TTE 7: Using Traditional Face to Face Interactions & Marketing to Grow a Private Practice
While Psychology Today and a great website are important marketing pieces, it’s still possible to grow a thriving private practice the old fashioned way: Face to face marketing and interactions. Amy Fehlberg shares how she has allowed referral sources to know, like and trust her by pounding the pavement, and having as many face to face, real-world interactions with potential referral sources as possible.
In This Episode, You’ll Learn:
- How to get referral sources to know, like and trust you
- How to begin navigating the insurance company maze and why you might want to get on at least one panel
- A unique way to get in the door with a new, potential referral source
Best Marketing Move for Business
- Face to face interactions with people. Building those relationships by buying referral sources lunch, coffee or dinner. And ensuring that your referral sources know, like and trust you.
Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode
- Recommended Book: Psychotherapy Networker
- Using a trusted IT Professional for your technology needs
- Amy’s Website
Weekly Website Tip
From Brighter Vision’s Isa Mazzei:
Call to actions are an essential part of any website. It helps instruct your potential client what to do and where to do it. At Brighter Vision we design all of our websites with a focus of getting you more conversions. And by conversions we mean more calls or contact forms filled out.
If you’re building your own website, make sure to put call to actions throughout, so that your visitor knows what to do next.
Good locations for calls to actions are at the top of the page and at the bottom of a page. Those are where people naturally look for these to be. It’s also important to use strong creative language instead of just writing, “Contact me today.” Say something more motivational, such as, “Get help today.” Or, “Contact me to save your marriage.”
Thanks for Listening!
Thank you so much for joining us this week. Do you have some feedback you’d like to share? Please leave a note in the comment section below!
And if you enjoyed this episode, please share it using the social media buttons you see at the bottom of this post.
Also, please leave an honest review for The Therapist Experience on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely important to get this podcast in front of other therapists who could benefit from it. The ratings matter in how iTunes ranks the show, and I read each and every one of them.
And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates.
Thanks to Amy for joining me this week. Until next time!
TranscriptClick here to read the Transcript
Perry: Alright. So glad to have you on here Amy. Amy is a clinical psychologist with offices in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah. She provides individual, group, couples, and family therapy. In addition Amy provides psychological and educational assessment and testing. Amy works with all ages from very young children through older adults and her extensive experience allows her to work successfully with a diverse range of clients. With many years of experience in schools and having previously been both a special education teacher and director of independent and therapeutic schools, Amy has the experience to help families and students work effectively with their schools. Amy I gave a little overview of you there but I know there’s a lot more so why don’t you take a minute and fill in the gaps from that introduction, and tell us a little bit more about you personally, and about your practice?
Amy: Sure, I would love to. I started off my career along a number of different lines. I’ve had a good fortune to do many different things along the way, which I think has helped to shape who I have been able to become. In private practice I’m a generalist. My view is that what you need doesn’t change. How you like it delivered, that changes over time. But what we all need are basic needs. Those don’t change over time. So I do work with very young children. My youngest patient is about 18 months.
Perry: Oh my goodness.
Amy: And out through an older population I think my oldest patient at the moment is 68 and having that diversity in my practice is something I really treasure. It makes me a better provider.
Perry: Why do you think that makes you a better provider having all that diversity in your practice?
Amy: Because I need to think and learn all the time. It keeps me sharp, it keeps me reading, it keeps me engaged, and it forces me to never be stagnant.
Perry: And that is so important as a therapist and as an entrepreneur. If you’re remaining stagnant as an entrepreneur the world’s going to blow by you and you’re going to get left in the dust. So it’s so important as you’re growing a private practice to stay ahead of the curve and figure out what’s going on and advance your knowledge, advance your career, advance your passion for therapy and for helping people. So, Amy you didn’t always have such a thriving private practice. Let’s take a minute and let’s take a step back to a point in your career as a therapist where you could have called it quits. Where you were just as low as you could possibly be in the entrepreneurial roller coaster of starting a business and you were ready to throw in the towel. Take us back to that moment? Share with our audience what caused that moment and then let us know how you persevered through and overcame that struggle?
