Paid advertising can be used to great effect by counsellors and psychotherapists. It provides anyone with the opportunity to fill their practice, reduce reliance on directories, and get clients from all over the world.
Unfortunately it can also be a monumental waste of money if not done right - and in the therapy industry this is all too common.
To be successful it requires a commitment to analytical thinking and to tracking and iterating on your efforts. As such, it's not for everyone.
But if you can commit to this, it is perfectly realistic to think you can get good results without having to spend hundreds of pounds on an agency.
This article aims to help you understand if paid ads are for you, as well as teach you the essential foundations to have in place to be successful.
If you are already familiar with what paid ads are and are keen to commit, we would suggest jumping to the section entitled: Essential foundations for success in paid marketing.
There are many other forms but these are less relevant for therapists.
We only concern ourselves with these two in our Marketing Academy.
Google and Facebook Ads are examples of the two most common forms of online advertising:
We'll quickly explain how these work to give you some grounding.
What is CPC Advertising?
CPC advertising tends to works as follows: Advertisers pay according to how many people click on their adverts. They tend to take place via auctions where competing advertisers bid to get their ads shown.
We will not go into depth about the internal mechanics of this (read this if you want to). For now, suffice to say that you essentially set a 'maximum' bid for a click and will get shown if your bid is high enough and your ad is relevant and performs well with the audience.
The most common example of CPC advertising is Google ads. However, ads on other search engines such as Bing might be worth considering if you can target customers in the US, where Bing is used signficantly more than in Europe.
For Google ads you bid to show up for certain search terms, and ads show up above the top search results (as shown below), as well as at the bottom of the page.
What is CPM Advertising?
CPM advertising usually works using a similar auction and bidding mechanism to CPC marketing, but instead of paying per click you pay according to how many times the ad is shown. More specifically, you set a bid for how much you are willing to spend per thousand impressions (views).
CPM advertising takes place across the web, but the most relevant for therapists is Facebook ads.
Facebook ads show up as 'sponsored' posts, either in the main feed or on the side bar. You can see both types below.
Success at Google and success at Facebook advertising require slightly different things. However, there are some pre-requisites for both.
Am I the right type of person?
Firstly, as mentioned in the introduction, you must must be willing to invest some cognitive energy. Paid advertising isn't rocket science but you must use your analytical chops to come up with a strategy.
You also need to be reasonably numerate. Success requires tracking the return on your investment in a spreadsheet. We cover the essential metrics to follow in the next section.
Lastly, you have to be willing to invest a little bit of time on an ongoing basis to iterate on your efforts. You will never be successful right out of the gate, and will need to tweak your ads, your strategy and your website before you get good results. If you aren't willing to do this, you will likely end up losing money.
Is my practice ready?
Before embarking on paid advertising you need to first ensure your website is set up to effectively convert clients. If you are only turning 1 of every 1,000 visitors into clients you'll never be profitable.
As such, if you are starting out in private practice it's often best to wait until engaging in paid ads. We talk about the essential foundations you need in place for marketing here.
Bonus: Do I have a specific niche?
Paid advertising tends to amplify dynamics in online marketing because, quite simply, the stakes are higher.
The more specific your niche, the less skill and complexity you'll need to embed into your paid advertising to get good resuts.
Should I choose Google or Facebook?
A quick note before answering this question is that anyone who answered 'Yes' to the first 2 questions should consider Google, whereas only skilled online marketers should attempt Facebook.
Google and Facebook advertising have differences which extend beyond CPC vs CPM.
The key difference is the purchase intent of the prospect who views the ads. Purchase intent refers to the stage of the buyer journey the prospect is at.
Consider 3 different people:
Person 1 has the highest purchase intent, Person 2 the least.
The main advantage of Google ads is that you can target Person 1. You can do this by targeting searches such as therapists in Peckham. You require less investment to turn them into a customer because of this.
There is no way of targeting Person 1 on Facebook ads - after all if they were looking to book a therapist they wouldn't be scrolling down their Facebook feed!
Facebook ad campaigns are generally around brand awareness (getting known), lead capture (getting people to give you their email in exchange for some 'freebie'), or re-targeting, and involve Persons 2 & 3.
