In the Time of Covid, Part 5: Marketing Within Your Comfort Zone

Marketing is probably the most hated word in private practice. For many therapists, counselors and healing professionals, marketing means shameless advertising, promoting, or manipulating—the direct opposite of the relationships they are trying to establish.

If this is why you hate marketing, I agree with you!

I believe that any attempts at “push” marketing—hard sell messaging or publicity that makes a therapist feel aggressive or not genuine—won’t work well in the long run. Our relationships with new clients and referral sources start with the first contact, the first hello. That contact includes our marketing choices.   

Instead, I recommend that you only use methods of “pull” marketing. Pull marketing works like a magnet. Similar to the way a magnet will draw metal filings into its path, therapists can learn how to position themselves, even in a crowded marketplace, to attract good clients and opportunities. Pull marketing, also called marketing by attraction, can help therapists stay well within their comfort zone of normal actions while building needed visibility for their practices, even during a pandemic lockdown.

Overcoming Isolation

In his book The Tipping Point (2002), Malcom Gladwell defines poverty as social isolation. I find that many therapists in private practice—even during normal, non-Covid times—are the most isolated businesspeople I know. Therapists often work in scarcity and deprivation because they have very reduced networks.

The traditional business maxim, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” might well be changed to “It’s not who you know, it’s how many you know.” As Gladwell explains, research shows that social and business power is inherent in the quantity, not quality, of relationships. Business owners who know the most people, especially superficially, have a much greater chance to achieve small business success.

In other words, it’s a numbers game.

How can therapists, who are may be introverts or work alone in a private practice, learn to play this numbers game? Here is a challenge: Double the amount of people you know every 2 years. The people in your network can come from any walk of life: friends, family members, professionals, or social groups. It doesn’t matter. Each of these people, over time, has potential to open doors to good referrals and opportunities to enhance a therapist’s practice. Keep growing your community.

Authentic Relating

Therapists tell me that they feel uneasy in their marketing role: “That is just not me,” I hear. It helps if you remember that marketing is a form of relating. You can choose a role for your marketing, one that is within your comfort zone, such as:

  • Educator – helping inform people about the value of therapy and counseling in reducing the effects of the pandemic (anxiety, depression, PTSD and trauma)
  • Advocate – supporting the immediate need for consistent mental health services
  • Resource – becoming a walking rolodex with information and referrals
  • Expert – taking steps to become a leader in your community regarding the needs and welfare of those you serve
  • Model of services – personally and professionally embodying the essence of what you offer to others

Marketing Needs During the Pandemic

Right now, I see that therapy practices are affected in different ways. Some swing like a pendulum between feast and famine. In terms of client count, some practices are full to overfull, with good retention of clients. Others are seeing major client drop-off, with clients wanting to “take a break” or stop services altogether for a variety of reasons.

Regardless of existing client count, many private-pay therapists tell me that they have fewer new requests for services. Some have not had a call from a potential client since the pandemic hit, in March.

If you are seeing a drop-off in new clients, or if you are concerned about your client count in the future, one basic business action is to increase your marketing efforts. Do you have an established marketing plan to fall back on? If not, read on.      

Take the Guesswork Out of Marketing

The surveys I have seen during the past decade show that for most therapists in private practice, their best clients come from two sources: 50% come from online efforts (website, directory listings, social media, podcasts, etc.) and 50% come from old school, tried and true sources (networking, speaking, writing, joining professional groups, etc.)  Your marketing efforts should still reflect this 50/50 split; if you are too heavily weighted in one area and not getting the results you want, try and balance your efforts by doing more in the other arena.

But remember: we are in a new business cycle unlike anything we have been through before. All of your marketing efforts are, in part, also your marketing research. Even in good times, there is no guarantee that anything you do or try to attract new clients will yield immediate results. It’s an experiment. Don’t let this aspect of risk inhibit your outreach.  

Instead, to get more comfortable, make a plan. First, set some practical and realistic goals (see below.) Create a marketing budget of time, energy and money. Try to keep your budget low cost, so that you don’t feel drained by your marketing needs. Track your results and learn from your efforts. What worked, what didn’t? Try it again. Tweak and repeat. The best marketing plan, is one that you observe and modify in small steps. Gather and assess your data.

Marketing Goals

Your marketing plan starts with having some clear, specific goals. Here are a few common goals for a private practitioner looking to attract new clients:

  • Network with known (existing) referral sources
  • Make connections with unknown, but possible (new) referral sources
  • Generate more word-of-mouth “buzz” about your services to the professional community
  • Join a professional community and interact via a list-serve or online meeting
  • Increase the “added value” of services for your existing clients to enhance retention 
  • Improve your website with enriched text, links, articles or videos
  • Re-write your directory (Psychology Today) listings to include more keywords and increase website traffic
  • Grow your email list
  • Reach out with social media, podcasts, articles, webinars, or email newsletters
  • Improve conversion rates of those who find you to those who actually ask for a session
  • Drive more click-throughs on paid ads

See a few goals you like? If not, add your own. (Remember to stay balanced with a 50/50 split.) Then select one or two that feel easiest for you to achieve. Above all, stay within your comfort zone.

Next, make the general goals you selected SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.) For example, instead of “network with existing referral sources,” clarify: Who exactly will you contact? How many calls or emails will you initiate each week? What is the essence of the message you want to deliver? What is your opening script going to be? How will you follow up? When will this happen? Use observable markers and keep track of all your efforts.

In marketing, its not just about the results, it’s about the process. (Sound familiar? It’s akin to many methods of therapy.) To be a happier marketer, detach from the results and stay grounded in the ongoing process. Focusing on the process will help you to keep learning about your private practice and yourself.

For additional low-cost marketing strategies that I recommend for these times of crisis, I invite you to watch a new webinar I just completed, one that has been launched this week.


Join me in a digital seminar I developed: Private Practice in a Pandemic and Beyond: How to Stay Focused, Profitable and Secure. It’s the most complete webinar I have done on this topic to date, and I take you through six modules, each one focused on a different aspect of practice that can help you stay strong and viable right now and in the future. I enriched the webinar with graphic slides, charts, anecdotal examples and explanations, so that it feels like a consultation just between us. Purchase it HERE, thru the Psychotherapy Networker: Just click on the link and then you can take your time, learning at your own pace. In total, a 3-hour webinar, edited into six, 30-minute modules.