Updated: Jun 22
You don't have time to do everything -- learn the most effective steps of marketing for therapists.
I know many experts in our field have advice about marketing for therapists. They cover everything from how to get more LinkedIn connections to how to design your logo.
While those things are important (sometimes), I’ve found that there’s a shorter list that makes the biggest difference, especially when you’re starting out. And if simpler strategies work, you can forget about 70% of the remaining marketing advice.
That saves you a lot of time worrying about getting clients, which is good, because you’ll be busy in sessions!
Below I’ve summarized the routes that have gotten me the most clients over the years. My intent is to break it down for you, plain and simple, so you don’t have to research until you have the equivalent of a marketing degree (which is basically what I did myself)!
Let’s get going.
1. Have a side income
I know this isn’t technically marketing, but it will help you significantly. You don’t want to be in a situation where you feel overwhelmed, give bad advice, or pressure clients to schedule because you need the income.
Find some way you can have a steady backup funding source, so a client canceling doesn’t crush you and shake your confidence.
However, also don’t depend on that income as a long-term crutch (unless you want it that way). Starting your own practice is a big change, and you don’t want to get sidetracked back into your old habits.
You might even consider an income that’s totally different from therapy, so you have a bit of a mental break. (Also, steer away from online platforms that want you to do as many sessions as possible for a fraction of what insurance pays. Nothing will burn you out faster.)
2. Start with Psychology Today
If you're a mental health therapy provider, start with a Psychology Today profile. Whatever you think of it, this listing will get you clients to start out with. Don’t expect several new clients a week from your profile. In some markets you can expect just a handful of calls a week, which will add up to two to three clients a month.
That doesn’t seem like a lot, but within a few months that could mean 9 clients from this one source, and then you’re on your way! Plus, this won’t be your only source of clients, so it won’t make or break your practice in the long run.
Other profile services can be helpful as well, and there seem to be new ones all the time. I think they are worth taking a look at. But if you need to prioritize time and money, this is where you should start.
(Need some help with this? Check out this other article just on profiles.)
3. Focus on your Google business profile
I often see this as a side thought in marketing recommendations. It usually goes something like, “Fill in every part of your Google profile.” Of course you should do that, but there’s a bit more to it. If you can get your business to show up at the top of Google’s recommendations, you may find that most of your contacts come just from there.
(This is different from SEO, which we’ll get to in a moment.)
Although I like to keep it simple, I feel like I could write a whole book just on this topic. But for now, here are a few quick tips:
Ask colleagues to write recommendations for you. This way you can avoid the whole legal and ethical dilemma around client reviews.
Keep your profile updated. Google likes to show accurate information. This will help you stay towards the top.
Answer messages through your profile. Google has an internal messaging option. Respond to messages to let people know you’ll contact them from a work address. This way you’re not getting into details through questionable messaging, but you’re able to follow up with potential clients. (And Google likes you to keep active communication with customers.)
Connect your website. Google will consider a combination of your profile information, your reviews, and your website content to decide where you show up in the business searches.
I have a few more tricks up my sleeve when it comes to Google business profiles. I’m working on a guide where I can go into much more detail. Stay tuned!
4. Publish a simple website
There’s so much advice on how to set up your website. It’s mostly accurate. But really, you only need a few elements to make your site work for you. These include:
A front page, which can also be a detailed page about your services and how to set up an appointment. (Sometimes this one page is all you need.)
Specialty pages, especially if you have multiple areas you like to work in. For example, you’d want a separate page for trauma versus couple’s therapy. To get going, I’d just start with one and get it published.
Clear instructions to contact you. You can’t really go too far when it comes to helping your potential clients get in touch. Pick one main way, such as a contact form or a way to digitally schedule a consultation, and sprinkle links to it throughout your website.
For example, you may have links within your text, a button that says “Contact me,” or a specific call to action like, “Schedule your free consultation here.” Have all of them go to the same place. This is called a marketing funnel.
You don’t want five ways to contact you, because it may become confusing or overwhelming. But you also can’t have too many links to funnel to your one contact form.
People skim, and you want to do everything short of a big red arrow to your contact link (although really that would be okay too).
5. Choose your funnel(s)
A marketing funnel is a path to get your customers to do what you’d like them to do. The narrow end of the funnel is pretty straightforward – you want them to contact you for a consultation or fill out a contact form. The broader end of the funnel is what can vary.
Examples of marketing funnels for therapists include:
SEO (website content) and/or blogging
Word of mouth
So where do you start, and what do you need? Here are some pros and cons of each.
