Editors note. This is a guest post from Luke Brasel. We occasionally have other practitioners share their story of building a private practice. Luke offers some great insights into this process. if you have ideas you’d like to share with our readers, click here to contact us for more information.
When Samuel asked me to share the best things I have done to build my practice, I took out my notepad and pen to brainstorm. Fifteen minutes later, the page sat blank in front of me. I wrote “Building a Private Practice” in the middle. Then I circled it. That seemed like the writer’s thing to do. Still nothing. Fear began to wrap its arms around me. How have I built my practice? Did it just happen?
I flipped the page over and tallied the referral sources from which my clients have come. I had twelve different sources. On one hand, that sounds great, right? I have twelve people who know and trust me well enough to give my name out. On the other hand, it’s not like each source is sending me a client once a week or even once a month. If that were the case, I would never worry about my client numbers. So while I scratched my head about how I had built my practice, I found a couple common themes which have contributed:
Do Your Own Work. You cannot take a client further than you have gone yourself. I tell couples the best thing they can do for their marriage is their own individual work. It is also the best thing we can do for our clients. In private practice, you are the business, right? Your character, integrity, story, philosophy, and self-care mean everything when it comes to what you have to offer to those in your care. It’s also what makes you trustworthy to referral sources.
Be Known. People cannot refer to you until they know you. There are a number of ways to be known, and you must determine which work best for you. At first I thought an attractive website would make me known. Very few clients have randomly found me on the web. Instead, it turns out a few good relationships generate more referrals than a fancy website. I was just sitting with a mentor, a senior therapist with a well-established practice. In his own journey he acknowledged it was a close relationship with one connected friend which jump-started his practice years ago. When it comes to referrals sources, you must be known. How can you best be known?
Speaking and Groups. These are two ways I have made myself known. Public speaking may not be easy, but it allows us to be known far more quickly than arranging coffee with 100 folks. Thus far I have not done many speaking engagements, but when I have, a few listeners turned into clients. If you have the chance to speak, take it. You might even pursue places to speak for free. Create your own workshop or develop a talk you can re-give in different venues.
Groups have become another avenue for me to be known. I facilitate four groups a week with five to eight participants in each. This leads to individual appointments, and people begin to tell their friends about their experience in group. A word of caution about groups: Facilitating a group can zap your energy, so only pursue it if you discover you enjoy the process. Speaking is likely to take less energy and spread your name faster.
Turn Good Relationships into New Relationships. Start with the people who know you well, cultivate those relationships, and then multiply them. This is far better than cold-calling organizations, or taking clinicians to lunch who do not know you. Ask those who know you to introduce you to people they know. Take your new acquaintances to coffee. Invite them to office parties. Stay connected.
The fear of launching a private practice can paralyze your dream before it begins. If you are not scared, you must be superhuman. Keep your day job. Start small. Subscribe to a daily dose of patience. And find ways to be known.
Luke Brasel is in private practice in the Nashville, TN area working with adolescents and adults in enriching their story through engaging hurts, hopes, and desires. You can learn more about his practice by visiting his website: www.LukeBrasel.com or follow him on twitter @luketbrasel.