By Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP
Having conducted a highly successful private practice for nearly 40 years, with experience and research I learned the keys to effective and efficient private practice marketing:
1. Think like a business person.
Most mental health providers never had a course in business, management, or marketing. In fact, most mental health practitioners dislike business and abhor marketing. This negative view of business and marketing is the prime reason for the high failure rate of private practices.
A private mental health practice is a business—albeit a service business—in every sense of the term. The lifeblood of any business is a consistent flow of new and returning customers. This can only occur through effective marketing. You may be the most skilled therapist in the county, but if only you, your mother, and your administrative assistant know this, you will fail in practice and clients will not be able to avail themselves of your service. To be successful in today’s competitive private practice environment, you must conduct your practice as a business and spend the time and energy to promote it.
2. Identify and promote your niche(s).
Ask a mental health provider “What do you do?” and the typical response is general in nature. For example, “I see kids and families.” This generic answer will not garner many clients. The following specific statements, on the other hand, will be far more productive: “I work with children with bipolar disorder” or “I help couples whom are struggling with a betrayal—like an affair.” It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more narrow your niche, the more effective your marketing becomes.
You likely have more than one niche (I certainly did) but you should not promote all of them at the same time. Recently I saw an ad on TV in which a local attorney touted an array of services—personal injury, divorce, wills, business transactions, etc. As is often said in the marketing world, if you say you can do everything, you are also saying you’re an expert in nothing.
3. Identify your marketing target and determine the best approach to connect with it.
Most mental health providers view marketing as spending a day dropping in on a few physicians in a nearby medical building. While this is better than doing nothing, it is not very effective and certainly is inefficient.
When I decided to pursue my niche in the personal injury (PI) arena 25 years ago, I arranged with the Arizona Bar Association to present, “Recognizing and Managing PTSD in the PI Client.” Approximately 45 PI attorneys attended that workshop. That 90-minute presentation resulted in one of the most significant facets of my practice. It clearly was effective and efficient.
A therapist who consulted with me wanted to enhance her practice and see more children. She had met with her child’s pediatrician and had spoken to parents at her child’s private school, with modest results. After some discussion, I recommended she contact the local pediatric society and offer a relevant presentation. Four months later she presented to 35 pediatricians on the psychological and behavioral management of ADHD. Her practice took off.
4. Speak—become the expert.
Speaking to the right audience not only is effective and efficient marketing, it also marks the presenter as an expert. Speaking to professional groups, associations, schools, religious organizations, health clubs, etc. will establish you as an expert. Clients with managed care insurance will pay cash to see you if they perceive you as a specialist.
Writing articles on topics related to your niche(s) and having them published is another excellent way to become known and recognized as an expert. Articles can be published—and re-purposed—in many places—local newspaper and/or magazines, health club newsletter, place of worship newsletter, community newspaper, etc.
Nearly every mental health provider, I submit, has at least one book within them and they should write it. Nothing contributes more to the perception of your expertise than authoring a book. There are numerous methods today to put out a book—self-publish, e-book, audio-book, print-on-demand, Amazon publishing, etc. In addition to promoting your name, niche, and expertise, writing a book fosters a sense of accomplishment and can provide needed passive income.
6. Use the media and social media.
Another sure-proof way to become recognized as an expert is to get on a local TV news show or a talk radio program. It is surprisingly easy to do. What is necessary is a “hook”—a specific topic that relates to a current event, the calendar (such as New Year’s or Valentine’s Day), or an “evergreen” (always relevant) subject, such as parenting or marital communication. A five-minute appearance on a TV spot or in a 30-minute radio show could reach several hundred prospective clients.
With regard to social media, you should copy your articles, or chapters in your book, onto your professional Face Book page and your website (which you MUST have). If you can develop a substantial following, you can hone the perception that you are an expert. With traffic you may even be asked to allow advertising on your pages, which will increase your passive stream of income.
By using these six key marketing strategies on a regular basis, you will soon develop a consistent flow of cash-pay clients.
Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who practiced in the Paradise Valley area of Phoenix for nearly 40 years. He worked with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples. He also provided forensic consultations in the areas of family law, personal injury, and estate planning. He speaks professionally on marriage, parenting, private practice, and psychotherapy to laypersons, educators, corporations, attorneys, chiropractors, and fellow mental health professionals. He teaches graduate courses for the Educational Psychology Department of Northern Arizona University. He is the author of “Who’s Raising Whom? A Parent’s Guide to Effective Child Discipline;” “Coping with Your Adolescent;” “How Come I Love Him but Can’t Live with Him? Making Your Marriage Work Better;” “The Graduate Course You Never Had: How to Develop, Manage, and Market a Flourishing Private Practice—With and Without Managed Care;” and “Too Busy Earning a Living to Make Your Fortune? Discover the Psychology of Achieving Your Life Goals.” His contact information is: 602-418-8161; email–LarryWaldmanPhD@cox.net; website–TopPhoenixPsychologist.com.