How can psychologists best market themselves?

By Ami Albernaz
August 21st, 2010

Between the down economy and managed care woes, many psychologists have been rethinking their practices and questioning how to give them a boost. The way forward, though, might not be so clear: Does it take Web skills? Should you write a book or do something you might not have considered? New England Psychologist spoke with practice consultants as well as psychologists who have successfully raised their profile to get their advice. Not surprisingly, making the most of the Internet is a big piece – but it’s not the only one. Here are seven tips for getting your name out and bringing in clients.

 1. Build an online presence. If you don’t have a Web site already, now is the time to build one. Not tech-savvy? Hire someone to do it. “Most psychologists who haven’t been around for 30 years and built up a strong presence in a town where everyone knows them have a hard time succeeding if they don’t have their own Web site,” says Joe Bavonese, Ph.D., a Royal Oak, Michigan psychologist and co-director of Uncommon Practices, a firm that offers business and marketing consulting to psychologists.

Bavonese recommends getting in directory listings and tapping into social media sites. “The whole idea is that you’re searchable; people can look and are able to find you.”

Richard Grossman, Ph.D., a Brookline, Mass. psychologist, had the foresight to build a Web site for his practice when the Internet was first starting to catch fire.

“I’d cut myself from main referral source, which was Mass. General Hospital [where he had worked for seven years in the 1980s], and thought for years about a way to get other referrals,” he says. “I thought I could do this and could do it on my own terms.”

Grossman posted essays he’d written on topics within psychology to the site. The essays helped clients figure out whether or not Grossman’s services could be a good fit.

“The site allowed me to have the kind of practice I wanted to have in terms of numbers, but it also selected a group of people I wanted to work with – and that I loved working with – without my having to weed through 100 people I didn’t want to work with,” he says. “My practice is very long-term, so I’m not as into a volume situation. If I get one or two clients a year that are a good match, that’s enough for me.”

2. Realize that not all Web sites are created equal. Grossman was able to reach the clients he wanted to reach through his Web site because he conveyed his philosophy and approach to therapy clearly.

“Web sites have to be effective and well-done,” says Carol Goldberg, Ph.D., a New York-based psychologist and television host and producer who also designs Web sites for psychologists. “They have to be pitched to a target audience and must be attractive visually and in terms of sound bytes (clear chunks of information). People have to be able to navigate them clearly.”

An effective Web site will showcase a psychologist’s specialties and credentials, Goldberg adds. It will also allow potential clients to print out routine forms so they can fill them out before their first appointment, saving time.

Psychologists can add value to their Web sites by including a public-service component. Grossman’s site, for instance, has long included a message board that now contains around 120,000 posts from people all over the world. Although moderating takes a lot of time – and Grossman has had to block new posters as a result – he says it’s been worth it.

“People have written to me from all over the world saying [the message board] saved their life,” he says. “I’ve gotten tremendous satisfaction from the people who have written on it and the many, many people who have read it.”

 3. Don’t fear social networking. Some psychologists might not be interested in social networking. Others might avoid it because they fear violation of privacy. Yet staying off of sites like Facebook is a mistake, Bavonese says. “You can create a professional profile that doesn’t violate privacy in any way,” he says.

“You can create a ‘fan’ page – which sounds gross and superficial – but a lot of businesses are using it.”

Bayonese prefers Facebook to Twitter and LinkedIn for netting referrals.

“Facebook has the longest face-time of any site on the Internet these days,” he says, adding that some people now use it as a directory, similar to how they would use a search engine. “LinkedIn is a professional tool. You’re mostly going to use it to connect with people in the same situation [as you’re in]. And I think Twitter is more hype than anything else in terms of outpatient referrals.”

He encourages people to post a profile on both sites, though, since the profiles can link back to practice Web sites, increasing their visibility.

Bayonese says using pay-per-click ads on Facebook tends to work better than ads on Google or Yahoo, since users can better target them. He has had personal success with this move.

4. Outsourcing is an option. Maybe the idea of promoting your practice makes you a little queasy. After all, most psychologists didn’t expect selling their services to come with the territory.

“The ideas of service and marketing run against each other so deeply,” Bavonese acknowledges. “Psychologists might think, ‘I’m a good therapist, and if you’re good enough, people will show up.’ Anyone who has to promote themselves … it feels manipulative.”

Having a Web site, though, allows prospective clients to “assess the fit between your services and someone’s needs,” he continues. “That’s not manipulative.”

Just as you can hire someone to build a Web site, you can also hire a firm to work with you on marketing strategy.

 5. Try to get your name in print. If you’re a decent writer, you might want to try to get published in the professional literature, says Aline Zoldbrod, Ph.D., a Lexington, Mass. psychologist.

“Being published lends a lot to your professional credibility, especially in this region, which highly values intellect,” says Zoldbrod, who has written books on infertility and sexuality. “You can send your articles out to your referral sources and it helps to establish you as an expert in the field in which you write.”

Having a book published by an established house can mean reviews in journals and newsletters, she adds, warning that it’s much harder to get reviews of self-published titles.

“It’s a lot of work to get published, so if you’re not in a publish-or-perish situation [as may be the case at universities], most people might not attempt to do it,” she says. “But it’s very gratifying to see your ideas in the literature, it helps other people and it really helps one’s credibility as an expert.”

6. Approach local entities (e.g., schools, health clubs, community centers) to try to schedule a presentation or workshop based on your areas of specialty. Forming a relationship with a local business or organization can be a “win win” situation, advises John Hayes, Jr., D.C., a chiropractor and founder of Perfect Practice in Norwell, Mass., bringing value to these groups while making your practice more visible.

You might also find it helpful to promote your services in ways that reflect the times. Family therapists might be able to give themselves a boost by calling attention to the recession, Goldberg notes. “Working problems out is cheaper than divorce, with lawyers and double households,” she says. “I might build a practice around that.”

7. Make the most of unexpected opportunities. Clichéd as it sounds, thinking out of the box can go a long way in propelling your practice. Goldberg says that after she built her own Web site, colleagues began asking her to build theirs. Though she hadn’t planned to add Web design to her services, she ran with it.

“People tend to take for granted the things they do well,” she says. Often, these skills can be marketable, whether it’s public speaking or a set of computer skills. It may be worth exploring how these skills can be used to help build a side business.

“You have to be in touch with yourself and the world and see what you can be doing differently,” she says.

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