They tend to work best when you target Person 3 - indeed if you speak to a Facebook advertising agent they will suggest you only target Person 3. You do this by re-targeting them after they've visited your site.
The implication of targeting Person 2 & 3 is that the likelihood of them seeing your ad and immediately converting is low.
Since people aren't necessarily ready to buy when they see your ad and click onto your website, you need to have a way of nurturing leads if you are to get a good ROI.
There are two main goals of lead nuture:
The most common form of lead nuture is getting people to sign up to a newsletter. Though other ways may be to get them to follow your social media accounts, subscribe to your channel on Youtube.
The core idea behind this is that, whilst a Facebook ad can't get as many people to purchase as a high-intent Google ad, if it provides a lesser ask, it can get more people to interact with it and convert some percentage of them further down the line.
The returns to Facebook advertising can be great, however it should be evident that more time, effort and marketing skill are required to do this effectively.
We would only realistically recommend using them if you have one or more of the following:
Advertising your services as an individual practitioner straight up is unlikely to work well, in our opinion.
If you've read the above and are keen to give paid marketing a go - fantastic.
Before you jump in and start spending money on ads, there are some essentials you need to have in place.
Get a grip on your unit economics
In order to be successful at paid ads, and understand whether they're worth your time, it's essential to understand the concept of unit economics.
Your unit economics are essentially the profit and loss calculation for your paid marketing.
There are two core numbers here:
1) Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) - how much revenue you make per customer.
In order to calculate this, find the average number of sessions a client stays and multiply this by your session fee. Do not include clients who have a fixed-term programme, such as EAP or insurance clients.
2) Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) - how much does it cost you to acquire a customer? e.g. if you spend £100 on Google, how many customers is that getting you?
Your should have a target CAC in mind and then track your actual CAC when doing paid advertising. You essentially want to keep spending money on ads until target CAC exceeds actual CAC - or, of course, until you fill your practice :).
How to calculate my target CAC
It's not quite as simple as saying that your target CAC should be just below your CLV. You'll want to add in a buffer to account for a few of things:
a) Cash flow - how many sessions/weeks until you make the spend back?
If you make £1,000 per customer over the course of a 2 year relationship, this doesn't mean you can spend £500 - it will take 1 year to make that back and you need to ensure you have enough cash to pay for bills in the meantime.
b) Overheads and operational costs - How much are you spending on rooms, insurance etc? You'll want the revenue from customers acquired by paid advertising to cover these.
c) Opportunity cost of your time - How much is your time worth?
Covering your income, your costs and your CAC may not be sufficient. If you assume you get 10 clients from ads, and you see these 10 times each, that is 100 hours you have spent. If your CLV is only £1 higher than your CAC, then you are earning £100 pounds for 100 hours of your time.
In such a case you'd be wise to ask yourself if you were better off spending the 100 hours on CPD so you could raise your prices by 20%.
Ultimately you need to use your judgement here.
Ensure you have tracking and analytics in place
With a target CAC in mind, you then need to get analytics and tracking in place.
This enables you to do 2 important things:
a) Track your actual CAC - and understand whether the channel is working for you or not
b) Get direction as to how to lower your CAC (or increase your CLV)
Taking the example of running Google ads, you want to cover the following as a minimum:
There are various way to calculate 3, from setting up a conversion pixel on your site, to asking customers where they found you (though the latter is less reliable and we would strongly suggest the former).
These are all you need to calculate your actual CAC:
(Total number of clicks x cost-per-click) / conversion rate = CAC
You'll then have 4 levers with which to improve your unit economics:
Point 4 deserves some expanding upon.
Paid advertising, and more specifically CPC advertising, is the quickest and easiest way to test things. This is because you can get a large number of high intent visitors onto your site in a short period of time to get to some sort of statistical significance.
If you increase your prices by 10% and see a 5% fall in conversion rate, your profit margin increases by 5%. Who knows, you may even find your conversion rate increases after a price increase.
Having a clear target customer, a website that converts well, and analytics on your site are important across all the marketing you do online.
When it comes to paid marketing, however, they are essential.
If you have these in place, and are willing to invest the time and cognitive energy required to be successful at paid advertising, it becomes a question of getting better at creating campaigns.
We'll cover how to do this on Facebook and Google in future posts.
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