describing your ideal client, real or imaginary. Here's a worksheet that will guide you through this process.
Identify your competition. If you want to build a strong brand for your private practice you need to know how to stand out. For that, seeing who your immediate competitors are (in your niche or location) will help you see what works and what doesn't work for them. Luckily, mental health providers are not the cut-throat business people we see in movies and most are happy to refer clients who're not a good fit for them. Seeing how you can complement or add to your competitors can help you create a unique brand and build referral relationships with your competition.
Create your main marketing message. This is the step in which your brand work and your niche definition come together and create a clear message about your practice that people can easily understand. For example, your marketing message can be as simple as "I help families with conflict resolution by teaching coping skills and providing a safe space to have honest conversations." This core message includes the value you provide for your clients defines who you help and what outcomes you help to achieve.
Marketing for therapists: assets
Design your business card. Yes, even in the year 2022 a business card is something you should have. But, having designed many business cards as a graphic designer in the early 2000s, I can tell you that it doesn't need to be too fancy and unique. All you need is your logo, name and service, contact information address, and your website's URL. A business card is the cheapest business collateral you will have and is still extremely useful for networking and client service. You can design and print business cards on websites like Vistaprint and Moo with pre-designed templates and will be ready to start handing them out within a week.
Create your website. Your website will be your most important marketing asset. Right now, more than 70% of healthcare searches are done online. If you're not online and if your website is old, outdated, and not optimized for mobile viewing, you will not appear in Google searches. Your website is your 24/7 reception area, your information center, and a salesperson. Without it, you're risking losing a big chunk of business. No matter how you attract clients to your practice, through referrals or not, people are conditioned to do their own research by looking for information about your services online. There're many website-building platforms and you don't need to make things complicated for yourself. You can create a very simple free website with Google or spend a little more time building it on Elementor. And if you feel like you don't want to spend your time building your own website, you can always hire someone to design and optimize your site.
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So now that you've successfully defined your brand, established a niche, and created the most important marketing assets for marketing your private practice, you can turn your attention to the different marketing channels available to you online and offline.
Marketing for therapists doesn't need to be complicated and can be summed up by these 6 marketing channels.
Email marketing. What is it? How's it different from blasting an email to your entire network that you're open for business? First and foremost, email marketing starts with a deliberate building of your email list. Your email list is another asset that you will have because it won't depend on the algorithms of a specific online platform or organization. Your email list is your audience of potential, current, and past clients, and colleagues with whom you can share news about your practice, offer useful advice, and promote events and new services.
Social Media Platforms. On average, people spend about 2.5 hours a day on social media. And you want to be there to catch their attention and offer useful information to your potential clients. But beware, social media marketing can be time-consuming so you need to be selective about the platform that you choose. Luckily, your work on defining your niche can help you choose the right platform to connect with your "ideal clients". You can also plan your social media posts and use nifty tools like Planoly to schedule them ahead of time so that your posts will be updated automatically on your profile.
Publications, blogs, and podcasts. One of the quickest ways to build your brand and share your expert opinion is by writing and being featured on other people's websites. You can write for online publications like Psychology Today which generates a lot of traffic every day or write for other people's established blogs. And if you're feeling up to it, you can be a guest on a podcast that's relevant to your niche and offer insight on a specific topic.
Memberships and affiliations. Becoming a member of your local psychology association can help you create instant connections with colleagues in your area and give access to a pool of providers that you can ask for advice, learn from and refer to. Besides the professional associations, you can become a member in online directories like PT and attract people who visit those directories through their searches online.
Networking. Networking can be done in person or online as long as you know how to go about it without being obnoxious or too shy. You can network with local businesses, service providers, and physicians in person or create virtual connections using social media. Networking can be exceptionally powerful because it allows you to access a larger audience than your own and have someone vouch for you. If you feel timid about networking and consider yourself somewhat of an introvert, the book The Introvert's Edge to Networking will help you get started.
Advertising. This is the most straightforward way to sell your services. It's also the most expensive. Advertising on Google, social media, and in print can help you attract clients right away. And even better, these will be the clients who need your services. the drawback to advertising is that you need to have a budget for it and know how to set up your ad to be effective instead of wasteful.
Marketing Strategies for therapists
So how do you apply all these marketing channels in an organized way? You need to set the right strategy for your marketing. Let's face it, as a private practice owner you won't have a marketing team at your disposal that could dedicate 40 hours a week to promoting your business. You need a strategy that works for your practice and the future of your business.
When setting the right strategy, you need to understand what you're trying to achieve and what resources you have right now to dedicate to marketing. Depending on your own preference, availability, comfort level with technology, and finances, here's a list of marketing strategies for your private practice.
Focus on SEO to become discoverable online. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. What it essentially means is that your website needs to be relevant, useful, targeted, and easy to navigate for a search engine (Google) to push to the first page of people's searches. To see results with SEO requires time and research, but it's one of the most important things you will do for your online presence. Spending the time to understand how people search for your type of services online can help you create a relevant website that will deem important for google's algorithm to rank higher.
Blog to optimize your website and improve your authority. As I mentioned already in the marketing channels section, blogging can amplify your message using other people's audiences. But if you want your website to remain relevant and rank higher on Google, you need to dedicate your attention to your own blog. If blogging is something that you don't want to spend time on, you can hire a writer who will write blog posts and do keyword research to optimize your website through blogging.