Amy: Absolutely. And I think I have been very fortunate in since starting my private practice I haven’t hit that low moment but it was the process of getting to starting the practice, which I honestly think will be a piece many of your listeners are going to be able to relate to. And that was the fear of stepping out to start a private practice. I have worked in a number of community mental health settings, I had worked in schools, all of which were a predictable paycheck. You knew what your job was going to be on any given day, and particularly in community mental health. You were going to get paid whether or not the patient showed up. So there was this comfort, this sort of sense of predictability that you could rely on and that I relied on. And it kept me from stepping out and forming my own practice for much longer than it should have. Looking back now my greatest wish, my greatest piece that I would redo, would be to have started this much earlier.
Perry: Why is that?
Amy: Well, because being in private practice is the best of all worlds. I control my schedule. I determine who I get to work with. I determine how I get to work with them. I can make my own decisions about my records and my record keeping and I am not bound to the rules and regulations of a large business where administrators who aren’t actually seeing patients are making decisions about how I would provide care for patients. I’m not obligated to participate in trainings that aren’t relevant to the type of work I want to do. I’m allowed to make my own decisions about my professional education and where I want to go to get my continuing education credits. I’m empowered to participate in any group that I want to. There aren’t political limitations to what groups I want to participate in.
Perry: The freedom of being an entrepreneur, right? I mean, that freedom is so gratifying. I remember when I was working in a tech startup here in Boulder. It was a good job, I had a steady salary and I had just gotten married. And my wife and I have always planned that, hey, I was going to leave my job after I got my bonus at the end of the year. And we got married in July and it was just so tough to power through those next few months, I couldn’t even do it. October 1st came around and I put my two weeks in. I couldn’t make it through the end of the year. But I remember sitting on a park bench by the Boulder Creek and I was just so nervous. I was planning to go put my two weeks in and I was nervous about putting my two weeks in, I was nervous about making that jump to the unknown. To no longer have that steady paycheck and I think all of our listeners here can relate to that story, Amy, or that fear.
Amy: Absolutely. It was terrifying.
Perry: Yeah. So how did you overcome that terrifying feeling of, “Oh my God. I’m getting rid of my paycheck and starting my own practice.”
Amy: In part it came from being no longer willing to tolerate the frustration of having a large companies administration determining how I was going to work. And in part it came from the piece that I will say is the reason why my practice is successful, it came from the relationships I had developed with the people who now refer patients to me. And that has to be the cornerstone of anyone starting the private practice is the relationships you establish with the people who will refer patients to you.
Perry: So you were able to successfully take your primary referral sources into your own private practice. Is that correct?
Amy: Yes. Because of the many different jobs I had done and because of being active in the community and things that I had participated in. I had enough relationships with people who had either known me through a community mental health setting, known me through the school setting, known me through my own volunteer work in communities that they knew me well enough that when I stepped out and said, “Here’s my office. Please feel free to send people this way.” I had enough of these relationships established that I could make that move. And then I put a lot of time and energy into not only maintaining those relationships but continuing to develop new relationships. And that is a piece of work that I continue to do on at least an annual basis, if not a couple times a year. My practice is busy, I am always unfortunately having to turn people away and fortunately I have a great network of colleagues that I can send them to. But regardless of that I fully believe that part of my success is because I continue to manage those relationships to be involved and to stay connected to the people who then will send patients my way.
Perry: You know, people do business. Relationships are the foundation for small business. People do business with those people that they know, like, and trust. So you had these relationships that you had already developed when you were working in a community mental health setting. Working for a larger agency. But was there a part of you that was scared that maybe they wouldn’t follow you to your private practice and continue referring to you?
Amy: Oh, absolutely. The fierce face of, “Will they come?” You go back to the co-write, “If you build it they will come.” And it took putting myself out there. I contacted the local paper. Had an article in the paper. I contacted our local public radio station, did a couple spots there. I went around to doctor’s offices, to school counselors, to local end patient units. I dropped off materials. I definitely made sure everybody knew where I was and how to find me.
