Private Practice: Starting a website on a budget

While the costs for starting a private practice in the first year are incredibly low, there are costs. Your website, like most office space arrangements is something that should cost money. Why? Because you probably wouldn’t do therapy in an alley.

Wait… did she just say that?

I was talking to a therapist the other day that had an art studio. She said- it is fine for me… I love it… but I wouldn’t take clients there. When starting a private practice, you want to ensure people know you are a professional. One way to do that is with a professional office, another way we do that is with professional marketing. 

What makes a professional website?

There are a couple of integral parts of a professional website- and they will cost money. First, you need a domain name. It will cost about $15 a year. We love www.hover.com because a real person picks up the phone. They are nice, knowledgable and can even do the technical set-up needed for you.

The second thing that you need in a professional website today is the capability to have a blog integrated right into your site, all the SEO bells and whistles, and a quick way to get in and make changes to your site 24/7. If you don’t have these features- your free (or paid) website isn’t going to meet your needs in private practice. I also think it is important to have the ability to expand your website over time. Starting out on WordPress.com Wix.com or some other program that have major limitations can lead to more time and energy costs later when you outgrow them.

What do you need from a private practice website?

The truth is, you need your website to bring you clients. If you website isn’t bringing you clients- no matter how much or how little you are paying- it is costing you money. My private practice website in California is well established. I put a lot of energy and time initially into building it up, getting it showing up on Google, etc. I haven’t actively marketed that website in almost 2 years… The first 8 days in January, the practice received 8 requests for counseling appointments.

A website that works is worth the monthly cost. I pay $20 a month for my website. My website includes all the bells and whistles so I don’t have to worry about getting hacked or security patches.  Anything else I do with SEO is on my own. Because I’ve taught myself SEO- it isn’t a cost for me. Also, now that I’ve put a lot of leg-work in, it isn’t hard to keep things flowing.

Understanding Return on Investment with Websites

Let’s talk about return on investment. This applies not just to websites, but to all advertising. Let’s say your website triggers 10 new calls to you, and 4 new clients each month. Your clients work with you an average of 12 sessions- some less, some a lot more. Your fee is $125 a session, all of your sliding scale slots are full- so you are only taking people at your full fee. That means each new client bring in an average of $1500 of revenue. That also means if you paid $300 to market your private practice each month in order to get 4 new clients you would still be making a profit. You just received $6,000 in income from an investment of $300.

How much should I be paying for a website?

That is a GREAT question! The true answer is- it depends! You see, there is a LOT of variability in what you get when you purchase a website. Sometimes you can pay a lot of money, and be getting very little in return. Think of it in terms of levels of service:

DIY: If you are doing a do it yourself website with no outside people helping you- there is NO reason to be paying more than $20 a month as a therapist. We run a very successful business over at ZynnyMe.com and only pay $20 a month. If you want to do it on your own, we highly recommend www.squarespace.com It has the most flexibility for building something awesome and has the lowest monthly cost. Squarespace options start at $10 a month. I love that we don’t have to worry about back-ups or hackers, or anything silly. Our website just works.

Middle-Ground: WordPress.org is a bit too much for most therapists to manage on their own. You need to set-up backups, monitor and install security patches, monitor and install plugins, trouble-shoot bugs, and much more. We found a company that designs, builds, and maintains websites for therapists– including SEO for just $59 a month. I made sure to interview a few therapists using this service to make sure this wasn’t a joke! You still need to provide your own content- but if you are struggling with needing support getting started- be sure to explore this option. The features far outweigh its major competitor TherapySites.

Custom: Having someone else build your website from the ground up is going to be an expense. If someone is quoting you $200 to build your website they are probably doing something you could have done for $5 at Fiverr.com Some custom websites include content writing, some do not. Some include branding, some do not. Some will help you with SEO- some do not. A few people we trust for building custom websites are CounselingWise.com for WordPress and WriteBrave for SquareSpace. Custom websites that include content development and ghost writing will require an initial, up-front investment.

Important to note as you are comparing website options. There are some one-stop shop therapy sites that may actually reduce your ability to grow a practice. A few things to watch out for:

1. No blog integrated: You want a blog that is a part of your website with the same design and branding as the rest of your site. While you may not think you want to blog, you really do. It is a free/cheap way to build your brand, and make your website findable. Even if you aren’t ready to launch a blog right now, make sure it is as easy as flipping a switch- that will reduce your costs in the future.

2. SEO limitations: A professional website has the ability to put in keywords and do SEO work on each different page of your site. That means you can work on getting one page on Google for depression, and another page on Google for trauma work.

3. Included content: NEVER, ever use content that comes with a website. Every bit of your website needs to be new, fresh content. Google will actually penalize you for having content that has been posted elsewhere. They see it as plagiarism. Also, think about whether a stranger whose never met you can really articulate what you do and who you are.

4. Not mobile ready: Upwards of 30% of website views are coming from mobile today- and that is only going to increase. Having a website that doesn’t build in the fancy ability to be responsive to whatever size device someone is using is going to limit your ability to reach people when they need you.

I’ve spoken to many therapists who truly need a one-stop solution for a website. They want a professional website and a website template made for therapists seems like the fastest, easiest solution to getting started- and it can be- if you follow these simple rules.

Are you feeling excited? Inspired? Overwhelmed? Your website can be one of the most powerful long-term growth strategies to build your private practice. Share your website in the comments below. Share what you love, hate, or are confused about your website.

Need more support? Check out the free website 101 course for therapists, or come to our next free monthly webinar.


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Miranda Palmer

I have successfully built a cash pay psychotherapy practice from scratch on a shoestring budget. I have also failed a licensed exam by 1 point (only to have the licensing board send me a later months later saying I passed), started an online study group to ease my own isolation and have now reached thousands of therapists across the country, helped other therapists market their psychotherapy practices, and helped awesome business owners move from close to closing their doors, to being profitable in less than 6 weeks. I've failed at launching online programs. I've had wild success at launching online programs. I've made mistakes in private practice I've taught others how to avoid my mistakes. You can do this. You were called to this work. Now- go do it! Find some help or inspiration as you need it- but do the work!