Greetings fellow therapists and healers in the world, I am glad you are here!
Each week I receive several emails asking me for guidance on various areas of private practice. While I am always happy to be of support, my schedule has grown to the point where I cannot adequately answer every email that comes my way.
There are so many moving parts when starting your private practice business (yes, it is a business!), that covering everything in one email or blog is impossible. In order to support my fellow clinicians in the world, I decided to put together an extensive list that covers a few key areas.
First Things First
You've found your office location, selected your practice name, and made sure your name falls within the legal guidelines of your state requirements. You've filed your DBA (Doing Business As), opened up a business bank account, perhaps incorporated your business, and printed up your business cards. You have your liability insurance in place, your consent forms and materials ready to go (NOTE: if you do not want to reinvent the wheel, you can get your private practice forms and client materials here). You have everything in place, and...now what?
I am glad you asked! Get ready to roll up your sleeves, take notes, and get inspired from the following tips - let's go!
Tip #1: Have a "tweak-able" website
Whenever I am interviewed this question is always on the list, “Mari, where should a therapist first invest their money in building a business?” My answer: "After liability insurance and a good business attorney, hire a skilled website designer with a great reputation and excellent testimonials, someone who will listen to your vision, who knows his/her stuff, understands basic coding and SEO, and then work closely with them in creating a great website.”
Many therapists feel overwhelmed at the prospect of website building. As a former "tech phobe", I understand those fears. However, I eventually grew weary of feeling like I had to go to the twenty year old people in my life to walk me through my technology challenges. I decided to invest in some basic website and tech training so that I felt more confident. These days, while I am far from being a tech expert, I can hold my own just fine.
If you are planning on building your own website, or for people like me who enjoy working on and having control over their website, here are two popular website platforms you can research:
- If you are techie, want a ton of freedom, can manage basic coding, and you are not afraid of website design, you may enjoy Wordpress. While some people are big fans of this platform, WP is not my cup of coco simply because I prefer not to have to constantly tweak and tweak, find the appropriate plug ins, update and so forth.
- If you prefer having a wide selection of beautiful templates with user friendly layouts, as well as the ease of editing at your finger tips, squarespace is likely more up your alley. For example, this website is one that was built on squarespace. I find it to be user friendly, and though I am not a website wonder woman, I can still add a few bells and whistles here and there. Additionally, squarespace offers just enough flexibility without me getting myself into too much tech trouble. I can go onto my squarespace websites and pretty much tweak anything I need from my store of products for therapists, to adding a new blog post, switch out images, update fees, or add my coaching workshops with ease and speed...and no expensive hourly fees to pay!
And, for the record, I have no affiliate relationship with either company. I simply like squarespace best and wanted to share these resources for those in need.
Whatever platform or web designer you invest in, do your research, know what questions to ask, and seek out referrals from colleagues you trust. And please make sure that your web designer is willing to walk you through a basic training so that you can do future updates yourself.
Also, discuss the option of creating a lead page (a professional landing page) for special events or workshops you are facilitating. The topic of landing pages is a hot trend currently so make sure you discuss this option with your designer.
Tip #2. Website SEO is everything!
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Whether you hire a web designer or build the site on your own, it won’t matter how great it is if it is buried on the last page of the internet. Any web designer worth their salt will understand how to position your website so your site is search engine optimized. Your web designer should either be well versed in SEO, or have a SEO expert that they work with. Why would you build a wonderful website only to have it show up in no man's land on the web?
How a website is optimized for SEO will directly inform how search engines find your website based on what people (i.e your ideal client) are searching for. If you have a website with good SEO, eventually your site will make its way to the first page of the search vs. being buried at the back pages. The goal is to be on page one above the fold (the first 4-6 sites listed on page one of the search results; above the fold means visible on your screen without scrolling).
While SEO is a vast topic best saved for the experts, the bottom line is that we all search for information via the Internet these days. We do this by using terms or keywords typed into search engines (called long tail or short tail key phrases). Search engines then use these key words or phrases to find websites that are a good match. How your website is designed with page descriptions is important because these are the bread crumbs the "google bots" follow. This is why creating a website with good SEO is imperative.
Example: The goal of having great SEO is so that your client can easily find you when searching the web. You can give that a try by doing these two google searches:
Sex and Porn Addiction Therapist in Glendora California (example of a long tail search). Where do you see my practice showing up?
Now try, Sex addiction Glendora (example of a short tail search). In both searches my counseling center should show up on page one.
Finally, be sure you study up (or hire a website designer) that is up to speed on long-tail and short-tail keywords and phrases. This topic is another blog post in and of itself, but essentially, this is what people are going to be typing in their search engine, or likely googling.
For example: Sex addiction Glendora is short tail. Sex addiction couples counselor Glendora CA. is long tail. Each have their own benefits and draw backs. Again, make sure the web designer you hire understands how to implement a combination of long and short tail words when building your site.
Tip #3. Keywords & H1/H2 Website Titles
Gone are the days of overloading each page with key words to spike SEO. Google will catch on to this mighty quick and you will receive a slap on the wrist in the form of being penalized.
Instead, think about adding unique content on your website pages that speaks directly to your ideal client. A blog, in bound links (i.e. links that take the visitor to another page within YOUR website), and using specific words that your client will connect with are important pieces to include on your website. The idea is not to over use your key words. Think about sprinkling them here and there like a little dash of spice, vs. slathering on the frosting.