As I mentioned, I’d recommend putting up your Psychology Today profile plus your Google business listing. These are fairly straightforward and will only take a half a day each if you’re at least a little tech savvy. Over time you can decide if the Psychology Today profile cost is worth it, but it will most likely pay for itself.
I’m not a huge fan of social media as a main funnel, because it requires quite a bit of work and uptake for limited payoff, and the work on it is never-ending. However, if you’re already an expert at social media and love it, then go for it. Pick one platform you’re already on and know well.
Otherwise, keep social media somewhat updated, so that if someone wants to check out your page or feed, it’s not a few years old. But don’t stress too much about it for now.
Advertising is most helpful if you need a quick, short-term boost, or if you’re in a very large market where everyone else is already an expert marketer. You may need to plan for this investment to get started.
However, if you’re in a medium to small market, I’d start with free marketing first.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth from clients will build over time as you provide excellent service. You can’t really influence that, other than by being your naturally awesome self.
Colleague referrals are possibly the best-quality funnels. They will know you and who you work with best.
You know all of those experts who teach you how to network and make new professional contacts? (Like emailing other therapists you’d like to meet, or visiting local businesses?)
Forget that. Go with people you know personally, who already love you, and be transparent about what your goal is. That’s where your clients will come from.
You know all of those experts who teach you how to network and make new contacts? Forget that. Go with people you know personally already, who already love you, and be transparent about what your goal is.
Do think beyond the box here, though. A colleague might include your pastor, a college professor, a psychiatrist you used to work with, your physical therapist, your librarian, etc. It doesn’t have to be limited to other therapists.
Website and SEO
And finally that big ol' monster, SEO (search engine optimization, or getting more free traffic to your site). This does take a lot of work, which can be worth it because it holds up pretty well over time. However, I think people often make it too complicated.
You achieve SEO largely by having content that Google understands, so it can show your website to the people who would benefit most from it.
If you don’t have the time or budget to blog every week, you can still get a good bang for your buck out of two or three long, effective pages or posts on your specialties.
Many sites use therapy service pages, which work both for SEO and as a funnel to contact you. They cover specifics on what you treat, and how you can help.
Depending on my availability, I offer a package to help with writing service pages. Check out the details here.
There are also many simple strategies, such as how you name your pages and images, that can make a surprising difference in SEO.
As you may be able to see, each of these areas could make up their own post, and I have that on my to-do list! Meanwhile I’m working on a guide that will cover each area in detail for you.
6. Don’t make it too complicated
There's a lot of advice on setting up your marketing. For example, here's a common question I get:
Don’t I need a detailed ideal client avatar and one specialty/niche to make me stand out?
I know this opinion won’t be popular, but not necessarily.
You do need to be clear on what you do. I have specialized in anxiety and trauma because I mostly enjoy this work over other types of therapy. But at the beginning, I probably should have broadened my scope a bit, and marketed to a broader audience.
What you really need, rather than one specialty, is a separate funnel for each area you treat, or type of treatment you offer.
That could mean that you have separate ads for couples therapy versus depression treatment. Or it could mean that pages or blog posts on your website hone in on each area separately.
On occasion, people even list separate therapy profiles based on very different specialties.
All of that may or may not be necessary, depending on your practice. If you accept insurance, you may fill up fairly quickly.
If you're only accepting self-pay, start with a competitive price and increase fees over time if you wish. Offer some sliding scale spots.
I know all the advice about setting your prices as high as possible. I'd advise to set that aside while you get settled and learn more. There are a lot of things about your practice you will change along the way.
And as long as what they need isn’t out of your scope of practice, I’d go ahead and take most clients who find you. Over time you can become pickier about what you treat.
As far as client personas get, I think this has gotten a bit out of hand. Keep it simple. You want to work with college women – great, you’ve got your ideal client!
You don’t really need an objective caricature of a college woman with low self-confidence who drinks in moderation on the weekends and is majoring in a science field.
Over time, you will develop a sense of who you work best with, and they’ll find you. I think we (meaning me for sure) sometimes spend too much time worrying about the details when there are concrete steps that we could be doing rather than still stuck in planning. (I learned this the hard way.)
7. Don’t make your marketing about you, any more than therapy is
We are proud of our degrees and other credentials. And why not—we worked hard for them!!
For the most part, our clients don’t really care, especially at first (sorry). What they really want to know is that you see and understand them.
So at any time you’re marketing, make it about that.
What are they feeling? What do they need? How will they benefit from your help?
Just like in therapy, they’re the hero of their own story. You’re the guide. Therapy isn’t about the therapist, and neither is your marketing.
Need a bit of help?
Depending on my availability, I offer a couple of marketing services for therapists, including Psychology Today profile writing and therapy service page writing. You can visit my shop to see all therapy and marketing tools.