In my previous post on marketing, I talked about connecting with "gatekeepers" to obtain referrals - in other words, marketing yourself to providers potential clients are already seeing, such as their Primary Care Provider. While this is an important aspect of a private practice marketing plan, it's not sufficient by itself.
These days, more and more people go to the internet as their starting point when they want to find...well, anything, really. When people have physical symptoms, they often check WebMD before they think about calling their own doctor. Similarly, when people begin to have psychological symptoms, they often go online before they talk to anyone about it. In fact, people may be even more likely to use the internet for mental health problems, given the stigma and embarrassment that may arise from talking more openly about these difficulties.
Thus, while a potential client may not plan to see his or her PCP for another several months, he or she may decide to see a therapist sooner, based on information gathered online. Where do these potential clients find a therapist? Some may get a recommendation from family or friends, but many will look (you guessed it) online.
The bottom line: To market your practice, people should be able to find you online.
There are a number of ways to build an online presence:
1) Social Media: Make use of the network you already have by publishing information about your practice on social networking sites. If you haven't signed up for LinkedIn, do so. It is a way to connect with other professionals, direct people to your website and/or blog, and your public profile is a way for potential clients to learn about you. Also create a facebook page for your business - and don't forget to "like" it as yourself so all your facebook contacts find out about it!
2) Get your own website. These days it's both easy and inexpensive to get a website, and you don't have to be a computer whiz. Weebly.com offers free, user-friendly website design. For a small fee, it will also register and host a domain name for you (about $4.00/mo). However, you can shop around and get a cheaper rate for domain registration and hosting, and publish your Weebly site on your domain (Weebly even provides instructions). I paid $2.17 for a full year for my domain (www.nataliehill.info). What should your website include? Who you are, what you offer, financial information (insurance, fees, etc), location, directions, availability, contact information, and a photo if you're comfortable with that (some potential clients may feel more comfortable calling if they are able to put a face with a name).
3) Sign up for an online therapist directory. The most reputable one is by Psychology Today, but there are other directories as well. These have a higher monthly fee ($30 for PT), but even one referral from them covers the subscription cost for a full year after attending only 5 sessions. I joined PT a month ago, and have two clients through this resource already!
4) Blog. A blog can be integrated into your website, and has several benefits. It allows potential clients to learn a bit about your approach (note that this blog is not attached to my website, since its audience is therapists, not clients), it increases search traffic to your website, and exponentially expands the number of pages on that site (since each post has its own URL). Why is that good? For reasons beyond the scope of this post, it may increase your search page ranking (how close to the top you appear in the results of someone's search), particularly if other people link to it. Even better if you then comment on other people's blog posts, with links back to your blog.
The bottom line: however you do it, get the information on-line, where people can find it!