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Marketing 101 for Therapists

Marketing 101 for Therapists

Or how to kickstart your marketing even if you hate the whole idea of it.

Marketing can be a challenge for the small therapy practice. The therapists we speak to often say that they feel under pressure to use their scant available time as fruitfully and profitably as possible. To make matters worse, marketing often doesn’t come naturally, many therapists feel uncomfortable with the whole idea of ‘selling’ their services, even though they might recognise that it’s critical to the long-term success of their practice. With so much contradictory advice on offer, how can you ensure your marketing efforts have real impact, without consuming time you would rather be using for client work?

If you’re new to marketing and especially if it’s an area you feel uncomfortable with, the tips and hints below will help you to get started:

Decide how many hours a week you can put into marketing.

This gives you a basic framework and will help you to decide what marketing activities are going to be most productive. There is always a tension (especially during start-up of a business) between activities that earn immediate income and activities such as networking and marketing that may be essential for the long-term success of your business but don’t necessarily bring in immediate income. There is no one correct answer to this, it is about finding a solution that suits your situation and your business, given it’s current stage of development.

It’s going to take time… much more time than you bargained for.

Does this sound familiar? You launch your practice, your website goes live, and then… nothing. Or perhaps you planned a great ‘launch’ event, it cost a fortune and was spectacular enough for your local paper to cover it, and it does lead to an initial flurry of interest, but then… nothing. No potential clients call and your website traffic is abysmal.

Most therapists recognise that it’s going to take time to build website traffic and raise local awareness of their new service. However, when they still have the same problem two or three months down the line they may start to feel uncomfortable. If they have bills to pay and no way to pay them, this is the time when panic sets in.

Even if you do everything right and your marketing program goes amazingly well, plan on it taking 6 – 12 months to bring in the type of income you’re looking for. If you plan for this at the beginning, it won’t come as a shock, and if you achieve your target level of income earlier than planned, it’s an added bonus!

It’s all about relationships.

Most therapists know how important networking is to their business. Networking with other local professionals can raise awareness of your practice and lead to valuable referral traffic. Relationships and connections are equally important online. Linkedin is a great place to network with other professionals and a strong starting point. Twitter can also be an important part of the mix. More on using social media for your business.

Go where your clients are.

Invaluable as networking is, it won’t necessarily connect you with lots of potential clients. If you have already put a lot of time and effort into your online presence but still don’t have the client numbers you need, consider where you are spending your time online and the sort of connections you are making. If you already have good website traffic – who is visiting your site? If your website visitors are not made up mainly of potential target clients then some change in strategy may be required.

Before you can find your clients online you need to spend some time drawing up a clear profile – who is your target client? What are their interests? Be as specific as you can.

If your client group is mainly professionals or business owners, you may well find them on networking sites such as Linkedin, but if not should you be looking at Facebook, or support forums? More on identifying your target client.

You need a single online base for your business.

Like your bricks and mortar address, a single online base provides an easy way for people to find you. It also offers a single online location to which you can direct people who are interested in your service. A simple website does not have to be an expensive undertaking, you can even do it yourself using something like WordPress. If you do ask a design company to create your website, ensure they include a CMS (content management system) that makes it easy for you to update the site yourself. This will keep your maintenance costs down, and more importantly it allows you to update information regularly and add content, so your website will always be current. Sometimes it takes time to get the ingredients (and mix) on a website just right, so it’s also helpful to be able to experiment a little. If you have to pay your web design company every time you want to change something, there is less freedom to do this.

If you don’t yet feel ready to create a website, consider starting slowing with a profile on a therapy directory or a Facebook business page. Many small local businesses have launched a profitable online presence in this way. However, you should still plan to launch a website as soon as you are able – this gives a professional impression and also means that your most important online asset is under your own control.

Creating trust is key.

When visitors first arrive at your website they are looking for signs that your service is trustworthy and reliable. You need to work hard to convey this through every aspect of your online presence. Testimonials are an invaluable ingredient here. A photograph also helps. Other important ingredients include a telephone number and an outline of your experience, professional memberships and qualifications, probably on your ‘About’ page. Where possible, also use the logo of any professional or membership sites you have joined, or at least point this out on your site – ‘Member of’, or ‘Listed on’ all add something.

Not everything you’ve read about links is true.

It is important to get links back to your website. However, quality is much more important than quantity. A few high quality links from authority sites such as your professional body are far more valuable than hundreds of links from low quality sites that are not related to your subject. Low quality links from ‘bad neighbourhoods’ can even damage your website’s ranking in the search engines.

Links from professional directories such as Counselling-UK can also be an important part of your mixture of links. But however good a traffic source proves to be don’t rely on just one online source of traffic any more than you would rely on just one source of referrals in the off-line world.

No one can guarantee a first page organic listing on Google.

Be suspicious of any service that makes this claim. Listing on Google Places, which is free, is a useful step in the right direction and will often ensure that your details appear when local people look for your service. Using Adwords can give you a paid first page listing in the search results. Adwords has a reputation for being expensive and difficult to manage, however, if you set a cap on your daily spend and restrict search terms this will stop you spending more than you can afford. If you want to make doubly sure that you control your spend, you can also set your account to manual payments only. Therapists report mixed results using Adwords – it’s certainly not a quick fix, you need to ensure all of the other ingredients are in place first and seek out advice on how to create a really effective Adword campaign before you get started.

