Questions & Answers-Marketing Your Practice

by Rose Piper LaCroix

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Question:

I've done my homework, I've decided who I want to target and I'm ready to get started. Can you give me the types of marketing efforts that will be the most effective? I want to know what works and what doesn't.

Answer:

Once you've decided who you want to target there are nine methods that you will want to consider and one method you should avoid.

Let's explore the one you should avoid and get it out of the way. I'll start by saying the "WRITTEN WORD" AS AN INITIAL APPROACH NEVER EVER WORKS. You will save a lot of wasted time and money if you will remember this universal truth of sales and marketing in behavioral health.

Many therapists make the mistake of broadcast mailing a personalized form letter to potential referral sources. These letters usually cover all the details about you that you feel would be important to other people.

The problem is the people you will be mailing to are strangers to you, and the hard cold facts are that strangers don't care anything about you except how you can help them meet their needs, and it's impossible to meet their needs without first talking to them. I've worked with hundreds of behavioral health professionals who have made the mistake of sending out form letters and getting no results.

So why do they do it, if it never works? Because it's easy, and in a sense, it's safe. There's no chance of rejection. You don't have to look someone in the eye and say "I would like to do business with you."

Another way to look at it is to ask yourself "How many times have I referred to someone who sent me a well-crafted letter letting me know all about their specialty?" If you are like all the therapists I've asked, your answer is "I would never refer a client to someone I hadn't met and didn't know fairly well."

The following is an overview of nine methods of promotion that are effective in building and maintaining a private practice. Not every one of them will be for you. You may find yourself saying "I could (would) never do that." That's ok. My goal is to give you one good idea that you can begin to use today.

Let's look at all nine (in no particular order)

1. Public Speaking

2. Networking

3. Advertising

4. Brochures

5. Newsletters

6. Press releases (and Public service announcements)

7. Cold Calls

8. Volunteering

9. Combining your efforts with another clinician whose specialty complements yours.

Which are most effective? The answer depends on who you talk to. I have heard, many times, that each one of these "never works" or "always works" for therapists. The truth is some of these are more effective than others, but all of them have a place in a well-rounded plan of action. We will go over each one of these starting, with the least effective and going to the most effective.

I'm going to start with two that won't take much of your time. Press Releases and Advertising. Press releases are always a good idea if you have a new program, service or group you want to promote to the general public. A good idea only because many local newspapers and radio stations will still run a press release free of charge if they feel you are offering a resource to the community.

Advertising is easy. Other than phone company "Yellow Pages" thousands of therapists agree, Advertising, including print, radio and cable TV never works. The best results I have seen are with some small print ads in which the therapist just barely broke even.

I agree with Beverly and Charles Browning, Ph.D., who in their book "The Private Practice Handbook" recommend an in column ad of two or three inches. Color is a waste of money in my opinion, and the Browning's research supports black ink only.

It's interesting to note that I have found 1 exception to this "no advertising rule." If you specialize in working with the Gay or Lesbian population advertising placed in publications that are designed for them can be very effective. By the way, I've found, from talking to many therapists who do work with Gays and Lesbians, that their "Word of Mouth" referrals from clients are much (30 to 50 percent) higher than for other specialists.

The "Private Practice Handbook" is available by calling (310) 596-5465 another good book on this subject is "The Publicity Kit" By Jeanette Smith.

Most therapists with whom I work spend at least some time in volunteering activities. There is nothing wrong with making these activities productive in terms of business development. I firmly recommend that you join the Chamber of Commerce and volunteer there. I was at a COC meeting last week and met a therapist who told me it took a full year before chamber members really talked (other than polite hellos) to her and another 6 months before they begin teasing and joking with her. She also commented to me that the referrals began to come regularly about the same time as the teasing.

Public speaking is an effective, slow and steady build, for private practitioners. If you do it right (we will discuss "right" in later editions) you can expect 1 referral for every presentation you give.

Newsletters and brochures have a place in every practice. Just be sure you use them properly. Newsletters go only to people who know you, your clients, your former clients, and current referral sources.

There are two types of brochures. The first is designed to be read by referral sources. In my opinion it is a waste of time to design this type of brochure because you need to be meeting face to face with potential referral sources not sending them written (NEVER EVER WORKS) material. The second brochure is designed for potential clients to read. After you have established rapport with referral sources you can give them some of your brochures to give to potential clients.

Networking, when done correctly is the 2nd most effective way to build a private practice. Just be aware that most clinicians network only with other clinicians. Remember it's networking when you are meeting new therapists with the express purpose of building referrals.

Combining your efforts with another clinician whose specialty complements yours is always a good idea. You can call on the same types of referral sources and talk about your combined services.

Cold Calling is the number one way to build a private practice. What is cold calling? It is a call placed to a total stranger (who you believe has the ability to refer you clients) to discuss the possibility of working together in some way.

Think about it for a moment. All of your referral sources and the people who know you and love you are already referring you all the patients they are ever going to. When it comes right down to it the only way to build new business is to meet new people.

This article is merely intended to get you thinking about marketing techniques Each one of these methods really requires its own article. If you have specific questions or comments about any one of the topics please forward them to this publication.

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5/11/98

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Rose Piper LaCroix has 10 years of marketing experience in building private practices for mental health professionals. You won't get a lot of philosophy about marketing because she believes in a nuts and bolts approach to building and maintaining a private practice. You can reach her at (909) 989-7006 PST .

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