By Noah Zapf, PhD, LPC/MHSP
You’ve done the hard work of completing your graduate degree, found the perfect office space, and are ready to begin your practice. Or you’ve been working in an agency for the last 10 years, which had a steady flow of client referrals, but the idea of working for yourself has always been intriguing, and you’re finally ready to branch out on your own. Excitement abounds in both scenarios, but you also know that one particular fear creeps in every time you think of opening your practice…if I build it, will they come? If you’re familiar with this fear, don’t worry, you’re not alone. However, after 10 years of running a successful private practice, I’m here to give you hope that if you focus on these four simple guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to a thriving private practice.
Get to know other therapist in your community
One of my professors once said, “known people, know people”. The goal of every therapist in private practice, is to become known as a valuable referral source by those seeking services. In my own experience, the more time I’ve invested in building friendships with other therapists in my community, the more known I’ve become. Other therapists have consistently been my number one referral source in my private practice. Every therapist will find themselves needing a trusted referral for a client that they, for one reason or another, cannot see themselves. And trust, as we all know, has to be built over time. To become a trusted referral source, you have to put in the time to become connected to your community. If you have an open lunch, invite a colleague to join you on your dime. Prioritize local training and professional associations. Be active in your local therapist Facebook groups. Not only will this help you grow your practice, but you’ll have the added benefit of getting to know some amazing people.
Become an expert in 1-2 areas
Our graduate training and supervision makes us capable of working with a wide variety of clients and presenting issues. And of course, many clinicians enjoy the variety that comes from working with a wide range of issues. Still, the old saying, “jack of all trades, master of none” often works against our marketing efforts. For example, imagine you are a client who has been suffering from debilitating panic attacks. If you don’t personally know any therapists, you turn to the web for guidance. You narrow the list to the 10 therapists who office on your side of town. Upon reviewing their websites, you find out that one of the lists that they specialize in panic attacks. Even if we assume that the other 9 therapists are wonderfully skilled clinicians, the client is almost certainly going to choose the one who has become an expert in the area they are currently in need of. When I began to specialize in my practice, I noticed an increase in both web and other therapist referrals.
Join 2-3 therapist directories
Speaking of web referrals, I highly recommend you join 2-3 subscription therapist directories. While they do add a recurring monthly cost (typically $20-$30 per month), it will most likely pay for themselves over the course of a year. For example, if you end up paying $30 per month, for 12 months, your yearly cost is $360. Yet, if even just one client finds you from that directory, and pay you to say, $100 per session, it only takes 4 sessions before you have more than covered the cost of the subscription for the entire year. A few directories that I have found helpful over the years have been Psychology Today, Good Therapy, and Therapy Tribe.
Do good work
Last but certainly not least, the most important thing you can do to grow your practice, is simply, to do good work. We have the unique honor of sitting with amazing clients day in and day out, who often entrust with us parts of their lives that have never shared with anyone else. It’s important that we don’t ever take this privilege for granted. When we approach this work with reverence, our clients can feel it. In fact, I once read that nearly 70% of clients attribute the therapeutic relationship as the most important change factor in meeting their therapeutic goals. And when our clients get better, not only do we get to experience the satisfaction of doing work that truly makes a positive impact in the world we live, but we’ve also gained the trust of another valuable referral source, our clients. Aside from other therapists, former clients are my second largest referral source. When you gain the trust of a client, they are more likely to talk about you their friends and family. And we all know that life can be hard, and every once in a while, those same friends may need the help of a professional. If you’ve done good work, your name is likely to rise to the top of the list.
A full and thriving practice isn’t going to happen overnight. However, with time, and special attention to these four guidelines, you’ll find that doing the work you’ve always dreamed of is attainable. We at Therapy Space are here to help you make that dream a possibility. If you’re curious about getting started, please reach out, we’d love to help.