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.
getting their profiles on counselling directories -rscpp is just one example, but check out what is available online. Some charge a monthly fee, others take a percentage of each session for referrals they give you. It's great to get enough clients to get a regular clinic off the ground. You can also sign up with various national therapy and assessment providers, who take a commission for their referrals, but send you work.
Link your website to a Facebook page, and if you don't already have a professional profile on Linked-in, get this done. A Twitter account in your business name, together with a Google Plus page is invaluable free advertising. Consider your own Instagram page too. Connect these outlets together to create a buzz, to advertise your services, gain links to your professional website, and also let the public know about any events you are offering. Pretty soon, you'll have hundreds if not thousands of followers, and an audience for your knowledge.
Blogs are a scary idea ! But really, they are just short articles or just a few paragraphs on a topic that interests readers (like what you ar reading now). Through blogging, you can share something of your approach, and promote your expertise. If you push the blog through social media channels, you'll soon start getting those all important 'likes' and 'shares'. It's an easy and free means to say I am here!. Link the blog back to your website, generating higher google rankings (which means you gradually get higher and higher up the pages when people search for services)
Invite your clients to 'like you', or offer a review of services you have provided, by directing them to your website (and it's associated social media channels). This adds credibility to what you offer, and attracts people to find out exactly what you are offering.
Taster Sessions, Workshops and Groups
Consider running some low cost taster sessions - perhaps combining with a colleague who compliments what you do. It need not be a whole day - maybe just a few hours, with short sessions that clients can book into. This is especially good for holistic therapists, who offer hands on treatments. Charging even £5-10 per 15min session would make it worthwhile for you, whilst also increasing your database of potential clients. Talking therapists might instead offer drop in sessions, for initial advice.
What about workshops? You could charge a small fee and draw in clients who are already warmed up to researching treatments that you offer. Remember, you could join up with a few new starters, and run workshops back to back, so that would be attendees come for 2-3hrs. Think of a subject that people would be interested to know more about - for example, how to manage stress; improving sleep; overcoming comfort eating and so on. The possibilities are unlimited, if you put some creative thought into the project.
Groups that run for a set number of weeks are another helpful addition to what you do. I've known practitioners who have run a Life Coaching group for 4 evenings, or set-up Mindfulness Groups scheduled for lunchtimes. The key is to reserve a suitable group room, set a start and end date, advertise and create a waiting list in readiness for the group running. If you are wishing to run a group in November say, market it from August or September. If there isn't enough uptake, roll the waiting list over to a future date, and re-market for that period of time. Advertising
Whether it is taster sessions, workshops, groups or just individual treatments, remember you have to promote them. A brilliant treatment offering is like a Ferrari sat in a garage...promoting the treatment, is driving that Ferrari around town! A blog post that weaves an advert into it is one possibility, but don't overlook online resources such as Eventbrite, Eventzilla, What's On Guides, and of course the tried and trusted Facebook Events pages. If your event is free, the event sites will allow you to promote at no cost - otherwise, they may take a small payment per sale, at the time clients book. It's all organised for you, electronically and less complex than it sounds.
Coming back to Facebook (a real marmite offering, with many hating it, but others using it for their benefit), you can pay a small fee to 'boost' the advert, and it can reach literally thousands of people within any area you specify (by location, age, gender or interest). There are countless holistic, complimentary therapies and counselling Facebook pages out there, happy for you to join. They may vet your post or event advert, but most want good content and will be happy to include what you have to share. There are many 'how to' videos on YOUTUBE, to make you a complete expert in no time
Paid advertising in paper media is expensive - but there are options. Find practitioners who compliment your services, and pool your resources. Sharing the costs of an advert in a local newspaper will get you into people's homes. An advert in a glossy periodical will find its way into restaurants, bars, hotel lobbies, health clubs and all manner of public spaces. Printed directories sound like yesterday's news, but remember some people are not computer literate, and will still search for you using traditional means.
Taking on a stall at a holistic therapies fayre, or paying for a stand in a local shopping centre, are some of the ways to get your business and brand known. You'll need a few accessories - pull up banners, printed table cloth and those all-important leaflets (this is where that designer comes in helpful, having the skills to create a look and feel that threads through all your media). Some shopping malls will give you a table-width space for the day, from £250. Sharing this with a colleague or two, and it suddenly feels affordable. How long can you staff a stall alone, in any case?
Register with Health Insurance Companies
With the right accreditations, you may be able to register your professional services with health insurance companies such as AXA-PPP, BUPA, Pru-Health, WPA, Prudential, Vitality and so on. Registration is free, and they will advertise you as a professional for this locality, online for their members. It's usually easy for Psychologists. Psychiatrists, CBT Practitioners and certain Psychotherapists to get registered, but some companies are also open to clinicians from other backgrounds joining up.
Make yourself Accessible
Offering a free initial phone call to clients, is a good hook. Also, be ready to enter into email exchanges with clients. Most people are unsure of what they want, and how best to choose a practitioner. They tend to feel reassured through initial conversation. Your initial investment could secure several sessions of therapy or treatment. Once you have had some clients, they become moving adverts of you - recommending you to others they know.
To flourish in the independent sector, you will need excellent communication skills and a willingness to shine! You have something to offer, so let others know that it is available. Hiding your light away, doesn't serve anyone. Stand up, stand tall, and make your hopes and aspirations a reality.
Dr Bobby Sura BSc Hons, PG Dip, DClinPsy, CPsychol
Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist
Dr Bobby Sura is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He works both in the public (NHS) and private sector, being the proprietor of Clinical Psychology Direct and Director for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Dr Sura is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and
Association of Family Therapy (AFT).