Foundational to a practice’s success is the ability to market your services to your communities in a consistent, congruent, and appealing way. One of the biggest obstacles I faced in accomplishing this 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.
Of course I eventually got the message that it doesn’t happen that way. And I came to accept and fully embrace this basic marketing formula.
Expertise + Visibility + Clear Message = Demand
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.
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. First, I wanted as many potential clients as possible 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 target markets.”
The third component, developing a clear message, is essential to 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 met) 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.
We create demand for our services when we develop an expertise, let potential clients and trusted advisors know about that expertise in an appealing way, and 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.)
More on “Creating demand” here.