Perry: That is pretty important there. So the referral sources that followed you over, how did you communicate with them that you were starting your own practice? Did you let them know before you made the jump? Did you let them know after? Was it via email, through a phone call? Did you stop in and give them materials? Share with our audience what that looked like, that transition?
Amy: Absolutely. And I would say the timing of it was I left a not as I was doing it. What I did is I cut back my work at the mental health center to part time and since started as a part time private practitioner. And within about two months I was able to be done. I had enough steady flow of patients that I was able to just continue my work at the community mental health center.
Perry: Congratulations, that’s fantastic.
Amy: Thank you. My contacts are in person. I’m sure everyone who’s listening gets as much email as I do and you know, as well as I do, people are very likely to hit the delete button. I still believe in the old-fashioned face to face showing up and seeing people. That counts. Now being involved I think in your state psychological association, committees on that association. If there are other groups that you can get part of I think that helps considerably. Here in Utah we have the Utah Psychological Association and I have been involved both on that board and in committees which has connected me to other psychologists as well. And beyond that we also have a group here called Women in Private Practice, and that’s been a phenomenal group for education and that working purposes.
Perry: So those groups and those associations, would you say those are your primary spring board to help you develop new relationships and new referral sources?
Amy: I wouldn’t say they’re primary. I would say my own research is primary. Knowing the other professionals in the building that I have my office in, knowing the professionals who are nearby. Because I do work with children reaching out and knowing the school counselors at the local public and private schools, and the charter schools being a part of just showing up and connecting with you. And also being a part of any kind of community education or community activities that are going on is also a great way for people to just get to know who I am, even if it’s not a direct pitch time but it’s just a chance to know who I am.
Perry: Get to know you, get to like you, and get to trust you.
Amy: Absolutely, yes.
Perry: So Amy, one thing I love to talk about here is pricing. We find so often that therapists struggle in the early days and even some of the later days, with pricing themselves well. Can you share with our audience what your current hourly rate is to see clients, and share with us what your journey to that rate looked like?
Amy: Absolutely. So I have different rates depending on the service I’m providing but in terms of an individual psychotherapy session my rate is 120, and that’s for 50 to 55 minutes session. I didn’t start there. I started off at 80 dollars a session and felt really anxious about that.
Perry: Why’d you feel anxious about it?
Amy: Well, because it was so much more than I was making, back at the community mental health center. And of course, obviously I had more expenses since I needed to cover my own rent, and supplies, and marketing, and all those various costs that come with running your own business. By a long shot that was far too low number to have started with, and I would strongly encourage listeners, find what your competitive market is, look at what other people are charging and charge that or just above it.
Perry: So, what made you realize that it was too low of a rate to be charging?
Amy: In part it was conversations with other professionals. In part it was realizing that I needed to hold myself in the same place that other professionals were holding themselves. That was a way to communicate my own confidence and my confidence to people who are looking at me.
Perry: Did you find that having a low-price per hour rate of 80 dollars, did you find that people did not take you as seriously at that price point versus when you raise your price to a 100 or 120 dollars there’s a different level of authority that people viewed you, potentially referral sources?
Amy: I didn’t have anyone give me that feedback directly and my practice grew very quickly. I think the part that was most important to me is that as I raised my rates I didn’t lose anyone. I am as busy as ever.
Perry: And that’s a pretty clear indication that you made the right move and it’s maybe time to raise those rates again, you know? If you’re as busy as ever, supply and demand.
Amy: Right, and I will. And I think it’s also important because practitioners need to remember insurance companies make decisions based on the climate. So if they’re looking and seeing, “Oh, well the average provider is only charging X.” They’re going to feel very comfortable reducing what they’re willing to pay. And so we also need as a group of practitioners to communicate to insurance companies, “Our time is valuable and should be compensated at an agreeable and fair rate.”
Perry: I could not agree more with you Amy. And that’s a really challenging thing we find many therapists encounter. Obviously dealing with insurance companies. And sometimes people just forego taking insurance altogether and just a cash pay which is a whole other conversation to have.
