For therapists in private practice, the most commonly taken step to start getting clients is to sign up with a few directories and set up a personal website.
It's tempting to just throw up a few profiles and hope, but if you do a little strategic thinking and consider how people search online, you'll get improved results overnight.
I want to lay out some simple, highly actionable advice any therapists can follow to do this.
The first thing to be aware of is that the number of clients you get is a function of two things:
Most therapists, to their detriment, overlook 2). After reading this, hopefully you won't!
Let's look at how to increase this number.
Figure out what has worked for you up until now
The first thing is to ensure you are tracking important information about your practice.
List all the clients you've had to date and detail some key characteristics:
If you don't have the answers for these, consider asking them or sending out a survey to everyone you have worked with. Any data you can gather is invaluable - I can't stress this enough; the golden rule of online marketing is that data is king.
Ideally split these according to referral source.
Now ask yourself: are there are commonalities across these?
Are most of them mothers - if so, ask yourself if your website or profile is set up to optimally attract mothers. For example, you could mention that 'a lot of my clients are mothers' or add a section entitled 'types of client I work with', listing mothers as one.
Do most of them pick you because your practice is located along a popular commuting route, i.e. near Holborn station in London?
If so, ask yourself again: is my profile set up to optimally attract these people? Consider adding a map of your practice location on your website and specifying the length of the walk.
This all speaks to a second, crucial principle of online marketing: figure out what works and double-down on it.
Marketing can be a little counter-intuitive. It's tempting to think that the wider the net, the more clients you will attract - why needlessly exclude people who you could perfectly well help?
The issue is that being too broad and generic you will struggle to craft a compelling case for anyone. People are concerned about wasting money on therapy and so are keenly trying to understand how you can help them.
If I'm a city worker struggling from anxiety, am I going to pick the therapist who says on their profile that they 'work with city workers struggling with anxiety' or the therapist who says 'I work with children, young people, adults, families, couples, across a range of issues including anxiety, depression, OCD, stress, BPD, grief etc.'? Remember Aristotle's mantra, 'a friend to all is a friend to none'?
Naturally, you'll need to find a balance here. Extreme specialisation is not necessary, and going too narrow might harm you as well as mean your work gets slightly monotonous.
As a way of thinking how to orient yourself, consider which dimensions impact the nature of the work most. Focusing on attracting people who commute via your nearest train station will create more variance than specialising on attracting mothers with postnatal depression, for example.
A lot of this goes back to why you're in this line of work in the first place.
Have a clear outreach process
The last bit of housekeeping involves ensuring people understand what the process for booking or contacting you is.
Too many therapists mindlessly list their phone number or email address on their profiles or website without considering the client. Never assume they understand anything.
Most prospective clients are already apprehensive and scared (searching for a therapist is a daunting thing). They will junp on any excuse not to reach out - so be clear!
Make sure they understand:
People fear the unknown, so do you best to minimize it.
If you're happy not screening your clients before you meet them, also consider making it possible for clients to book you directly from your website. Some clients like to speak to their therapist first, whilst others just want to book and be done with it. Too much back and forth arranging times leaves a lot of scope for clients to drop off.
Different therapists will have different philosophies on this.
Now you've geared yourself up best for turning people who stumble across you online, you need to do two things:
Getting more people to find your directory profile or website
Before I start this, I want to clarify that joining a directory is by no means the only or best way to get clients. Mark has written a great piece of finding the right strategy for you.
But for many it is the obvious place to start, for the simple reason that it is easy to set up and is the most common thing that independent practitioners do to market themselves. In case you've ever wondered why the latter is true, it's simply because a) most people search for therapists on Google and b) directories often rank highly on Google.
Directories certainly work for a lot of people, and if you're smart you can be one of those people.
I've got an exercise you can run to 'be smart' about this, but I first want to establish something:
All directory listings are not creating equal
When you chose which directories to join, what was your rationale? Did you join Counselling Directory because it is the most well-known? Or Timewith because a friend recommended it?
If you made a quick decision you failed to appreciate the dynamics of marketing for referrals on Google.
There are a couple of key points here.
The first thing to consider is that the majority of people search for therapists near them; most search terms on Google are of the following ilk: 'therapists in South London', 'anxiety counselling in glasgow Southside'.
