You can’t start up a private practice without being introduced to the “M”-word …. marketing.
A good percentage of the posts in the Build Your Private Practice Facebook Group are about how to get new clients, how to incentivize folks, how to increase the size of your caseload, etc. etc. Just as commonly, I hear people asking if we can offer discounts, packages, and sales to help get new clients in the door.
I wanted to share with you an experience I had nearly a decade ago. I was working in the yoga industry (managing a yoga studio, actually) in Calgary, Alberta. It was when companies like Groupon, WagJag, and Living Social were just gaining in popularity. Essentially, they were online marketing sites that people flocked to by the thousands, where business owners and entrepreneurs could advertised their products and services. Here was the kicker though—you had to offer your product or service at an extremely discounted rate, and on top of that, the marketing company took a percentage of it. So, essentially, you were practically giving away your stuff for free, just to get exposure and get clients in the door, or make a sale.
It worked for some people. I heard from a few business owners that, yes, they were practically giving away stuff for free, but once they got the customers in the door, they were able to “wow” them with exceptional customer service, and turn them into loyal customers.
The problem was, that the popularity of these marketing companies was exploding … and everybody was getting on board. What was happen in the yoga industry, was that dozens of yoga studios in and around the city of Calgary all started offering steep discounts to get people in the door, and the customers got smart. They realized that every studio was offering practically-free classes, so they started purchasing all of the deals, and studio-hopping for months or years. Hundreds of people were practicing yoga at a steeply discounted rate by going from one studio to the next. They got so conditioned to paying $5 or less for a yoga class, that nobody wanted to pay the regular $20 drop-in rate, or even the $10 or $12 per class that it would have cost to purchase a pass. Customers became desensitized to the sale or the incentive, and began to expect it as the new normal. Yoga studios in the area started to suffer financially, and had to keep putting on sales in order to bring in revenue. It started a pretty negative cycle of discounting to get new customers, and then having to discount further to keep up with the other studios in the area, or to incentivize their new customers to keep coming.
In my personal experience, the whole thing was just a really bad idea. It devalued the practice of yoga, it played into the desire of people to get a good deal, it set up a negative expectation of really low-cost yoga, and it caused many yoga studios in the area to suffer financially.
When I was first registered as a Psychotherapist with the CRPO in Ontario, I was grateful that they didn’t allow their members to offer discounted sessions, or “deals”. In many provinces and territories across Canada, doing so as a mental health practitioner is considered unethical. But, of course, this question still comes up… because offering a discount is such a popular and relatively easy way to get new clients.
What I learned from my experience at yoga studios in Calgary, however, is that it’s not the best marketing tool, and it’s not sustainable in the long run. Besides, why would you want to incentivize people into coming to therapy by offering them a discount and focusing on money—when you could build relationships? It feels SO much better when potential clients know, like, and trust you, and when they come to you and happily pay full fee—because they already know how great you are at what you do?
Offering a “deal” to get someone into counselling, just feels a little icky. And it doesn’t set you or your client up for success when it comes to having a safe, trusting professional relationship. As a business owner, you likely feel a whole lot better about the work you are doing when you are getting paid what you’re worth. If you have to negotiate your client’s rate with them, or they are paying less than what you feel is fair based on your education and experience, it can create an uncomfortable feeling that negatively impacts the therapeutic alliance.
Instead of thinking how can you get people in the door based on money incentives, think about what you can offer that would get potential clients to know, like, and trust you.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if a new client called you up or emailed you and said, “I’m reaching out because I just know you are the right person to help me. I saw you at _____ (or heard you speak at ____), and everything you were saying really resonated with me. I have a good feeling that you know exactly what I’m going through, and will be the best person to support me.”
When your relationship with a new client starts off that way, you are likely to be a lot more excited about the work you are doing, your new client will likely receive more benefit from therapy, and it’s unlikely that you will feel the need to reduce your rate or work for less than what you feel is fair.
Now, how do you do that? How do you get new clients to call you up and say they already know who you are and are so excited about the possibility of working with you?
The key is …. to think, “service before sales”.
How can you put yourself out in the community, in front of your ideal customer, so they have a chance to get to know you, develop a relationship with you, and get a sense of who you are, what you offer, and how you can help them?
Figure out who your ideal client is, and then understand where they spend their time and what they’re interested in. How can you get yourself in front of them, and create an opportunity to connect?
Would they read a blog you’ve written? Would they show up at a free seminar? Would they come to a workshop, or listen to a podcast? Would they join a Facebook Group you organize, or watch you on a Facebook Live? Would they come to a lunch-and-learn at work?
There are an endless amount of things you can do both in your community and online, to create connections and build relationships. When you figure out what your ideal client will respond to or be interested in, and then you show up there and offer something meaningful to them that allows them the opportunity to start to “know, like, and trust” you, then will people start reaching out to you, excited to work with you, and satisfied to pay your regular rate.
You might have reservations about offering free content, or running a 2-hour seminar without getting paid, or spending time writing blogs … but trust me—the time you spend offering something you are passionate about will yield a much better return on investment than all of the hours and money you will spend on other marketing efforts that often flop anyway.
Forget the discounts and the sales… get out there (either in person or online) and share your wisdom and experience. Start connecting, relating, and building trust. Before you know it, clients will be reaching out to you, asking to work with you, rather than you feeling like you’re selling yourself short.
Good luck! And if you need a little extra support, feel free to reach out to book your one-on-one mentorship session with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.