Posted on October 30, 2018
I've heard that many new counselors would appreciate direction or feedback on the kinds of mistakes made by counselors that affect their ability to find new clients. I have helped counselors advertise their private practices since 1999, and I have come to recognize many of the mistakes that counselors make.
I started this process by sending a counselor an email and followed with a voice mail message. A few days later the counselor responded with a voice mail saying that she was sorry but she doesn't check her email very often. This brings me to mistake one.
You don’t return voice mail calls or emails daily. Ignore potential new client referrals long enough and they will go away. Counselors need to return calls and emails from potential clients promptly - before the competition does. Counseling is a competitive business. Potential clients often contact several counselors. Most often, the first counselor the client talks with (if it's a good match of counselor and client concern) is the counselor who gets the new client. Please promptly return potential customer voice mails and Counseling Washington email referrals, and any other referral calls and emails you are receiving. We send you client referrals don't ignore them and let them get away--the old saying goes, "You snooze, You Lose!"
You don’t list yourself in online Counselor Directories. I won’t tell you which one to use, but I recommend you go on any web browser and search for “Washington State’s Most Trusted Counselor Directory.” Sure, you have business cards, telephone, an office address, but you can’t just wait for clients to show up at your door. In today's world of digital technology it's just not enough to hope that clients will come, Client often don’t tell others they went to counseling, so counseling to word-of-mouth recommendations won’t do it. You need a lot of clients to sustain your practice. Consider listing your services in online counselor directories, claim your Yelp account or create one, and get your business information listed, establish a LinkedIn and a Facebook account for your business and post there as often as possible. Consider speaking to private groups in public settings such as schools or community centers. Group organizers are always looking for the next program to interest and inform their members. (As a side note here, Counseling Washington is developing a new web page to highlight counselors from our site who are willing to present to organizations. If you would like to be included on this page, please send us an email with the topics you present and a couple of sentences of description as well as your preferred contact information, and we will add you to the page.)
You fail to choose or disclose a niche specialty. With online search engines being far more sophisticated than the past, consumers are able to not only find a counselor more easily but they can find one who specializes in the area of their concern or problem. Analogy: if you are a medical doctor and Cardiologist would you not say so, or would you simply list MD? Clients prefer professionals who have special training or experience in their specific problem.
You neglect to network with others in the industry and to make your specialties known to other counselors. Referrals come from many sources, including others who do basically what you do. Join your local counseling associations and network with other counselors in your area, let them know your specializations. Many client referrals come from other counselors who may feel you are better able to handle a specific type of issue.
You overcharge for your services. New counselors who are comparing themselves to long-time established counselors may need to consider that the longer you are in practice the more you will probably be able to charge. Who is your new client really going to be? Do they make Microsoft salaries or are they more average-paid folks? Don’t forget that you must meet your clinical hour requirement and overcharging might make that more difficult, reducing the number of clients you are able to attract. Set your rate competitively and plan to grow rates over time.
(Especially for Counseling Associates.)
You fail to provide each client with your Counselor Disclosure Form (WAC 246-809-710). You need to inform the client that in accordance with Washington State law your practice is supervised by a Washington State Approved Supervisor—listing the Supervisor’s name, address, and phone number. I like to include the wording, “If you have any criticism of my counseling or handling of your problem, please feel free to tell me. Otherwise, please free to contact my supervisor by mail or phone and discuss your issues.”
You don’t use professional headshots of yourself on directories whether online or in print. Use a professional photographer. This is not a photo for your friend or local dating site. Selfies are, well, selfies. Cropping your partners' arm out of the photo (leaving his hand on your shoulder), is not the look you want for consumers, nor is the office party photo you were captured in last year. Get a professional photo taken and use it online for directory services as well as your own web site. One photo session can give you 5 or 6 poses. Consider a different photo for different online directories and/or your website – Why? If you ask every new client where they saw your advertisement and they say on the internet, you still won’t know which of five listings they saw. It’s a lot easier to know which directory or website by keeping track where each photo is used and showing new clients photos A., B., C., D., or E. and asking them to pick out the one they saw on the web rather than asking if they remember which website they saw you on. Avoid glamor shots, you aren’t advertising for a partner, you want viewers to see a competent, attentive, concerned, intelligent counseling professional.
You don’t update directories and listings that you have in the marketplace. Have you moved? Have a new number? Added an area of specialty? Added new insurance acceptance? Every time your circumstances change you need to update your directory listings, so keep a good list of where you can find yourself online and frequently check to be sure all is up to date. You are now a business, so be business-like about keeping records on the location of each of your business listings, and record your user names and pass words.
You use duplicate text in in your online listings! This is a big no-no!!! Google penalizes duplicate content when it comes to search results. Don’t use the same textual language in different directories. There are many ways to say essentially the same thing, so get creative and be sure your listings online have different words to find you by.
You fail to offer group therapy sessions as a means for generating new clients and additional income. Therapy groups related to your niche specialty area are a great resource for longer term new clients, many of whom may start in a group and later move to individual counseling. And other counselors may refer clients to your group as part of their therapy plan for the client.
You fail to update your automatic credit card listings. All credit cards have an expiration date. On or before that date, the card issuer will send you a new card with a new expiration date and a new three-digit transaction number on the back. You look at the new card and think, well it is the same number, so I won’t need to do anything. Wrong. You need to log into each directory and enter your new credit card listing – new expiration date and transaction number (from back of card). You are now a business, so be business-like about keeping records on the location of each of your business listings, and keep a current record your user names and pass words. If you let your credit card expire and do nothing your listings will be deleted from the directories, and new client calls will stop!
Best Wishes to you in your new business,
Floyd Else, MA, LMHC
Counseling Washington Webmaster
We know you are intelligent and creative and able to make mistakes that we haven’t thought of yet! We invite you to send us your top mistakes and we will continue this as a series for all counselors, particularly associate counselors. Contact Counseling Washington.