After several years and thousands of dollars and hours wasted, however, I began to see the light. I kept studying business and management principles, hired office staff, delegated tasks, learned how to create systems to run the practice more efficiently—and my monthly passive income began to grow steadily. I was working fewer hours myself and making more profit per month than ever before. I still remember my gleeful shock the first time I came back from a vacation and saw more money in the business account than when I’d left.
As technology evolved, I took several advanced trainings in Internet marketing and discovered the profound opportunity that the Internet presented to savvy marketers. Instead of me reaching out to potential clients, they were now searching for people like me. It was a startling 180-degree shift. All I had to do was create an online presence optimized for local search, making sure that when someone Googled “marriage counselor” in any of the three cities we had offices in, our website would show up on the first page. Using this online strategy, I doubled our practice in five years. Currently, at least 70 percent of our monthly referrals come from online sources. Our brand is firmly established in both the local and online worlds.
Creating Your Brand
While branding is central to business success, the best brands are an authentic expression of who you are as a human being. Don’t choose a brand simply because you think there’s a large pool of potential clients out there with a specific issue. For example, the National Institute of Mental Health’s website states that anxiety disorders are the number-one mental health issue in America, with 18 percent or 40 million adults experiencing an anxiety disorder in a given year. So you might think you should brand your practice around anxiety issues. But if you don’t love sitting with people with obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other anxiety- and phobia-related issues all week long, you won’t be effective in helping them, and will probably burn out quickly. Psychotherapy is among the most rewarding types of work when you’re passionate about the issues you work with, but if you don’t truly love what you do, your brand will fail.
To help you realize how much creative latitude you really have in crafting your brand, consider an example from a well-known company in another industry. One Sunday evening in 1997, I remember watching grainy black-and-white video clips of Gandhi, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, John Lennon, and Albert Einstein floating across my television screen. Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple after a 12-year hiatus. “Here’s to the crazy ones,” the narrator said softly. “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do!” The ad was 59 seconds long, and ended with the Apple logo and just two words: “Think Different.” Jobs’s message was clear: Apple computers are creative tools, which unleash your inner genius and help you change the world.
Did this bold, audacious attempt at marketing work? Absolutely. Four years before the iPod and 10 years before the iPhone, this ad was Jobs’s first effort to rebrand a company that was two months away from bankruptcy—the first step in the most remarkable business turnaround in history. This is the power of a brand when brilliantly executed, and the concept of branding is as relevant to private practice as it is to large corporations. As management expert Tom Peters said, “Branding applies as much to the one-person service as to Coke or Pepsi. Your brand is the emotional connection point that transcends your product or service. . . . It’s about passion . . . what you care about, what’s inside you, what gets you out of bed in the morning.”
Because of inaccurate portrayals of psychotherapy in the media, many people still think if you’re in therapy, you must lie on a couch, have a serious mental illness, and only talk about bad memories from your childhood. But just as Jobs turned a dull gray electronic box into an exciting, creative adventure, you have the ability to reframe those associations with therapy into anything you want. What do you want people to feel and think about when they hear your practice name or think of working with you? What are you doing to create that in your clients’ minds?
In today’s world, one of the best ways to express your brand, to tell your story in the most direct, authentic, personal way possible, is through video on your website. Unfortunately, too many therapists still tend to be uncomfortable around technology—which limits their ability to connect with a vast Internet-based audience of potential clients. But there’s a simple solution: if you aren’t comfortable using technology yourself, hire someone who is, or get your 15-year-old nephew to help you set up a website with all the bells and whistles you need to generate new business.
Amazingly, the cost of connecting with potential clients in this profound way today is negligible. A website costs less to maintain than the phone in your office, and high-definition video can be created, edited, and uploaded to the web for free using just a smartphone. You can tell your story in your own voice while looking directly at potential clients who are seeking the exact help that you provide. This way, you can convey your passion and humanity, establish rapport, validate that you understand their situation, shape their perceptions of your practice, counter any misconceptions about your type of therapy they may have, and invite them to experience what you have to offer. Here’s a sample video script from an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) practitioner I know that accomplishes all of the above in less than two minutes.