Editors note: This is a guest post from Tressa Gibbs. We occasionally have other practitioners share their story and experience of building a private practice. Tressa shares some insights she gained from building her private practice in Nashville. We’d love to hear your story. If you have ideas you’d like to share with our readers, click here to contact us for more information.
I started my private practice 3 years ago, after taking time off staying home with my 2 children. I felt like I was a good clinician, with solid skills, but I was NOT a business owner. There was no class for that in my graduate program…or at least that I was aware of. If only I could have had a marketing class, a business management class or some type of PR experience! So, I, like most other counselors, had to figure it out on my own, with help of reading and talking to others who were doing it.
As I fumbled along figuring out what works and doesn’t, where to get referrals, how much time to spend on marketing, etc., I found the following 3 things really helped grow my practice, and have helped me more than double my income each year that I’ve been in practice.
1- Have a good online presence.
This is where clients are looking. They want to know about you before they actually meet you. I put a picture of me and my office, as well as some personal information about me on my website. No more psycho-babble about all the theories I use, most clients care less about that, and more about if will they feel safe and comfortable talking to me. I want my potential clients to already have a sense of who I am and how I work when they walk in my office.
I also think finding a few social media outlets you can feel comfortable in to really put good content on helps tremendously. Letting others in your social and professional circle know what you are doing will eventually lead to referrals. A bonus is it keeps you focused on becoming an expert in your area of specialty.
2- Answer the phone.
I can’t tell you how many times I used to let my voicemail catch a call so that I could call back at a more convenient time. More than a few times when I would call back, they had already moved on to the next counselor. On the flip side, I have had many times when I answered a call, and a client would say, you are the 2nd or 3rd person I’ve called, and the 1st person to answer. I have found that potential clients are busy and don’t want to spend time playing phone tag for 3 days. They often have finally found the courage to make the call, they want to talk to someone live!
Not only did I find that I should answer the phone, if at all possible, but I should be prepared to spend 10-15 minutes talking to my potential client. If I could listen, and show them the empathy I would in my office, they will most likely connect with me and want to schedule an appointment. This means me taking the time to ask them about their situation, and be prepared to give them hope of how I can help. This took an internal shift for me, being brave enough and willing to “sell myself!” I also tackled the “do you take insurance question” head on, with why I don’t, and helped educate them about the process. I found most people, after spending time being heard, are open and willing to pay for a service that they believe will be worth it.
3- Build a niche.
This is the one I was most scared of. What if I limit myself and don’t have enough clients? Well, the opposite was true for me. As soon as I became focused on working with couples, I started immediately getting more referrals, and ones I wanted the most. It makes other referral sources much more willing to refer a specific client to you if they know you are trained and skilled to work with them. If you are a “catch all” therapist who works with anyone, you can lose credibility from other referral sources.
Once I developed my niche, I made sure to target that population on my website. I have several questions on my website that speak directly to some of the issues couples in need would possibly be having. I have had so many couples call and say “when I read those questions on your website, I knew you were the therapist for us.” They know I “get them” and understand where they’re at, so they are more comfortable calling me.