I’d like to ask you a question.
When does your potential client experience start? And when does this end?
Understanding this question well helps set you up for success when it comes to selling and marketing yourself as a therapist. There is a large part of this experience that happens before they even come into your office. Your job doesn’t start when they book a session, it starts way before that. It’s best to think about this along a continuum. This continuum is called the “therapy client journey”.
We at Theory About That developed the “Therapy Client Journey” by using a longstanding marketing principle called the “Buyer’s Journey” and it’s made up of three stages:
With this structure and framework to work with, professional marketers from all sorts of industries can build out a marketing plan in order to create content and provide help for people all along that continuum. And it's really more than just content and marketing, but it's a framework to help think with empathy about the entire customer experience. This is the secret to lots of big brands.
The two best companies to think about for this example are Disney and Apple who are both famous for their extreme attention to detail and quality for the end-to-end user experience. It's obvious that you need to have a good product, that's the focus of every company. Your product is your session, and we're definitely not here to tell you how to be a good therapist. But, your product is not all you need to focus on when you're a business. Let's take Apple as our example. Yes, they put blood sweat and tears into making their products world-class, that's obvious, but what about the rest of their experience? They work tirelessly on their entire experience to make it right, just like they do with their products. From their marketing, to their storefronts, to their unboxing t's an experience from end-to-end feels cohesive and thought out.
So, how can therapists use this?
Therapists and counselors are no different and need to market and sell themselves just like every other business out there. And so when they understand how to use this continuum and framework it’ll help them understand what they need to be doing in their marketing efforts and customer experience.
Too often therapists just think about what’s directly in front of them and what they’ve been training for their entire lives: that moment someone walks in the door and sits with them for a session. We can assume that you have that part down. But when you think about all the stages this ideal client goes through, you can start having a wider, 360 view to your business.
So in summary you need this to attract, keep, and delight the clients you currently have. But there are some other ways this way of thinking can help.
Other than just getting more clients there are other big results this brings.
When you expand your footprint and presence online people notice. And that attention brings authority and trust. You may find that more therapists are willing to refer patients outside of their area to your practice. If you produce content constantly and consistently, other people and therapists will start to pay attention and come to rely on your insights. This leads to an image as a thought leader and authority in your field—and continued demand for your insights and services.
High quality content doesn’t just attract potential clients. It can also include key influencers who promote your insights to a wider audience. It may also include medical professionals who refer patients to your office, media professionals looking for quotes for their articles, or news outlets looking for a professional on a pop therapy topic.
Consumers no longer respond to traditional ads—they respond to information they find useful, entertaining, or can trust. Over time, they gravitate to the businesses that repeatedly produce valuable content and show that they understand their customer.
When potential customers are doing their research the website you have and content you produce is the packaging. And when your package looks fancy and backs it up being resourceful they won’t be surprised by a high session rate. Then you need to find ways to constantly provide value and show that you're worth the price they pay.
So, let's get into the details, what is the therapy client journey?
So, what is the “therapy client journey”? This is our attempt and customizing the Buyer’s Journey to make more sense and click with counselors and therapists. We wanted to take this timeless structure and tweak it in a way that we can give specific and useful advice to the types of clients that we serve.
So, what are the four states? Every single person out there is somewhere along this spectrum. So let’s first understand the 4 types of people and what general steps you should take with them.
This is a stranger who is aware of certain pain points or desires they have in their life. They might be curious about their situation and are wanting to make a change or aren’t looking out answers at all.
They are asking questions like - “What does depression feel like?” or “what should I do about my anxiety?”
How to reach them - There are two main platforms and methods to reach this audience. The first is through organic search. Someone who is in this stage and is looking for answers will be doing so online. But, they won’t be using the same language that you do with your colleagues or fancy words that you learned in school. It’s going to be the language that they know and are used to. Talking about symptoms and feelings, not modalities and treatment methods. The second is through social media. There is a large swath of people who are in the curious stage, but aren’t even ready to look up answers to their problem, that’s where social media can come in. The way to reach them is by creating content that their friends might share and would speak to them. This isn’t done by creating posts about “booking a session” but creating posts that speak to the deep symptoms and feelings your potential patients might feel on a day-to-day basis.
How to Write This Content - Remember this content should be focused on your buyer’s pain points — not your product or brand. Lay off the heavy sales pitch; this stage is all about building trust with your prospect and establishing your company as a credible source of information. The information should be fairly neutral with any sales or mention of your services left to the very end (or not even that!)
This is someone who understands their pain points and is ready for a therapy solution. They rarely know what type of modality they want, but will have some idea of the type of therapy they need. They also just want to know more about what to expect in therapy if they’ve never done it before.
They are asking questions like - “Okay, now what? What’s my next step?” “What should I look for in a therapist?” “couples therapy near me”
How to reach them - For reaching this type of audience it’s mostly focused around your website. People in this stage are very explicitly looking for a therapist and therefore will be seeing lots of therapists’ websites. They will also be consciously or subconsciously comparing each one. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say “your website design matters if you want clients”. Your clients don’t obviously directly care about your design skills but they’re shopping online and that’s all they have to go off of in order to trust you or not compared to the others. It's not only about design. How is your website organized? Do you have content that shows your the expert? If you have a website that's organized poorly you're going to look like you don't have yourself together and if you don't talk about (have content about) what you claim to be an expert in, how can they trust you?
