Warning: Is Your Counselling Business Failing Because You're a Digital Dinosaur?

The landscape of marketing today as a therapist has changed radically from what is was even a decade ago.

It used to be true in the late 1990’s that if you wanted to build a therapy business, you would study for many years until graduation when you could then hang a shingle on your door and wait for the clients to start coming in. You might have networked with other therapists, perhaps you had a doctor who would refer to you on a regular basis and of course you had a coveted advertisement in the Yellow Pages, which brought you a steady stream of referrals.

It was pretty easy really- almost formulaic.

Websites at the time were really something of a novelty and not to be taken seriously. I mean, why would anyone go online to look for a hairdresser, let alone a psychotherapist?

How times have changed

Fast forward to 2013 and it’s now unthinkable in private practice to not have an attractive website that converts visitors into clients.

The popularity of the Yellow Pages is falling faster than an asteroid from space. (And if you’re like me, mine landed on the front door step and then bounced straight into the recycling bin.)

If you’re based in Australia, you know that General Practitioners rarely, if ever, refer to counsellors and psychotherapists due to the Medicare rebates that psychologists offer and the generous fee that doctors get for referring to them.

Many therapists and counsellors are so desperate to find and retain clients that the idea of networking to find referral partners is almost obsolete.

So what does this bleak picture mean for counsellors and therapists?

It would be easy for many counsellors and therapists that dreamed of a private practice to throw in the towel and give up at this point.

The truth is many do.

Our colleges and universities are still churning out neophyte therapists with empty promises of ‘change your career to make a difference’. It’s not until graduation and the reality of a congested marketplace that they realise they need to abandon their private practice dream or get a low-paid job working as a counsellor in an agency.

Some therapists who are already established in the field take a different approach. They are petitioning the Australian government for equal recognition with psychologists with the intention of obtaining Medicare rebates. Their pleas seem to fall on deaf ears, along with the private health funds who are in no hurry to offer more rebates to members in the form of counselling.

The therapists who take the road less travelled

Another, much smaller group of therapists are taking the ‘road less travelled’.

These therapists have taught themselves the skills of marketing a business. They have recognised that to be a counsellor in private practice, they need to learn the basic skills that all business owners need to have, which includes training in how to market a business to the community in an effective way.

They have invested money in an effective niche-focused website that provides lots of helpful information and connects them with their ideal clients. When their ideal clients arrive on their website, they immediately feel like they are in the right place.

They use online booking schedulers to provide an efficient and effective way that new and current clients can book online at any time of the day or night.

Many of these therapists have been venturing onto social media and are starting to recognise the professional opportunities on such sites as Twitter. The more adventurous ones are diving into Google+ and Pinterest to help drive more traffic to their website and build their online credibility.

These therapists also understand the power of having a dedicated email list of potential clients, so they offer a free product on their website and stay in contact with these people through an interesting and informative newsletter that is sent on a regular basis.

They know that video is the fastest growing medium on the Internet today and are producing short and helpful videos and distributing them on places like YouTube and Vimeo, so that they can build their online presence and authority for their area of speciality.

A subset of these therapists also recognise the value of multiple streams of income and have started to create products for sale through their website, that include eBooks, eCourses and online membership groups.

The common theme with this group of therapists and counsellors are they are not afraid to learn and utilise the enormous range of digital tools that are now available for us to build and promote their businesses within their community.

The history of dinosaurs was unfortunate

We all know what happened to the dinosaurs. Sadly, they became extinct because they were unable to adapt to the new environmental conditions after a massive asteroid hit the earth.

For those therapists that aren’t willing to adapt to our radially changing environment and culture, I fear the same will happen. In fact, the sad thing is I know many talented and skilled counsellors and therapists that are struggling to make a decent living from week-to-week because they haven’t invested in the business and marketing skills to learn how to build their practices.

This is a silent tragedy because there are many people that are looking for good quality counselling, yet they are unable to find it because some of the experienced counsellors don’t have a digital footprint. And we all know that today over 70% of people search for health care services online.

The other observation I’m making is that the digital native therapists that are now graduating from our colleges are much more tech savvy than us digital immigrants. This means that they bring a wealth of knowledge about using online tools and social media to communicate and network with others and are already quickly upskilling in online marketing to create a digital presence and attract new clients.

You don’t have to be a digital dinosaur

Even though you may have felt overwhelmed with all the possibilities that are now available for us therapists and counsellors with marketing a private practice online, it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are still many ways to make your counselling business more competitive in a busy marketplace. You might want to consider:

  • taking a marketing course to build your confidence in marketing your practice
  • learn how to use accounting software so you can track your profit and loss
  • work with a business consultant or marketing coach to grow your business
  • read books on how to create a profitable and successful business
  • research on the Internet about how to build and grow a business
  • take free online trainings and courses to upskill in areas you are weak in
  • follow bloggers and therapists of influence on social media
  • start having online conversations about practice building
  • join online groups on LinkedIn and Facebook that support private practice

And the list could go on and on…

The point is you don’t have to remain a dinosaur. There are many options for developing your skills and learning what you need to learn to be a more successful therapist who runs their own business. Just don’t sit still. Do something!

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photo credit: mugley