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Mar 18, 2015

Counselors’ top 10 marketing mistakes

We all make mistakes. Below are the top 10 marketing mistakes that are commonly made by mental health professionals.

10. Taking a big, blind swing

Too often, novice advertisers overspend on ineffective advertising. I’ve seen this happen time and time again: A counselor takes a $9,000 dollar gamble on an event sponsorship, television ad, or print ad and receives zero return. After betting heavy and losing, the counselor no longer has the courage (or capital) to advertise again, anywhere.

Advertising isn’t about taking big, blind swings. It’s about testing what works with amounts that won’t break the bank, and increasing budgets in mediums that prove to provide a financial return. This leads us to mistake No. 9 …

9. Not tracking where referrals come from

According to legend, Henry Ford once mentioned to an associate, “Only half of my advertising is working.” When the associate asked why he doesn’t quit the wasteful half, Ford answered, “The problem is I don’t know which half!” 

Unlike in 1910, today there are many ways to track the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. From unique phone numbers, to website analytics, to simply asking people who call for an appointment, “Where did you hear about us?” counselors should be able to determine how potential clients learn about their practices.

POP QUIZ: When someone calls your practice, do you know how he or she found you? If they were referred, do you know exactly who provided the referral? If they found you online, do you know where online? Did they get your phone number from your website, or your directory listing on Theravive? Did they find you on Bing or Google? What keyword were they searching? Did they find you in the paid or organic listings?

All this information is available if you take the time to track, ask and look.

8. Private social media accounts are awful

According to a study conducted by CareerBuilder in 2012, two in five employers now search Facebook and Twitter to screen potential candidates. In the same way, what counselors say online can and will be read by their clients, potential clients and referral sources.

While many counselors have a professional LinkedIn profile, personal accounts often go unconsidered.  To this effect, I’ve seen counselors’ “personal” — yet still very public — Facebook accounts show pictures of them clubbing, complaining about their work as “another day with the crazies!” and to spout more political rants I’d care to count.

I am not saying that everything you do online needs to be work related, or even that you need your privacy settings on high. But remember:  You are your brand, and anything you say or do can and will be used to judge whether someone wants to refer to you, or be counseled by you.

7. Bad headshot

While often overlooked, the headshot is extremely important for counselors. This is what potential clients see before they meet you in person. Not surprisingly, the “Meet the Counselors” or “About Us” page is typically one of the highest trafficked pages on a counseling center’s website. In addition, many advertising opportunities for counselors, such as Theravive and, feature counselors’ bios and headshots.

Despite this, many counselors’ headshots are worse than the results of a grade school picture day or a trip to the DMV. They’re too often appear to be from the 1980s, too informal (think selfies) or overly formal (think church bulletin or military).

If you’re guilty of having a bad headshot, schedule an hour with a professional photographer. We could all benefit from a little Photoshop here and there, am I right?

6.  Technical bio

Too many bios start like this, “Dave is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor in the state of Delaware.” A much better way to begin is this:  “Dave works with individuals struggling with addictions, and he helps them to find sobriety and healing.”

There is a place to mention qualifications, but 99 percent of clients don’t care that you’re a certified imago therapist — they want to know if you can help fix their marriage.

Drop the technical jargon, or at least move it toward the bottom.

5. Sending spam

If you send out an email newsletter (and you should) make sure that the people you’re sending it to want to receive it. Sending your newsletter to every email address you get your hands on (or buy) won’t increase business. It will, however, increase the number of people who flag you for spam. Soon, you won’t know who your real audience is, and you won’t be able to reach them anyway because Gmail will filter all your messages instantly into the spam folder.

4. Guest blogging

Guest blogging is the practice of contributing an article on a website that isn’t your own (i.e., as a “guest”). Guest blogs typically contain a link back to your website, and the practice of writing guest blogs has been an effective marketing strategy for years.

The problem with guest blogging is that, over time, the practice has been abused and many “guest posts” are written simply to “get a link.” In response, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam, just published “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO.” He’s giving fair warning to anyone guest blogging for the purposes of SEO, so beware!

3. Bad website

You mail out fliers, hand out business cards and even pay for ads that lead people to your website. There’s just one problem; when someone visits to your website they find a mess of bad stock photos and typographical errors.

This is an epidemic! Just this week, a woman reached out to me wanting to sell her practice. The headline on her website read: “Counseling for individuels, couples and Families” (note both the caps issues and misspelling).

If you’re going to have a practice in 2015 (or 2008), you need to have a well-designed, well written, professional website.

2. Dingy office

Marketing doesn’t end after the first appointment is scheduled. Your office is an important part of retaining clients and encouraging referrals. There’s an adage that says you can tell whether a business cares about its customers by how nice the bathrooms are. How are your bathrooms? How are your waiting rooms?

1.  Not advertising at all

I’ve been saying this one for years — and yet it’s still the No. 1 marketing mistake. When counselors tell me that they don’t have enough clients, my first question is what they’re currently doing to promote their practice. Most aren’t doing any advertising at all. For the vast majority of companies, advertising is an ongoing part of running a successful business.

Everything is marketing

Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service. While advertising is a form of marketing, there are others. Answering the phone is good marketing. Having an online counseling option is good marketing. Having intake documents that aren’t a copy of a copy (of a copy) from 1983 is good marketing. Making your clients comfortable is good marketing. Even providing clients excellent therapy is good marketing.

Of which marketing mistakes are you guilty? Let me know on Twitter.

Anthony Centore, Ph.D., is private practice consultant for the ACA, founder of Thriveworks Counseling (with locations in 9 states), and author of the book, How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice. Anthony is a licensed counselor in Massachusetts and Virginia. Find him on Twitter at @anthonycentore or @Thriveworks.

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