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!