Amy: We can certainly talk about that if you’d like. I’m happy to tell you my thinking on that.
Perry: Yeah, why not? Let’s hear it?
Amy: So, taking insurance was very important to me because I wanted treatment to be accessible. I wanted people to be able to access therapy and use their mental health benefits for that. Part of going into private practice also gives me the freedom to authorize sliding scale. If I see someone who doesn’t have access to insurance benefits or maybe in just a complicated situation for a period of time in their life, and while I certainly respect my colleagues who have chosen to forego insurance and go cash pay, it was a piece for me that I wanted to be committed to. Now, to that end I strongly recommend having a billing service. I didn’t get a PHD to do billing. I got a PHD so I can talk to people. And I don’t like that component. I don’t want it to be part of how I spend my time. I strongly encourage people to have a competent billing service who can hand that for you, so that you can be focused on what you got trained to do.
Perry: And what billing service do you use?
Amy: I have an independent, just a single practitioner. I don’t use one of the online services. I have several colleagues who do and are very happy. I like having an individual provider who knows me, because again, that’s face to face contact that says that I have a personal relationship there. And I know there are many options for online services and also, wherever you are within your local community you should be able to find someone who provides competent billing services as well. It’s incredibly difficult. If you call an insurance company you can be on hold for 20 minutes. Most of us have 10 or 15 minutes between patients. We don’t have time to sit around on hold and play a game of phone tag.
Perry: Gosh, I wonder if they know what the average time is until therapist just gives up on hold with them. And they just make it be double that amount of time.
Amy: I would not be surprised if there were some statistics on that out there.
Perry: They got to have that data. I’m sure they do.
Amy: I think they do but I think it’s a piece that didn’t– As people are thinking about developing their own practice, it is a time consuming process to get credentialed with different insurance companies. Different insurance companies have different rates. Some panels can be very difficult to get on so there are a lot of factors to consider in the process, but it’s been a piece that I wanted to make treatment with me as accessible as possible and that is why I did go down the insurance route.
Perry: So, Amy you’ve mentioned through our interview here a few words that might scare therapists just getting into private practice, and one of those words I heard you’ve mentioned earlier was marketing. Haha. I love marketing. I can talk about marketing all day. But a lot of therapists, whether they’re our clients or people we speak with on the phone, they’re scared of marketing. They’re scared of it, they might not want to understand it. They might not want to even do it. Or a mix of all three, or a whole slew of other reasons. But there’s no way to build a private practice without marketing.
Amy: Absolutely, and a great deal of this comes from the fact that there’s not training in developing a private practice, as part of most graduate school curriculum. It would be very interesting to me if we actually could survey all the graduate programs and see who even offers a course or a seminar in this. And in fact, depending on the program that you’re in, sometimes it’s sort of frowned upon because there’s more of an emphasis on research or more of an emphasis on getting into more of a university setting.
Perry: But so many people are making a decision to go into private practice these days directly from grad school. And for everyone that I’ve spoken with I have not heard a single therapist, whether it’s on this podcast, on the Therapist Experience, or just in my conversations with– I’ve probably spoke to a close to a 1000 therapists over the last year. Nobody has mentioned any sort of training in school for marketing or for business.
Amy: It’s something graduate programs need to take a look at. I was very fortunate in the jobs I had running an independent and therapeutic school, a big component of that job as the director is marketing. So I was able to develop, through my own personal work experience, confidence and selling. Which is something that can take some time.
Perry: Selling, yeah, it’s really hard but the thing is everyone’s selling. You’re selling when you’re seeing a patient because you have to sell them to change their lives. What do you think was the best marketing move that you’ve made for your practice over the years?
