20 Rules for Selling Things to Therapists (Plus Companies that Have it Figured Out)

Jeff Guenther, LPC on Jun 17, 2018

I sell services to therapists. I’ve been doing it for over 10 years now. It’s not something I was planning to do when I was getting my counseling degree. It just sorta turned out that way. I rent out part-time office space, I run two different therapist directories and I made an online course for therapists for therapists to learn about search engine optimization. I have a couple dozen more ideas that I hope to launch in the future. 

I’ve learned from both my successes and failures. I’ve tried tons of marketing strategies and most of them have not worked. However, over the years, I’ve collected about 20 “rules” that I continue to go back to that have consistently brought good results. I want to share them with you today. 

If you’re a therapist and plan to expand your business offerings one day to create an alternative stream of income, then I think you’ll get a lot out of this article. And if you need ideas for new businesses I just happened to come up with 24 ideas for therapists to increase their income. 

I have also partnered and worked with many other therapy practice builders and have learned a lot from them. For every rule I mention, I’ll provide an example using what others have done in real life. These guys really have it figured out and I encourage you to check them out (these are NOT affiliate links and I'm not getting paid to promote them).

One more thing before we dive in. I don’t think you have to do every single thing on this list to successfully sell products to therapists. But it’s always something I aim for just because my chances of success go up when I pay attention to everything on the list. And I’m sure there are things that could be included on the list that I don’t know about yet….I’ll write a Part II in another ten years…. 

1. Create a valuable product

Duh. Right? But seriously, therapists are hard to sell things too. It all comes down to helping therapists get more clients. Maybe not all the time. But the majority of the time, it’s about that. So you need to create a product that helps therapists fill up their caseloads. And it can’t just be a little. It should be a lot. You should be creating a product that helps therapists fill up their caseload 100%. Their return on investment should be astronomical. I’m not kidding about that. Therapists typically allocate only a small portion of funds to business services. So they understandably want to get the most bang for their buck! Luckily, if you create a valuable product they’ll achieve that. 

For example TherapyDen is just 20 bucks per month to sign up for a profile on our therapist directory. For $20 a month, therapists will expect to get multiple client leads that turn into regular paying clients. When that happens, their small investment of $20 will turn into thousands of dollars a year from weekly clients. That’s an incredibly high return on investment. 

Another example would be Daniel’s online courses about how to make a therapy website and drive more traffic to it. Websites are expensive, with costs that are in the thousands. All his courses are well under $1,000 and will attract tons of clients. 

2. Be honest

Just like they say, “honesty is the best policy.” No snake oil here please. Us therapists can typically tell when we are being taken advantage of. And that might be good because companies are often trying to take advantage of us. I think we’ve all gotten that call from “Google” telling us that we could be doing a lot better in online search results if we pay them money. No! Google would never call you to ask for money. Because of scams like this, therapists are on high alert when it comes to products that seem fishy or seem to good to be true. 

So in your marketing material and description of your services, you should set realistic expectations of what your product can and cannot do. 

A good example of that is what Kat Love has created over at Empathycopy, which is a tool that helps therapists create copy for their websites. Kat explains all the benefits and what you’ll get out of it and who it’s for. And Kat’s also super clear about who it’s not for if you scroll down a bit and read the answer to the question, “Who is Empathycopy not a good fit for?” Kat is honest, straightforward and is clearly selling the product to a specific therapist. That makes me feel more confident about the product I am buying. 

3. Easy to understand

A lot of products being sold to therapists are in the form of online services. Online services can get needlessly complicated. A lot of the time therapists are purchasing online products for their ease of use. If you’re product, whether it’s online or not, feels complicated then it’s going to have a hard time selling. Something to keep in mind is that therapists can work very late into their lives. Which means that many of your customers are going to be people who may not be as tech savvy. Your product should be easy enough for them to understand. 

So don’t use unnecessary jargon and be concise and straightforward when describing your product. Do not be afraid to hold people by the hand while you clearly talk about what your product is and how it works. 

I created an online course for therapists to apply search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to their website in order to rank high in Google and attract more clients. SEO can be a complicated subject. To ease therapists fears, I created a handy video preview of my product to show them how simple it is to experience. Check out the video below. 

And did I mention that you’ll get free access to this course if you sign up for a TherapyDen profile??

