Sunday, July 29, 2012

How to Establish a Private Practice: Marketing, Part 1

Now, I'm the very last person who would claim to be an expert when it comes to marketing. Thus far, my only exposure to the principles of marketing has been through the study of social psychology (which includes social influence). This was a conscious decision: I found the idea of selling anything distasteful, and wanted to go into a helping profession - help, not sell.

Little did I know that marketing is a necessary precursor to helping: you can't help people if they don't know you're out there! Most of us start out at agencies that already have clients - probably because agencies have established reputations, and also employ marketing professionals. Clinicians are often unaware of this infrastructure, but once we set out into private practice, it's up to us to make sure people know about that practice, if we want to get any clients. Clearly it was an oversight on my part to so assiduously avoid learning marketing!

Although I may be a little late on the up-take, I am now learning the basics, and will share them with you (since I've heard that many therapists start out with a similar aversion to the subject).

The first lesson: Identify the gate-keepers

While we may consider finding a therapist to be an obvious response to various life difficulties, it is actually not that obvious to many people (1) that they may benefit from therapy, and (2) where they would even find a therapist who is familiar with a given problem. So, while there may be some people who seek and find a therapist on their own, it's much more common for people to come to therapy on the recommendation of someone else - often another type of professional with whom they are already connected.

Once you've identified your target population, marketing begins with asking: "Who is already working with this population, and may be willing and able to direct them to me for therapy?" Some possibilities are:

  • Primary Care Providers, including doctors, nurse practitioners, and general dentists. PCPs are often the first to hear about it when people have mental health concerns, since people are seeing them anyway, usually trust them, and many PCPs will ask about overall well-being.
  • Educators (preschool through graduate school, depending on your population, including coaches), and employers. When people are having mental health difficulties, it often begins to impact their school or work performance, and therefore comes to the attention of teachers, coaches, or supervisors.
  • Religious communities, and especially their leaders (i.e., ministers, rabbis, pastors, priests, imams, etc.). People often trust these individuals, and already discuss personal matters with them (not much is more personal than the state of one's spiritual life). They also have ready access to all the important transitions of family life: marriage, birth, illness/injury, death. 
  • Hospitals. Mental health problems are not always identified early. Sometimes people don't get help until they are in crisis and are hospitalized. At that point, the hospital is responsible for setting up outpatient treatment as part of the discharge plan. Hospital social workers always need to know who is out there treating various populations.
What other groups come to mind as potential gate-keepers? Please contribute your ideas, if there are categories I haven't thought of!

Once you have identified gate-keepers, make a mailing list of relevant contacts in your specific area. Then get together your materials to send (to be covered in the next post on this topic).

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