Do you have a guess as to how most therapists are filling their practice?
I was curious about this. My question was: for folks in private practice, what’s the primary way that they’ve filled their practices?
I have not been shy in sharing how much I love SEO (aka, I’m absolutely OBSESSED with it). It’s filled my former practice in San Jose, and my new practice in San Diego. And, it’s also the primary source of traffic and revenue for Private Practice Skills.
It’s totally working for me.
But, I think it’s possible that for all the heart emojis coming out of my eyes for SEO, I’ve been blind to the reality that SEO is not the way most therapists are filling their practice.
I Turned To Instagram
And although I don’t have access to formal tools to help me do a proper study on this, I do have an instagram account. Some of you follow me there. Which is pretty much the next best thing.
So I put out a poll on instagram asking y’all to share what your primary referral source is for your practice.
32 folks responded. And let me tell you, I was totally surprised by how most therapists are filling their practice.
My Predictions Were Wrong!
Before I dive into the results, I’ll share what I had predicted the results would be.
I had figured that a significant portion of folks would receive their referrals directly through insurance. From clients reaching out to their insurance provider and getting a list of therapist names to choose from. I thought this might account for even half of the referrals for private practice.
But as I mentioned, I was completely surprised by the results. So this really wasn’t the case.
How Are Therapists Really Filling Their Practices?
First, let’s take a look at everything that was more of a one-off. There were 3 referral sources that were reported by just one respondent: EAP referrals, the criminal justice system, and, wait for it, insurance.
3%: Insurance Referrals
Yes, just ONE person responded that they get most of their referrals through insurance. My mind was totally blown.
Now, I want to clarify that this doesn’t mean that folks getting referrals from other sources aren’t billing insurance for those services. I was just surprised by how little folks are finding a private practice therapist directly through their insurance.
3%: EAP Referrals, and 3% Criminal Justice System Referrals
The other items: EAPs and criminal justice system, make sense to me as a one-off. I won’t dig into those in this article, but perhaps in the future we can talk more about EAPs. I think that is a really viable referral source that’s being underutilized.
6%: SEO Referrals
This is a little bit of a come to Jesus moment for me. Because, the thing I’m absolutely obsessed with seems to still largely be an untapped gem.
As a refresher, SEO stands for search engine optimization. Basically, there are strategies you can apply on your website – for free – that help your website show up in Google search results for folks looking for a therapist just like you. Not only is it free, but I’ve found that since so few therapists optimize their website for search results, just a tiny bit of work on SEO is enough to keep my practice full.
So I guess folks’ replies here shouldn’t be so surprising. If every therapist was using SEO to fill their practice then it would take a lot more elbow grease to show up in search results.
Third on the list and tied with SEO with just 2 responses is speaking events and workshops. Woo!
This makes sense to me that it’s not at the top of the list. Speaking events can be super effective at bringing in referrals! Especially if you can get a number of them under your belt and make a name for yourself locally.
But there is also a rather significant amount of time investment required. And from my experience, most speaking gigs aren’t paid unless you’ve already built up a name for yourself.
So it’s a lot of time and energy invested. Generally, I think speaking gigs are a good fit if you intrinsically enjoy teaching. Or if you find a sense of value in offering something meaningful to folks who otherwise might not attend therapy.
And yes, in time, you can also glean referrals for your practice.
25%: Networking Referrals
Number two on the list is networking and word of mouth with 8 total responses.
I lumped networking and word of mouth together. I see word of mouth as an extension of networking – folks you’re already connected with are passing your name along to others. Whether it’s a client of yours passing your name along, or a connection you made with a fellow professional.
Some folks named their networking sources, which included: client referrals, MDs, and fellow therapists.
This response didn’t surprise me all too much. I’ve found for myself, that over time, word of mouth and networking referrals really kick in.
This can sometimes be a slow ramp in the beginning. But, as you build your caseload and have more connections with other professionals, if word gets back that folks are having a good experience with you the referrals suddenly can start pouring in.
I am still getting referrals from my practice in SF, which I closed down in 2017. It’s been 5 years and I’m still getting referrals from folks I worked with there!
53%: Online Directory Referrals
Oh my gosh. I was surprised. Are you surprised?
Part of me second-guessed myself. I started to wonder if I’m living in such a bubble that I just didn’t realize how many folks are getting referrals through online directories.
I had to reflect on this a bit. Here’s why I think I’m surprised: In the past, I tried investing a lot in online directories, and for me, I never had that much success getting too many clients from them. I would get maybe one or two referrals a month. Enough to justify continuing to pay for an online listing, but not enough to fill a practice in any reliable way.
And for me, for whatever reason, I experienced a lot more variability in the types of referrals I received through online directories. It would be more of a hit and miss whether someone who found me through a directory would even slightly resemble my ideal client. Rather, SEO has been pretty reliable in sending me my ideal clients who are also ready to book with me by the time they reach out.
So I had to have a little come to Jesus moment to acknowledge and remind myself of something that I try to preach: private practice is NOT one size fits all. Just because I didn’t have success with a strategy doesn’t mean it won’t work for others. Also, just because a certain strategy works great for me, it may not be the strategy for everyone else either.
Most Popular Online Directory
With all that said, folks also were specific in naming which online directories they received most of their referrals from.
And this one comes as no surprise that Psychology Today was the vast winner! 13 folks named this as their primary referral source.
There were also three additional respondents who named this as their secondary source of referrals. So in total, 16 of the 32 folks who responded said Psychology Today alone was sending lots of referrals.
Other online directories mentioned included TherapyDen, Therapy for Black Girls, TherapyRoute (Europe), and ZocDoc, which is an insurance-based directory.
I wonder what strategies might be helping therapists fill their practices with online directories? Or if there are other factors at play, such as saturation of your local market. Who knows?
Want Help With SEO?
And if you’re like me and you’re in the boat where online directories aren’t quite doing it for you, and you’d like to explore SEO, I have a whole series covering SEO. (Did I mention I’m obsessed?)
Or if you want help with your entire website, including SEO, I have a course covering everything you need to launch a successful website.
Until next time, from one therapist to another: I wish you well.
Photo by Pixabay