community marketing

How to grow consistent community marketing: Community Connection Plan

Posted in Marketing and Branding as a Core Activity, Marketing and Branding during Start-up
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For the first 20 years of my practice, we struggled with our marketing our mental health practice. We needed to find a community marketing system that we all could embrace and sustain. Twenty years ago we began the system described here. We have seen significant growth every year since.

An overview of a Community Connection Plan

Four times a year, each of our clinicians writes up what we call a Community Connection Plan. This is our community marketing system. Consequently, this plan shapes the majority of our marketing effort. It has several elements.

  • We begin by asking each clinician to think of a niche area, a target market, they feel competent in. This is an opportunity to think about what types of clients I want more of.
  • Then we want to identify the referrers in our area who refer to these types of clients. This is the target of our marketing effort.
  • We ask the clinician to list our 4 to 6 activities that they want to do int the next three months that put them in a good light with those referrers.
  • Additionally, as the clinician writes up a new plan, they also update the previous plan. The update tells us what actually happened. These are both emailed to one person who distributes them to all our clinical staff. This keeps everyone informed of marketing activity. This also provides a level of accountability.

Additionally, our clinical managers review the plans and sometimes coordinate office-wide community marketing efforts. They make suggestions.

A systemic consistent method

We developed this method as a way of accomplishing several goals for community marketing. First, the process of writing things up brought focus and commitment to following through. And second, we found this approach was more powerful than having managers looking over clinicians’ shoulders.

Furthermore, this method also keeps each other informed of what is happening. Additionally, I believe this could work just as well for the solo therapist. In short, the act of writing down a plan increases the likelihood of actually doing it.

Trusted Advisors are best

We want to identify referrers (Target Referrer Population) who might refer to the types of clients I want in my caseload. The best referrers are called “trusted advisors” by those who market professionally. (For more on this topic see the book: The trusted advisor.) These are people who in the course of their work come across people who might need our services.

The largest groups we target are physicians, clergy, and school personnel. We want to find appropriate ways to get ourselves in front of these trusted advisors and build an ongoing professional relationship. (See more on “trusted advisors” here: Finding the right psychotherapy markets.”

Putting it together

Below are several examples of Community Connection Plans.

Example 1 is a first-time Community Connection Plan by Therapist A, who is new to the practice. You can see she is starting with all the fresh relationships.

Example 2 shows a summer plan for Therapist B, usually a slow marketing season for us. It outlines a plan to connect with local churches.

Example 3 is Therapist C’s plan for the fall. You can see she is changing her focus. We expect the focus to change over time as a therapist finds successes and moves on to conquer new markets.

Example 4 is an experienced seasoned marketer who had been in the same area for about ten years. Notice that as an experienced marketer, Therapist D makes contact with a wide range of referrers. Therapist D carries the largest caseload in our practice. Meanwhile, he weaves marketing opportunities into his routine. It is his habit of ongoing and sustained marketing that undoubtedly is one of the reasons he has the largest caseload.

Example 1: A First Plan for marketing our mental health practice

Fall 2019

Community Connection Plan for:  Therapist A

Target Client Population: Children/adolescents, families

Target Referrer Population: School social workers, camps/outdoor education facilities


  • Have lunch with at least one Yorkville social worker per month.
  • Co-facilitate school group with Jessica Marks, MSW at Yorkville Middle School.
  • Attend monthly meetings of MACY, Multi-agency Council on Youth.
  • Observe Tom and Jessica (staff) at Kendall County Outdoor Education Center.
  • Follow up with Gloria Hernandez at Dickson Valley Camp and Retreat Center. Learn about the challenge course use and opportunities to co-facilitate.

Example 2: A Summer Plan for marketing our mental health practice

Summer 2019

Community Connection Plan for:    Therapist B

Target Client Population: Couples in crisis

Target Referrer Population:   Local churches


  • Contact pastors at local churches [Sandwich and Plano] to introduce myself. Determine what needs the church has.
  • Write letters of introduction to five churches in Sandwich. Ask about the programs and ministries they provide to couples and families. Offer information on Centennial and myself.
  • Respond to those that respond.
  • I created a premarital workshop for the church I attend. Shared it with the church staff. They seemed interested in offering the workshop to their congregation. Will try to schedule.
  • Read the book, Private Lies by Frank Pittman as a resource on recovering after infidelity.  I am on chapter 6 and still [slowly] reading.

Example 3: Changing Focus for marketing our mental health practice

Fall 2019

Community Connection Plan for:    Therapist C

Target Client Population: Families

Target Referrer Population:   Local family professionals


  • Contact Plano Family Practice. Introduce myself and set up a meeting.
  • I have a lunch meeting set for Oct 30 with Sandy Smith. She is a divorce attorney from Sycamore.
  • I am presenting at Valley East Hospital in November on anxiety.
  • We will have lunch with the Sandwich and Somonauk social workers. September.

Example 4: Experienced Clinician’s Plan for marketing our mental health practice

Fall 2019

Community Connection Plan for: Therapist D

Target Client Population: Children

Target Referrer Population: Physicians, attorneys, school officials, nursing home & hospital officials


  • Meet with Drs. Jones, Smith, and Krause. Review how the referral process has been going as we add new clinical staff.
  • Invite all the Sandwich and Somonauk social workers to lunch in our office.
  • Coordinate with school social workers in Sandwich and Somonauk. Provide weekly in-school groups for practicum students.
  • Provide weekly group counseling to students at Prairie View and Haskins Elementary School.
  • Continue developing a relationship through weekly phone calls with St. Mary’s Center (Tammy Nander). The goal is to improve continuity of care between CCC and the hospital.
  • Deepen the relationship with Dr. Thomas and Dr. Cole. Facilitate the psychiatric care of clients at CCC.
  • Engage in custody evaluations for adults involved in divorces. Provide consultation to lawyers (John McBride, Krista Sams).
  • Provide ongoing consultation to medical doctors. Jones Family Practice and other physicians.

(The names have all been changed to protect all.)

What really happens with our community marketing

In summary, no one actually follows their plan exactly as it was written. That is what we expect. The writing of these plans is not an attempt to control what people do. Rather writing out the plan keeps marketing in the front of our minds. We are hoping that in those odd moments between things, we will focus on what they could be doing next. In other words, it really is a consciousness-raising exercise. And therefore, we expect the plans to be modified as the days unfold.

Additionally, we have found that having gone through this exercise, people are more ready to jump in on unplanned opportunities that just “come up.” Some of the unplanned opportunities may be of higher quality than the ones we had thought we might do. We want that flexibility and spontaneity. It makes us stronger and it contributes to our goal of meeting our referrer needs. We believe our more organized approach to marketing a mental health practice is one concrete way to develop that “in-demand” quality across the board.

Just do it

And of course, it boils down to just doing it. To be successful at community marketing, we must force ourselves out of our comfort zones. Growth can only happen when people know about your mental health services. And you are the best person to tell them and show them firsthand.

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