Amy: I think the best marketing move is again the face to face interactions with people. I certainly used online– I used technology, I’m sure not as effectively as some of my younger colleagues that I have my own website. I have a profile in Psychology Today. Again, being involved with different groups, I think, is a very helpful piece. But that face to face relationship where someone knows me, they’re familiar with the kind of work I do because once someone has referred a patient to me and that patient has had a positive experience, they go back to that referral source and they tell them it went well. And then that referral source is willing to send me two, and three, and four more people. And certainly, once you’ve started– And this is something I’m sure other practitioners have talked about is that once you have good experiences with patients, they talk about you to other people and they’re going to want to refer people that they know to you.
Perry: Most definitely. And word to mouth referrals is the cornerstone of any small business. You do a great job, you do great work, people are going to refer you. But before you can even get people referring you, you have to go out, you have to pound the pavement. You have to build those relationships and build those referral sources. From other practitioners, other doctors, schools, networking. And now that you have them and you have those flowing in you’re getting into just a waterfall of referrals. So much so that you have to turn people away, which is just so wonderful to see. We love it when we’re speaking with somebody who has grown their practice at a point of just immense success. So congratulations Amy. That’s something to be incredibly proud of.
Amy: Well, thank you, thank you. I feel very, very fortunate to be where I am and certainly a piece I want to give credit to is I have a number of colleagues here and we’re a small group. There are six of us but one of the pieces that we’ve been able to do is we’ve brought lunch to physician offices where we will bring lunch and eat them, and have chance to have a conversation so they get a face to face introduction about each one of us.
Perry: Do you schedule that lunch beforehand with them?
Amy: Yup. We schedule the lunch, we all go together. Obviously we leave materials. We leave affordable materials that are easy for people to hand to their patients.
Perry: That’s a great idea.
Amy: So, yes. I bring a hanging file that has a tablet saying Shoreline Psychology. It has a face sheet, it has some brief facts about why we’re a good group to refer to and I highlight our scoop of providers, we have bilingual providers. I highlight the insurance companies we are able to take. The different services we provide because we have nerve psychologists, we have people who focus a bit more on assessment. We have people who treat only adults. We have as sex therapist in our group. We have a person who focuses more on couples. And I do believe that that is a good part of making a strong presentation is that people look at us as group and say, “Okay, I can get my needs met for my patients through this group because they do have a wide range of providers.”
Perry: You provided so many gems there. And always, to our listeners, you can find out all this information in the show notes which will be at brightervision.com/session7. So before we move on to the next part of the show, we’re just going to take a quick little break here and get our weekly website tip from one of Brighter Vision’s lead developers. So Amy stay right there, we’ll be right back in about a minute here.
This week’s website tip comes from Isa Mazzei. A lead developer at Brighter Vision, a worldwide leader in custom therapist website design. To learn more go to www.brightervision.com.
Isa: Call to actions are an essential part of any website. It helps instruct your potential client what to do and where to do it. At Brighter Vision we design all of our websites with a focus of getting you more conversions. And by conversions we mean more calls or contact forms filled out. If you’re building your own website, make sure to put call to actions throughout, so that your visitor knows what to do next. Good locations for calls to actions are at the top of the page and at the bottom of a page. Those are where people naturally look for these to be. It’s also important to use strong creative language instead of just writing, “Contact me today.” Say something more motivational, such as, “Get help today.” Or, “Contact me to save your marriage.” To learn more be sure to go to this week’s show notes at brightervision.com/session7.
Now back to our conversation with Perry and Amy.
Perry: Alright Amy. Now we’re going to move on to the final part of our interview. My personal favorite part. The part we like to call brighter insights, our goal is to really distill down your your advice and your tips into quick little sound bites that therapists can use to inspire, motivate, and excite them throughout the day and in growing their private practice. So Amy, are you ready?
Perry: Alright. What or whom inspired you to become a mental health professional?
Amy: My father. he is a physician. Not in the mental health field but he definitely inspired me to head down a path of helping others.
Perry: What do you do to clear your head and get a fresh start in your day?
Amy: Hiking with my dogs.
Perry: And that’s great to do out in Salt Lake and Park City.
Amy: Yes. Outside in the mountains is a fantastic place to be, to get everything re-centered.
Perry: What are some tools you’ve used to leverage the power of technology in your private practice so that technology is no longer a hurdle but instead an asset?