Additionally, make sure you (or your web designer) put a solid focus on your H1 and H2 (the first two headings on each page). Make sure your H1s and H2s are reflecting how your ideal client would search for you and find you. My ideal therapy client would be searching for, "Sex addiction counseling in Glendora" or "Porn addiction therapist Glendora" and they would find me almost immediately.
For example, if you are a therapist specializing in sex addiction, then each of your H1 and H2 headings should speak to that. You can take a look at my sex addiction website www.growthcounselingservices.com to see what I am referring to if you like. What do you learn about my work in the first few seconds of scanning the home page?
SIDE NOTE: When you click on my counseling link, I want you to notice how my counseling website opens up in a unique window (or tab) vs. taking you completely out of this blog. That is something you want to make sure you are doing when building a website with outbound links. As an aside, keep your outbound links to a minimum - you want your clients staying on your website after all!
Moving on to content, research shows (you can google this research stat) people no longer read websites, they scan only about 28% of the content. And people tend to read in an "F" pattern with the upper left always getting the most attention. This means that you will need to highlight important information, bullet point, and keep it simple, warm, and concise.
With an e-commerce store, this means that you must have every image placed clearly with easy to scan descriptions. For example, if a therapist on Facebook asks if anyone knows of materials and forms for group therapy, I can be of support by simply including a link like this to my therapist toolbox: http://www.thecounselorscoach.com/group-therapy-forms-therapists - not only will this link take them directly to what they need, the words included in the link will give them an immediate sense of comfort in that they know where this link is taking them, and it is very easy to see that it will provide what they have asked for, group therapy forms and materials. Or if that same therapist googles: group therapy forms for therapists (a long tail), this will pop up that way. It all needs to connect together like a puzzle. A well executed dance between your website structure and content and how google wants to search.
If you struggle with content, design or layout, either hire a website designer who specializes in this, or work with a coach or ghost writer who can help you write up focused and connected website content. I love to write (clearly, ha!) but not everyone does and that's OK!
Tip #4. Mobile Friendly Website
Last year (2015), Google announced, "More Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in the United States." What this means is that if someone pulls up your website on their smartphone, it must be formatted for the device. Your website text, layout and images need to be easy to read when pulled up on a smart phone.
This is such an important piece of solid website design that early in 2015, Google shared that they would begin penalizing sites that were not mobile friendly. Squarespace makes this step very simple as it is built in as part of their design package. There is a plug in for wordpress that handles this as well.
If you are uncertain if your website passes the mobile friendly test, you can either pull it up on your smart phone and just take a look, and/or go to the Google website where they offer a free analysis to check your website.
Tip # 5. Have solid client forms & materials that cover all bases
A comprehensive client forms packet (located here) is an absolute must as one of the key building blocks in your practice. You will be the first therapist for many of your future clients. As such, it is important for you to educate your client on what your policy is and have signed and dated forms as part of your due diligence in meeting the legal and ethical standard of care that our state board expects from us.
We know that having well written, ethical, and professional client forms is critical, yet, what I hear most often from therapists is the stress involved in trying to find the time to write, edit and produce excellent client forms that address all the important clinical points we need to have in place.
Your forms should include the following:
- Informed consent with signature lines for clients
- Limits of confidentiality
- Mandated reporting duties
- A Bio/Psycho/Social Assessment
- Client Information
- Fee and fee increase structure
- Social Media Boundaries
- Cancellation Policy
- Individual Assessment
- Emergency Contact
- Client Superbill
- No Suicide Form
- Release of Information
- Private Practice Acknowledgement
- Credit Card Authorization Form
- Court Letter Writing
- Letter Requests
- Accepting Gifts
- Boundaries out of session
- Between Session Contact
Each form should be written in a way that conveys warmth, boundaries, and confidence to the client.
Here is the good news: If you prefer not to reinvent the wheel, as a support our community, as well as to honor my time over many years invested in writing and refining my forms, I have created a beautiful and professional packet of private practice documents that cover all of this. And, I give each therapist copyright permission to brand with their own logo and practice information. If this material would be a good support for you, you can find that here in the Therapist Toolbox.
Tip #6. Start building your mailing list
Make sure you begin to build your mailing list right out of the gate. One easy way to do this is to have an opt in pop up on your website. This is a great way to begin to build a strong and ethical mailing list. No one likes getting spam or newsletters that they did not sign up for. And federal regulations are cracking down on this kind of practice.
In case you are not familiar, an opt in form is something that we see all the time. Basically it is a little box or small page that pops up as you scroll down the website asking if you would like to sign up for future tips, workshops and information (like the one on this website). Your website designer should include an opt in on your website.
Here are some tips about opt ins:
- You want your opt in page to match your website design in both appearance and tone. Your opt in needs to "sound" like you are speaking.
- You want it to stand out a bit visually. It needs to pop. Using a quote from you is wise.
- Give the visitor something of value so that they are interested in hearing from you in the future. Remember, you are building a relationship with your website visitor with your opt in. This is not just a scramble for emails, this is a first step in a relationship.
- You can add a video to your opt in, something that the visitor can click on to connect to your voice and personality. I will be doing that this year!
