Client Referrals

5 Steps To Transforming Your Practice Into A Thriving Business


Guest post by Edita Atteck

I believe I know who you are. You are here to be of service to others and you want to create a thriving business. You want to get client referrals, retain existing clients, and you don’t want to live from paycheck to paycheck.  You want to have a good reputation and earn client's trust.

I know first hand how starting a business is a challenge. I’ve been there and I fully respect your feelings. I left my corporate career to pursue my passion and committed to turning it into a business helping one person at a time. And I am here today to share with you six steps I believe can help guide you to building a practice that will help you and your business to thrive.

1) Crystal clear profit clarity

Just like any creation, your business starts with a foundation. Be very clear on how your business makes money. Who is your ideal client and how do you stand out from your competition? Review your current revenue model and identify gaps. What is the minimum income you need to make and what is your ideal annual income? Use these numbers to work backwards to figure out the number of hours, clients, sessions you need to have to arrive at the income you want to make. Address gaps creatively.

2) Create a website that attracts clients

Do you have a website that conveys a clear message and exceptional content to your target audience? Have you Googled your name lately? If so, what search results did you get?  Think of the words or phrases your ideal client would use in a Google search? Can s/he find you? Be visible in the digital world and that includes social media.  Just think of the hundreds of potential clients hanging out on Facebook or Twitter.  Allow your website to be a dynamic platform where clients can tap into an expanding knowledge base and valuable resources. Leveraging your online presence is essential to your success.

3) Communication and client list building

How do you communicate and build client lists? Having effective open channels of communication with your existing and prospective clients is a key to creating trusting relationships. You want to be the “go to” person when people are trying to solve their problems. Create a blog where you post valuable tips weekly or a newsletter that offers relevant content. Stay in touch with your client base. Even if some people may never book an appointment with you, they may recommend you to their family and friends because they hear from you regularly.

4) Create excellent products, services, and marketing

Brainstorm on the possibility of creating unique service offerings or value packages. It’s your job to prove to your clients that you are the solution to their problems and not the other way around.  And don’t be afraid of marketing.  I used to think that certain industries should not use marketing otherwise they may be perceived as "sleazy".  I was wrong!  Create marketing that is completely honest, ethical, and truthful and your clients will love you for that.

5) Infuse your personality into your brand

Do you incorporate your personality into your practice brand? If not, I suggest you get creative and infuse your unique personality into your brand. While many therapists can offer good therapy, nobody can replicate YOU. Step outside of the box and allow creative thinking to develop an image that is uniquely yours, draws on your strengths, and attracts the clients that you want to work with. And while you may want to be tempted to look for inspiration inside your industry, I challenge you to step outside. The biggest breakthroughs come from getting insights from professionals in other industries.

If you want to learn more about these steps, I highly recommend you enroll in Marie Forleo’s b-school program. I am a proud graduate and an affiliate.

Edita biopic

Edita Atteck entered the world of healing, empowering, and motivating people as a result of her passion to make a difference.  Edita’s mission is to inspire her clients to overcome stress, deepen their intuition, achieve a quieter mind, heal their lives, and fall in love with their lives. The result of her passion led to founding Journey to Healing, a company dedicated to helping people live more healing, empowered, and joyful life. You can connect with Edita through her website,, Facebook, or Twitter.


Plant photo (c)

The 3-Letter Word That Gets More Clients

(c) Can Stock Photo

A simple practice-building skill that many private practice therapists overlook is to ASK directly for new clients referrals. Some shrinks assume that if they're skilled clinically colleagues, clients, and acquaintances will automatically refer clients to them. While that may be true for some therapists, in my consulting experience, building a thriving private practice takes conscious effort and deliberate action.

Asking for referrals is important so you are on the "top of mind" for your referrals sources. Potential referral sources may assume that you're too busy, that you're not taking new clients, they don't remember your name or contact information, or it just didn't occur to them to refer a client to you.

Here are a few ways you can ask for referrals when you need to fill some of your appointment slots without seeming desperate.

1) Send A Note Or Email

Get some nice note cards and periodically send a personal note to referral sources. Let them know that you'd love to work with their clients, that you have openings, and include some business cards.

Shoot off an email to referral sources who've sent clients your way in the past. Make sure that you include all of your contact information in the email to make it easy for someone to contact you. Here's an example of what I have said in an email to a relationship coach.