4. Be vulnerable 

Therapists value vulnerability. But you shouldn’t be vulnerable just to make a sale. You need to dig deep and be emotionally honest with yourself and with the therapists you’re selling your services to. 

For me, a big reason I created TherapyDen is because I want to help fight racism and oppression. As a white male, I have inadvertently contributed to racism by being unaware of my white privilege. I have been honest about the work I am doing and continue to do by writing articles about my process. The emotional vulnerability shows readers, and potential customers, that I’m a real person trying to make a real difference and I have imperfections that I am working on. I’m not just selling a product, I’m selling myself. And when I allow people to really connect with me they feel closer and more motivated to buy what I’m offering. 

There is a vulnerable story behind everything we do and create. Get in touch with it and share it with your customers. Again, Kat Love does this in a really beautiful way. And this is a major reason Kat’s products are valued in our community. 

5. Give away free stuff

It may seem odd to give away free advice or services when you are trying to make a profit, but that is exactly what you should be doing. Therapists want to see your work. It will help prove to them that you know what you’re doing. It also provides them with a ton of value before they ever have to take out their credit card. Giving away free stuff, via a blog or downloadable PDF, also boosts your authority on a topic. And be sure not to skimp on your free materials. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be any good. 

TherapyDen is giving away free profiles to anyone who signs up during our beta period. I also give away a ton of free content on this blog. Some popular blogs entries with free content are:

Building a Digital Presence for Therapists: Simplified

Write a Mini E-book

2018 Marketing Challenge for Therapists

A great example of a valuable freebie is from Kate Read. She helps therapists create killer copy for their websites. When you land on her homepage, you can download a copy of 50 Free and Cheap Ways to Improve your Marketing and Attract Ideal Clients. I highly recommend it. 

6. It’s all about the list

I’m not sure if you’ve heard this before, but the above statement is true. It’s all about the list. The list I’m referring to is your subscriber list. You’ll need to sign up for a mailing list service, like Mailchimp, in order to collect email addresses that you’ll send regular updates to. If you want to give yourself the best chance to sell a lot of your product, you’ll need to aim on emailing your list at least once a week. That means that every week, you’ll need to come up with something of value to send to your subscribers. This can be a tricky thing to do, but once you get in the groove you’ll find your rhythm and start having fun with it. 

The reason you want to create and nurture a list is because those guys are your biggest fans. They are willing to provide you access to their inbox which is a pretty difficult thing to get. By regularly emailing your list, you’ll develop a trusting relationship. So by the time you finally announce your product or service they’ll be ready to hop on board. 

Do you know the best way to build a list? It’s by following rule 5. Give away free stuff in exchange for an email address. The better your free stuff, the more email addresses you’ll receive. The more email addresses you have, the more people will buy your product once you launch. 

Obviously, TherapyDen has a subscriber list and I’d love for you to sign up. But another company that nurtures their subscribers well by giving away tons of free stuff and advice is ZynnyMe. You can sign up for their newsletter by entering your email and accessing any of these free mini trainings for therapists that will help you build your practice. 

7. Make it look good

There’s something to be said about scraping something together and not worrying about the look and feel. I respect the DIYers that don’t get caught up in the glitz and glamour. But if you want to be taken seriously, your product and website need to look good. If you don’t know how to make it look good, then you should either spend some time learning or hire someone to do it for you. 

When people visit TherapyDen they can tell that it’s a legit website because of the modern design and intuitive user interface. But your site doesn’t have to be as polished as TherapyDen. A good example of a nice looking site that offers awesome services is Abundance Practice Building. Allison, at Abundance, helps therapists build their dream practice. And one way she gets your attention is by her awesome videos that I assume she paid someone to help her with. Or maybe she’s just a super talented video editor. Which I wouldn’t put past her! Either way, check out her video below. It’s the best out there in the practice building world. 

8. If not unique, better

Launching a therapy directory is not unique at all. It’s been done to death. But launching a national therapist directory that has a mandate to fight racism, homophobia and other forms of hate while looking good and adding innovative search filters is a unique spin on the boring old directories that have been out there for so long. 

So take the same approach that Apple takes. Make improvements on existing products and services that are out there by putting your own unique touch on it. 

Brighter Vision builds websites for therapists. I imagine they saw the crap that was being put out there by TherapySites and thought, “We could do that better.” Which is exactly what they’ve done. 