- Make sure you time your opt in to pop up so it doesn't irritate your visitor. Nothing is more annoying than clicking on a website and the first thing you are presented with is a box demanding your email. Yuck, that is a major turn off. Instead, let the reader take a moment or two to scroll, and then have your opt in appear. Yes, you may lose a couple of looky loos who are in and out of your site before your opt in appears, but that is better than slamming it into your visitor's face right off of the bat.
- You can also add opt ins on your landing pages for webinars, workshops and other events you are planning.
Tip #7 (a). Niche in order to brand yourself
By now most everyone has heard about the importance of specializing in a particular niche as a private practice therapist. My newer coaching clients often (and understandably so) feel a bit anxious about this asking, “Mari, if I specialize and market myself as a therapist working with depression, won’t I limit myself and miss out on other clients?”
While it may feel counter intuitive, developing a niche that you are passionate about and experienced in is a wise first step step in branding yourself as an expert. Not only will it attract your ideal client that you are trained to support, as word gets out about the good work you are doing, other clients outside of your niche will contact you.
For example, in my clinical role as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, my niche that I am certified in with more than a decade of experience is as a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist. I co-authored a popular book for partners of sex addicts as well. Yet only 75% of my clients are people dealing with sexual compulsive behaviors and porn addiction, or they are the partner or spouse of the addict. The other 25% are clients who are dealing with trauma, unresolved grief, anxiety and depression.
[An important note: Please do not take a weekend workshop and then begin advertising yourself as an expert. This is not only unethical, it can cross legal boundaries as well.]
So, what qualifies a therapist (or any professional within a particular field) to be called or to call himself or herself an expert? Good question! Let's explore that:
In my estimation, an expert is a person who has considerable knowledge, additional education, refined skill, or experience honed over time in a particular area within their professional field. An expert is a person who has created systems, materials, and clinical procedures that are used by other colleagues and professionals within their discipline.
Additionally, an expert professional will possess a greater amount of knowledge and experience than others in that same niche. And an expert in a particular specialization has gone the distance to invest in further study and education, and continues to stay abreast of current research.
Finally, an expert is asked to publicly speak and provide training to others. In doing so, an expert is able to teach and support others based on their experience and gained information. And, most importantly, an expert has actual earned experience, and a respected track record in what they are providing and teaching.
For example, I am a business coach for therapists. I have earned this title by creating and maintaining a fee for service private pay practice with an average wait list of 3 months for nearly a decade. Additionally, I bring to my coaching role 30 years of small business experience and coaching and mentoring others.
I have earned the respect of colleagues by my contributions to the field of sex addiction therapy through my books and speaking. I am hired to present on the topic of sex addiction and trauma, as well as building a private practice and creating multiple income streams.
And I have created professional clinical forms and materials, a popular e-book of clinical exercises and activities, and clinical private practice forms packets, both free and at a reasonable cost, that have supported other therapists around the world. These therapists offer praise and feedback on just how helpful this material has been in supporting the good work they do.
Additionally, I am often asked to be interviewed on the topic of creating multiple income streams, something I do well and an area that I am an expert in. Finally, I have a reputation of being knowledgeable, supportive, organized, experienced, kind and honest through many years of working with my therapist coaching clients as shared in their testimonials.
Why is it important to be an expert? Because first and foremost, you are a business owner and this is your livelihood and reputation. If you cannot keep the office rent paid and the lights on, you cannot do the work you love. And, when you have earned the title of expert, you can teach, speak, and charge more than non-experts in your profession while helping others perfect their expertise. Finally, you can create multiple income streams as an expert vs. one income stream.
It may take an investment into a certification, or working hard to refine your skills, or hiring a coach, but eventually with focus and determination, you will develop an expertise that you can use to support others while you support yourself.
Tip #7 (b). Niche your niche even further!
What I mean by this is to specialize within your specialization. For example, let’s say your ideal client that you are passionate about working with, and have the experience, expertise and/or additional certifications to support, is depressed men. While this is a great niche, and one that is not flooded with a lot of competition, "depressed men" is fairly non-specific.
Instead, think about "niche-ing" that specialization down even further. I've written out some quick marketing examples of how you can do that:
- “As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I provide focused support and solid tools for newly divorced men who are dealing with depression."
- “As a former veteran and a Psychologist with over 15 years of experience, I have a great deal of empathy for men who are dealing with PTSD, depression and the impact of transitioning back into civilian life.""
- "As a person who was a widower at 38 years old, I understand the new challenges of finding yourself juggling roles as the sole provider and parent, while dealing with depression, grief and the loss of your mate."
- “Many of the men I support in my practice share that the co-parenting with their ex can bring about feelings of sadness and depression, especially if they are weekend fathers.”
- “As a former college teacher, I witnessed a large amount of anxiety and depression in new graduates who struggled to find work. Now as a Licensed Professional Counselor, I support men who are struggling to find their way post-graduation and are dealing with depression and apathy.”
- "As a gay male therapist I understand first hand feelings of sadness and depression when one is not accepted in your family or spiritual community."
- “Many of the professional men I have the honor of supporting at my practice discuss middle age burn out and depression. They talk about losing touch with their friends, and feeling unappreciated at home. If this is you, I am here to help.
Not only will this kind of language speak to and connect you with your ideal client, it will eventually help define you as an expert in that particular area of "depressed men."
