We all make mistakes, but when it comes to mistakes in marketing and advertising, they can literally cost you. In this two-part column, we’ll review 18 of the most common marketing and advertising mistakes made by mental health professionals.
18) The “If Just One Percent” Fallacy
Whether it’s online or print, most advertisement opportunities boast a high number of “impressions”—that is, people who might see your ad. For example, if a magazine or newspaper has a readership of 100,000, a counselor might buy a quarter-page advertisement and think to him/herself “If just 1 percent of the readership becomes a client, that’s a thousand clients! This will be a huge success.” This is a fallacy because, while 1% might sound small, most people won’t pay attention to your ad, or be in the market for your services, or find your ad compelling enough to act. Advertising endeavors typically have a conversion rate of a small fraction of a percent, and plenty have a conversion rate of zero.
17) Taking a Big, Blind Swing
Too often, novice advertisers overspend on ineffective advertising. Example: A counselor takes a $5000-dollar gamble on an event sponsorship, or radio ad, and receives a near-zero return. After betting heavy and losing, the counselor no longer has the courage (or financial means) to try again, anywhere.
Successful advertising isn’t about taking big swings. It’s about testing a promotion with amounts that won’t break the bank, and then increasing budgets only in marketing endeavors that provide a financial return.
16) Expecting Advertising to Give a Return on Investment (ROI)
A harsh truth; most advertising won’t produce a return on your investment (ROI). If advertising worked, then magazines, websites, newsletters, billboards, etc. wouldn’t need to work to sell you a placement. They’d sell their spot once, and never again because companies would cling to those spots like Gollum clings to his ring (he both loves and hates that ring).
So, if ads don’t produce an ROI, who buys most of the ads? Most ads are purchased by companies that don’t care that they don’t produce an ROI—at least not in any short-term or measurable way. According to marketing expert Seth Godin, Mercedes knows that buying an ad doesn’t sell cars. However, Mercedes also knows that if they want to sell you a car when you’re 40, they need to start telling you when you’re about 4 that Mercedes is the best car. Same goes for Coke, same goes for McDonalds.
There are hidden gems. If you do find an advertising opportunity where you can spend a dollar and make two (or even break-even), nice work! You’ve hit on a very rare find indeed.
15) You Think the Person Selling you Advertising Cares
This sounds cynical, and perhaps it is. However, the person selling you an ad doesn’t really believe that their advertising platform is going to boost your business. They know better! You might think “Surely they want to build a long-term relationship with me and get repeat business for years to come.” Nope. They know most businesses who buy ads don’t see an ROI, and that you’ll drop out after your first run. And they also know, it won’t be long before they’re working a different job anyway.
14) You Believe Publications Actually Run Out of Ad Space
Often when someone is selling you advertising, they’ll tell you that it’s in short supply. They’ll say that there’s only a few advertising spots left in their publication, or on their website, or e-newsletter. What a joke! Magazines exists to sell ads. If you want to place an ad, they’ll find a way to take your money, even if it means they add a page (though they usually won’t need to).
Why is this important? Once you realize that the scarcity is completely invented, and that basically every publication has infinite ad space to sell, you’ll begin to see that you’re in a good negotiating position. Maybe they could cut their ad price in half for the first run, to prove to you that running an ad with them will drive business?
13) Not understanding Your Client or Target Market
What’s the gender, age, zip code, interests, goals, and concerns of your typical client? If you don’t know this, you’re not ready to start marketing. First, spend time understanding who it is that finds value in your services. Too many counselors think that their practice is for everyone. It’s not.
12) Not Tracking from Where New Clients Come
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!” [i]
Perhaps unlike 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 ask how he or she found you? If they were referred, do you find out exactly who referred? If they found you online, do you ask where online? Did they get your phone number from your website, or your directory listing? Did they find you on Bing or Google? What keyword were they searching? Did they find you in the paid or organic listings? This information is available if you take the time to track, ask, and look.
If you send out an email newsletter, 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 report you as 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. This same principle applies to Linkedin, which has become a notorious platform where users spam every person they’re connected to. Not only is it insulting and rude, it doesn’t work.
10) Not Staying in Touch with Those who’ve Given you Permission
This is the opposite of spam. Take the time to stay in touch with those who’ve given you permission to do so. Facebook and Twitter are okay, but email is still the best way to reach an audience who wants to hear from you. Your permission-based email list should be growing every day.
9) A Bad Headshot, or No Headshot
This sounds like advice for someone trying to make it in show-business but having a quality headshot is also very important for counselors. Whether on your website, or a directory, your headshot is what potential clients literally see when making the decision of whether or not to schedule a session with you. I’ve known competent therapists with headshots that make them look incompetent, careless, or clueless (images worse than a driver’s license photo). If having a headshot taken feels too corporate, find a photographer who can get an image of you that reflects your personality: whether you’re an eccentric, warm, or no-nonsense, go ahead and let your image show that. If you’re covered in tattoos or piercings, that’s okay! It’s okay if your image doesn’t appeal to everyone, it will help clients who wouldn’t be a good fit self-select out.
