Jeff Guenther on Oct 30, 2017
As long as I’ve been a therapist in private practice, I have been testing different marketing strategies. What works best? How do I reach my ideal clients? How can I get the most bang for my buck? How much time and energy should I put into it? Over time, I figured out what works best for me and after a couple years, I was able to build my practice into a full time job that allowed me to live comfortably.
I owed my full caseload to the marketing strategies I developed. At the time (2005), there was very little information available for therapists interested in marketing. Nobody told me what to do. It was all a shot in the dark. Some things worked great and others were a big waste of time and money.
Since then, I’ve developed workshops and training for therapists where I help them market their practices and improve their digital brand. I hold workshops locally as well as digitally through my online course. I started a local therapist directory in Portland back in 2013 and it grew quickly to become the number one place Portlanders find a therapist. I also help local therapists launch their practices by renting office space to them and providing an environment for them to flourish and grow. Suffice it to say, through my own practice and through helping thousands of other therapists launch and grow their practices, I have been knee deep in the therapist marketing space for years. Because of that, I have learned what works and what’s a waste of time. Below are five marketing strategies that I know a good deal about and have a lot of experience with. I’ll score them and give you my opinion on their return on investment and the sweat equity cost.
Return on investment has an actual formula, which is pretty simple, but I’m going to simplify it even further for the sake of this blog. All I want us to consider is how much money we are putting into a marketing strategy and how many regular clients we are gaining through that strategy. I won’t get bogged down in what a regular clients means to me or you because we all may have slightly different definitions. However, I imagine we can all agree that a regular client will bring in thousands of dollars to our practice.
So when I think about ROI, I think about it in terms of how much money I am willing to spend in order to bring in a certain amount of regular clients per month.
Sweat equity is a common term in business, especially at startups. Sweat equity is used to describe the non-financial investment that people contribute to the development of a project. That might be time, effort, labor, etc. There is a real formula for sweat equity and how to determine how much real equity is given to sweat equity but for the sake of simplicity, and because I am not expert on sweat equity, for us it is going to signify how much time, energy and upkeep you, as a therapist, must put into each marketing strategy. As therapists in private practice, we have a very limited amount of time each week to devote to marketing. It’s smarter for us to devote as much time as we can to actually seeing clients so that we can bill for those services. Which means putting in a lot of sweat equity for a low ROI would be a bad marketing and business decision.
Now let’s get started with five common ways therapists can market their practice.
Do you know a therapist in private practice who doesn’t have a website? They’re out there but they are getting harder to find these days. It’s still possible to be a successful therapist without one, but it’s becoming difficult to get by without owning your very own piece of the internet. There are a million reasons every therapist should have their own website. My favorite one is that clients visit your website multiple times for weeks and weeks before actually pulling the trigger to call for an appointment. Through your website they have already developed a trusting enough relationship with you to reach out in such a vulnerable way. Also, the goal of most marketing strategies is to get potential clients to your website to find more info about you. So if you don’t have a website, you’re already behind.
The cost of a website can vary greatly. You can make your own website with squarespace for $12 a month or you can spend thousands of dollars and have a professional developer make one for you. There are tons of different options out there and going over all of them should be saved for another blog in the future. It all depends on how tech savvy you are, how nice you want your site to look and the functions you’d like it to have. Because of this, it’s really difficult to determine the ROI on having a website. However, because a website can be super affordable these days and close to 100% of new clients will visit your site, the ROI is going to be super high.
Personally, I am pretty tech savvy and I don’t have to spend a lot of money on creating a website. But if I wasn’t very savvy, I would still consider spending thousands on a website because the potential ROI is so high. If you only attract three new regular clients per month from your website, you’ve made your money back plus a lot more.
The amount of time and energy you put into your website can be substantial at first. However, the upkeep isn’t too grueling. The most time you’ll put into your site is the monthly blog you might be writing. So when it comes down to it the ongoing sweat equity is on the lower side.
Sweat Equity 2/5
Did you know that I love therapy directories? I love them so much that I am making a really amazing local therapist directory just for the Bay Area. Because I love them so much you should know I am a little biased towards them. But I promise it’s for good reason. And the reason is because they work! Well, good ones work. Bad ones are a waste of money.
