“If your practice lacks referrals, there are two possible explanations. Either your current clinical skills are not good enough to generate word-of-mouth advertising, or your current infrastructure does not capitalize on advertising your clinical skills and outcomes. . . .
There is absolutely no need to engage in network development with unknown people or agencies or to invest in expensive advertising campaigns. Treatment stakeholders (those associated with the care of a client) not only will build your practice but also will sustain you though the toughest of times.”Tracy Todd, (2009). Practice-Building 2.0 for Mental Health Professionals: Strategies of success in the Digital Age. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Pgs 14 & 67.
For the first 20 years of practice, we struggled to find a community marketing system that we all could embrace and sustain. Now we have done these for over ten years. And we have seen significant growth every year in every way measurable. This is what worked for us.
How Community Marketing works
Our clinical managers review the plans and coordinate community marketing efforts. Sometimes they make suggestions to the clinicians working in their respective offices. Put together, these become our communal marketing plan for each quarter. At the end of the marketing period each writes up a summary of what he or she actually did. And then they add a plan for the next period. These plans get emailed to our CCC colleagues as a way of sharing and coordinating our efforts. This also provides a level of some accountability.
A systemic consistent method
We developed this method as a way of accomplishing several goals. We found that the process of writing up an individualized marketing strategy brought focus and commitment to following through. And we found it more powerful than having managers looking over their supervisees’ shoulders. We could also look back and see that we did more than we thought we did. It is a way of holding ourselves accountable to ourselves.
And this method also keeps each other informed of what is happening. And I believe this could work just as well for the solo therapist. The act of writing down a plan increases the likelihood of actually doing it.
Elements of the community connection plan
First, each Community Connection Plan identifies a Target Client Population. These populations can be large or small. The focus is on a local community of clients. This is the client group that we are trying to reach with positive information about our services.
Second, we want to identify referrers (Target Referrer Population) who might refer the types of clients I want in my caseload. The best referrers are called “trusted advisors” by those who market professionally. 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.”
The third element, the plan itself, lists the actual details of what the therapist is proposing to do. Again, we want to develop a relationship with trusted advisors that give the potential referrer confidence in us. We want to show them that we can help them and their clients.
The detail, the bullet points, vary widely. They are based on the particular circumstances of the trusted advisor and on how far along the therapist is in developing a relationship with the referrer. We want to show the referrer that we can solve a problem for them. We are helping them with clients who have a need beyond their expertise or who need more time than they have to offer.
Putting it together
Below are several examples of Community Connection Plans.
Example 1 shows a summer plan for Therapist A, usually a slow marketing season for us. It outlines a plan to connect with local churches.
Example 2 is Therapist B’s new 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 3 is a first-time Community Connection Plan by Therapist C, who is new to the practice. You can see she is starting with all fresh relationships.
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. Yet 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 Summer Plan
Community Connection Plan for: Therapist A
Target Client Population: Couples in crisis
Target Referrer Population: Local churches
- Contact pastors at local churches [Sandwich and Plano] to introduce myself. As part of the discussion, determine what needs the church has that I can assist with, if any.
- Write letters of introduction to ten churches in Sandwich asking about the programs and ministries they provide to couples and families and offering information on Centennial and myself.
- Respond to those that respond.
- I created a premarital workshop for the church I attend and 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 2: Changing Focus
Community Connection Plan for: Therapist B
Target Client Population: Families
Target Referrer Population: Local family professionals
- Contact Plano Family Practice to introduce myself and set up a meeting.
- I have a lunch meeting set on Oct 30 with Christine Moore, a divorce attorney from Sycamore. We met through a mutual client and she was open to meeting to give me a brief overview on divorce law in Illinois and talk about trends she has seen with divorce and custody cases.
- I am presenting at Valley East Hospital in November on anxiety.
- We will have lunch with the Sandwich and Somonauk social workers to get the year kicked off.
Example 3: First Plan
Community Connection Plan for: Therapist C
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) in Kendall County.
- Observe Tom and Jessica (staff) at Kendall County Outdoor Education Center as they facilitate experiential activities.
- Follow up with Gloria Hernandez at Dickson Valley Camp and Retreat Center re: challenge course use and opportunities to co-facilitate.
- Make contact with Riverwoods Christian Center (St. Charles) and visit their facilities.
Example 4: Experienced Clinician’s Plan
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 John Krause to 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 to get the school year kicked off.
- Coordinate with school social workers in Sandwich and Somonauk to provide weekly in-school groups for practicum students.
- Provide weekly group counseling to students at Prairie View and Haskins Elementary School.
- Continue developing relationship through weekly phone calls with St. Mary’s Center (Tammy Nander) to improve continuity of care between CCC and hospital.
- Deepen relationship with Dr. Thomas and Dr. Cole to facilitate psychiatric care of clients at CCC.
- Engage in custody evaluations for adults involved in divorces, providing consultation to lawyers (John McBride, Krysta Sams) and judges in Kendall and DeKalb Counties.
- Provide on-going consultation to medical doctors (Jones Family Practice and other physicians) regarding medication interventions for social and emotional and behavioral difficulties.
(The names have all been changed to protect all.)
What happens next?
Additionally as they write up a new plan, they update of the previous plan, including what actually happened. These are both sent to one person who distributes them to all our clinical staff.
In reality 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 we are calling attention to what they have been doing. And then we want to focus on what they should be doing next. It really is a consciousness-raising exercise. 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 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, we must force ourselves out of our comfort zones. Growth can only happen when people know of your services. And you are the best person to tell them and show them firsthand.