We’ve all had that frustrating experience of trying to locate a business we haven’t used before. Maybe we have imprecise directions – “you know, it’s right on the corner of First and Main” – but that’s actually four corners, and maybe two of them have strip malls, and you’re driving by more than once, and making U-turns until you finally see the store front that you’re looking for.
Frustration for starters is not a prescription for a good, ongoing business relationship. The business owner already has some ruffled feathers to soothe.
And if that potential client was already anxious or frustrated before they began their search for help, as in the case of most potential psychotherapy clients, the last thing we as business owners want to do is add to that.
So, obviously, we need to make ourselves easy to find, and easy to access – especially since we typically don’t have a storefront with large letters above a window saying, “BEA ARMSTRONG, MFT.”
How do we do that?
We start with having a presence where most people are going to look for us – and now that’s on the Internet.
While the World Wide Web might have been named to describe an interconnection of people and information, the word “web” also connotes a sticky net that attracts and holds onto “clients.” Well, OK, “prey,” for the spider, but that’s not the meaning I want to convey!
But we do want our websites to attract clients and give them the information that they need and want, so that they’ll stick with us and make that call or send that e-mail to set up an appointment.
A good website is attractive, informative, and easy to navigate. While it gives the prospective client information about our services, it really should be about that client – what they are looking for, how we can help them get that.
It should make it easy (on every page) to see how to contact us: phone number, e-mail address. And ask that client to do just that – call or write.
And even in this age of ubiquitous GPS, I encourage therapists to include directions to your office on your website. Don’t make the client have to use a GPS initially just to see where you are. Prospective clients often want service providers who are in their “neighborhoods” and that can mean a work-hood as well as an area that they often shop in or where their dentists or doctors are, as well as near where they live.
That won’t be the main reason that they choose you, but it can tip the scales in your direction.
If there is a nearby landmark that’s recognizable to most, name that on your “Directions” page. “My office is on the perimeter of the Pruneyard Shopping Complex.” That tells them exactly what side of the main street they will be looking for, as well as which corner.
In addition to having an excellent website, make sure you are on one or more online directories, such as PsychologyToday.com, Yelp, or LinkedIn. (Watch our “Getting the Most from Online Therapy Directories” STAR Training for more information on how to best use these.) Make sure that your website’s address is on your directory profile, so that clients can easily jump to it.
Location, Location, Location
Where is your office? Near an expressway exit? On a main street? Or tucked back behind several other buildings on a residential street?
Think about the service providers that you use. What’s important to you regarding their location? You typically don’t want to drive a long way (though you will if the service provider is an expert in his or her field), you want to be able to find parking easily, and you probably prefer that their office is near other commercial outlets so that you can grab a cup of coffee or have lunch afterward or run an errand or two.
Now, you might already be locked into a multi-year lease for your office location, but if you are just starting out or thinking about moving, consider what will make it easier for your clients to come to you as long as they need to. Prime locations might cost more per square foot, but they pay off in the long run.
Some therapists have more than one location so that they can service clients from different areas. I did that immediately after licensure, but after a few years, I found that I much preferred to have all of my supportive materials, including client files, in one office. But if multiple locations work for you, it’s a great way to dip your net into more than one pond.
The days of the week and hours of the day that you work also make a difference in making it easy for clients to use your services.
I find that evenings and lunch hours (11:00am to 1:00pm) are the most popular times and so make all of those times available to clients from Mondays through Thursdays. I purposely take my own lunch hour at 2:00pm to accommodate clients. However, I’ve benefitted from that time as well because restaurants are usually not busy at that hour.
But optimal session times will vary according to the client population you want to serve. The hours I am available are best for couples and working adults. If you see adolescents or children, then after school hours will be prime for you. Seniors often prefer the middle of the day – late morning or early afternoon. They don’t want to get stuck in commute traffic or drive after dark.
When I first launched as a licensed psychotherapist, I would see clients on Fridays and sometimes even on Saturdays. That was practice-building time and I wanted to stand out from other therapists and make it easy for clients to work with me.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Once a prospective client has located you virtually, the last thing you want is for that client to be frustrated because they can’t actually connect with you.
I have had a full practice for years and there are many reasons for that, but one of them is because I check my voicemail every couple of hours during the work week (I record that on my daily log, so I know exactly when I last picked up messages), and I check e-mail several times a day. And I respond within an hour, two at most, to new people asking about my services.
Prospective clients who are therapist shopping – meaning they haven’t been referred directly to me, but found me online along with a number of other therapists who look promising to them – will often make calls or send e-mails to several therapists and see who “bites” first.
I frequently hear appreciations for my “quick response” when I talk to the prospective client, as well as frustration that none of the others have called them.
This might be obvious, but when people are hurting they want to get in to see a therapist ASAP – yesterday would be even better. And that new client will then grab whatever opening I have.
On that first contact call – typically on the phone – I take the time to answer whatever questions that person has. If I can’t talk long enough then, I will suggest that I call them back at the end of my work day so that I can respond better. This is how that therapeutic relationship is already being formed – from the start, they experience that I want to help them and will make the time to do so.
Payments and Paperwork
The work of therapy is hard enough, especially for the client. One way that we can lighten that load is to make payment easier by accepting all forms of “money,” whether that’s cash, checks, or credit/debit cards. I have watched a steady progression away from checks and cash to plastic payments by my clients.
And I’m surprised that some therapists still don’t accept that form of payment. Especially since you no longer have to use the swiping machines, but can attach a “Square” to your smart phone and make client payments to your account that way. The technology is getting easier and easier. Many of my clients prefer to pay once a month via credit or debit cards, which is less interruptive to the therapy process as well.
Being on insurance panels is a professional choice for providers – one that I have chosen not to do. And while being on those panels might make it easier for some clients, I believe that the compromise of confidentiality does not. Many of my clients will pay out of pocket, because they don’t want a trail of their mental health work to be part of their employment records.
But, like clockwork, the first week of every month, I give my clients a statement that includes all of the information that they need to file for reimbursement from their insurance providers if they choose to do that. Or to add it to their tax deductions for annual health costs.
If they are filing for insurance reimbursement, I also fill out the part of their insurance form required of providers. They don’t have to ask for this every month. It’s there waiting for them that first week.
There are no doubt many other ways that we as mental health providers can make it easy for our prospective clients to find us – and make the logistics of the work easier. If you have some other ideas that I haven’t included, please let us know by leaving a comment below. We’d love to add them to the next article and share them with our other members.