Next, think about how you want to share this refined niche with other colleagues...how will you, in a sentence or two, brand yourself to that person or organization that you are trying to build a referral relationship with?
If you contacted me via email and asked me about my practice, here is how I would briefly respond about the clinical work I am passionate about:
"As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Certified Sex addiction Therapist with a decade of experience, as well as a former partner of a porn addict, I love to help individuals struggling with porn and sex addiction and their betrayed partners heal shame, anger, and heartbreak so that they can create a life and a relationship they are proud of. I work with each client and couple step-by-step in providing focused tools and a solid recovery plan in a confidential, non-judgmental counseling environment."
And here is an even shorter version (or the classic "elevator speech") if we were to meet in person: "I am a clinical therapist and former partner of a sex addict who now helps individuals and couples whose hearts have been broken and relationships torn apart due to the devastating impact of sex and porn addiction heal and move forward."
Voila! Within a few seconds I have painted a word picture for the listener to connect to. A picture that conveys my authority, experience, compassion and expertise as a licensed and certified professional. This paragraph is quickly scanned and clearly speaks to my passion for my niche. It offers a teeny bit of disclosure on my own personal connection to my specialization, and I have spoken about the client's pain and shame, as well conveyed my confidence in my treatment plan. Finally, I have given the client the gift of safety in not being judged if they work with me.
As we move onto the next tip, and at the risk of sounding like the proverbial broken record, please make sure that you have the necessary license, certifications and training so that you are operating within your scope of practice and expertise in providing care for your clients. If you are advertising yourself as an expert, then you must follow your state board's legal and ethical guidelines for calling yourself a specialist. Client safety and consideration must always be your top priority.
Tip #8. Stay away from the Negative Nellies
While there are many people who will celebrate your success and cheer for you as you move along in creating a successful practice, sadly there are those who will feel envious or competitive. I talk about this syndrome in several of my podcast interviews. The nutshell is: There will always be "Negative Nellies", "Fearful Freds", and "Envious Irmas" no matter what profession you are in, and, unfortunately, the wonderful world of therapists is no different.
While I have surrounded myself with a tribe of authentic, heart centered, creative, supportive and hilarious colleagues, from time-to-time there will be those individuals who cross our path who will unintentionally (or sometimes intentionally) attempt to rain on one's parade. You will know them by their dire warnings of impending doom and gloom, their envious snubs, their know it all attitudes, their argumentative or controlling nature, their manipulative tactics, or their snarky verbal jabs.
My best advise is to be polite, do not engage in the toxic dance, model what a true professional looks and sounds like, and move out of their circle of influence just as quickly as you possibly can. If they attempt to engage you in a negative manner on social media, simply be the bigger person and do not get hooked into their negativity and pain. Again, be polite, be professional, be fabulous, but be sure to have good boundaries.
Instead, build relationships with the people you respect and admire and connect with. Those who can be open, honest, and authentic. Colleagues who are not putting on a facade of perfection, whose professional public face matches their professional private face, and those clinicians who are excited about learning, growing and sharing so that you can learn and grow as well.
When you build good relationships with solid clinicians these people will support your work because they trust you and because they know you will be there to cheer them on as well. An example of this is when I began to make my exercises and activities for clients and group therapy available via my e-book, The Creative Clinician. I had created and refined these exercises and activities for nearly a decade, and for years and years I had given this material away for free. The day finally came when I wanted to honor my hard work and time and create a beautiful book that I would be proud to put my name on, and that other therapists and the clients they support would benefit from.
So I invested $1,200, paid for a copy editor, a graphic artist, and invested a year of my life to complete this project. It was my very first e-product and I was so nervous the morning I finally launched it. The feedback I received was so positive and therapists from all over the world expressed gratitude for this resource. It was one of the shining moments of my clinical career, and I will never forget it.
Moral of this story, find your tribe of peeps who celebrate you and don't need to dull your shine! Move away from the herds that all flock to one source. And stay away from the jealous Jenny's. Instead, cultivate relationships with therapist colleagues who are people you respect, trust, and those who support you.
Remember, there will always be people who, no matter how hard you try to be of service, support and good will, will find some reason to be disagreeable or down right mean spirited. They will frame their bad behavior as "offering another point of view" but if you wisely observe, over time you will find that wherever they go, a trail of negativity follows and that other colleagues give them a wide berth as well. If you share about your latest project, these difficult people will decide you are bragging. If you don't share enough, then they will decide you are withholding. It is a no win situation with individuals like this, so do your best to stay out of the fray.
Word of advise: When (not if) this happens, do not engage in mean spirited gossip, and do not, as Brene Brown says, create common enemy intimacy. It is perfectly fine to have a trusted colleague or two that you can each share your thoughts or hurts with and support each other in holding good boundaries, but it is another thing to engage in open forums bashing the trouble maker. Do not stoop to their level, be the bigger and wiser person.
Sadly there are some people (yes, even therapists) who are just determined to see the negative in every single thing. Even if you spend hours and hours over the course of two months writing a supportive blog like this as a gift to the clinical community, there will be one or two sour grapes who will decide they didn't like a typo, a link, a resource, a curse word, or something that you have said. These folks will look for the hidden meaning or agenda in every sentence determined to create a fire where none exists. They will assign intention or, without having ever met or spoken to you, will suddenly be an expert on your motives.
