Practices succeed when they market services to the community they reside in a consistent, congruent, and appealing way. But creating demand by marketing does not come natural to many of us.
One of my biggest obstacles was my own denial that I was running a business. I had an aversion to the obvious truth, that it was my job to help our clients find us.
Early on I focused largely on doing my therapy and improving my clinical skills. That’s what I trained for, and that’s where I felt most comfortable. I wanted my clients to come to me without any effort on my part. Unfortunately, I knew nothing about creating demand for my services. I had to learn. (There are may resources and articles. I began to read magazines like Fast Company and Business Week just to educate myself.
Creating demand: Basic marketing formula
Of course I eventually got the message–growth doesn’t happen if clients do not know I exist. And I came to accept and fully embrace this basic marketing formula.
Expertise + Visibility + Clear Message = Demand
What does this mean? Let me break down each of these and outline some of the important aspects of each component.
Developing an expertise
For therapists, expertise means a “therapeutic expertise.” Whether or not we like to admit it, we sell our expertise as therapists to the communities where we work. Our clinical skill is our product, and selling it, in units of our time, is the primary way we make a living.
I had to learn to accept this. Initially I did not like that I was charging suffering people. And then I thought about all the trades. Is it fair that I have to pay to have my car fixed, or old pipes replaced? In our world, if you have a need, then we either fix it ourselves, or hire help.
We are the “hired help” for those with relational and emotional needs. And we get paid for the service we provide. And the better we get at that service, the more expertise we can claim.
Building a visibility cloak
Visibility means the degree to which we are known in the communities from which we draw our clients. I found that there are two groups to whom I wanted to be visible.
The first group are as many potential clients as possible. I want to them to be aware that we provided a valuable service. But to help us reach those potential clients at the time of their greatest need, we needed to be known by, and visible to, a second group—the “trusted advisors,” i.e., the professionals to whom our potential clients turn during a crisis. More on this topic in “Finding the right psychotherapy markets and then on Creating a community based marketing method: Community Connection Plans.
Creating visibility requires getting out of the office and into the community. This could mean writing a “thank you” note for a referral, sending an email with a link to an article you thought might be interesting to a community member, or doing a presentation on a topic you have some expertise in. Actually any outreach that reminds community people that you exist will help with visibility and build your messaging as well.
I was always willing to do a talk or workshop for no cost for the visibility that came from presenting. Do it enough and you become that “highly desired therapist”–the one that everyone wants to have an their therapist.
The clear message
The third component in the marketing formula is developing a clear message. This means positioning your product, i.e., your therapy, in an advantageous place.
In truth, we are the message. I wanted every interaction with a potential referrer (and this included about everyone I meet) to contribute to the increasing sense that I am truly a warm, helpful, competent, professional, and therapeutic person who knows how to conduct therapy. And it cannot be playacting. It is best if this is truly who I am.
Creating demand by marketing
Creating demand by marketing our services is foundational to our success. And when we develop an expertise, we need to put effort into letting potential clients and trusted advisors know about that expertise in an appealing way. We want to clearly show who we are in every interaction. And you can tell you are in demand when the market desires your services beyond what you can provide. That is your goal.
In truth we want demand to be just a little beyond, but not too much beyond, what we can deliver. If demand gets too out of reach, then we become too inaccessible and our potential customers get frustrated and go elsewhere. But if demand is less than we can provide, then we will not maximize our time and opportunity. So we always want to have the demand for our services be just a bit, but not too much, beyond what we can deliver.
Additionally, we cannot let ourselves become content with being in demand for only a short time. Lots of things are temporarily in demand—Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch dolls, Tickle Me Elmo—and that does not create a steady income stream. We want to be more than just the next fad; we want the steady growth that happens when we remain in demand over a long period of time. And what is the best way to do that? You guessed it: a consistent marketing plan that continues thorough rain and shine. (See “Community Connection Plans” to learn how we did it.)