Some therapists might recoil in horror at the thought of “branding” their practices. We are, after all, healers and mental health professionals, not hawkers of cosmetics and cornflakes. Indeed, to many of us, the thought of promoting ourselves and our practice seems crass, undignified, and, perhaps, a tad narcissistic. But before we throw our hands up, let’s take a breath and consider what branding really means. First, if you think that what you do as a therapist is helpful, worthwhile, and maybe even unique (after all, you
are the unique person doing it), it’s a short step to believing you have a duty to let people know these things. How are all the people who’d benefit from your services going to get help unless they know where and from whom to get it?
In today’s world, the traditional means of getting the word out---a discrete ad here, a few hints to colleagues there, some folders or business cards sprinkled around town, even a website with your impressive credentials listed in chronological order---won’t remotely cut it. In a sound-bite-saturated world of massive information overload, frenetic tweeting, continual advertising, and endemic cultural attention deficit disorder, having a brand that stands out is probably the only way you’ll have a chance of capturing the attention of potential clients.
But what is a brand, and why would you want one, anyway? A brand is a marker, often personal, of the specific identity and special attributes that propels something---a product, person, service, organization---out of the vague, undifferentiated backdrop of “somethings” and “somebodies.” Your brand individuates you and what you do from the huge, generic category of others.
So if you have a particular specialty, a unique way of working, a particular focus or interest, a record of success with certain kinds of clinical populations, as well as a reputation in the professional community and among former clients for doing genuinely helpful therapeutic work, then you already have an outstanding brand. You just need to clarify it and promote it to the people who could most benefit from your clinical expertise.The Naive Beginnings
Initially, I didn’t have to do anything to promote my practice: colleagues from my day job sent me referrals. Eventually, my wife, Shirley, an MSW, joined my practice. We both loved working to help people find more intimacy in their lives, whether it meant turning a lifeless roommate marriage into a fulfilling partnership, or helping singles avoid repeating the pattern of attracting partners that would hurt, disappoint, or cheat on them. We’d always gotten great feedback on our work, but to make sure we were concentrating on what potential clients needed in this area, we organized a series of focus groups. We contacted the directors of four local singles’ groups and found two couples’ meetings through a church and a synagogue near our office. We provided dinner for these groups, and asked them what types of services they and their friends might want. We asked questions, took copious notes, and got feedback on different workshop ideas and business names.
Without realizing it, we were taking the steps necessary to create a distinctive and viable brand. We chose the name Relationship Institute, with the tagline “Teaching the world to love.” Several colleagues made fun of what they said was our highfalutin name, noting that we were too small to be an institute. But undeterred, we marched on.Expanding the Brand
I was going to have to make my brand work even harder for me if I wanted to get past the income ceiling I’d hit. After reviewing various options, I decided that hiring therapists to work under our brand was the smartest choice. The idea was that I’d generate referrals for the therapists and get a percentage of the fees collected. My income would rise as more clients were seen by more of my contracted therapists.
After several years and thousands of dollars and hours wasted, 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.
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.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. 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.
As therapists, many of us still carry around the idea that our profile in the world is supposed to be discreet and modest. But these days, our brand needs to be highly visible and energizing, offering an authentic picture of who we are and what we can do for people who need our services. It’s an essential form of communication that helps us attract the people whose lives will benefit from contact with us. And the more people we connect with, the greater the good we can do in the world. It’s finally time for therapists to realize that doing good work doesn’t mean we can’t also do well for ourselves.This blog is excerpted from "What's in a Brand?" Want to read more articles like this? Subscribe to Psychotherapy Networker Today!