If this happens, take a deep breath, be polite, be professional, be gracious, and move out of their range of fire. As the old adage goes, "You can please some of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time." Being a professional means that you will be on a journey with angels and assholes. Some people will be gracious, fun, supportive and friends for life, and others will be...well, complete jerks. Simply move toward those people who lift your spirit up vs. tearing you down. I promise there are many of us out there who will be very happy to celebrate the good work you are doing in the world without assumption, an agenda or asking for a single thing in return!
Tip #9. Be kind, say thank you & offer to promote
Building on tip #8, nothing will leave a bad taste in a good colleagues mouth faster than a person who does not value or appreciate your time or generosity. For example, as a business coach, I am contacted on average 15-20 times a week by clinicians requesting resources, materials, and asking for tips or support for a project or an event, or wanting to book a coaching session or two with me. I am always very happy to do what I can to be of support while honoring my schedule and time boundaries.
Because I am a big believer in providing free information to support our clinical community, and because I cannot support everyone through my coaching practice, I do this most often through blog posts (like this one) where I share informative tips, or by providing free resources on my toolbox page. Additionally, I post information on social media, my professional list serves, and often highlight and feature other colleague's projects, books, and workshops on my social media pages in order to support them.
What continues to astound me is after taking time to answer a question, provide a link, or share information, about three quarters of the folks who contact me will respond with a sincere thank you, and about one quarter will respond with silence. No thank you. Zero public acknowledgement of my support. No nada. Just crickets.
Additionally, from time-to-time colleagues will ask me to promote their materials or projects. If I am familiar with their work and believe in what they are providing, I am very happy to do this. Most of the time they will also remember to promote and share about my materials and workshops on their social media as well. But every now and then, a colleague will ask...and ask...and ask for my support in promoting their project or materials without ever considering how their support would be of help to my business. Remember to receive graciously and give graciously as well.
Four wonderful colleagues who are a beautiful examples of this kind of give and take, are Michelle Pointon Farris who is a LMFT in San Jose, CA. who specializes in addiction and anger management, and Dr. Traci Lowenthal, who specializes in working with LGBT clients at her practice in Redlands, CA., and Darrin Ford, LMFT a therapist who works with sex addicts at his center in Long Beach, CA, and Bryan Palmer, LCSW, who is a sex addiction therapist in Miami, Florida. I met each of these brilliant clinicians either through certification training, a professional list serve, or a professional Facebook group where we developed an authentic and warm connection. I respect their work enormously, and they in turn extend respect and support my work as well.
I could fill another blog with a long list of colleagues and therapist friends who are top notch, but my point is this: When you are new to private practice, or if you are new to growing your practice, reaching out with questions and then receiving help should be followed up by a simple thank you and an offer of support to the person who has helped you.
And, when the person you have reached out to lends support for your workshop, conference, book, or project and you in turn do not acknowledge this publicly or privately, this is really bad form. Not only does this kind of behavior demonstrate a basic lack of consideration for another person’s time, the person asking for the favor or freebie misses an opportunity to build connection and good will with the person who is supporting them. And in turn, may miss out on some pretty awesome opportunities to collaborate on future gigs.
I love this quote by Oprah Winfrey, one of my personal "she-ros" and mentors in the world, "Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo. But what you want are people who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." Amen to that!
What this means to me is that people will be more than happy to take and take and take without giving in return. Then, after years of hard work, when your star is on the rise, these same people will miss out on opportunities simply because they did not take the time to build a genuine relationship with you. Instead, it was about promoting their project, event or agenda forward.
If you take nothing else out of this blog post, please take this: The professional seeds we sow today is the harvest we will reap tomorrow. If you sow self focused, shallow seeds with colleagues, then don't expect to reap a rich relational harvest in the future. Remember: You never, ever know how being a good human may come back to bless you, and how the smallest act of support can reap the biggest rewards. People will remember how you treat them, and the support you extended without asking for anything in return.
A new trend that I am floored over are people asking to promote another therapist for a cut. "If you give me 10% of your (product, event, materials), I will go ahead and promote you on my social media, conference, podcast." Is this really a thing now? Is this what we are "evolving" into as "savvy business people." Have you done the hard work and elbow grease? Why not simply share that person's work or service or book or materials simply because you believe in them and it is the honorable thing to do. I don't need a cut of anyone's hard work to simply share about their beautiful information or talent with others. If you are following along with the rest of the herd, and this has not settled well in your soul...pay attention to that please. Very few people that I respect have ever gotten rich or famous by asking others for a cut.
If a person supports your work, saying, “Thank you, and how can I be of support to you in return” takes only a few seconds of your time, but the rewards can pay off with opportunities you many never have imagined.
A recent and lovely example of this is when Nicol Stolar, a wonderful therapist and court advocate in Murrieta, CA created a great package of court preparedness information to support other therapists who may be called to testify in court. Nicol asked me to read through her documents, and I was incredibly touched and surprised to see my contact information and materials as part of her resource page.
If you work out a win/win with a colleague that you have a solid relationship with built over time that feels ethical and equally supportive, it may make sense to share some of the profit. But, for example, if you interview someone on your podcast, and then after learning that their materials or event is doing well, please don't ask them for a cut of their profit in order to share about their work. That is just really icky. Maybe that same person will be in a public position that you never dreamed of and as such, would have been very happy to have promoted the crap out of your event or podcast or book had you been more ethical and taken the time to extend support without any expectation of a profit.