Dear __________,

I hope all is well with you. I hear great things about your coaching practice and have sent a few clients to your marriage classes. I wanted to let you know that I currently have a few openings for individual or couples clients who need some help with with deeper issues that may need to be addressed in therapy. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you want to discuss how I can help any of your coaching clients who are "stuck."



(detailed contact info here, including website, phone, etc.)

2) Ask Over Lunch

Invite a referral source to lunch on you and ask for referrals then. Everyone needs to eat. I've found that people, especially professionals, are more likely to meet with you if you feed them. When you meet, remember to bring something to the table (no pun intended) to offer to them.

Consider ways that you can spread the word about their practice or business, offer a free training to their staff on your area of expertise, or make yourself available for free consultations or coaching on mental health issues.

3) Ask For Referrals In Casual Conversation

Number of client hours can vary greatly in private practice. There is an art to keeping consistent direct care numbers.  If your client numbers are down, don't be afraid to mention your openings in casual conversations with colleagues, doctors, friends, and other associates that you have openings in your practice. It's your job to remind people that you are in private practice and that you'd appreciate more business.

How comfortable are you asking for new referrals from colleagues, associates, professionals, and friends?


Why I 'Broke Up' With Managed Care (Part 2)

Several months ago I wrote a post titled, "Why I Broke Up With Managed Care" that stirred up some passionate discussion! While I understand that it's not the route for every private practitioner, I have continued to build a private practice free of managed care and recently hired my 12th therapist.

While we don't bill insurance directly, we do give a superbill to clients so they can seek reimbursement from their health insurance so they can still use their benefits. As I've continued to write this blog, I've come across several therapists who have also "broke up" with managed care and asked them why they decided to build a fee-for-service therapy practice. Here's what they had to say:

Increased Reimbursement Rate

I've been in private practice for over 15 years. So, I experienced the first major transition of health care to "managed" care. I had friends and colleagues who began working in the managed care industry, and it quickly became clear to me that despite all the rhetoric about the necessity for evidenced-based care (which can be a very useful model of care), managed mental health care was really about making corporate the work of individual psychotherapists.

I also did the math. The last time I checked, insurance reimbursement was the average rate charged by psychotherapists in the 1980s. Today, I can afford to have two additional office hours available for new clients, by taking just one fee-for-service patient. This also allows me more discretion in seeing clients who are needing a low fee. Will Courtenay, PhD, LCSW "The Men's Doc"

Control Over Therapeutic Work

I wanted the freedom to determine, along with parents, the course and length of treatment and felt managed care would impede on that. Pam Dyson, LPC, RPT

My training is in social work, which is the source of the old adage "start where the client is at." That's my barometer for treatment, not where an insurance company believes my client and I should start or end our work. Will Courtenay, PhD, LCSW "The Men's Doc"

Increased Client Commitment to Therapeutic Process

Being a Christian counselor, by law I cannot bill insurance, even if I could I think private pay gives each person responsibility in the therapeutic efforts. When people  have to pay it makes them take their  therapy more seriously. Natalie Davis

No Diagnosis Required

My services are specialized in that I will work with children as young as three, something many therapists in my area will not do. The problems child clients present with are often not clinical but rooted in the parent-child relationship. I feel strongly that young children do not need a diagnosis on their permanent health record. Pam Dyson, LPC, RPT

More Time With Clients (Less Time Doing Paperwork)

I had worked in a managed care setting in the past, and I decided that in my practice that I want to avoid the incredible amount of paperwork, defending sessions, and over-diagnosing.  I also think it provides clients with more privacy. Sara Levitsky, LMSW, Birmingham Counseling For Women

Paperwork was the other major decision (in building a fee-for-service practice). I put a great deal of time and energy into my work with clients outside of our scheduled hours, including receiving professional consultation on a consistent basis. I have no time or patience for administrative busywork. Will Courtenay, PhD, LCSW "The Men's Doc"

More Flexibility To Offer Reduced Fees

Like Dr. Courtenay mentioned earlier in this article, when his practice is doing well financially, he has more (not less) time to devote to seeing clients at a reduced fee. I have found the same to be true. As my practice grows I am able to offer more free community workshops and do more pro bono work.

Do you run a fee-for-service mental health therapy practice? What led to your decision?

8 Real World Marketing Strategies From Successful Therapists

Global Bathymetry DEM With Satellite Landmass (Version 2, Globe)Learning about marketing your private practice and actually doing it are very different things. I recently interviewed several successful private practice therapists about marketing strategies that have worked for them in the "real world".

