Stalled marketing

Make new plans guaranteed to overcome stalled marketing

Posted in Keeping up your Marketing and Branding
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If stalled marketing is holding back the growth of your practice, you have come to the right place. From 2004 through 2006, my organization had flattened out. We did not grow numerically for three years straight. We had to do something, and we did. Since then my organization has consistently grown in every measurable way. 

But rather than tell our story, let’s take a broader look at some of the possible reasons that one’s marketing might stall out. Then we will look at some remedies. 

Who does marketing?

Occasionally, I run across a practice owner who espouses the belief that the owner, and only the owner, should do all the marketing. These owners make no effort to teach staff to do marketing, and some do not want the clinical staff involved in marketing at all. 

Dig beneath these views, and you’ll hear something like this. If I teach clinical staff to make connections in the community, they will leave and become competitors, taking those referral connections with them. No doubt, they have seen this occur. Implied is the belief that the best way to encourage a clinical person to stay is to promote dependence on the owner for referrals. I disagree.

If one’s concern is that clinicians will leave to become competitors, then there are better ways to avoid that issue. Two ideas stand out. First, one goal of any organization ought to be to create an engaging workplace where the staff wants to stay. Second, contractually you can create barriers to therapists leaving and competing. A one-year, 10-mile radius, non-compete clause in your employment contracts can help. Talk to your attorney about how this works in your area.

The mistake: Owner as the sole marketer

Dependence on the owner as the sole marketer is, in my view, a flawed perspective. This approach is one of the main reasons that marketing stalls. Handling marketing this way is a mistake for several reasons. 

First, the most committed potential clients are those who learn about you by word of mouth from former clients. In many cases, these potential clients are already highly committed to a particular therapist before making the first call because of what they heard from that therapist’s client. The attachment is always strongest toward those doing the therapy. To discourage therapists from capitalizing on this natural marketing seems foolish.

Second, the owner can only do so much marketing. Most frequently, the owner’s longevity and a higher level of experience make him/her in greatest demand and therefore, the busiest. An organization with only one marketer will limit its growth potential to the hours the owner gives to marketing. And that busyness will get in the way of the necessary marketing.

And last, referrers become frustrated when the therapist they know has no room in their schedule for a referred client. I remember one skeptical pastor who said to me, “yes, I may send you my people, but only if you promise to see them.” His comment gave me pause. He was telling me of his disappointment with other practice owners.

Nevertheless, I do think there is a way to prepare referrers for a transfer to a colleague. I have written about that process in this post: Developing referral relationships.

The solution: So what is a better plan?

I think the best plan is to train everyone in your organization to engage in the marketing process. Spreading out the marketing duties reduces the chances of it stalling out.

We begin orienting our staff to this approach during the first job interview. Part of that interview is about getting out of the office and connecting with referrers in the community. (Read more on our interview process in this post: Conducting excellent job interviews for clinical staff.)

Right from the first, we wanted all our staff to know that marketing is part of the job. But we also don’t want candidates to worry about it. We tell them about the system we use to teach each therapist how to market in comfortable ways and with lots of support. No one was left to figure it out on their own. In the next section, I explain how.

1. Developing an excellent plan

For mental health organizations, we do not create the usual sort of marketing plan most businesses use. Mental health organizations do not generate sales goals and then drive the sales and marketing staff to accomplish those goals. 

Instead, one’s staff should universally understand the plan your organization is using to accomplish several goals. The plan should:

  • identify your target markets, i.e., who you want to notice your organization and staff
  • give your staff concrete expectations as to what you want them to do
  • hold staff accountable for making efforts to connect with those who you identify as your target markets

I have written some posts on this subject:

The five best marketing favorites in psychotherapy practice

A community-based marketing method: Community Connection Plans

A marketing video on a practice-wide marketing system 

Additionally, in the following post, I have made an argument about why I believe every therapist should be doing marketing as part of the job: 

Why therapists should not outsource marketing

And here is an outside resource that lays out how to develop a professional marketing plan:

Top 6 Marketing Plan Templates for Creating Effective Marketing Plans

2. Web-based and social media-base marketing

None of what I have said here should be understood to mean that any practice can afford to ignore the power of its website or social media presence. I think that the website and social media should add to what is happening in your community marketing. And yet, I do not believe websites and social media can do all the heavy lifting that needs to be done for a robust marketing plan.

If we are going to overcome our stalled marketing, we need a multifaceted approach. Here is one outline.

3. Jump-starting your stalled marketing

First, make an honest assessment of what you have already done in the past. Our goal here is to list out the things that have worked and the failures. (This post highlights some of my failures: Spectacular belly flops in marketing and is guaranteed to make you feel better about your marketing mistakes.)

Second, we need to look at our social media and website. Do we regularly invest in creating a positive image for our organization through these means? If not, then we have work to do.

Third, do we have a culture that emphasizes everyone’s contribution to creating good marketing buzz in the community? And I include even the activities of support staff as significant contributors to our marketing efforts. I have written about some of these unsung heroes of good branding in this post: Developing all aspects of your branding message in mental health practice

Back to our story

What did we do with our stalled marketing? As I mentioned earlier, we leveled off on the number of sessions our organization provided for three years straight, 2004, 2005, and 2006. (To see this issue in a broader context see: From nothing to something: Beginnings of an organization.) We decided we needed to create a program to help clinicians do the right things to grow our referral networks. 

In January 2006, we added the Community Connection Plan system, a consistent and systematic way of doing our marketing while holding each other accountable. A year later, we were growing again. (See more on this method here: “A community-based marketing method: Community Connection Plans.”) From 2006 and beyond, the organization has continued to add staff and sessions each year until I retired and presumably, beyond. 

If we could do it, you can too.

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