At the end of the day, if you like what a colleague is doing, or if that colleague has been a good support to you, then share with others without any expectation of payment. And, doesn't it just feel really good to publicly thank a person who has been kind? Pretty great karma if you ask me!
Tip #10. Write, write and write some more!
If you want to fill your practice, you must create an on line presence. The best way to do this is to fall in love (or at least fall in like) with writing. You don't have to be a published author or an English major. And your writing need not be perfect (for my thoughts on this, check out my blog on breaking bullshit blog rules). Additionally, a blog post can be as short as a 2 or 3 paragraphs.
While writing is a love of mine, it isn't for everyone. My #1 piece of advise when it comes to blogging is don't second guess yourself! Just write a paragraph, or discuss something that is working well, or share another person's blog. You aren't writing the great American novel, you are finding your own authentic voice...so go ahead and do you!
There are plenty of "blog experts" out there that will tell you it is certain death to have a typo in your blog, or write more than a few short paragraphs. My response? "Oh ho hum already!" I'm sure there are plenty of typos in this blog, but if I worried about every single semi colon and perfect sentence structure I'd never write a word. I'll bet even with typos, you will find plenty of good supportive tips within this blog post.
Here are some more helpful tips to support you as you write:
A. Make sure your website has a blog - Please, please pretty please do this. Your blog will tie right back into increasing good SEO as discussed above.
B. Write unique content on your blog at least once or twice a week - or as often as you are able to. Do not copy and paste and change a few words and try and fake it. Google's algorithms and google bots are getting more and more savvy about this. And if you have something to offer that will benefit other therapists, a book, forms or materials, it is perfectly fine to add an in bound link to that information. Everyone is a professional and an adult, if they don't need the resources, they won't check them out. But for those that do need support, they will be grateful and happy to have found a toolbox to support their practice! Be sure to offer a couple of free things as well, that is so important.
C. Create your social media platforms - If you do not know how this is done, then hire someone who does, or check out the myriad of you tube videos that will walk you through the process step-by-step. Where does your ideal client hang out on social media? If they are younger, then they likely are on twitter and Instagram. Are they over 40? Then think about Facebook and LinkedIn. Start somewhere.
My first foray into social media was creating my counseling center's Facebook page and making sure this was connected to a Twitter account. This way whenever I posted on my FB page, it also sent out a tweet. My next platform set up was Pinterest which is a lot of fun and one I absolutely enjoy. I simply did not have the time to set all of this up, so I hired a bright, young, social network virtual assistant to do get everything all set up, and then I took over from there.
That said, I had a thriving practice and wait list by my third year in business and, besides a LinkenIn account, I did not have any social media at all (as in zero, zilch, nada) until March of 2014. Yes, that's correct, as of this blog that was less than 2 years ago.
Social media is not a mysterious process, it is really very simple, so if you have more time than money currently and do not want to hire a VA, you can easily get this going yourself. Or, you can always work with a coach!
D. Create short videos (not exactly writing, but worth mentioning) – Having a you tube page, and/or creating a quick video that is professionally produced is becoming more and more popular and consumers are responding well. If you already have a full practice, you may not need this. However, if you are just building, or if you are wanting to expand into speaking and reaching a broader audience, consider recording a short introduction video (no more than a minute) and/or vlogs (video blogs) along with your writing. This can be a wonderful way to connect with your ideal client and other colleagues. And it is something I have bookmarked for myself at a future date.
Here is a little video tip from me to you: Sometimes therapists have the oddest videos (strangely lit, clearly uncomfortable on camera, ramble on too long, too much outdoor noise, frowning at the camera, giggling, etc.), or they are well produced, but they all sound and look the same. Search out other markets to see what people are doing in order to expand your creative horizons a bit.
E. Guest blog - Ask people you respect if they would allow you to guest blog. And offer to have them guest blog for you as well. This can be a beautiful way of getting your information out there while supporting one another. Put a list together of bloggers who you love and then think of how you might add to their blog as a guest. Think of interesting people who would be a nice addition to your website and ask them to blog as well.
F. Huffington Post - Write with the intention of being published on bigger sites like HuffPo and Psychology Today. Having trouble coming up with a topic? Think about what is currently trending in the media and then submit something. As I write this, the political debates are going on which has been somewhat polarizing on social media. Perhaps you could write an article on "How to survive the minefield of families with opposing political views" and add some tips on good boundaries and communication.
G. Start a newsletter - This is not for everyone, but some people absolutely love writing and sending a newsletter. I send out a newsletter of tips and information about 4x a year, but really enjoy the process of blogging so much more. A couple of tips about newsletters:
- Make sure you are building a mailing list by having an opt in on your website (as discussed earlier);
- Make sure you are NOT spamming people. No one likes to get weekly newsletters, or constant sales pitches.
And remember, if you are sending out a newsletter, it needs to provide value to the people who have trusted you with their email address. What does your mailing list really want? What are the questions people are asking about in social media as it relates to your niche? What are people discussing? Speak to these topics. It is perfectly fine to market as long as you are providing value and are leading from a place of authentic connection and support.
