Attracting Full Fee Clients

by Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC

Published in the Private Practice Success Newsletter, June 2011 Edition

Most therapists, coaches and consultants aspire to a full-fee practice, but it’s getting harder to achieve. In this newsletter, you will understand both the challenges and a key strategy to attracting your ideal clients.

In several earlier articles, I have explained that there are 3 paths to building a viable private practice today.  In several earlier articles, I have outlined the three paths to private practice today. (For those new to this discussion, read how to create a consumer-driven practice “When The Client Is In Charge” or an insurance-driven practice “Referrals From Doctors” by clicking on the links.)

This month, we look at the third, vibrant business model that relies on full fee clients.

The Belief-driven Practice

The belief-driven practice is my term for fully independent practice that relies on the strength, theory-base and personal passion of the therapist, coach, or consultant to attract a flow of ideal clients. This boutique model of practice allows the owner to charge a full fee, because these ideal clients are looking for quality and willing to pay for expertise and good results.

This model is traditional. But I hear from therapists and others in private practice that, in the face of a difficult economic market, increasing competition, and changing trends, this business model is becoming ever harder to achieve.

Getting Found

Today’s market for mental health therapists, coaches, and consultants often resembles a Middle-Eastern bazaar.

For example, if you are a psychotherapist, you can see that a plethora of professionals (psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists) promote and use a myriad of approaches (over 180 schools or methods of therapy at last count.)

It’s easy to get lost in the mix. In this crowded marketplace, how do you get found?

To attract ideal clients, you need to stand out from the crowd.  Clients who pay full fee do so because they want YOU, not just any counselor.  An ideal client is not price-conscious (i.e. Who is cheapest?) or convenience-focused (i.e. Who is open on weekends?)

Ideal clients want quality and, because they want you, they are willing to adapt to your fees and hours.

Ideal clients come via enthusiastic referrals from others, or because they resonate with your message or your methods.

Communicating with Passion

Ultimately, the fuel for this attraction is you and your ability to communicate your belief in your work. You must get comfortable writing and speaking directly and persuasively about your skills. Many therapists and healing professionals I meet feel a lot of passion for the work they do, but don’t know how to express it well. They get stumped when talking or writing and mute their message.

They become forgettable.

Communicating your passion is a skill, akin to developing a skill of influence or persuasion. As helping and healing professionals, our goal is not promotion or manipulation, but a way to express sincere caring, proficiency and integrity. These skills help attract new clients and retain existing ones long enough for them to complete their work with you.

Of all the skills I teach as a business coach, this strategy — enhancing your ability to express your passion and belief in your work — is probably the one that has the most long-lasting results in helping others build a full fee practice.

Essential Next Steps

The more you believe in your own value and effectiveness, the more others will. Here is why that is true, according to a much tested research study first noted in 1936, that stands up to repeated results today.

The better you capture and express your belief and passion for your work, the more your clients appreciate what they have paid (well) to receive, and the more likely the therapy will succeed. I think this strategy holds true, regardless of professional orientation (coach, consultant, counselor, healing professional.)

So, here is the big question: Do you know how to communicate this way?

Let me show you how. Read the whole article to see an example that explains how I coach therapists, coaches, and other consultants to enhance their communication of passion, value and belief in their work.


Let me explain the importance of passion by explaining a study known in the profession as the “Dodo Bird Effect.” This research, which has been upheld many times, was originally conducted by psychologist Saul Rosenzweig (American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 1936) to assess which therapeutic orientation or method was most effective or produced the best results. He found that the specific therapeutic orientation doesn’t matter because all orientations work. Hence the Dodo Bird reference from Alice in Wonderland. After a race, the Dodo bird judging the race declared that all had won and all must have prizes.

Relying on Belief

As therapist Gary Greenberg explains, “The Dodo Bird Effect has been borne out by numerous studies since, with one elaboration. The single factor that makes a difference in outcome is faith; the patient must believe in the therapist and the therapist must believe in his orientation. For therapy to work, both parties must have faith, sometimes against all reason, that their expedition will succeed.” (“The War on Unhappiness,” by Gary Greenberg, Harper’s Magazine, 9/2010.)

This reliance on belief is essential to the attraction and retention of clients. The more passion expressed by the therapist (and the client) for the work being done, the more likely the therapy will succeed.

How do you communicate your faith or belief in your services, methods, and results?

Let me give you a real-life case example that explains how I coach therapists, coaches, and other consultants to enhance their communication of passion and belief.

Identifying Your Influence

Anna, a therapist and life coach, was worried about the state of her practice. She hired me to help her grow her practice, but she had some preconditions. She told me that she had been in private practice for over a decade and during that time seen the market for her services go up and down.

She complained of feeling exhausted and said she wasn’t sure whether she could summon up the enthusiasm she needed to keep her practice going. “Clients call, but they want a therapist who takes insurance. I don’t. Too few people understand life coaching and those services can be hard to sell. I am good at what I do, but it’s hard to express it to others. I need more full-fee clients and more referrals, but I feel tired and a bit embarrassed to have to toot my own horn.”

A business in a recession is like a hungry, needy toddler. You can’t put a smile on its face if you, as the parent, show up exhausted, passive, or without personal resources.

Our coaching sessions took place by phone.  I made suggestions about ways that Anna could recharge herself personally and professionally. She took long walks each day, and thought about herself, hers goals, and hers life.

At our next coaching call, I asked her to talk about hers strengths and successes at work. I had lots of questions for her:  Who are you when you are doing your best work. What are some of the successes you have had with clients? Who have you helped and how? What makes you different from other therapists and life coaches? If I had a client to refer, why would I be smart to send them to you?

Being Persuasive

Anna felt shy and awkward to be so explicit and direct. But as I took the time to listen, validate, and acknowledge her work, she noticed an important internal shift. “I am sitting up straighter in my chair, Lynn. There is a smile on my face. I am really feeling good about my work. I think I love sharing it with you, when I can talk about it this way.”

Then came a last question from me : “When was the last time you spoke to others about your practice with this same passion and directness?

And my coaching request: “Please tell one person each a day about your work, in just the way we have discussed. Start with those close at hand: family & friends; then move on to peers and other potential referral sources.”

I suggested that she would know that she was doing it tight when she found herself sitting up or standing straighter and smiling while she spoke.

With this request, Anna got to work with a new marketing plan. She found that she had a very different experience talking with referral sources, when she did so from a place of passion. She also changed her website and brochure to reflect this new branding of her work.

In her words, “My networking and marketing now feels like a way to honor myself and my work. And I guess it makes sense that referrals are going up — and so is my retention.”

Each month in my newsletter, we will continue to explore skills and strategies that you can use to build a practice that attracts your ideal clients. Want to improve your specific style of communication? Click here to schedule a consultation.