You have likely experienced both personally and professionally that our mental health world is a world of word of mouth.
One of the biggest myths I hear constantly is that word of mouth is something that happens by chance. Luck. It’s out of our control, or the universe is (or isn’t) on our side. Sound familiar?
I know, here I am talking (or typing) at you without properly introducing myself.
Some of you may have met me already, others not. Regardless, I look forward to our next opportunity to reconnect.
My name is Alyssa, I am a social worker, and I am the Founder and CEO of MyWellbeing, where we help mental health practitioners connect with compatible clients and help therapy-seekers connect with the right provider for them. We technically do this through our unique matchmaking technology. Behind the scenes, we do this through relentless, passionate, authentic community building.
In my social work training (shout out to my fellow NYU Silver alums), I received zero formal business training. By working with hundreds of clinicians in the last two years to help them grow their practices, I have become increasingly confident that I am not alone.
If you are feeling mildly overwhelmed or unprepared to own the business side of your private practice, know that there is good reason for those feelings. It’s hard! You haven’t been taught these things, yet you’re expected to be masters at them. You are absolutely not alone and there are humans out there who are here to help.
Over the last two years, I have attended hundreds of panels, conferences, trainings, and events, and I have worked closely with invaluable advisors to deepen my business expertise. I am looking forward to sharing some of my insight -- specifically around the power of networks and community -- with you today.
All of the below is very dependent on you, your training and your background. Your training may dictate that you do or don’t do any of the below. Please use your judgement and ignore me when it does not feel authentic for you.
I will always believe that in our work, our clients come first.
I also personally believe that facilitating therapy, counseling, or coaching is about far more than earning an income. You are building trust. You are creating a safe space for someone to increasingly feel comfortable being vulnerable. You are the vessel through which the people you work with will channel change. Change that is often very challenging, but ultimately life-changing.
Take a moment to think about the people in your life with whom you’ve gone through similar changes. Perhaps your own therapist(s), perhaps friends, colleagues, loved ones.
I have a feeling you would recommend those people to someone in need of their services. I also have a feeling your clients feel the same way about you.
I do not recommend asking your clients to tell all of their friends, family and co-workers about you and your work. I do recommend sharing opportunities with your clients to share your work as effortlessly as they can.
For example, swag. When you are ready, invest in swag that your clients can take with them and use throughout their day-to-day lives. Perhaps even share with others. Relatively inexpensive examples are: pens, notepads, and stress balls. They may use your pen at brunch, and what do you know, they are now telling 5 of their friends about how wonderful your therapy has been. It is possible those friends may not want to work with the same therapist as their friend, but they may have a co-worker, sibling, or loved one who does. Now they have your information, too.
Beyond swag, communicate your gratitude with your clients as regularly as you can. Particularly if your clients are Millennials or younger. One example: send digital thank you cards seasonally. I recommend sending them on a regular schedule that is not a particular response to a particular session. Your clients are practicing curiosity and vulnerability with you, which is incredibly challenging for most people. Let them know you acknowledge that and that you care.
Directories like Psychology Today and ZocDoc and matching/community services like MyWellbeing are great ways to spread awareness about your practice.
One of the reasons for this is that networks of this size have a larger budget than you do on your own to invest in paid marketing and advertising. Accordingly, prospective clients are significantly more likely to learn of larger directories and services than they are to learn of your practice on its own.
There are occasions where online directories or matching services can single-handedly fill your practice. If networking and marketing is not your thing, and you don’t particularly want it to be, you can lean on these sites to fill your practice and let go of the other practices below, which take practice and can become time-consuming.
When thinking about which online directory/service, the answer (like most of life) will depend on you, your practice, and your goals. Each service is different than the next in nuanced ways. I recommend scheduling phone consultations with the service providers to explain your practice and your needs and ask any questions you have so you can gain insight from them and get a gut sense of which direction may be best for you.
If you’re interested in learning more about MyWellbeing, you can read about our services and/or request a call with us here.
Highlighting your practice in prominent publications is a great way to spread awareness about you and your work. One listserv I recommend to learn about PR opportunities is called Help a Reporter Out.
