Marketing Yourself as Therapist in the Private Sector
Most people I talk to about independent practice are initially cautious and hopeful in equal measure. Whilst the freedom and possibilities for self-determination and personal growth offered in private work attract therapists, they also worry whether they will earn enough to pay the bills and mortgage! After all, there are very few chances that a pay cheque will arrive in the bank at the month end.
My advice is unequivocal : don't allow fear of the unknown to deter you! Nothing that is safe and certain, is really worth pursuing. Some risk-taking is needed (calculated of course) and you will need to manage the uncertainty that comes, whilst planning expectantly for rewards and successes. As the saying goes, "you can't reach for the horizon, unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore".
In this short article, I want to offer some step by step guidance for you, as a potential self-employed practitioner. I won't mislead you by saying it is easy, because it does require sustained effort and perseverance. However, the fruit of your labor is well worth the time and energy. Very soon, you'll be wondering what took you so long! I have yet to meet anyone in private practice who hasn't said. "I wish I had done this years ago!". Now, for that guidance, in 25 simple steps....
Get Your House in Order
Ensure you have the qualifications needed and professional registrations in place, to function independently. It's the first thing potential clients and referrers will need to know, before selecting which clinician or practitioner they wish to approach. Being accredited with the BPS, UKCP, BACP, NAC, HCPC or other professional body is key to credibility.
Seek out some professional indemnity insurance, to make your journey into private work feel safer and more secure. It should cost you around £100-£120 for a year's cover, through a company like Towergate or Oxygen . Check with you accreditation body as they often have in-house discounts for people on their register.
Source a good supervisor or mentor, to help you think about the work you are undertaking. Remember you won't necessarily have a multidisciplinary team around you, or the benefit of policy guidance - making sure you practice in an ethical and effective manner, depends greatly on good supervision.
Purchase case folders for any notes you need to keep, as well as considering a secure way to store them (a filing cabinet at home, or in the room you rent if possible will be needed). If you are keeping notes electronically, how might you encrypt them, together with any emails or reports you may send back and forth? Consider any disclaimer forms you require, especially for physical therapies. If it's psychological assessment or therapy, will you be needing psychometric resources, or pre and post therapy outcome measures? You need not spend extravagantly at the beginning, but in time you do need to have whatever resources are required to work well with your clients. Your practice address
You will need a place from which to practice. Are there suitable rooms for hire, perhaps in a GP surgery or local health centre? What about counselling and therapy rooms for rent, in purpose made facilities? Having a decent location that is easy to access, is an important foundation. Furthermore, you need a professional address, and preferably a place that already has potential clients looking for help, to become recognised in the community. Something local will mean you can come and go between appointments. Business name and initial marketing
Having all the information to hand, you are almost ready to start creating marketing materials. But first, you'll need a practice name and logo - it needs to be distinct enough to stand out, without being so off the wall that nobody knows what you actually offer. What sort of search might potential clients be using, and can you include these words or phrases in your business name? Google Adwords can be a useful source, to help you research the kinds of phrases in circulation.
Leaflets and calling cards are an absolute must - clients will carry them, pass them on and perhaps even keep them in their pocket until they are ready to do something about their problem. A carefully designed and well-crafted leaflet will send the right signals, and convey your professional but friendly ethos. A one or two sided A5 portrait works well - you can put a nice image and less text on the front, and the details of what you offer and who you are on the back. Many printing companies will do your design work for free, if you get the prints done through them. Alternatively, pay a designer (which is really worth it!) and get your prints done cheaply via online services, such as helloprint . It is a little more hassle to upload your design online, but the savings can be really substantial.
Developing a simple website, is also key. Try a template based approach, such as that offered by WIX. You can keep updating the website, and adding services as you go along, without paying someone fees for every change you need. These templates have slideshows, video boxes, online booking solutions and space for FAQ's, pre-consultation questionnaires, client testimonials and pretty much whatever else you want. (If you are less confident with a PC, you can always pay a professional; after-all, this is an investment in your future, and you can't generate income, without spending initially)
If money is an issue, as it often is, don't be too shy to use the people in your friendship network! Many a time, there is a neighbour, work colleague or family member who has design and computer skills, and may help for free or at a discounted rate. If you don't ask, you won't get. You can always trade your services for the work they have undertaken, going forwards.
Getting well known
Getting to be well known in the area, and becoming a first choice for clients and referrers is the end goal. You can raise your profile through a newsletter attached to your website (easily put together at no cost, through a website like mailchimp, or offer to run some taster/information days at local festivals, holistic fares or mental health community groups.
Source a local therapist network, or peer supervision group. If there isn't one, perhaps you can create one? It has to start somewhere, after all. Offer to lead a 'CPD/networking' evening, where you share some theory-practice links and generate discussion with colleagues - your time and effort will invite some internal referrals to you, over time.