What is the Absolute FASTEST Way To Fill Your Practice?

*Last updated 9/9/10

You need clients and you need them now.


Starting a small business can be difficult. In fact, 50% of small businesses fail (close) within the first 5 years. That is not to say that "staying open" is a litmus of success. We have worked with many therapists who have been open past the 5 year mark whose practice is operating well below the poverty level.

To be successful in private practice, you need a steady stream of clients. You can have the most beautiful office, an amazing website, a great location, and fabulous skills to help people- but if nobody is calling... you do not have a viable business. 

We received this question and we think it beautifully sums up the question on a LOT of therapist's minds when they start a private practice: 

“What marketing strategies seem to have the very fastest results?…

Put another way, what would be your top three recommendations for a private practice, a solo practitioner business to be able to find let's say 5 new clients a week for a month so that at the end of the month you would be pretty much full up? If that seems like too many too fast, then you could scale your answer down to just a couple of new clients weekly, but reliably! I really appreciate you considering answering but on the surface it seems like a pretty ridiculous question!"

This is absolutely NOT a ridiculous question! When you run a business, getting your first core group of regular customers or clients is absolutely paramount to keeping the doors open! However, when it comes to having a viable therapy business- this question gets a little bit trickier. 

I am going to assume you have taken our private practice challenge, (if you haven't please go do it - like right now). You already know that we are looking for QUALITY referrals that are a good match for your practice, and ones that fit with your business plan is key to a sustainable, impactful private practice. So where do you start? What are the FASTEST ways to grow a private practice reliably? 

Disclaimers for Therapists

It is going to sound like sort of a cop out to immediately put a disclaimer before giving you information- but if ANYONE tries to tell you that there is a magic 3 step formula- there isn't. A plan that works like MAGIC for therapists who are extroverted and well known in a community already won't necessarily work quickly for an introverted therapist that just moved to a new state and doesn't know a soul! The BEST, fastest marketing plans are always ones that take into account your unique situation, community, skills, schedule, strengths, history, personality, and hobbies. Ok- now that this is out of the way- let's dig in to the # 1 Way You Can Get Client Referrals Fast, and Consistently. 

Before you market, have a niche

If I have a practice that helps couples my marketing is going to look very different than a practice that works with eating disorders. It influences who I network with, my messaging and where I put that message out into the world. If you feel you don’t know where to start, be sure you have a niche first.

This is more than a job. It is a passion and a calling. If you don't already have a way of clearly articulating your passion, you need to develop one now. This niche and specialization training will help you tap more clearly into what you want to share with the world, as well as help you with a formula of how to put it into words. Don't worry- you will still get a variety of referrals- it will just help you "stick" in people's heads so that they remember you when a friend is in need! 

#1 Priority: Share Your Niche with People Who Like, Know, & Trust You

People who already like, know, and trust you are more likely to refer to you than anyone else. You want to clarify your passion for working with clients, for helping people, your unique skill-set, AND your ability to help connect someone with the right therapist whether you can help them or not. Simply telling people "I'm a therapist and desperate for clients at any age, or with any issue" often doesn't have the greatest impact! 

You probably have a "base relationship" with more people than you realize. Here is a non-exhaustive list of people you already have a relationship with who could be people to share your passion with: 

  1. Doctors, lawyers, dentists, physical therapists, psychiatrists, and other medical professionals that you personally have used.

  2. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, physical therapists, psychiatrists, etc. that you have referred to in the past, or that have referred to you- even if it was in a completely different setting.

  3. Doctors, psychiatrists, and other care providers of the clients you already seeing. You may not realize that your client has already talked you up in a good way and it can create some trust.

  4. Hair stylists, personal trainers, massage therapists, estheticians, the person you've hosted candle, tupperware, or Pampered Chef parties in the past.

  5. Close friends, acquaintances, family members, and extended family members.

  6. People who you have been on boards with, gone to church with, been in groups with, worked with in the past.

  7. Neighbors, acquaintances, good friends of good friends.

  8. Past professors, teachers, guidance counselors, classmates and mentors of you or your children.

  9. Clinical supervisors, people who you were in group supervision with who know your work well.

  10. Who else do you know really well or have a base relationship with?

Why Is Tapping Into Relationships the Fastest Way to Grow? 

There are a LOT of people who are looking for help. And MANY of them aren't asking friends or family for referrals. They are looking on the Internet, and often suffering in silence. BUT... the people who know them best can often pick up that something is wrong. AND the people who know them best are in the best position to make a powerful referral that helps them break through the fear and pick up the phone. Here are a few other reasons why relationships can help get the phone ringing quickly: 

  1. If someone gives your name- someone can search for you and find your awesome website- even if it isn't normally showing up on the first page of general google searches.

  2. People are more likely to call if they like you AND someone has give your name.

  3. People are even MORE likely to call if they've gotten your name for more than one person.

  4. In person relationships can be a jumping off point for people liking and trusting you more which can boost your social media or email efforts- which can expand the impact.

Why Isn't This Working For Me? 

