Practice Building

Marketing - The Roller Coaster Ride of Fear

I don’t know about you guys, but the “summer slump” of clients and referrals dropping off has hit me like a ton of bricks. Something I didn’t prepare for with switching to couples work was that couples don’t always stay with you the same way individual clients do. And when I look at my schedule for the week, I hear crickets. (for more on the summer slump, check out Laura Long's blog post here.)

One of the unique aspects to the work of being a therapist is that we’ve got to get clients in the door. So unless you work for a place that funnels clients into you, we can’t just do therapy, we also have to learn how to market. And if you’re new-er to couples work, like I am, you might also be learning how to market to a totally new population. I know some EFT therapists who are just killing it in the client numbers department and have a three-month waitlist without having to do much marketing, and to those of you I say – I am really jealous. Also, congratulations. Also, tell me all your secrets.

Marketing is something I work really hard for. I have religiously read every blog post Allison Puryear has written, and I follow a lot of therapist practice builders to learn about how to market myself as a therapist. I’ve paid for some private marketing coaching sessions. I can definitely feel that I’ve come a long way in embracing niche-ing myself and being ok with the idea of marketing as an act of service. However, I’m always amazed that each time I have to up the ante with marketing, it feels like a new mountain to climb.

This summer panic is a good motivator for marketing. Despite all the marketing I have done, like networking with other therapists, building a cool website, doing some interviews and podcasts around town, putting myself on Yelp (terrifying and weird, who knows if that will do anything), it’s still not enough to get a steady client load. To work that hard and feel like it’s not enough is demoralizing, but I can’t sit in my little demoralized heap at the bottom of the mountain for long because I have to get some more clients. So up the mountain we go.

Starting out from grad school, I imagined being a therapist like being a wise Buddha. I would sit, serene and understanding, while clients would tumble into my office magically from the universe, relieved to have found a non-judgmental space and we would do beautiful work together. I never realized how much getting clients in the door would be about how hard I could hustle. It has caused me to confront parts of myself that I would really rather not, like, how much everyone’s opinion of me matters.

I was listening to the great Tiffany McLain on Annie Shuessler’s podcast Therapist Clubhouse, and Tiffany said something like, “Therapists need to stop staying in their comfort zone and just networking with other therapists, they need to start networking with their potential clients.” When I heard that I was like …… Ooooooooo. Right. No, that terrifies me and I don’t want to do that. Because what that actually means is putting yourself out there publicly as a specialist in what you do. When I hide behind my website and other therapists, I’m presenting myself as a specialist but in a much less exposed way. If a client is already looking for a couples therapist, then they will stumble upon my website, or their therapist might make a referral. It’s sort of like the therapy version of going to Match.com. You want to date, you want to check out what’s out there, and you expect to find someone who has put their profile up.

Going directly to the clients who don’t yet know they want you feels like bounding into a Starbucks on Monday morning and saying, “ANNOUNCEMENT everyone! I’m available for DAting!!” and staring back at the perturbed, blank faces of people who just wanted to get their coffee and go to work like a normal person.

Can I share a list of my next-level marketing ideas and then the fear-thoughts that come up when I think of them?

  •  I’ll pitch doing a Relationship Advice Column for my local online newsletter – every therapist will think you’re a hack and the clients you’ve had that didn’t like you will see it and think you’re a fraud
  •  I’ll do a little workshop on understanding your partner – every therapist will think you’re a hack and the clients you’ve had that didn’t like you will see it and think you’re a fraud
  • I’ll do Google AdWords and pay $$$ to get my name out there more – people will see it and think you’re desperate, also, how much money have you already spent on your business??
  • I’ll try online counseling and market a new angle – you are scared of something that different in the sea of all the different things you're already trying to learn

Basically it all comes down to fear of what my community will think of me. Of course. It’s amazing how hidden of a job being a therapist is. So few people see our work, so few people hear about our work, our own family members can’t hear about an awesome session we had or the client we’re really worried about. And marketing is this really glaring step out of the shadows. The more we market, the more we have to expose ourselves, and the more we have to have an opinion about the work we do. So here I go to try and climb this marketing mountain again, and just being able to share my fears with you guys helps. Thank you!

 

Therapist, Marketer, Small Business Owner, Human - An Embarrassing Story

We wear a lot of hats as a therapist. We are therapists, marketers, web designers, accountants, and office bathroom cleaners. Today I want to share with you about a cringe-worthy thing that happened to me last week when I was wearing my marketing hat.

So part of the deal of building a client base, for most of us, is that we need to network. I actually love the networking meetings, because I really like meeting other therapists in my area and having a strong referral base for my clients. I also want to be seen as a trustworthy clinician for people to send their couples to me. So it’s not uncommon for me to be meeting therapists a couple times a month.

These meetings are nothing to be afraid of. You meet, chit chat about each other’s work, and leave knowing another therapist who you can add to your resource list.  

Last week I set up a networking meeting with a therapist in town I hadn’t met before. The meeting was fine, typical career talk. Towards the end of the meeting he asked, “Do you have kids?” Which is a question I get often since I’m 34. I used my standard reply, which is a polite, “no.” Then he asked, “Oh, are you planning on having them?” Which I also get asked often, because it surprises people a little to hear me say I don't have kids. To which I replied politely, “no.” This is usually the moment people sense that this might be a sensitive topic, but it can also pique curiosity since it’s an unusual answer. Then he asked, in a therapist way, “Can I ask, when did you know that this would be the case for you?” and I BURST into tears.

 Me driving home from the meeting

Me driving home from the meeting

You know the kind of crying that’s kind of elegant, where your eyes get a little teary but you’re in control of yourself? Like Audrey Hepburn crying? This was not that. This was like, the door won’t close no matter how hard you’re pulling on it. The flood is happening! I could not pull the tears back in. The thoughts flashing through my head at that moment were: “you look incompetent! He’s going to think you can’t handle your stuff as a therapist! He’s never going to refer anyone to you EVER! He’s going to tell EVERY THERAPIST IN TOWN you are too emotional to be a good therapist!!!!” In these moments, I imagine there is an intercom button that goes out to all therapists in town, “Attention, therapists: Wesley Little cries in professional meetings, she will definitely not handle her stuff with clients.”

 

Uggghhhhhh, being human.

This painful vulnerability made me think of how much we have to risk in Core Skills when we show tapes of our work. It’s SO VULNERABLE to show yourself fumbling through EFT to a room full of your peers, who you hope would refer to you at some point. And this room of fellow EFT-ers are your tribe, the people you hope want you in the tribe as well. I think that fear of rejection can be so alive for us, that people will see us and reject us. Sometimes we even get teary in Core Skills, when we feel embarrassed or overly exposed about sharing our work with our peers.

So we’re therapists, we’re marketers, but we’re also human. We can’t be perfect all the time. Sometimes we’re going to have a fight with our partner at a restaurant, or show an awful tape of our work, or cry in meetings. It sucks, it feels terrible, but what’s the alternative? All we get is to be human. I trust as I’m writing this that you feel compassion for me. We’ve all had moments where our human selves are front and center. I know we’ve all had moments where we honk loudly at someone who cuts us off in traffic and then fear we just honked at a client.

So my hope for you today is to love your human self. That human self is essential to your therapist self! And that human self deserves some comforting. There’s a lot of held breath around being perfect as a therapist/human, and we just can’t be. We can still do great work with our imperfect selves.