This is also where paid ads can come in. You don’t want to pay for someone who is in the previous stage, just curious, because they’re less likely to turn into a paying customer. With paid advertising you can target the people who are right on the cusp and ready to buy now with explicit searches of services like “couples therapy near me”.
Then for people in this stage it’s important to create content talking about different therapy solutions. Help explain your approach to solving their symptoms. Then to top it all off, Offer a free 15-minute evaluation to make it as easy as possible to take the next step.
This is for someone receiving therapy from you. This is the stage that you’re probably most use to, but don’t sleep on it. There are some ways to think about this that you’re not used to.
They are asking questions like - Is there more I can do after my session? How can I build upon the work I’m doing in therapy?
How to reach them - First off, Do a great job! This is the time for your training and expertise to shine. At this point you can’t hide and need to be a great therapist.
Then, with the obvious out of the way, have a consistent brand experience from your social media channel all the way to your office. Think about the full experience as a big company like Apple would. Think through that yourself. How can you have a memorable and unique lobby experience? What's it like to fill out the initial paperwork? Do they feel comfortable finding the entrance? What can I do different in my first session experience? Etc.
Then comes the final stage and ultimate goal. An existing client of yours who now loves your services and constantly recommends you to people that they know.
They are asking questions like - “ How can I get my spouse/best friend/teen/mother-in-law to sign up for services? How can I share this great lesson with people I know?”
How to reach them (& help them reach others) - You want to give your client easy ways to refer you, in a profession where asking for reviews is ethically complicated. The trick is to have an active social media presence where they can share posts that they want to share. Have blogs that they can send their friends, etc. This is starting to make a full 360 back to the first stage on blogs and social media. The same content that is made for them is the content that your champions will want to share.
First things first, we need to change your mindset. If you're like many of the clients we work with, you might dread the idea of content.
One of the biggest mindset shifts you can have is when you stop thinking, “how can I be a resource to my client during this hour” to “how can I be a trusted resource 24/7 for my client?” Almost every therapist we talk to hates the idea of writing blogs or managing their social media, and they’re just thinking about it in the wrong way. Because every therapist that I’ve met also loves what they do and could talk for hours and hours about different thoughts and opinions they have on 20 different subjects. So stop thinking about blogs and social media as “boring marketing work I’m not trained to do” to "here’s an outlet for me to publicly share and provide my knowledge, passions, and expertise with the world." What’s the one thing you’ve told 5 clients this week? Or this new metaphor that’s popped in your head 3 times while meeting with clients? This is the time to share that expert knowledge of yours. For example, do you have homework that you assign to couples in therapy? Write it out as a page on your website and direct them to that page to use the exercise. It’s time to start using your website as a repository of content and expertise to help build your brand and serve as a resource for new and existing clients.
Setting goals like anything else in life is the best way to achieve anything. Ideally you are creating a content calendar that is strategic in terms where you are creating content that hits every step of the Therapy Client Journey.
But worst case scenario, once a week write. Write something. Set it into your weekly schedule to write out an idea that came up into your head while in a session or a concept you want to flesh out. Think of this as helpful professional development, not a “boring marketing task”.
It's helpful to look at what they experts say about habit forming. When you make small goals that are insanely easy to achieve it'll lead to you sticking to it and often going far beyond meeting those goals.
Who are you trying to attract? Forget about what clients you have now, if you could snap your fingers and have a completely new caseload, what type of client would you fill it with? Now only start creating content for that caseload. If it’s 100% couples, write 100% of your content for couples. If it’s mostly teens with a few adults, write 75% content for teens and 25% towards adults. Market towards the type of clients you want, not the type of clients you have.
Your website is the hub to everything you do online. A website helps you establish that you are legitimate in the eyes of potential clients. It gives you a presence as a local businesses in search engine results, and it gives clients who feel hesitant a way to feel more comfortable reaching out. Design it intelligently and fill it with resources that your clients will love.
The only way to know if your strategies are succeeding is by using analytics. Find a reliable tracking and monitoring program to measure clicks, actions taken, and, where appropriate, leads and revenues generated. Use the information to refine your next campaign, and then measure again. If anything, get Google Analytics set up to start tracking your data from the beginning. Start tracking now so that you have the data you may want in the future.
YouTube is the number two search engine that people use when they are looking for resources or trying to figure out how to approach a problem. Creating videos that speak to your ideal client is a perfect way to grow your business and establish your web presence quickly. This is perfect for the curious and consideration stage because putting a face with the content increases trust 10 fold more than a blog would. I know that the one thing therapist hate more than writing is putting themselves on camera, but start small, start simple and work your way from there. Do something.
Check us out on "The Private Practice Startup"!