Finally, make sure you have a CTA (call to action) within your newsletter. For example, if what I have shared here was a newsletter, I might add somewhere: "If you are in need of a comprehensive client clinical forms packet that includes a bio/psycho/social assessment, and outlines all important policies for a therapy client including: limits of confidentiality, cancellation, fees increases, social media boundaries, super bills, release of information, and so much more, and you don't want to reinvent the wheel, you can take a peek at my forms packet that I have created as a support for therapists here.
Tip #11. Create Multiple Income Streams
If you have have been procrastinating on writing your book, e-book, or creating a product, group, retreat, webinar or workshop, here is a secret: any therapist or business owner, not just the tech savvy, the writing wizards, or the creative geniuses, can develop at least one additional income stream! All you need is clear information, support in execution, encouragement, and the tools.
Not sure how to format an e-book? Take a look at 3-4 to get a sense of what you like and don't like. You can order my e-book, "The Creative Clinician: Exercises and Activities for Clients and Group Therapy" for example, or you can do a search and see what you find. Some e-books are beautiful, supportive and professionally executed. Others...not so much. Best to get an idea of what format you like and go from there.
Accountability and support of a coach or a coaching group is a great way to create and launch a product or service beyond active one-on-one therapy income. My Like A Boss! on line coaching group is a fun and affordable way to support your multiple income dreams. You can find out more here
Rather than go into a long explanation about the importance of creating other income streams besides your clinical income, I will direct you to this blog where you can read information from me to you that supports this important topic. Or you can listen to one of my podcast interviews located here.
Tip #12. Join HARO
HARO stands for: Help a Reporter Out and is a wonderful and free way to land some great interviews in top magazines, newspapers, and on line sites.
Essentially, HARO is an online service set up for reporters to connect with people who have expertise or experience in/on particular topics. This way journalists can obtain quotes, expert advice and information for stories they are covering. There are particular ways to script your responses for HARO reporters, so it is best to get some good advise before moving forward on this step or you may find yourself spinning your wheels.
Why bother doing this? Because HARO is a great tool for getting more media exposure that may lead to other interviews and opportunities, as well as client calls. For example, after being contacted by a reporter for the Providence Journal for an on line article on walk talk therapy, my practice was flooded by calls from local clients who were interested in and had been looking for a walk talk therapist! Remember earlier in this blog where I mentioned that having a niche will not limit other potential clients? This is exactly what I am referring to.
How this works in a nutshell: Once you sign up, HARO will send you a daily morning and evening email that lists out the reporter requests by category. You can quickly scroll through and see if any of the requests per category match up to your expertise.
For example, a request might look like this:
"Need experts or counselors who can talk about helping mothers spread their wings when their last kid leaves the nest"
If this is your clinical passion, then that is one that you would follow up with the reporter on.
A couple of important tips re HARO: BE SURE you list out who you are in the subject line of your email pitch. Using the above example, this might read:
HARO response: Licensed Family Therapist - 10 Years of experience working with Empty Nesters
Because the reporter will get an in box filled with pitches from all kinds of different people, a specific introduction in your subject line will help you stand out from the rest of the crowd and shows that you are an expert (there is that word again...expert).
When outlining your email, apply the KISS method: Keep it Simple Sweetheart (I've always like sweetheart better than stupid with this acronym). What I mean by this is write a short concise email that bullet points 4 tips for the reporter at about one sentence each. 2-3 are usually not enough, over 4 tips/points is too much.
Remember people scan vs. read these days, so K.I.S.S. with the reporter and make it easy for them to simply grab that information and plug it directly into their article.
Finally, please make sure that you provide your bio (a sentence or two) with your full name, letters spelled out, email and phone # to include in their piece. And, make sure you ask them to confirm if you have been published so that you have the link (manage expectations on this as that will not always happen - always best to do a google search every few weeks to see where you are published).
Again, there is a little bit of a formula and learning curve with HARO, but once you figure that out, you are good to go! And here is the best tip of all: No, you don't need to spend 100's or 1,000s of dollars to learn how this is done.
Tip #13. Join specific professional organizations
One of the most important things you can do as a private practice therapist is to not isolate yourself. We all know that practicing in isolation can lead to a number of issues including burn out, loneliness, ethical and even legal risks. Instead, join two or three professional organizations within your niche that have an on line list serve (i.e. an electronic email list set up just for members where everyone posts and shares information via email).
I belong to several organizations, and am active on three list serves. One of the best decisions I ever made was to join IITAP which is the organization that certifies therapists in sex addiction. I have been a member for 10 years, and the relationships, opportunities, friendships and connections I have made and cultivated over the years have been jewels in my professional career. My CSAT colleagues are some of the most intelligent, compassionate, supportive, and successful clinicians I have been honored to know in this work.
I encourage you to find your tribe. What are some of the top organizations you have been interested in joining? Are you a trauma therapist going through your EMDR certification, if so, join EMDRA. Do you specialize in Domestic Violence? Then join their group. Are you interested in working with sexually compulsive clients or their hurting partners? Then IITAP is the place for you, do you prefer working as a sex therapist? AASECT is worth looking into in that case.
Next step after you join? Start participating! Join in the list serve conversations, ask questions, share information, be of support, attend their conferences, volunteer to present, start a peer support group in your area. Over time your name will get out there and you will develop beautiful referral sources.
Tip #14. Just say YES!
