When I considered devoting this month’s column to the topic of marketing a counseling practice, my first thought was that I’ve covered this topic before (last time in 2016) and what could really have changed between now and then? As I reviewed some of my old writings, I realized much has changed. So very much. This month, I present to you a few of the more significant changes.
You Might Not Need a Website Anymore
For 15 years I’ve been yelling at counselors to get a website. The thesis: people are going online to find services, if you don’t have a website then a prospective client will find and choose a counselor who does. And, until recently, that’s been accurate. However, today we might be entering a post-website internet. Companies, from restaurants to salons (I haven’t seen counselors do this yet), are trading their small business websites for Facebook “business pages,” which have evolved into something perhaps more useful.(1)
Imagine you’re a salon. You need to be on the cutting edge of fashion (pun intended). A well-designed website will look dated within 24 months, isn’t very interactive, can crash, can get hacked, and needs frequent updates to pages like “meet the team,” which (whether it’s stylists or counselors) always seems to have a group photo where half the crew is no longer employed with the company. Sadly, most small business websites are poorly-designed, outdated brochures.
A Facebook business page provides a simple but familiar user experience, as well as important company information including the business address and phone number. Prospective clients can interact (like or comment) with the company’s posts, or message the business through Facebook Messenger. Companies who use Facebook business pages well will have an attractive header image, profile image, and post to their feed regularly. In the same way that a company promotes their website URL, one’s Facebook business page (e.g.,Facebook.com/XYZcounseling/) should be displayed in email signatures, on business cards, and other places of high visibility.
Here’s one more painful truth for practices with a traditional website. While you might be able to get away without having a website, today a Facebook business page is necessary because clients expect businesses to be reachable there. This leads us to the next change.
Social is Your Book Cover
As a child, I was taught to never judge a book by its cover. Little did we know that in the years to come the ubiquity of self-publishing would bring more bad covers (and bad books) into existence than we could ever imagine. Today, a poorly designed cover is often a good indicator of a poorly written book. Your online social accounts are your book cover.
When I tell counselors to get on social media, they ask “How many clients will I get?” The real question should be “How many clients will I lose if I don’t?” A social presence has a growing importance as prospective clients check social media platforms to learn about you and your business. If your social account is a wasteland, or if you’ve never bothered to claim your name on major social platforms like Instagram, snapchat, twitter, or even Linkedin, it will be viewed as a “low quality indicator” to clients. On the other hand, being active, or even savvy on social media will have the opposite effect.
Some counselors don’t like the idea of being on social platforms, citing that it feels unprofessional. Here’s the thing: With some platforms, we don’t even have a choice. For example, Yelp and Google for Business will list your practice automatically, even if you’ve never visited the website. This is no favor! Unclaimed listings look terrible (think grey box with the words “no picture provided”), and this makes business owners look out of touch. It’s judging a book by its cover, to be sure.
Millennials Don’t Answer Their Front Doors
Millennials are no longer up-and-coming: They’re here (ages 22-37). They’re your client base. According to Forbes, they have a buying power of $200 billion,(2) and it’s scary how different they are compared to previous generations. In an article by The Wall Street Journal, titled “Ask Not for Whom the Doorbell Tolls. They Won’t Answer It”(3), the author explains one shocking behavior of millennials is that they don’t answer their front doors. Millennials are so well connected that if someone they know is going to drop by, that person is going to text them, not ring the bell. Someone who rings a doorbell is certainly someone they don’t know (and don’t want to talk to). Even UPS now texts when they deliver packages, because their customers—millennials—demanded it.
Paper Mail Ready for a Comeback?
For years I’ve explained that people open their mail over the trash. The smart advice is to go digital mail; It’s more affordable, and it’s guaranteed to reach a customer. That is, until about 18 months ago when Gmail began to filtering newsletters, putting them into a “promotional” folder that, like spam, nobody views. Additionally, if millennials are your target client, print might be ripe for a revival. A USPS website cites that 95% of adults between 18 and 29 feel positively about receiving personal mail, 88% of millennials see print mail as more official than digital, 90% of persons ages 25 to 34 find direct mail reliable, and 87% like receiving it!(4) I don’t know if it’s time to invest in direct paper mail again, but it might be soon.
To effectively market a private practice, one must understand his/her clients, their clinical needs to be sure, and also the ways that they find and choose businesses. What is or isn’t working as you market your private practice? Let me know online @anthonycentore.