Over the years, business coaches (including me) have produced an avalanche of books, articles, courses, and workshops on how to build a bigger private practice and recession-proof it. The goal of their advice is always the same: teaching therapists—traditionally allergic to doing anything that smacks of "selling" themselves---the marketing skills that'll draw more private-pay clients to their waiting rooms. The question to which therapists tirelessly address themselves and their efforts is and always has been: "What can we do to fill more private-session hours?"What's the Real Question?
Now I'm wondering if this isn't the wrong question. Perhaps the real question should be "How do I do meaningful clinical work and sustain a good income over the short and long term, regardless of the economy?" Notice that this question makes no mention of attracting individual, private-pay clients.
It now seems to me that the way we automatically think of building and maintaining a therapy practice may no longer be an economically viable way of sustaining ourselves. For the past hundred years, psychotherapy has operated generally as the private meeting of one patient with one well-trained mental health expert for roughly one hour of presumably helpful conversation. Despite our attachment to this model, it isn't the most efficient or creative way of helping people or of making money.The New Zeitgeist
The economic downturn aside, the biggest problem with the old fee-for-service therapy model is that it isn't in sync with social and cultural shifts in how increasing numbers of people think about therapy and therapists. Those seeking psychological help today don't think of themselves as patients, or even clients, as much as they consider themselves consumers
. They want to be served what they want, on their terms. They're less interested in an intense, open-ended relationship with a highly trained stranger than with a practical, appealing, and reasonably priced product
, one that'll provide some short-term relief and maybe a little long-term wisdom.What to Do?
Some years ago, I, too, was at a point where I was tired of hustling to get more clients into my practice, which was feeling more like a job than a vocation. Then I discovered a business model that had been used successfully in other fields, most notably in the coaching profession: the Multiple Streams of Income model. I found it useful and decided to modify it for therapists.
Simply put, this model helps clinicians augment their in-person practice with "information products"---books, CDs, audiotapes, e-books, and e-courses---created once and then sold repeatedly. The products may be physical, but the power of the model comes from using the Internet to sell and deliver them. Using this model meets consumer demand for instant gratification; lets therapists help people who can't afford therapy; extends therapists' reach beyond their local communities; and offers dependable, additional income.Getting Started—the Lure of the Pink Spoon
First, before you do anything else, identify a niche---the specific clients, group, issues, areas of therapy, or specialty that interests and excites you. Let's say you love working with kids and are particularly concerned about school bullying---something you emphasize at your website. (You do have a website, don't you?) You then develop material that provides information for people in your area of interest.
When a parent happens into your website, she sees your offer of a free report on "Why Some Kids Get Picked On by Bullies." This parent doesn't know you, doesn't necessarily feel the need to put her child in therapy, and isn't ready to shell out lots of money for treatment; but since her child is being picked on in school, she's drawn to your report---and besides, it's free.
She signs up, leaving her e-mail and/or mailing address, and gets the report. You, in turn, get the opportunity to convert a chance visitor to a new customer or client by gradually taking her through different levels of interest, commitment, and expense.
This vital first step is known as "pink-spoon marketing," referring to the free samples of ice cream that shops promoting new flavors provide in tiny pink spoons. Customers may like a free sample so much that they buy a cone to consume on the spot or a half-gallon to take home. Similarly, once your customer has her "pink spoonful" and you have her contact information, you can follow up by sending her a newsletter. Most important, you can introduce her to the first of several levels of products along an increasing price continuum.
Once someone has obtained, and liked, your free item, it's quite easy for her to decide to buy your 30-page e-book, "Teach Your Child to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks," for $17, or even your $40 one-hour teleseminar. She's getting the help she needs for her son without having to commit to five in-office sessions for $800 to $1,000. It's a bargain!
Eventually, the customer will be ready to spring for your big-ticket items, such as a workbook, six CDs, and follow-up calls. She's reached what we call the "sweet spot," the point at which she feels connected to you and your message and regards you as someone who can help her. Or you could team up with a partner and create a full-day workshop. One of you could work with the children and one could work with the parents. This could be marketed locally and on your website. Then you could take the handouts and exercises and create a workbook. Add a lecture on a CD and you have a product to sell online.
Finally, you offer your most valuable commodity: your time. Counseling, coaching, consulting, speaking, and training are usually offered at this level, and people are willing to spend $500 an hour or even $2,000 to $5,000 a day or much more to work with you one-to-one. Because you've taken the time to cultivate a strong relationship through the funnel of products you developed, there are multiple possibilities to offer.
Building our practices on the basis of seeing one client per hour worked well when the psychotherapy field was growing, but it has become a root-bound approach. We need to expand our thinking and find a bigger, more capacious model---one encompassing new ways of thinking about how we work and deliver our services to those who need them. Simply put, we need a bigger pot.This blog is excerpted from "Pink Spoon Marketing." Want to read more articles like this? Subscribe to Psychotherapy Networker Today!
Business of Therapy