Amy: Well, first of all having predictable and updated equipment. I encourage people to stay on top of that. And that comes through having someone who advises me. Again, my PHD is not in anything to do with information systems. So relying on people who are experts in that area.
Perry: So like a trusted IT professional that you use?
Perry: So important. Haha.
Perry: What’s a quote that has helped formulate your perspective on life or has inspired, motivated, or provided a guidance for you?
Amy: Sure. My favorite quote would be, “Courage does not always roar. Courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow.”
Perry: And that quote, gosh, that’s the one that entrepreneurs live by.
Perry: You have to have that silent courage and dig deep down inside of you and persevere through all the struggles that you face as an entrepreneur. I love that one, Amy. And of course we’ll have that right in the show notes for you guys at brightervision.com/session7. Amy, if you could recommend one book to our audience what would that book be?
Amy: That is such a tough question for me. It’s not actually a book. I would say one of my favorite things to read is Psychotherapy Networker. It’s a fantastic publication. I would also say National Psychologist. Another excellent publication. And APA puts out a fantastic publication called Good Practice, which always has really helpful ideas for people who are in private practice.
Perry: Great suggestions there Amy. Are you going to any of those conferences this year?
Amy: I am not travelling to APA this year but we are very fortunate in Utah to have a range of excellent providers, whether through the Utah Psychological Association, or just other education groups. And we just had a wonderful conference here that was put on by the children center, it’s called Bridging The Gap Conference. And we had presenters from as far away as Israel.
Perry: Oh my goodness.
Amy: So it was a perfect opportunity to learn.
Perry: We’ll check that out. We’re always looking to go to new conferences and meet new people. So, Amy, last question here. If you moved to a new city tomorrow, knew nobody and all you had with you was your computer and 100 dollars to start a new private practice, tell us what you would do on your very first day?
Amy: My very first day I would find my state psychological association and join because I would get connected to potential colleagues who might have available office space since I would need that. And also have recommendations in terms of sort of local events that might be good networking opportunities and I would use my computer to identify every medical practice within a 50 mile or so radius of my potential office area, and I would make a list and that would start my activities for the next day which would be going and introducing myself.
Perry: I love it. You’re going to have a busy few days there but definitely worth it. You had to throw a good podcast in while you’re driving around to all these different offices.
Perry: So Amy, any parting advice for our listeners?
Amy: Don’t wait as long as I did. You will find success as long as you put one foot in front of the other and build relationships. Just build, build, build relationships.
Perry: And keep putting one foot in front of the other. I agree entirely. You just have to keep on plowing forward. Entrepreneurship is not easy, it’s not for everyone. But the people who are listening to this podcast you know that bug has bitten you, and once you’re bit by the bug you just have to push forward. And the only way to do that is keep putting one foot in front of another. Amy, where can our listeners find you to connect and learn more about you?
Amy: Certainly. My website is www.dramyf.com and that would be a great way to connect with me if people have any direct questions, you can email me directly from my website. I do also have all of my forms available on my website, so if people are looking for information, I’m not saying mine are perfect but those might give people some suggestions as they think about how to craft their paperwork. And I’m happy to answer any questions your listeners might have.
Perry: Amy, thank you so much for being so generous with your time, your expertise, and your knowledge. Listeners, you’ll be able to find out all the great advice and resources that Amy has shared over at brightervision.com/session7. Amy, we appreciate all of your advice that you provided and the therapist experience you have shared. Thank you again.
Amy: Thank you so much for having me. I look forward to talking with you in the future.
Perry: Thank you so much for tuning in today. If you have a question for us you can email it to us at [email protected] and of course, if you’re interested in launching a website reach out to us. Brighter Vision is the worldwide leader in custom therapist website design. For just 59 dollars a month you’ll get a website that’s as unique as your practice. Unlimited technical support and complementary search engine optimization so people will find you online. To learn more about us you can email us at [email protected] or of course, head on over to our website and drop us a line through one of our contact forms. That does it for today. Thank you again for listening and we will catch you next week.