A lot of my colleagues complain about not being able to build up their practice. I don’t get it. I am usually as booked as I want to be, and the phone rings pretty much daily. But when I talk to colleagues, I often begin to glean why they might have a difficult time getting their practice full. They don’t want to do anything outside of the therapy appointment to bring in referrals, and worse, some of them are actually hard to refer to.
I will often try to offer some overflow referrals to these peers. It becomes like twenty questions: “Do they plan on using insurance?” “What kind of insurance do they have?” “How did they get your name?” “Did you tell them to call me?” “Did you tell them I’d be calling them?” “What kind of therapist are they looking for?” “Are they looking for Saturdays? I don’t do Saturdays.” The list goes on. These folks are sending very mixed messages: They want referrals but they don’t want to do any of the work for them. They are concerned about the vacancies in their practice but don’t seem to want to make a phone call and ask some questions.
Look, I know that your time is valuable. Mine is too. And when I give you a referral isn’t it worth your time to make the call even if it turns out not to be a fit? The narrower the opening you leave in your referral process, the fewer referrals can get in!
The reason I have so many referrals is because I worked long and hard to develop multiple referral streams. I join EAPs on the other side of the US so I could be their only provider in MA. I advertise in every free online venue I can. I have a presence online in Psychology Today, on Google and HelpPro. And in real life I am constantly talking with my colleagues, networking, sending out newsletters and giving workshops. This all occurred during those hours I had vacant in my practice to start with, and still occurs, sometimes at 2:00 AM! I’ve got my own hell to raise, so when I pass along a referral, don’t expect me to do your footwork for you.
We therapists need to cultivate our aggression when it comes to getting patients. No, I don’t mean going out and clubbing them on the head to drag them to our office. I mean that we need to be willing to spend hours marketing ourselves, refining our strategies; hours and dollars on consultants and coaches if we need to learn how to do this. We undervalue that part of the business, worse, we sometimes act as if we think it is below us.
Let me give you an example. If you are someone who provides private supervision, what do you do when someone walks up to you at a workshop or meeting and says, “so I have this difficult patient and I want your perspective.” And then they launch into the case presentation right there. Would you begin supervision on the spot? Of course not. You’d say something diplomatic like, “I’ll be happy to set up a time to talk and think about this with you.” Because you value the importance and the seriousness of clinical supervision. And you’d most likely never walk up to someone in a similar situation and presume to do the same in reverse. But I can’t tell you how many times people approach me and other practice consultants I know as if growing their practice is a 5 minute conversation topic. How devaluing!
Learning to build and market a private practice is a process, and those who have expertise in it have a skill set just like the other skill sets that go into running a therapy business. None of the successful psychotherapists I know are waiting in their office like film noir gumshoes for their phones to ring. We don’t have time for that. So bring your laptop to work, brush up that LinkedIn profile, ask that senior colleague out for a coffee and network, or plan that public workshop that can give potential patients a look-see at you. If you want your practice to grow be ready and willing to invest your own time, money, and energy into it. Consult experts and do the footwork. And if someone offers you a referral with just a name and a number take it, and assess the referral on your own time.
I know that this sounds like a tirade, and please don’t think I begrudge helping a colleague out. That is one reason I offer you these blogs and concrete suggestions. Just keep in mind that the reason you don’t work in an agency anymore is because you wanted to own your own business, and that means you have to do much much more outside the 45 or 50 minutes with patients. So this week, what are you planning to do outside the therapy hour to grow your practice?