When you’re new to private practice and are feeling nervous about taking the leap from being a full-time employee to becoming an entrepreneur, the gap in time between the day your doors open and when you have enough clients to cover your monthly expenses can feel like the scariest, most vulnerable, insecure time of your professional life.
First, know that this transition period (and the fear that coincides) is completely normal. It takes time to start building your caseload.
Most of us have a number in our head…
“I just need to see five clients a week, or have 10 clients on my caseload
to feel secure that I can actually do this!”
So, how do you go from zero to getting your first 10 clients?
START NOW. THE SOONER THE BETTER!
Once you’ve launched, it generally takes at least 2-3 months for your website to start coming up in Google searches. But to increase your chances of being listed on the first page of Google’s search results (something that’s essential for small businesses), you have to start thinking about SEO or Search Engine Optimization.
Having a solid SEO strategy is a way to get organic traffic to your website without having to pay for ads. Learning SEO can get complicated. But there’s good news! To get your business on the right track, you don’t have to get too lost in the details. CLICK HERE for a thorough resource to help you understand how to drive your dream clients to your website using SEO. (p.s. It’s for beginners!)
It will also take a few months for you to start getting hits on your online profile on Psychology Today or Theravive. This is why I recommend starting your marketing efforts at least 3-4 months in advance. Start today or tomorrow. Just get started! You can work out all the kinks later. Taking the first step is the most important part.
Word-of-mouth is ALWAYS the best referral source. In the beginning, it can feel like a bit of a grind, especially when you don’t have current or former clients who are doing the talking for you. However, it’s more than possible to do it on your own!
When I first started, I sent an email to literally EVERYONE I knew, including over 100 personal messages on Facebook. I kept my messages authentic & to the point, sharing how excited I was to open my private practice, including a brief description of the client type I served. I asked my friends and family if they would be willing to pass the message along to anyone they knew who they thought could benefit from working with me.
I actually got 6 of my first clients this way!
Some of the world’s most powerful companies swear by word-of-mouth marketing—ever heard of Zappos, lululemon, or Apple?—and you should too!
YOUR PRACTICUM SITE
If you’re just completing a degree that included a practicum placement, it’s possible that your site supervisor would agree to allow you to extend an offer to the clients you see in your practicum, allowing them to follow you to your new private practice. Not all practicum sites permit this, but some do.
It is definitely worth asking!
Directories such as Psychology Today and Theravive have high success rates for some…and not so much for others. It truly depends on how you leverage the platform. To start, be sure to have a professional headshot of your smiling, warm face (no selfies or photos from a friend’s cell phone). Your profile picture needs to be an excellent, professional photo with a close-up of your face looking directly at the camera with a big smile.
The copy you write in your online profile is crucial. Start by speaking in your client’s language (as opposed to the kind of language you’d use when you’re speaking with another therapist). Talk about who they are (i.e., who you serve), what they can experience in therapy (including outcomes), and finish with your credentials and experience. Show your profile to at least half a dozen people who you feel confident will give you honest, critical feedback before you post it.
If you’ve ever had someone reach out in the past, or express interest in working with you who just dropped off your radar, now’s the perfect time to email them and follow up. A friendly check-in works great. Remind them of your past conversation or their email from several months back, and let them know that you’re taking on new clients.
Focus on nurturing the connections you currently have rather than broadening your reach to people you don’t know. If you know of a few people or have connected with a few other therapists or wellness practitioners that you get a sense might be a good referral source, focus on reconnecting with them.
Lastly, consider this. Since word-of-mouth marketing is the best referral source, the greatest way to build your clientele is to get out there and get people to know, like, and trust you.
How you do that is by being of service—adding value.
Find a way to get yourself in front of your ideal clients, and offer an educational workshop or a talk. You might have reservations about “doing things for free,” but when you’re just starting, it’s the best way to build word-of-mouth referral sources and increase your caseload. You can offer free content online as well through articles or blog posts, podcasts and webinars, using your social media platforms as launching pads.
There are lots of ways to get your first 10 clients in private practice. Once you’re there, momentum starts to build on its own through word-of-mouth, but bridging that gap can feel like a daunting task!
Remember, hundreds of thousands of counsellors and therapists have gone before you, and it’s totally possible. Just don’t give up, keep asking questions, and pay attention to what the successful entrepreneurs around you are already doing!
For targeted support for your unique needs and situation, please contact me about one-on-one business coaching and mentorship for your private practice at firstname.lastname@example.org.