One advantage of this is if the reporter does connect with you, it’s a streamlined opportunity to get your expertise and your practice out there.
When your practice is highlighted in a prominent publication, likely 100s or 1000s of prospective clients who otherwise follow that publication and read it regularly learn of your practice and gain trust in you as a thought leader and expert in the space.
Two cons are that this can become very time-consuming. Reporters also function on a very fast-paced timeline. It can happen that you will invest time and energy into responding to their inquiries but you will not hear from them or their needs have changed in a matter of minutes or hours.
Examples of professional networks are communities like NASW. Often, these communities do promote regular conferences, discounts, tools, perspectives, and more.
By keeping in touch with these communities, you may learn of new and innovative ways to both grow as a professional (through trainings and more), and/or meeting and connecting with other providers who may be able to help grow your practice and vice versa.
If you a member of groups that do have in-person gatherings, I recommend setting a goal for yourself for how frequently you would like to attend the events, and honor that goal. If that goal is once per year, great. If that goal is once per week, also great. Setting that quantitative goal will help you honor your commitments when it’s decision time and you’re choosing between Netflix and Thai food or that networking event downtown after a full day of working with clients.
Moreover, set relatively frequent reminders to revisit your goals. When you are first starting your practice, you will likely have a goal to go to these events far more regularly than when you are full and feeling more of a time shortage.
At My Wellbeing, we offer monthly in-person gatherings, as we believe it is regular enough to begin building community and connecting with colleagues, while not overwhelming or pressure-inducing for any given provider. These gatherings are absolutely the highlight of my month.
Professional peer groups are things like peer supervision or your colleagues from graduate school.
Sometimes, your professional peers are people whose training and perspective is similar to yours. When your caseload fills, and vice versa, these are fantastic people to keep in touch with to cross-refer to.
Other times, and I believe this can at times be even better, your professional peer groups are diverse in their training, background, location, fee, specialty areas, and more. In this case, if you connect with a client who is not a great fit for your practice, even if your practice is not full, you can refer to these peers who you trust as clinicians to fill that need. For example, you may work extremely well with clients working through an eating disorder, and your colleague may work extremely well with clients working through an addiction. The trust you build with each other will lead to natural referrals between both of you when you interact with a client who is a better fit for the other.
At My Wellbeing, we facilitate community and peer groups for this very reason. “Therapy” encompasses hundreds of different techniques, trainings, and personalities. Rapport is incredibly important in the healing process. If you are building relationships with people who you come to trust, and who come to trust you, all of a sudden you have a deeply nourishing community to support you in your day-to-day on a logistical and emotional level, and to fill gaps in your practice on a financial and professional level.
Generally, blogging is a great way to draw prospective clients to your work. It gives people an extended opportunity to learn more about your perspective and become more familiar with your particular voice and lens as a clinician.
When thinking about blogging, you can either start your own blog, or you can contribute to others’ blogs, or both.
Similar realities apply to blogging as to PR. If you contribute to another more prominent blog, you are gaining access to their following, which is often hundreds or thousands (or more) of engaged, dedicated readers, who are then learning about you and your practice, and trusting your voice as an affiliated partner with the brand they already know and love.
Moreover, when you are linked to by a prominent blog, the “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization) of your own site and practice improves, by gaining “authority” according to Google and other search engines.
For these reasons, we encourage all of the providers we work with to guest blog on My Wellbeing. Our thousands of readers then learn even more about that provider and their perspective, and the provider’s own web presence is elevated.
Creating and investing in your own blog is great way to build and nurture your own professional communities inside and outside of your healing room. That said, this is arguably one of the most time consuming marketing practices and it does significantly improve with consistency. I recommend practicing honesty around how much time and interest you have in this path. Dive in if you enjoy writing and have time, or choose another route (or focus on contributing to other established blogs) if you foresee this becoming a chore.
Like professional communities, building relationships with sister professionals is a great way to build mutually beneficial referral sources.