The most popular therapist directory is Psychology Today. If you spend $30 a month on a listing and attract just one regular client a month, your ROI is off the charts. $30 for one regular client and potentially thousands of dollars is an amazing deal. Even if you only brought in one regular client all year from your Psychology Today listing, it would be well worth the money spent.
I honestly don’t think it’s a bad idea to choose five therapist directories to have profile listings on. If you spend $100 a month on profile listings and you’re bringing in 3 regular clients a month, then your ROI is still amazing.
I recommend choosing therapists directories that are well known and/or that have values that line up with your own. It’s not a bad thing to be featured on multiple online directories across the internet.
The sweat equity is low compared to all other strategies. It might be a pain at first to write up your profile for different online directories. But once you do, you typically only need to update it as your practice changes.
Sweat Equity 1/5
Google Adwords are the little ads that you typically see show up in Google searches. They also appear in many other places across the internet. In my mental health career, I have used Google Adwords multiple times. Even though I consider myself to be pretty tech savvy, I am always left feeling like they should make the whole platform easier to use. It’s just so overly complicated and I don’t know why. It may just be that online advertising is a complicated experience because there are so many variables and options to go through and Google has done their best. Because of the high learning curve and constant adjustments you need to make, you’ll be investing a lot of time and energy into using the platform.
Not to mention, the money you need to spend to have an impact is substantial. In my experience, you need to spend at least $250 a month to see any type of return. I was spending $2,000 a month for a year when I launched my therapist directory. Although it had the desired effect, after a year, I stopped using Google Adwords all together.
Despite the drawbacks, if you do it right, Google Adwords can be a great way to reach your ideal client. So if you have the time, money and inclination, give it a go!
Sweat Equity 4/5
I have been using and playing around with Facebook ads for about 3 years now. The most interesting, and creepy, aspect of using Facebook ads is how easy it is to market your ads to your preferred demographic. For example, you can create an ad that will display only to women in San Francisco in their mid 30’s who have just changed their relationship status to single in the past three months. If you’re a therapist who specializes in getting over a recent breakup then you’re marketing dollars are being used very efficiently.
However, the learning curve, while not as bad as Google Adwords, can still be a hurdle for most. I was a bit overwhelmed the first couple of months, but now I can create a Facebook ad with my eyes closed. So even though it’s a high learning curve, it can become second nature after a little while.
The money you put in at the beginning can be substantial mainly because you’re testing out your market and your testing different ad content. After you get the hang of what works and what doesn’t, then your cost will lower. You may spend $100 a month at first, but then lower it to $50 a month once you get the hang of it.
Sweat Equity 3/5
When I say local marketing opportunities, I am talking ads on local radio, in weekly or daily newspapers, ads displayed before a movie at the movie theater, your photo on a bus bench etc.
In my opinion, you’d only invest in local marketing opportunities if you have marketing budget to burn. Unlike most of the other opportunities I cover in this article, local marketing strategies aren’t typically targeted to a group of people who are specifically looking for a therapist (unlike therapist directories and Google Adwords, for example). However, local opportunities have a lot of reach and can be a great way to build name recognition in your city.
A major barrier with local marketing opportunities is that the cost is very high. The high cost usually scares off most therapists in private practice. However, if you’re a counseling group with a pooled marketing budget, then you could really develop your brand and voice through local marketing. I’d also advise you to seek out bargains and think outside the box. While running a full-page ad in the largest local paper could be incredibly cost prohibitive, sponsoring a small charity event or buying a screen ad at the second run theater might not be as expensive as you think. Be creative!
The amount of time and energy you’ll put in to these opportunities is a bit lower, because you’re paying someone else to take care of part of the development. However, you still need to provide copy, images and other information.
Sweat Equity 2/5
In the end it’s up to you to figure out what marketing strategy works best for you. I recommend playing around with many different types to find out which one resonates best with your clients. I also want to stress that spending small monthly fees on websites and therapist directories can pay off big time. It’s important to figure out a realistic ROI and see if you can meet those goals on a monthly or yearly basis. A common sense approach works well! If something isn’t working, drop it! If something is bringing in tons of clients, double down!
And if you want to spend zero money on marketing you can always use the law of attraction to drum up some clients ;)
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.