Use email marketing to create your own list of subscribers. Your email subscribers are your ultimate fan base. Email marketing offers the highest ROI (return on investment) in digital marketing. Unfortunately, many therapists working on their marketing, neglect using email marketing to promote services and build their brands. But if you want to consistent flow of clients who are a good fit for your practice, you need to consider building your email list.
Use social media to amplify your message, create awareness and interact with your ideal audience. Now that you know what your core message is, you can start spreading it on the social media platform where your niche audience is likely to hang out. Your goal here is to create awareness about your services and expertise so your posts need to support this message through videos, comments, and conversations. The most important thing to remember about social media is that it was designed to be social and informal. And most of all, bring value to the conversation. Your advice or insight won't be a substitute for therapy, but it will make you seem likable and helpful. People like that.
Advertise with Google to drive people to your website. Do you need clients ASAP? Do your finances allow you to invest in advertising? Do it. The purpose of advertising is to help you sell your services. If you want to attract local people to your practice, location-based google ads can help you get people in your office right away.
Advertise with Social media to grow your subscribers and offer free and one-time events. Social media ads are typically less expensive and are not designed to generate sales. But people on social media love seeing new content. They love to learn something new every day. Focusing on social media ads can be a great strategy to promote a one-time event, a webinar, or a workshop. It's also a good way to offer a freebie in exchange for an email address to grow your email list.
Network with local providers to generate referrals. Networking is the first strategy I suggest to my clients who're about to open their own practice. Being a therapist, you have an immense value to offer to your local community. Networking with local business, physicians, schools, organizations, etc. can help you create awareness about your services and fill your schedule even before you officially open your business. Make sure that you take the time to plan how you will be networking and think about how you can make it easier for them to provide help for their own clients.
Become a guest on podcasts to promote your work and your private practice. Podcasting is booming. There are about 120 million podcast listeners in the US alone. And podcast hosts want to satisfy their listeners by providing fresh and useful content. Focusing on the podcasting strategy will help you expose yourself to an audience of loyal listeners whose full attention is directed to the conversation. Podcasts allow you to promote your services and boast about your achievements as well. It's a win-win for you and the host.
Share useful information on video to boost your brand. Video is the most consumed form of online content right now. You can focus on long-form or short-form video creation to let people know who you are and how you can help them. Platforms like YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook are prioritizing videos above other content out there. And if you're camera-shy, you can create videos using stock video libraries with your audio.
Marketing for therapists: Tools
I won't lie, a big part of marketing is dedicated to learning new tools. AI and automation created a whole cottage industry of online tools for marketers and small business owners that can simplify their daily activities. Marketing for therapists can also be simplified with the right use of tools. I spent years tinkering and learning about different digital applications and software and I can distill them for you to this short list.
Graphics. Your logo, social media posts, e-books, ads, and every other graphic project can be done on Canva. Canva is an online and mobile application that features thousands of templates for any graphic design project. It's easy to use, extremely adaptable, and offers a free account. But even a paid account that offers many more possibilities, won't break your bank.
Website. You can stop agonizing over the right website builder for your practice right now because I have 3 options for you right here. You can create a free, quick, and basic website with Google Workspace that will make you discoverable online right away. If you want to create a website that will allow you to customize its design and functionality more, use Elementor. It's a WordPress-based "drag and drop" website builder that will let you use all the plugins you need and create a professional website on your own. And if you want to outsource the website building activity altogether, my company REdD Strategy can help you plan, design, and build a website for you. To start, you can simply book a quick call here and I'll help you get started.
HIPAA Compliant online forms and email. The nature of your services requires HIPAA Compliance when it comes to online forms and email communication with your clients. Hushmail will keep all your client communication in order through encrypted emails and intake forms.
Social media scheduler. Social media strategy is a time-consuming endeavor. Having the right tool to plan and schedule your posts in batches will significantly reduce the time you spend on a platform. Having tested different schedulers, I can recommend Planoly as one of the most user-friendly applications.
Email marketing. Unlike client communication, email marketing doesn't need to be HIPAA compliant. Its main use is the promotion of your services, therefore no sensitive information is shared when you use an email marketing strategy for marketing your private practice. I've used a few different email marketing services myself and currently use Convertkit. It's the most straightforward email marketing tool with which you can send automated emails, create landing pages, and even have paid subscriptions for your newsletters.
EHR. As a private practice owner, you will be paying special attention to scheduling appointments and billing your clients. Having the right EHR software can significantly simplify your life. From my research and work with clients, I can recommend Simple Practice as the most comprehensive practice management software out there today.
Bonus: Books for growing and marketing your private practice
Books have played a major part in my expertise and education. Reading the right book at the right time can significantly impact the growth of your business.
As a bonus, I created this reading list to help you build, grow and thrive in your private practice.
This is Marketing by Seth Godin is one of the best accounts of what marketing is and how it can be used to improve people's lives.
The Introvert's Edge by Matthew Pollard can help you get rid of the icky feeling you get when you have to talk for self-promotional purposes.
Building a thriving practice will require you to be diligent about your finances; revenue and savings. This is the best book I've read to date about personal finances. I would recommend it to anyone trying to build a strong financial future.
This book is timeless. If you want to understand the value of brand building, Alan Weiss lays it out in a clear and action-oriented way.
Social media is a followers game. If you want to learn how to attract people to your account, read this book. It outlines the strategy to amassing a big audience of people who want to hear from you.
* Please note that I'm affiliated with the services I recommend. These are the services that I use and love and feel comfortable recommending: Canva, Namecheap, ConvertKit, Planoly, Hushmail, Gmail Workspace, Amazon and Elementor.