This is the next article in my series on how therapists can effectively promote and advertise their practices. My last post gave an overview of topics which I’ll be diving into over the course of this series. It also mentioned that there is great, great, great (great) opportunity out there for therapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals who want to take their business to another level. The reason for level of opportunity is simple. It is due to the fact that, while there are a large number of mental health professionals, most (to be frank) aren’t trying to grow their business aggressively as those in other professions (such as lawyers, accountants, etc.). This lack of competition means that those who want to grow their practice have the chance to be countin’ cash like this person:
While those who want to just keep on doing things the way they are will continue to look like this:
most recent installment in our manifesto article, we’ll look at the most important part of growing your practice. It is also the part that you’ll typically see discussed the least, if at all, by those who claim to help mental health professionals to get more business. That part is the need to focus on your existing customers and leads first. While this may not sound as exciting as other forms of marketing or promotion – the fact of the matter is that you can’t grow your business without doing so.
What do I mean when I say to focus on your existing clients? It’s simple. I mean that no effort should go to getting new business as long as there is something that can be done for an existing client. When there is nothing to be done in regard to current clients, that’s when you should consider yourself as having time to chase new business. The reason for which we say this is simple. Your existing clients are the best potential sources of ongoing and new business! Unfortunately, too many practitioners spend time on activities meant to generate business while there are things which can be done for those already on your roster. Furthermore, most therapists don’t do a good job of dealing with the leads they’re already getting. This is highly inefficient and decreases your profitability. So, let’s fix these problems by looking at:
- A discussion of why your existing clients are actually your best source of business
- What “putting existing clients” first actually looks like
- A discussion of why and how you need to focus on calls you’re already receiving, as opposed to trying to get more phone calls
Why a therapist’s existing clients are their best source of business
There are two reasons why a mental health professional’s existing clients are such important sources of business. First, keeping your current clients coming back means that your marketing activities can actually grow your business as opposed to simply being used to replace customers who attrition out. Second, your current clients are the best potential source of referrals and they allow you to build a referral base without putting in any additional time or effort. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Repeat customers are better than new ones. While this may sound like a “duh” statement, most therapists fail to consider the importance of their current client roster when trying to figure out how to grow their business. The fact of the matter is that a repeat customer doesn’t tie up your time in terms of acquiring them; they’re already your client so you don’t have to spend 20-40 minutes on the phone with them (at no charge) setting their initial appointment and figuring out why they’re contacting you. Also, working with an existing client means you are decreasing the risk of no-shows on your calendar which often come from initial appointments. Given that current clients are a better source of business than potential new clients, the best way to grow your revenue is to prioritize the needs of your existing customers over any efforts to get new ones. This prevents “client churn,” in which you’re losing profitable clients as fast as you’re engaging in unprofitable activities to sign up new ones. By focusing on your current customers, you allow your subsequent marketing activities to add to the business you already have, instead of simply being a way to replace the business you’re losing.
The second reason why your current clients are so important is the potential of them becoming referral sources. Consider the following example. It’s Monday morning and Jill Therapist has a session scheduled with Jane Client for Thursday afternoon. Jill is supposed to email Jane a set of worksheets to complete before their session. Jill is worried about growing her practice, however, so she spends Monday going to two different networking events and then emails Jane the worksheets on Tuesday morning. In Jill’s mind, she sent the worksheets a few days before the session, so Jane still had plenty of time to complete them. What Jill doesn’t realize is that organizing the materials, and getting them to Jane earlier, would have been a highly effective form of “marketing.” This is because if Jill had gotten Jane the documents sooner, Jane would have appreciated the level of service. Over the next few years, Jane would be more likely to refer a few different friends to Jill. One or more of those friends may then hire Jill. If Jill continues to prioritize her current clients over all other activities, then one or more of those referred clients may become referral sources themselves. This would lead to additional clients for Jill Therapist. So, under this better scenario, Jill received one potential client call (Jane), and turned it into multiple clients over time by prioritizing her existing customers first. This allows Jill to grow her business exponentially. Again, your existing clients are actually the best source of new business for your therapy practice due to their ability to become referral sources.
The most effective way to grow your practice is to leverage your current client base so that you can a) maintain your repeat business and b) cultivate referral sources. The key to doing this, and growing your practice, is to focus on your existing customers first.
How therapists can focus on their existing clients first, and grow their business as a result
It’s easy to for a therapist to say, “I make my clients a priority and put them first.” It’s another thing to actually do that. Before one can say, “I put my clients first,” we need to actually define what the term means. And that definition is simple – if there is something that can be done for an existing client then it needs to be completed before you put any effort into “getting new business.” The best way to ensure that you are doing this is to decide on a number of hours you are going to devote to your business every week (this number includes time spent in sessions, administrative activities, and other business-related tasks). You should solely be focused on getting things done for your current customers before devoting any of your working hours to getting new business. Once you have nothing to do for your current customers, then the remainder of the hours you’ve promised the business can be devoted to marketing activities.