The second is that it is an incredibly competitive space, with lots of players - including clinics, directories, charities, local services, individual therapists and e-therapy services - all vying for traffic.
As a result of this, some directories do well in some search areas but poorly in others (i.e. well in Bristol, but badly in Belfast).
Performance also varies according to how a search is expressed, even if the intent is identical. For example, when I now just searched 'therapists in bethnal green', the top result was different to that of 'therapists near e2' even though they are in essence the same search. Consider that the top results get the overwhelming majority of clicks, whereas positions 6-10 often see little interest.
In fact, when your searches get specific enough you might even notice some personal websites showing up on the first page. If so, strongly consider learning some basic SEO as you could well have a strong chance of ranking high and may not need to bother paying for referrals at all!
Now to our exercise...
First off, get yourself in the right mindset. As a therapist, you're a natural empath. So tap into that and put yourself into the mind of a prospective client, preferrably your 'ideal' client, or the type of client you have seemed to attract successfully in the past.
When you outline this, try to be as specific as possible. It should end up something like 'city workers suffering from anxiety who commute via Holborn'.
Now consider how they might search for a therapist online and write down 10-20 variants of this. Vary the level of specifity on this, but try and focus on location-based searches (e.g. 'therapists in london') as general searches around anxiety tend to surface articles or blogs rather than listings for therapists. If you want to consider ranking for these, consider content marketing.
Your list could look something like this:
Run these through Google and take note of the results on the 1st page. If personal websites show up - get some SEO help and try to rank alongside them.
For directories, you'll want to concern yourself more with the top 3-4 results, rather than the first page.
The reason for the difference in thinking here is that if your personal website ranks and gets a click you are the only therapist, but if a directory listing ranks and you join that directory you're one of many.
If one directory comes up on top for most of the searches, then that's a good candidate.
Still, there are some important things to consider.
The first is search volume (i.e. how many people are actually making this specific search on Google every month). 'Psychotherapists near holborn working with city workers' might be the most relevant search for you, but if only 1 person makes that search per month, it probably doesn't warrant paying for a listing on the top ranked directory for that search, particularly if it ranks on the 2nd page for all your other searches which sum to 1,000 per month.
In order to find search volume, Ubersuggest is a great free tool. When using it make sure to adjust the location to the UK to get correct data. Also bear in mind that the number of searches listed there is a fraction of the total, as it only counts the exact, letter-by-letter searches for the term; searches with the same intent but with slight variances (i.e. 'therapist' vs 'therapists') won't be factored in, even if Google will show identical results.
Next thing to consider is that just as searches differ, so do directory listings. Timewith for example, have different listings pages for East London and Hackney. The Hackney page shows up on searches which include Hackney, whereas the East London page shows up on searches which include East London. Hackney clearly has less therapists, so competition is less here and your profile has a greater chance of being seen.
This brings me to my last point: remember you're in competition with other therapists.
'therapists in central london' might have the most searches, but the listing there may have hundreds of therapists and so you may well sign up and never get seen, whereas a more specific search might get less overall visitors but you are more likely to show near the top of the more localised directory listing.
On that note it's important to consider what determines which therapists show up at the top of directory listings. Each service operates differently. Some require you to pay extra, some randomise it, some (like Timewith) do so on a performance basis.
One exercise you could run would be to keep returning to the exact same page on different days and see if the results vary. If these are constantly being refreshed you'll likely get some views; if they are fixed, try to understand why (why not email their support team?) as well as what it takes to get near the top!
I hope I have given you an understanding of some of the dynamics of online marketing for referrals, as well as some useful frameworks and exercises.
I want to end by giving you a final tip, which pertains to another rule of online marketing: test, analyse, iterate. In other words, try stuff out (in this case, join a directory or try SEO for your website), look at the data (tracking is ESSENTIAL), and either double-down if something is working, or try something else out.
If you're willing to invest lots up front you might want to consider joining all directories, seeing which ones bring the most clients, and then cancelling those that don't.
Remember, though, that the more deliberate your strategy, the more effective your strategy will be and hence the higher your profit margins.
Whatever you choose to do, ensure that you keep tracking which customers are coming in, what the common threads between them are, where they are coming from, whether you like working with them, and then revise your strategy accordingly.
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