For example, physicians are a great partnership for mental health providers, because the work you do is quite different, yet complementary. You would both benefit greatly from working together, as you can address the mental health side of the work, and the physician can address the physical health side the work. The client then benefits tremendously from more integrative, collaborative, all-encompassing care.
This mutually beneficial relationship is the best kind to pursue, as you are not competing with each other at all, you are helping each other deepen the value of your individual work.
When thinking about partnerships, think about whether working with you would benefit the other person’s work. Does your expertise deepen the value of what they are providing otherwise? Does their expertise or offering deepen the value of yours?
If the answer is yes, that likely means that the partnership is a natural yes to both providers. If you pursue the partnership, the partnership will also likely benefit the client, which is the perfect trifecta.
Newsletter and Email Marketing are great ways to keep in touch with those who are already engaged in your services. Like I mentioned in the Clients section, you want to give those you are working with (1) additional value and (2) easy, effortless ways to share your work with others.
I recommend including tangible tips, tools, or discounts/offerings in your newsletters and email marketing, whether that be inspiring quotes, actual exercises people can practice between sessions with you, a product offering, or something else entirely. The reason for this is if it resonates with them, they may “forward” the email to their colleagues and connections, which of course, shares your work with additional communities and networks.
This, like blogging, is a commitment that can sneak up on you. I recommend choosing this tool only if you believe it will excite you and add joy to your practice. If this will come to feel like a chore, I recommend either choosing something else or delegating this to another professional who you hire.
There are various uses and needs of our web and social presence. One is to give a “digital home” to our practice, which clients are without a doubt looking for.
For example, I have helped thousands of clients find the right therapist for them. I know by receiving their feedback and watching their behavior that almost immediately after learning of you and your work, they google you, and they want to see your website. Accordingly, we want to ensure that the website we are putting out there adequately represents our practice.
This does not mean you have to have a website with countless bells and whistles and the most tech-savvy integrations. Your website can be extremely simple.
My recommendation is that your website accurately reflect your practice. For example, if you identify as someone who is relatively no-nonsense, concrete and goal-oriented, I would not build a website that includes flowery or fluid imagery. I would likely use high contrast colors with lines and shapes that suggest boundaries and goals. Similarly, if you identify as a practitioner who integrates things like mind/body work, spirituality, Tarot readings, or yoga, I would not recommend creating a website that is particularly loud.
You want to create a web presence that sets appropriate expectations of you and your work and attracts the right kind of clients for you. There is no “perfect website,” as each practitioner and each client is different. There is, however, a website that reflects who you are, and there are websites that don’t.
Like all of the above, when thinking about web and social presence, there are absolutely ways to use a website and to use social media to grow your networks and communities. On your website, for example, you can create pop-ups that encourage prospective clients to download something you’ve written and read on their own time. You can also create digital opportunities for them to sign up for your newsletter, for example.
Social media, as well, is ultimately intended to build community. This is another channel that can sneak up on you in terms of it being time-consuming. Generally, to build a community on social media, you want to allocate a particular amount of time each week (or each day) to engage (write comments, like, share) other pages and content that resonates with you and your practice, until eventually, they do the same. It is a channel through which to talk and communicate. Posting content every now and then will likely not make much of a splash unless you are actively engaged.
These are additional channels that may not be your specific strengths or passion points, and that is okay. You can definitely hire professionals other than yourself to manage things like this for you, particularly your web site. If you intend to hire someone else to manage your social media accounts, I recommend practicing a lot of intention around who you hire because that person will need to have a voice that is as close to yours in values and perspective as possible. Ultimately, they are representing you.
This post is the second in a series on how to grow your practice. You can read the first post on key principles to grow your practice here.
In honor of community building, I am grateful to you for reading through the above, taking this initiative for yourself and your practice. I hope this content proves useful for you.
Please keep in touch. Follow us on social media @findmywellbeing, or email us at [email protected] with any thoughts or questions.
I am so glad you are here. I wish you all the best in your private practice, and look forward to us growing together.
Match with the *right* clients for your practice while growing your professional community.
Alyssa Petersel, Co-Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.