There are a few mistakes that I see a lot of therapists making when they attempt to do in person connecting. Here are the top ones in no particular order: 

  1. They go into "networking" mode and focus on themselves and change the way they normally relate. AKA: They come off as salesy instead of conversational and passionate.

  2. They go into "desperation" mode and focus on "I need clients." It usually comes out as fast, pressured speech and a sense of anxiety. The person comes away from the conversation feeling anxious and tired- especially if the other person is introverted or sensitive.

  3. They are super general. They try to speak to everyone, and end up speaking to noone.

  4. They aren't transparent and don't allow their love of the work to shine through. Remember- people you know want to see your heart!

  5. They forget that any conversation is supposed to be of benefit to other person. Hot Tip: ALWAYS start by reconnecting with the person and tapping into how you can help them.

  6. They focus on relationships that are one-sided. As important as it is for you to connect with people from a place of service and relationship building- it is important that the relationships also be reciprocal. Experience a few interactions, share your heart, focus on service. If the other person doesn't seem engaged with checking in with you- it might be time to focus your energy elsewhere.

  7. They don't trust their gut. If you connect with someone you know and as you talk it doesn't feel like a good fit for some reason- listen to that- trust that... don't feel like you MUST continue trying to make something work if it just isn't a good fit.

  8. They spend their time connecting only with other therapy colleagues. Therapy colleagues are powerful- but there are SO many other people who don't know anything about therapy services who need your guidance, support, and are in dire need of a referral source.

If This is the Fastest Way Why Isn't Everyone Doing It? 

Well... it is the fastest.. and it isn't the fastest. While it can get the phone ringing more quickly- it takes an incredible amount of time and energy to do it effectively. If you are an extrovert, have strong community connections, and the time to do it- it really is powerful. My first few referrals after opening my private practice definitely came through in person connections and relationships I had already built.  The referrals came within the first two weeks of opening my private practice! However, I was nursing an infant when I started my private practice and his primary caregiver during the day (and night). I was sleep deprived and only had so much energy to give. I couldn't have done lots of in person meeting and phone calls AND been available emotionally for therapy clients. So my time to devote to this method was limited.

For Kelly, she didn’t really have a lot of connections in the community, so she focused her messaging to be clear on her niche and she began using linkedin and what few connections she did have to get the word out to her community about her business.

What Would Be a Realistic Expectation From This Marketing Technique

Well... it depends. People you know that have contact with people who need you can start referring people and talking about you right away- and you could get a referral from them within 1-4 weeks. I've tapped into doctors who desperately needed a referral source that were sending 1-3 people a week consistently after one conversation (Of course I had to call them back to tell them that I couldn't take Medicare after I realized that all they were sending were MediCare doh!). 

I've also tapped into churches who would send me 1-3 people a month (and who paid for several sessions for their attendees) after one talk that I gave. In cases where someone knows you- but isn't coming in daily contact with your ideal client, it can take a few months for them to stumble into someone who needs a referral and have that person pick up the phone to call. Most of our bootcampers who commit to this technique and who spend about 5 hours a week networking notice their efforts start to really get momentum in 2-3 months. If you have more time and energy and can spend 20 hours a week- the odds of you having a connection with that person who has people who need you right now increases and you are more likely to get referrals more quickly. 

What if I Don't Know Anybody? 

With someone who has never met you, and doesn't have a dire need for your particular specialty- expect it to take 2-6 months for them to start sending referrals. You need to build a real relationship, trust them enough to share your heart, and give it time- just pushing a business card and disappearing seldom works. You can still make a list- just focus on who is coming into contact with the type of clients who could most benefit from your services. HINT: It isn't "everbody." If you want to have the greatest impact from your marketing you really need to get clear.

Wait! I'm an Introvert

Be sure to be realistic about how much energy you can spend with people. Pick your method of connecting wisely. Maybe focus on one-on-one meetings. If you go to a group event- find ONE person in the room to connect with and have a powerful conversation. Use phone, skype, and email wisely to foster relationships and conserve energy. Kelly refuses coffee dates these days with people. It is too much time and energy. A quick zoom chat is more doable. Most importantly, be KIND to yourself as you find your footing and sweet spot in this area. 

Wait! What About Speaking To Build My Practice? 

Tapping into people you already know, being of service, and sharing your heart can open up many opportunities. Speaking, trainings, lunch and learns, writing or hosting guest blogs, podcasts, radio shows, tv segments, newspaper articles... So many of these opportunities will present themselves through heartfelt conversations with people you know. 

Wait! Aren't You Always Talking About Websites for Therapists? 

Yes! A website is a VERY powerful marketing tool... one that once it has been written, honed, launched, and on the first page of Google can provide consistent referrals without requiring you to constantly on the phone, going to coffee, sending notes, dropping by businesses, etc. In a few weeks we will talk about why you want to start a website right this second... even though it may take several months to get consistent calls and referrals! 

Did you use a different technique to get consistent quality clients coming in quickly when you started your private practice? Share in the comments section below your favorite marketing technique! 

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