This idea is best explained through an example. Jill Therapist decides she’s going to devote a minimum of forty hours to her business each week. This includes attending sessions, performing accounting, scheduling, and other administrative tasks, etc. It also includes any time she intends to devote to “marketing” activities. At the start of the week, Jill should be devoting one hundred percent of her time to attending her sessions and making sure everything is in order for her upcoming sessions. Now suppose, using the example from earlier, that a client has a session scheduled for Friday and it’s only Monday. The client is waiting for materials from Jill (such as a worksheet that they are to complete), Jill will send the client the materials on Monday instead of waiting until later in the week. Once there is nothing that Jill can do for existing clients, then the remainder of her time can be put into marketing activities (such as going to networking events, writing blog posts, etc.). Obviously, there are common-sense exceptions to this. If, for example, Jill is composing an email to an existing client that she is prioritizing, and the phone rings, then Jill needs to answer it. Doing so is not optional. Putting your existing clients first does mean, however, that all optional activities will wait until you have done everything that can be done for your current client base.
The reason to put your existing clients first in this way is simple – it makes them more likely to become repeat customers and it also makes them more likely to become referral sources. This, in turn, helps you to grow your business. Right about now you may be saying, “but doing everything for my current clients takes up all my time.” Well, if that’s the case, then it’s time to hire another therapist to work for you to take some of those appointments off of your plate. That’s part of leveling up your practice. Welcome to being successful.
Therapists who want to grow their practice should focus on the calls they’re already receiving
As any practitioner knows, it is not uncommon for a potential client to have to call twenty therapists in order to get a handful of return phone calls. This usually looks like the following – Joe Client calls twenty different therapists trying to schedule an initial appointment. He leaves voicemails for all twenty. Within twenty-four hours, between one and three of these practitioners call him back about scheduling an appointment. Several days later, one to two more have called him back. The other fifteen never called him back at all. In other words, there are fifteen therapists in this scenario who are looking to take on new clients but never called back a lead. The fact that this scenario is so common in the profession is something that you should view as:
It’s far more effective and profitable to turn the number of calls you do get (even if it’s relatively few at the current time) into customers than it is to put resources into getting more calls. Doing a better job of converting the calls you’re already receiving leads to less overhead and a more streamlined process. Consider the following example – Jack Therapist spends $100 on advertising this month (in the form of psychologytoday.com and other directory listings) and he receives five potential inquiries. Jill Counselor does the same thing and gets the same number of calls. Jack is like most therapists when it comes to answering the phone and calling people back – so he only turns one out of every five calls into customers. Jill answers the phone when she is available and also sets aside thirty minutes on her calendar every day when she is going to return calls. As a result, Jill turns two out of every five calls into customers.
The fact that Jill is better at conversions has a compounding effect. If Jack spends $100 then he gets one client. $200 gets him a total of two. $300 gets him three and so on. Since Jill gets two clients out of every $100 spent, this means that $200 gets her four clients and $300 gets her six. Too many therapists put time and financial resources into trying to “get more calls” when they’re not doing a good job of converting the calls they’re already getting. Here’s a news flash – if you’re failing to convert your existing calls into clients then it’s especially wasteful to try to “get more calls” just so you can fail to convert those. Improving your conversion process is one of the most important steps for growing your practice and should be prioritized over devoting additional resources to marketing.
What are the best ways to improve your conversion process? First, if you are not in session and the phone rings during business hours, make sure it is answered. If you are simply too busy to answer the phone (whether it be from sessions or administrative tasks) then you should have a paid assistant who answers the phone for you and books appointments. Second, have an amount of time blocked off your calendar each day in which you will return phone calls or potential client emails. This means that the potential client is being responded to within one business day and this will put you ahead of your competition. Finally, an effective way for capturing leads is for your website to include online scheduling and for your online contact form to direct people to a scheduling form after they fill out an online inquiry (along with them receiving an email saying that someone will be calling them shortly). These steps combined will go a long way towards turning existing phone calls and inquiries into clients which, in turn, keeps your overhead and administrative hassles low.
The bottom line is that focusing on your current clients and existing leads will allow you to grow your business without you having to devote any additional resources to marketing. This is how you make your profits look like this:
Last time I checked, higher profits are good. The next article in this series will discuss why you should be focusing on building an online presence which you own, as opposed to one which you rent (spoiler alert – most people err by choosing the latter over the former).
We provide website design for therapists, as well as other services to those who are attempting to market their practice and become more efficient. If you’re in need of assistance, then contact us online or by telephone today to get started. To get tips delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to our monthly newsletter below.
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