Content is your most important marketing tool.

Adding relevant content, such as information articles, is a great way of attracting visitors to your website and can increase your traffic and pagerank dramatically in the medium term. Extending this further, another valuable strategy is to write articles for other websites. This is often know as guestblogging and works best if your articles appear on relevant high traffic or high authority websites that target your potential client group directly. To find guestblogging opportunities, contact websites that are relevant to your business and offer to write articles for them. Not all of them will accept, but if you can offer something unique from your personal expertise and are offering to write for free, a fair number will. This is a really good way of establishing yourself as an expert. If people have read an article they like on an authority website, you will need to do less work when they eventually reach your site, as you will already be established as an expert in their mind. Just as importantly, the link back to your own site will help to raise your rank on the search engines. More on guestblogging.

To make best use of social media start with a strategy.

Social media can be incredibly time-consuming and not necessarily all that productive unless you have a clear strategy for how you are going to use it. If used mindfully social media can provide an amazing boost for your business. Set aside a certain amount of time each day (say 30 minutes) for your social media activity – if you use that time in a way that is focused and clearly directed, it will be more than enough. Once you have plenty of social media followers you can then reduce the amount of time you spend on there to a ‘maintenance level’.

As part of your strategy consider how you can participate in social media effectively, whilst working within your ethical code and maintaining appropriate boundaries. This is an issue that causes some therapists considerable concern and can lead to inaction. If you’re clear about how you can maintain an effective social media presence without impacting on your therapy work this will allow you to participate fully.

One of the issues with all kinds of social media is that you need to have quite a few followers or connections before it really makes a difference to your bottom line. However, once you achieve a really good number of connections, you should begin to see real work opportunities coming through. On Facebook and Twitter your goal is to achieve 500 – 1000 followers initially. For more on using social media for your business.

Low-hanging fruit:

Below are some immediate, low-cost (or free) steps you can take to begin marketing your service and reaching clients:

  • Talk to local GPs, libraries, and health or beauty centres about carrying your card or a small leaflet, perhaps in return for you promoting their services on your premises.
  • As an almost instant source of work, consider doing some hourly work as an associate for EAP providers who offer local services (many have local associate programs). Online service providers, such as onlinecounsellors.org and mentaline.com may also offer immediate work opportunities, although the pay can be low and some companies require a registration fee. This may be reasonable if they are providing a lot of support, but watch out for services that make their money from therapist registrations and thus have no real incentive to connect you with clients.
  • List your services on as many relevant professional directories and websites as you can find. Begin with your professional body or association and reputable directories. Some sites will charge a fee for listing, or they may ask for a reciprocal link. This can be a worthwhile investment if the site has a good online profile and is highly relevant to your target audience.
  • Write articles for authority websites – as we’ve seen guestblogging can offer an immediate traffic boost for your website. Again, quality is much more important than quantity.
  • Create a Facebook business page and Twitter account and add content regularly.
  • Raise your media profile. You can obtain free publicity through press releases in local newspapers, articles about yourself and aspects of your work, and through participation in local radio and television broadcasts. Local radio is generally easier than television – many chat shows are always on the lookout for someone with something to say. If you feel you have something to offer contact your local radio station by telephone or letter.
  • Explore adult education in your area. You can make yourself known locally by offering seminars, workshops and courses at colleges and adult education institutions. If you are interested in doing this, write to your local college with an outline program of what you propose to offer. Your reference library will have a list of all colleges and adult education classes.
  • Another option is to give talks to some of the many local societies in your area. Again, a handbook of local societies or your local library noticeboard may display these. If you do give a talk, link it to your audience’s interests and make it lively and interesting. Aim to link your ideas together with a common theme and present just a few key points. Send a notice (or press release) to your local papers informing them of your talk.

Publicity that Costs

  • Consider using your local press. Advertisements in the appropriate section of your local press can be successful provided you place them regularly. Most local newspapers now also have a website and your advert will appear both inprint and online. Readers need to have seen your name frequently before they begin to see you as a reliable service that they might be interested in using. Having assessed the costs, start with a three-month trial run.
  • Yellow Pages. Listing in the Yellow Pages has for many years been a good referral source, although a feature advertisement is costly and you need to book some months in advance. Usually, all that is required is name, address, qualifications and telephone number. Note that the Internet is now replacing the Yellow Pages, with many people searching for services on the Internet as their first port of call. These days listing in the Yellow Pages can also include a listing online on Yell.com – but many therapists report a poor return on this considerable investment. Consider your target client group carefully before making a decision – how does your target client group really find a local service?

Follow Up

When you get an enquiry, send potential clients your literature (either by email or post). A welcoming letter or email when clients book an initial session makes it much more likely that they will turn up, and also sets a strong, professional first impression.

Marketing requires consistent and sustained effort.

As your practice becomes established, more of your work will come from word-of-mouth, but some level of marketing remains important.

Remember you don’t need to spend a lot on marketing to produce a really effective campaign, but it is important to be imaginative and focused. Think carefully about any money you do spend so that you get full value from it.

It is wise to think of your marketing the same as you think about your rent. You pay it and never think twice. It’s also wise to think of your marketing as breathing. You couldn’t exist with only one breath, or even two or three. Don’t think you’re going to attract a new customer with only one effort, or even two or three. You keep breathing and stay alive. You keep marketing and stay profitable.

Jay Conrad Levinson, ‘Guerilla Marketing’