9. Accept feedback and criticism

One thing I will say about therapists, they don’t hold back when it comes to giving feedback and criticism. And good for us! I’m glad we are a community of people that care. Since launching TherapyDen, I have added or edited or deleted dozens of things on the site due to feedback. I know a lot about therapy and I know what it takes to make a successful directory. But I don’t know everything. And that’s why I happily accept feedback. 

Person Centered Tech is another good example of receiving feedback. PCT helps therapists manage all their practice technology needs, digital ethics, HIPAA security compliance and more. The folks at PCT have the very difficult task of translating technology, ethics and HIPAA jargon into bite sized and understandable terms for us therapists. Part of the reason they are so good at pulling this off is because they are always open to getting feedback from us. Their site evolves based on our feedback and that contributes to their success.

10. Be active in the community

I suppose you could just launch a product with no build up and zero presence in the mental health community. If the product was good enough, it would probably rise to the top and be successful. But the much easier road is to start off being active in the community. There are tons of private facebook groups and local listserves where therapists and counselors interact, trade advice and look for help. You should get involved in those communities and start interacting. You should ask questions, provide answers, add value, and start relationships with influencers and thought leaders. If you’re brave enough and have the time and bandwidth, you should start your own private facebook group that centers around your product or service. 

TherapyDen does not have a private FB group but we plan to in the future. You know who does? Michael Formica at The Counselors Concierge. Michael runs a group called Counselors and Therapists Online Marketing where he gives away tons of free advice and tips on how therapists can attract more clients online. He’s also a member in many other therapist groups and he’s kind of a rock star in all of them. Because of his contributions, he’s able to run a successful business. He’s built up a ton of cred and is a trusted person in the community. 

11. Make it fun and personable 

I’m a fun guy! And I want everyone to know it. Sure, I can be serious about serious stuff, but I also like to joke around and have a good time. It’s important that my personality comes through in my blogs. I try to make sure that my real personality comes through when I write these articles. I feel like you can get a really good idea of who I am in my post about 100 reasons to sign up for TherapyDen. I got a lot of compliments on that article and a lot of sign ups. 

Annie Schuessler is a business coach for therapists. She’s got a really cool program that you should check out if you want to get focused and build your practice. She also has a podcast where she interviews therapists that are also entrepreneurs. When you listen to her podcasts, you can really get a sense of who she is. Annie is smart, curious, nice, easy to talk to and likes to laugh. It doesn’t hurt that she has the perfect voice for a podcast. 

12. Lean in to controversy. But only a little.

It’s true. Controversial material gets more clicks. And the more clicks you get, the more people will see what you’re selling. But don’t create controversy for controversies sake. You should ask yourself what you truly believe in that might go against the grain and then write a passionate blog post about it. I’ve done that a few times with TherapyDen. You can check out two articles that got a lot of views because of different opinions. 

Psychology Today Loves White People

Racist Responses from Therapists to my Privilege Awareness Tool

Both articles cover topics that I care deeply about. Many other therapists match my passion. I was able to rally my tribe in a genuine way and get them thinking about my new therapist directory.

13. Be nice

This probably goes without saying, but you should be nice. Nice people sell more products to therapists. You don’t have to be overly nice and kiss everyone’s butt. But it’s important that people think of you as a kind person. I’d like to think I’m a nice guy. I used to be a little turd when I was in my 20’s. I liked to challenge the status quo. And while that was maybe developmentally appropriate (although I was probably pushing it), I wasn’t as good at renting office space to therapists. Once I dropped the attitude and behaved nicer, my business became more successful. 

You know who’s a real nice guy that people love and he finds success because of it? Joe Sanok of Practice of the Practice. I dare you to listen to one of his podcasts and tell me he’s not a nice guy. No matter what he’s doing or selling, I’m always rooting for him to be successful. I just think nice people deserve success. And a lot of other therapists agree with me. 

14. Have a mission

As you may or may not know, TherapyDen has a mission to fight racism, homophobia, and hate of any kind. Our therapist directory was designed around that mission. We chose this mission because we care passionately about it. One of the things it also does for us is help us stand out from the crowd a bit. Other therapist directories, like Psychology Today, may have a mission but it’s not very exciting or obvious. Having a mission helps to rally your community of supporters and attract therapists that can identify with your values. These days, more companies are being asked to stand for something. Therapists, who are a very ethical bunch, are more attracted to companies that fight for human rights and social justice. You should think about organizations that you’d like to donate part of your profits to, and then let your customers know how much you plan to donate.

