So you’re ready to get started in private practice, but how do you get counseling clients to find you? No need to fret. Today’s article covers what you need to get started with marketing your private practice.
How to Get Counseling Clients (without burning out)
When I first started out in private practice I got all kinds of advice from well-meaning therapists about how to get more clients: print business cards, network with physicians and lawyers, start a social media page, start a blog, run ads online, etc. I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to keep up with all of these tasks.
Let me help you out real quick: DON’T DO THAT!
There are all kinds of advice out there these days about how to grow your practice, but much of it takes a one-size-fits-all kind of approach. People share the advice that worked for them and present it in such a way that it seems the same approach should work for everyone else.
If you follow their advice, you might feel deflated when these approaches don’t work for you in the same ways they worked for them.
On a deeper level, copy and pasting others’ approaches misses an opportunity to leverage our individual strengths to grow our practice our own way.
I want to help you do that!
Why You Need a Marketing Strategy to get Counseling Clients
With everything I said about not mimicking others’ marketing strategies, you absolutely do need a marketing strategy in order to grow your private practice.
The main key is to target your marketing efforts in the right direction rather than casting a wide net.
Here are a few of my top tips to help you get started with developing your own marketing approach so that you can get counseling clients.
1. Narrow your niche
In order to target your marketing approach, you need to know your niche. The idea is that you’re going to have more success casting a smaller net but catching the people who want to see YOU and only you.
If you’re not yet familiar with what your niche is, I have a blog post all about how to Find Your Niche in Private Practice. Be sure to start there first as it will help you know how to get counseling clients who will be the right fit for you.
Need some more time to discover your niche? It’s okay! My recommendation is to find a marketing avenue that plays to your strengths rather than trying to run circles around yourself doing everything. Take a look and see if any of these items fit your strengths:
- One-on-one networking
- Website knowledge/SEO skills
- Social media savvy
- Teaching (workshops, blogging, free seminars)
- Connecting with others through local community service
If you look through this list and feel like none of these really fit you, consider where you spend your time already: where do you like to hang out? Are you walking your dog, going to the gym, spending time online? It’s okay to start with wherever you’re at and lean into those communities first. It may not be appropriate to have a professional relationship with someone you know in these capacities, but those people may be your first referral sources.
2. Identify where your target market hangs out
If this sounds like jibberish, let me help break it down.
Your target market includes people who reflect your ideal client.
Your ideal client is someone who thinks YOU are the most perfect fit to offer a solution to their problem.
Imagine you are in the business of selling candy. If you were looking for a place to put your candy store, you might not want to just snag the first available location to set up. Maybe you are targeting kids and families. You might consider looking to open your candy store near a school or an amusement park. Making a targeted decision like this will make it so much easier than if you opened your shop in an industrial part of town where your target market isn’t hanging out.
Based on your niche, try to put yourself in your ideal client’s shoes. Imagine where they might be spending their time. Whether it’s online or in-person, where might you find them? If you specialize in working with individuals experiencing chronic pain, you may find them at physical therapy offices and doctors’ offices. If you specialize in working with kids experiencing ADHD, you might find their parents hanging out at schools and parent support groups. Young adults might be hanging out on social media.
Take your time with this step. Do a bit of research online and brainstorm with colleagues. Try to think of all the various places you might find your ideal clients. If you find a niche where no one else in your area meets the exact need that you do, a small amount of marketing targeted in the right place can be all it takes to fill your practice.
3. Target your marketing
Rather than trying to take on every marketing strategy available under the sun, it’s more helpful to focus your energies in those areas identified in step 2. This step may require some hustle, elbow grease, networking, and research, but it will pay off in the long run.
See if you can identify one targeted approach that you’d like to drive hard. Give yourself a week or a month to really push that approach. Then take a moment to step back and collect data on the outcomes of that approach.
For example, I market myself as an open and affirming therapist working with individuals who identify both as Christian and LGBTQ+.
When I first opened my practice in San Jose I went around and I looked for the local churches that identified as LGBTQ+ open and affirming. I contacted the leadership at those churches and started to network with them.
Out of all of the marketing strategies that I’ve used along the way, this has by far been the most reliable steady stream of clients that I’ve gotten through any marketing strategy. Furthermore, these clients tend to stick around longer and refer more clients to see me because they are my target market.
As you can see, a targeted marketing approach geared towards your specific niche can go a really long way. If you try an approach and it’s not getting you therapy clients, come back here to the drawing board and experiment with finding a new approach.
4. Solve a problem
Sometimes when we market ourselves it feels like we’re flailing our arms at the world going, “Hi! I’m here! Send me clients!” And it can feel a bit sleazy. Instead, I suggest you target your efforts towards solving a problem.
Solving a real problem for people shifts the dynamic from you coming across as “sales-ey” to building a sense of trust, both in your ability to understand their needs and in your capacity to help them. When we see a problem someone is going through and we help them solve it, we win their trust. This is the ticket to getting counseling clients.
For example, when I reached out to churches I offered to teach free workshops in the areas that their congregants were needing some support with. This helped to build trust and develop lasting relationships even with those churches that didn’t end up taking me up on my offer to teach a workshop.
5. Utilize low-hanging fruit
Whenever a therapist is starting out in private practice I always suggest they start a free trial with whatever directories they can find a trial for. Here are a few websites worth exploring to see if they offer a free trial or if you can find a coupon for them:
- Psychology Today
- Therapy Den
- Directory for Therapists
- Therapy Tribe
- Therapist Locator
- Network Therapy
Start whatever free trials you can and view it as a type of market research to see which of these are helpful to you, bringing you clients, and potentially worth paying for once your trial is up.
Before you decide to remove your listing from one of these services, be sure to do the math. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard therapists say that they’re dropping Psychology Today because they only get one or two referrals a month from Psychology Today.
Let’s think about that for a second: Psychology Today costs $29.95 a month, which amounts to about $360 per year. So if you’re charging $150 per client session you’ve already covered your annual cost for Psychology Today in just three sessions.
I still have clients who come to see me from years ago who were referred through Psychology Today, even though I only get about one referral a month from the directory. That still amounts to tens of thousands of dollars of revenue I’ve earned over the last six years from Psychology Today.
When you create your listing just be sure to target your profile to your target market. Make it clear through your descriptions and filter options who you are, who you work with, and what specific problems you can help them solve.
Of course there’s so much more to getting counseling clients than this, but hopefully these tips will help you get off the ground and seeing clients without feeling totally overwhelmed.
Ready to dive deeper into starting a private practice? I have a free guide for that! Check it out here to grab your free guide: Start a Private Practice in Counseling
Until next time, from one therapist to another: I wish you well.