Marketing Your Practice: Question & Answer

by Rose Piper Lacroix

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Question:

What's the best way for a new practitioner to over the hump of having very limited or no experience outside of class? Should one choose a special niche or a novel offering (like offering sessions in a limo for busy execs)?

Answer:

The first thing to remember is whatever you decide to do you will have to market it to your prospective clients or you will have to market to the professionals who see your prospective clients (such as doctors, personal trainers etc.).

There are several steps you may want to take before you choose a specialty for yourself. The first and most obvious will be to GET some experience by offering to do an extra "internship" with a successful psychiatrist or therapist who specializes in an area you want to specialize in. The most important ingredient in this arrangement is the amount of time you spend with your mentor. You'll have a chance to learn not only the clinical aspects of this specialty but the business development techniques they employed to create a thriving practice.

Before you make a commitment to an arrangement like this you will want to be sure this individual actually has a business and marketing plan that he/she is willing to share with you. If the answer is yes plan to spend at least a year with them to learn how they have leaned to thrive in a managed care environment.

You should be asking yourself why a successful individual would want to share this valuable information with a trainee. Keep in mind you will be available to see all of the clients who can only afford a fraction of the usual fee your mentor charges, (this helps them maintain rapport with referral sources and build rapport with the general public) and the practice will keep a % of the fee you charge the client to cover supervision and overhead costs. This fee covers administrative and marketing costs only, you are not paying for them to refer to you (known as "fee splitting" which is against the law). Although there is never any guarantee of the amount of clients you will receive each month, your mentor should have a rough idea of how many you can expect. This is especially important to your cash flow during the first few months.

Another method of getting this kind of business and clinical experience is to do some market research in your area. Are there any large group practices? (most of these work with managed care clients) within 25 miles of where you would like to eventually set up a practice (watch out for non-compete clauses if you choose this option).

Proximity to where you want to eventually be is important because many managed care companies will sign you up to be a provider in one zip code only. You will also be making contact with local people who are more likely to continue to refer if your year-end move isn't too far away. At the end of your year with a group you will have managed care, marketing and business experience.

During this one year internship hone your skills in the areas of public speaking. Develop 4 or 5 inservices or seminars on your area of specialty. Learn the techniques of networking and making contacts with new potential referral sources. If you have good writing and computer skills create a quarterly, one page newsletter that you send to all clients, former clients and referral sources. This is a great time to perfect your thank you note writing skills -- if your practice is to be successful, you'll be writing a lot of them. I always try to include and magazine or newsletter article that I think will be of interest. As I get to know someone the articles I send become just a little more personal.

Consider this one year period paid, on-the-job training that will generate patients into your practice now and in the future. At the end of the year you may have over 200 contacts, many of them referral sources who will continue to work with you after you leave your current position.

Keep track of every contact you make and never forget, the reason most marketing attempts fail is the lack of follow up and follow through. I recommend a computer program called ACT! It is the number one selling contact manager with features that will keep you organized and remind you when it is time to call an important contact. At the very least you should create a manual system to track every referral that comes to you.

It is always a good idea to develop a niche or specialty, but there is so much more to it than that. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to invest too much time and money in developing how you will deliver the service and not enough time in developing how you will get the phone to ring.

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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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