TherapyDen donates 10% of therapists monthly fees that choose to be “Supporter” subscribers. 

15. Be a therapist

This isn’t a hard and fast rule (none of the rules are mandatory). However, it certainly helps if you are a therapist. Or if you’re at least married to one. There’s just something we therapists intuitively “get” by doing the work and creating services for therapists. We understand the struggles of starting a private practice. We understand the care that goes into each one of our sessions. We know what we need to run our business successfully. And with this intimate knowledge we are able to develop products that serve our community. 

Kate and Katie at Private Practice Startup sell a product that only therapists truly know how to create. They sell attorney approved private practice paperwork. Creating your own paperwork as a therapist is a slog and a total bore. But it’s super important to make sure that you get it right and all your bases are covered. Since Kate and Katie are therapists themselves, they know what questions to ask their lawyers and how to write the paperwork so that your clients totally understand what’s up. 

16. Connect with other private practice builders 

Networking with other private practice builders is just good business. But my advice to you is that you should first create your product or service. I’m super excited when therapist entrepreneurs reach out to me about their new new ideas. But I can’t really do much to promote their product if they don’t have anything to show me. I’m happy to hop on a call to discuss your idea. But I’d much rather hear about it when it’s more developed. 

So if you think you got a great idea, awesome! You should try to connect with other entrepreneurs in the field. Just make sure you have something to show before sending an email. 

17. Don’t be too slick

Modern and good looking websites are great. Have you seen TherapyDen?? But you need to remember that the demographic of therapists is huge and diverse. One of the most diverse things about therapists is that some are very young and others are gettin’ up in age. So you need to create a product that appeals to both techy millennials and baby boomers. Who might not be very techy. Finding a balance can be tricky but there are some websites that I think knock it out of the park. And those guys are:

SimplePractice - They have taken electronic health records, which can be very complicated, and simplified it so that we all can understand what the heck is going on. 

Unconditional Media - They help therapists market their practice. UM has a fun color palette that the younger crowd can enjoy. But their website is super simple and gets to the point. They take something as complicated as Facebook Ads and boil it down so that we can all understand it. 

18. Brace for a slow ramp up

Even if you have the best idea in the world and it promises to revolutionize the mental health industry, chances are, it’ll be slow to catch on. So slow that you’ll question whether it’s a viable product. For whatever reason, it takes a while for a large group of therapists to buy in. Like I mentioned in the very first rule, many therapists have a small amount of money that they have allocated to extra business services. And the vast majority of time, that money has already been spent. So it’s your job to convince them to either add a little more money to that pot or drop another product that they’ve been using. That’s a tough task. However, I have found that there seems to be a tipping point eventually. Once enough therapists have signed on, then things can really get rolling. But until you reach that magic number, you may be questioning all the time and effort you put into your product. 

19. First go local

Before you launch a product you need to test it out on a small group of therapists. You should try working out the kinks first and grab as much feedback as you can. Getting beta testers and developing focus groups is a great way to really refine your product. And the best way to do that is to reach out locally to therapists in your town that you already know. Once your local colleagues buy in and support your product, they’ll be able to tell all their non-local therapist friends once you launch nationally. 

But it’s also okay to stay local. Maybe your product is specifically developed for one location. If that’s the case, you’ll have an easier time pleasing those folks than an even more diverse national population. 

I found great success with my local therapist directory for Portland. Another local therapist directory for Sacramento just launched and he’s trying to do the same thing. You might want to try the same tactic.  

20. Blog

Last, but definitely not least, you should blog on a regular basis. I know, I know. Blogging is hard! But let me try to make a case for it. I’ve mentioned some of these things before but I’ll repeat them here. Blogging will: 

  • Create rapport with new customers
  • Establish your authority
  • Help to develop your brand
  • Show your fun side
  • Allow for discussion
  • Help you rank higher in online search rankings
  • Create sharable content

If you really want to connect with your clients you should blog at least once a week. That’s what I do on the TherapyDen blog. If you want to get all my blog updates, which are pretty wonderful if I do say so myself, you should subscribe to the weekly newsletter. 

A couple blogs I really like are from Brighter Vision and Kat Love at EmpathySites. Both of them give solid advice to therapists that are looking to grow their practice and improve their brands.

Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.

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