8) A Poorly Written Bio
Once you’re fixed your headshot, look directly to the right of it. Your bio. Most bios start like this, “Dr. Dave Smith is a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Delaware. After receiving a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from WhoCares College, Dr. Smith Graduated Cum Laude from….” Nobody cares! Instead of leading with your credentials, consider that your bio is an opportunity to build a connection with potential clients; to communicate who you are and whether your services are likely to help them. For example: “Dr. Dave’s passion is helping overwhelmed parents struggling with special needs children (including autism and ADHD) learn skills that will aid them to build a connection with their kids, and help them to feel like super parents.” Or, consider first person. “Hi. I’m Dr. Dave Smith. My practice is focused on helping people with mood disorders (like depression and anxiety), or relationship issues (like dealing with loneliness after a breakup), improve the way they feel, build meaningful connections with others, and take control of their lives. If you’re looking for a licensed counselor who will be there to help you work through difficult feelings, and also help you to build skills for improving your life, we might be a great fit.”
While qualifications are important, most clients care first and foremost that they’re likely to have a connection with you, and that you’ll be able to understand them. So, limit the technical guff, or at least move it to the end of your bio.
7) Guest Blogging for SEO
A marketing strategy used for many years, guest blogging is the practice of contributing an article on a website that isn’t your own (typically, with a hyperlink back to the writer’s website). The problem with guest blogging is that, over time, the practice has been abused. Today, many guest posts are written for the sole purpose of trying to boost one’s rankings in search engines. In response, Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of web spam, 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![iii]
6) A Poorly Designed/Written Website
You mail out flyers, 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, formatting and typographical errors. If you’re going to have a website in 2019 (or 2009), take the time to have it well-designed and well written. Or, maybe don’t have a website at all! Seriously, you might not need one (See previous column “Marketing Your Counseling Practice in 2018: Everything We Knew is Wrong!”).
5) Incongruent “Private” Social Media Accounts
According to a WSJ study, nearly half of employers now search applicants’ social media to screen potential candidates [ii]. Similarly, what counselors say online can and will be read by potential clients and referral sources. While many counselors have a perfectly professional LinkedIn profile, their personal accounts often go unconsidered. I’ve seen counselors’ ‘personal’, but very public, social accounts show pictures/videos of partying, complaining about their work with clients, and more political rants than I’d care to count. I’m not saying that everything you do online needs to be work related, or that you need your privacy settings on high, or even that you need to change. Just remember; you are your brand, and what you post will be used to judge whether someone wants to refer to you or be counseled by you.
4) A Dark, Dingy Office
Marketing doesn’t end after the first appointment is scheduled. Your office is an important part of retaining clients and encouraging referrals. A wise adage says that one can tell whether a business cares about its customers by how nice the bathroom is. How is your bathroom? How is your waiting room?
3) Not Cultivating Referral Sources
With so much focus on online marketing, healthcare professionals have forgotten the art of developing a traditional referral base. If you’re a child therapist in the USA and you don’t have a bevy of pediatricians referring clients to your practice every week, it’s probably because they don’t know you exist. Get out there and shake some hands.
2) Not Answering Your Phone
One day, 11 years ago, I wanted to connect with a counselor. I visited a popular therapist directory website and began calling providers in my area. I called over 40 therapists—who were paying every month to be listed—and I didn’t get a single person on the phone. That was the day I decided to start Thriveworks! Make no mistake, how (and if) you answer your phone is marketing: It communicates to potential clients how you manage your practice, and the level of importance you place on client/customer service. So, find a way: when someone calls your practice, make sure your phone is answered.
1) No Marketing at All
I’ve been saying this for years and it’s still the #1 most common marketing mistake. When counselors tell me that they don’t have enough clients, my first question is, what are they currently doing to promote their practices? Most aren’t doing anything. They’re not lazy, they were just were never told about its importance. In fact, some were told the opposite, that good counselors don’t need marketing. What a harmful falsehood. For the vast majority of companies (and that includes counseling private practices), marketing is an important part of success.
Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service. Answering the phone is good marketing. Having intake forms that aren’t a copy of a copy (of a copy) from 1993 is good marketing. Having a space where your clients can be comfortable is good marketing. Even providing services that exceed clients’ expectations can be considered good marketing. If you’re just getting started, don’t worry about doing everything, just be sure you’re doing something.
This concludes my take on counselors’ 18 top marketing and advertising mistakes. Can you think of anything that needs to be added to the list? Of which marketing mistakes are you guilty? Comment below!
[i] This line is more legend than fact: http://staff.washington.edu/gray/misc/which-half.html
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.