There is an unfortunate marketing trend developing that implies that you should say no to any opportunity where you will not be paid. I completely disagree with this concept and I have 30 years of experience telling me that this is one of the most ridiculous pieces of advise out there currently.
Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you have flimsy boundaries and simply agree to take on every single interview, presentation and opportunity presented to you. What I am saying is be selective, honor your time, but get yourself out there and develop a presence in your community and specialization.
If you wait for the perfect opportunity with a paycheck attached handed to you on a silver platter without first doing some work in the trenches to build a solid reputation...well, you will likely be waiting a while!
Opportunities to say YES to might include:
A. A local church asks you to come in and speak on couples communication. Answer: YES!
B. A local college asks you to come in and speak to a graduating class of therapists on your journey. Answer: YES!
C. A local women's organization asks you to come in and speak on body image. Answer: YES!
D. A local addiction hospital asks you to come in and speak on childhood trauma. Answer: YES!
F. Your professional organization invites you to present at the annual conference. Answer: YES!
G. You are asked to give a podcast interview on your niche. Answer: YES!
H. A respected colleague asks you to guest blog on their website. Answer: YES!
Your "payment" can be as follows:
1. Developing referral sources
2. Opportunities to connect with potential clients
3. Testimonials from attendees at one of your presentations (side note: Always, always ask for feedback and permission to use a testimonial on your website. And never, ever ask a clinical client for a testimonial or attach their identity to kind words that are offered).
4. Free video of you presenting
5. Podcasts to add to your website
6. A chance to practice your presentation skills
Once you have honed your skills and cut your teeth, once you have added your testimonials to your website, your podcast interviews, your video and so forth, you are then ready to decide what your speaking fee will be and then start seeking opportunities for paid speaking gigs.
Remember, it will be important to put together a media or press kit (basically the same thing). That is a whole other blog, but suffice to say, this is an important tool when you begin your paid speaking. And, if you are one of many presenters at a large annual national conference, it is unlikely that you will be paid if you are not the keynote. Typically there is a reduction in the conference fee, but that is about it, so manage expectations.
An important note to smaller organizations who hire guest speakers: If you are charging $250 or more per person for your event and/or more than 25 people are attending, and you have invited a person to be your guest speaker, then please pull out the check book and pay your guest speaker. The speaker doesn't care about a free lunch or dinner, or a gift bag of miscellaneous book marks, pens and gum. A professional guest speaker or expert wants to receive an actual paycheck that honors their investment and support of your event. Even if that is only $100, then write a check. Don't be a penny pincher, practice what you preach and value their time and support. If you are underwater at your event, or just breaking even, then be sure that you and everyone who is attached to your event publicly thanks and offers support to the speaker.
An important tip to remember for speakers: Whatever you put out in the media is likely to be there forever. Be sure to double check the credentials and reputation of that organization or professional before agreeing to their request. And be sure that the request (s) you accept align with who you are.
An example of this for me was when a well known hard core porn magazine asked me to do an article on the benefits of porn. I am sure this would have been a great move for my career, but as a woman, feminist, spiritual person, and sex and porn addiction therapist this is not a publication that I respect, and the direction of the article that they wanted me to write on was in opposition to my professional and personal beliefs.
While hard core porn may be acceptable for some people, and others may use hard core porn to enhance their sex life, and while every adult has the right to choose what feels best or himself or herself, I prefer not to support this industry. I often say to my therapy clients who ask my opinion on hard core porn, "I am not here to police your sex life, or pass moral judgment on how you express your sexuality" and I mean that. If clients ask, "Mari, we really love to use porn in our sex life, does that mean we are weird or wrong?" I often respond, "As long as you are not crossing legal boundaries, and if using porn enhances your sex life, then you get to decide what feels best for you. No therapist should ever impose their own beliefs or tell you what you should or should not be doing in your bedroom."
However, as a writer I was not comfortable supporting a magazine that I experience as demeaning and exploiting to women. So, I turned down this opportunity politely and graciously, and passed it along to another colleague who was better suited for the gig. The good news is that by honoring my inner compass other wonderful (and profitable) opportunities that were more aligned with who I am as a woman and therapist in the world opened up for me.
Tip #15. Work with a Trusted Coach who your Peers Recommend
Are there a lot of moving parts in starting and growing a practice? Indeed there are. Is this a lot of information to digest? It sure is. Can it be overwhelming at times? Absolutely! Can we do this all on our own? I suppose so, but why would you want to?
No one is an expert at every single thing, so if you need support in defining specific goals, or help in writing website content, or honing in on a niche, writing a book, or creating an income stream, you may want to hire a trusted and respected coach.
There are many coaches out there, some good, some not so good, some who are fantastic, and some who never got their practices off the ground and gave up.
I have listed out Frequently Asked Questions here that can be helpful in determining if a particular coach is the right fit for you.
If you would like to learn more about what my coaching clients have to say about their experience in working with me, you can read more about that here. Or if you would like to join the next Like A Boss Facebook coaching group, that information is located here.
In closing, I hope that this information will help support you toward creating your dream practice. If it has, then the best compliment you can give me is to share this blog post on your social media or with others who would benefit.
I'd love to learn more about you and the work you are doing, so take a moment and introduce yourself in the comment section below, let me know what you learned from this blog information, and you are welcome to share about the good work you are doing in the world as well!
If you would like to connect with me privately, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kindly and in support,
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S
The Counselor's Coach