Here we are, 8-9 months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Social-distancing guidelines and shelter-in-place orders remain in effect across much of the country… And many therapists find themselves continuing to provide tele-therapy services from their homes, wondering whether or not they’ll EVER need their physical offices again.
While some therapists are, unfortunately, locked in to multi-year leases with little choice but to keep their offices for the foreseeable future, many others are trying to choose between:
- Shutting their office doors for good, getting a post office box, and providing counseling and psychotherapy services solely from their home office;
- Renewing their leases and subletting their offices to other therapists in order to share the costs of an office they can rarely, if ever, use; or
- Getting a “virtual office” through a company like Regus or Office Evolution, which offers real street addresses, mail forwarding, and even offices for rent by the hour on an “as-needed” basis (there are even therapists who’ve started their own “therapist-centric” version of these shared workspaces, such as Therapy Space).
Needless to say, there’s obviously a lot to consider when it comes to deciding what to do about your office, and I’ve been glad to see so many therapists coming up with creative solutions! 🙂
Fortunately, there’s also a LOT of great information available online, especially when it comes to many of the legal and ethical considerations (such as Barbara Griswold’s series of articles on whether or not to give up your therapy office).
However, one thing I haven’t seen discussed very much is the impact NOT having a physical address can have on marketing your private-pay, fee-for-service practice.
And since I’ve had numerous clients ask me questions about this very issue over the course of the past few weeks, there seems no better time than the present to take a quick look at…
The Importance of Having a Physical Address When Marketing Your Teletherapy Practice
If you rely on insurance referrals to keep your practice full, then whether or not you need a physical address (and what type) is dependent on the requirements of each insurance provider.
But, if you’re a private-pay, fee-for-service practitioner who relies on Google, Yelp, and other online directories such as PsychologyToday.com for referrals, then you’re going to want to maintain some sort of physical address.
There are 3 main reasons…
- You Face Less Competition When Marketing Your Practice Locally
Let’s say your practice is focused on providing couples and marriage counseling. If you’re trying to market your online marriage counseling services to anyone and everyone in the state of California, you are essentially competing against thousands (even tens of thousands) of other therapists who serve this same market.
However, if you have a local address and focus your marketing on just those people who live in San Francisco or Santa Monica or wherever, you can decrease the number of your competitors to a few hundred or less… And that’s for a very broad niche like couples and marriage counseling. If you have a more defined niche, such as helping those in toxic relationships, you’ll have even less competition.
Yes, you can target your marketing to a local area without a physical address. But, as we’ll see, having a physical address in that location makes things a whole lot easier!
- Many Online Directory Sites Are Based Around Local Addresses
While websites like Psychology Today, GoodTherapy, and Theravive have started to offer listings and services that are tailored to online counselors and psychotherapists, the vast majority of the referrals these types of directories provide remain tied to practitioners’ physical addresses.
This is just as true, if not more so, for business listing platforms like Google My Business and Yelp. Yes, both Google and Yelp allow you to list “service areas” or “coverage areas” that extend beyond your office address or zip code. But, as with other online directories, the visibility of your practice on these types of platforms is largely tied to your physical address.
And there’s a good reason not only for why this is so, but also why this will likely remain the case for the foreseeable future…
- People Are Still Searching Locally!
According to a Cox Business survey performed in June of this year, consumers still see local businesses as a priority and have been acting accordingly, with 68% saying they want to support small businesses in their community to keep their local economy and jobs afloat.
Moreover, despite the lockdowns, curfews, and shelter-in-place orders, 73% of consumers are using proximity searches to find local businesses … even during COVID-19.
What’s a proximity search?
If someone searches online using a phrase such as “trauma counseling chicago” or “child therapist near me,” they’re performing a proximity-based search.
These searches are typically performed on Google, but are also often done on sites like Yelp and Psychology Today.
Additionally, search engine algorithms such as Google’s ASSUME the local intent of the searcher…
This means, even if someone doesn’t include a city name like “chicago” or the phrase “near me” in their search, Google will still return local business results tied to the searcher’s location.
In other words, if someone in Albany, New York, is searching for family therapy on Google, Google will return the results for family therapists who are located in Albany and not those located in Rochester, Syracuse, or elsewhere in the state, regardless of whether or not the searcher cares where the therapist is located!
And, of course, many consumers still prefer to find counselors and psychotherapists in their area, just so they have the option of working with the practitioner in person if/when social distancing rules are relaxed.
So, whether or not you ever plan on offering in-person counseling and psychotherapy services again, it’s as important now as ever to market your practice locally… and doing so successfully means having a physical address!
All of which begs the question…
What Type of Physical Address Do You Need?
While there is no “one-address-fits-all-practitioners” answer to this question, there is one requirement if you’re going to continue marketing your practice locally… you need a unique and real street address.
I can’t really tell you whether it makes more sense for you to keep your office, use your home address, or rent a box at the UPS Store…
But you need a “real street address” and it needs to be “unique” (meaning it’s not used by any other businesses), if only because Google My Business doesn’t allow PO Box addresses and typically doesn’t allow multiple businesses to use the same address.
If you’ve ever searched for therapists in your area, you likely know how valuable Google My Business listings can be… They’re free, they show up at the top of the search results, and they’re often the basis for voice and other search results:
I even have clients whose practices remain full largely thanks to just their Google My Business listings!
So “sharing” an office address with several other practitioners really isn’t going to help when it comes to marketing your practice online, unless it’s a group practice.
In my opinion, renting a box somewhere like the UPS Store or using an online service such as Anytime Mailbox may be your best option. Yes, such services cost money. But even if the box rental and mail forwarding costs you $50/month or so, that’s a heck of a lot less than the cost of renting an office… And if having that physical address helps you generate just one additional client each year, it should more than pay for itself. 😉
Having this type of box address that is still a “real street address” can also help you avoid having to change your address each and every time you change your office location…
Why does this matter?
Well, whatever physical address you’ve had up until now is likely listed on 10, 20, maybe more business listing and directory websites. If you’re actively marketing your practice online and doing SEO (search engine optimization) on an ongoing basis, your practice’s address may well be on 50, 75, or even 100 or more different websites… And the more websites your address is listed on, the more time and money it costs to change your address on all of those listings.
So even if you’re keeping your office address for now, or you’ve decided to use your home address, it still may make sense to rent a box that provides you a unique, real street address you can use for your marketing going forward.
One final note…
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t market your teletherapy services to a larger geographic audience. In fact, there’s currently a “first-mover advantage” for anyone who does so.
That being said, even if you’ve decided to close your office for good and offer only online counseling and therapy going forward, the benefits of maintaining a unique, street address to market your practice locally far outweigh the costs!
Are you keeping your office, are you subletting, or have you decided to provide only teletherapy services going forward? What have you decided to do about your business address? Are you using any of the services mentioned above? If so, what’s your experience been? Let us know your thoughts and questions below, so we can all learn from and help each other. We look forward to hearing from you!