My goal is to inspire you to effectively market your practice. You don't have to do all of these to build a successful practice. Just start with one that speaks to you and build from there.

1) Public Speaking

Public speaking not only educates your community, but also raises visibility and attracts clients to your private practice. "I did a lot of public speaking in neighborhood institutions - schools, churches, synagogues, hospitals to get my name recognized," says Dr. Roberta Temes of New York City. Parenting After Loss founder Amy Luster, M.A., LMFT also offers community presentations on on her specialty areas: infertility, high-risk pregnancy, and miscarriage patients as well as to the health-care providers that treat them as part of her marketing strategy.  Presentations on hypnotherapy have proven tan effective marketing tool for  Dr. Mary Sidhwani. "The community learns more about the effectiveness of hypnotherapy and also creates exposure for my practice and services," Sidhwani says.

2) Dynamic Website

Emma K. Viglucci, CFT, LMFT, CIT launched her practice website before most therapists had even considered it. "Marketing my website online has been the most effective marketing tool for me." Private practitioner Esther Kane, MSW of British Columbia agrees. An effective website has been the best way to market her practice and says it's an added benefit to be married to a website designer.

(Read 5 Common Website Mistakes And How To Fix Them)

3) Say "Yes" to Social Media

While some therapists are hesitant about using the social media to market their practice (and I'm not one of them), others are finding it to be an effective marketing tool. Viglucci says, "I've embraced this new aspect of online marketing at the beginning of this year, and was able to reduce my marketing budget by a 1/3 within 3 months." I echo her enthusiasm for using social media to build your practice. Facebook is the #2 traffic source to my private practice website Wasatch Family Therapy.

(Read Why Social Media Matters To Therapists)

4) Connect With Other Professionals

Professional networking is crucial for success in private practice, especially if you have a specific treatment niche. In addition to public speaking, Luster focuses her marketing efforts on building strong professional referral relationships with health care and childbirth providers, and parenting educators who work with her ideal clients.

Shannon Purtell, an anger management specialist finds that that getting involved in local professional organizations helps build her practice.

I found one of the best marketing strategies was to get involved with a local chapter of EAPA (Employee Assistance Professionals Association). I served on the board for 2 years as secretary and 2 years as president. These positions put me in regular contact with other mental health professionals, representatives from local and national EAP's, and marketing representatives from a variety of treatment centers. I was able to build professional relationships that have provided me with a steady referral base for years.

5) Everyday Life Networking

Networking as a marketing strategy need not be confined to other professionals. Therapist Diane Spear LCSW-R markets her New York City private practice by thinking about networking in everyday life.

The biggest thing has been learning to network in everyday life--there are millions of opportunities to mention what I do and that I'm expanding my practice, and educating friends and non-therapist professionals about how to refer their friend, colleague, or patient to me.

6) Word of Mouth

Sometimes just being an effective therapists has its own marketing benefits. There's nothing like the power of a strong recommendation from a friend or family member. Clients want to go to a therapist whom they can trust and they're more than willing to borrow that trust from someone else. "The best marketing strategy is word of mouth," says Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore. "Colleagues, pediatricians, and former clients who know me and know my work are my best referral sources!" Dr. John Duffy echoes the importance of word-of-mouth marketing. "Over the past several years now, the vast majority of my clients come from client and former client referrals."

7) Expert Media Appearances

Texas therapist Shannon Putrell, LPC recently had an amazing national TV appearance and additional visibility and credibility to her private practice.

I was contacted by a client that was participating in a reality program on MTV called True Life: I Need Anger Management. I worked with her and was featured in this episode of the series. The exposure that the program brought me helped to solidify my reputation in this niche, and increased my referrals to my program.

Regular local news, radio, and television appearances continue to help build my practice and provide a platform to educated thousands and thousands of people in one shot. As my clinic has grown, I've also trained therapists in how to pitch to the media. Watch some of our recent TV interviews here.

(Read more about building your practice through TV interviews)

 8) Write For Papers & Websites

Writing for local papers, websites, or blogs is a great way to familiarize your community with you and your specialty areas. Dr. Mary Sidhwani found that contributing articles to a small local paper increased her exposure and familiarized the community with her practice.

For a couple of years, I wrote for a local magazine, Wasatch Woman, who's readership closely matched my ideal client. Not only did it help get the word out about my practice, it added to my credibility and drew clients to my practice.

What marketing strategies have worked in your "real world" experiences? Please share your ideas below.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Kevin M. Gill