I want to share a perspective that I was reminded of as I was working out on the elliptical and listening to a podcast featuring marketing guru Seth Godin The interviewer asked Seth “When is the right time to start marketing your business?”
That’s a questions that I get all of the time… What happens first — building the practice or marketing the practice? (What comes first, the chicken or the egg?)
First, let’s talk about what is “marketing”.
Marketing is a way to get attention; to get noticed.
That being said, you can understand why I get that question so often. It makes sense that if the point is to get noticed, it’s important to be all set up (have an office, have the time to see clients, have your business ducks in a row) before you begin marketing your practice. Right???
Well, if you were the only person selling lemonade in the desert I would say, emphatically, YES!! You know what everybody needs, and you can’t sell lemonade until you have the stand. On top of that, folks in the desert know what they are desparate for and the minute they see your lemonade stand they are raising their hands. They don’t care much about what you know, what you’ve learned, or even if you are an expert lemonade-maker. They see your sign and you’ve already met their needs — you are IN!
We know that having a successful private practice is a lot more complicated than selling lemonade in the desert. There are a lot of mental health professionals out there and every day more and more of them are establishing themselves in private practice.
POINT #1: Think about it from the client’s perspective… what would you need to know before you signed on for mental health services?
At the very least, you might want to know: “Who are you?” “What can you do for me?” “Are you an expert in your field?” You might also want to know: “Have I ever heard of you before?” “Did you come reccomended by someone I know/respect?” And then there is the “BIG QUESTION” — “Why, given all of my options (including doing nothing at all), should I do business with you?”
How many of your potential clients are going to have the answers to those questions the day you open your doors?
POINT #2: With so many mental health professionals going into private practice; with the needs of society changing (not just the psychological needs, but the means by which society gets its needs met — i.e. social media, the click of a mouse, online support, programs & products, etc) — how do you really know what your successful private practice will look like? Are you doing your (market) research before you build your empire?
Even if you are going to be happy with a small private practice. (let’s say you just want to see 5-6 people a week), you are still going to have to find ways to keep those referrals coming. If you have a highly specialized service to offer — if it is going to be like selling lemonade in the desert, then you’re IN! If, on the other hand, you are going to be the 101st private practitioner in your town looking for “just 5-6 clients a week”, you might want to do a little homework before you make 10,000 copies of your practice brochure!
I guess this was a long answer to the short question: “When is the best time to start marketing your business?” And to make it even longer (but better, by adding in Seth’s two cents) — the days of branding your business in advance are dwindling quickly. We exist in a time where your brand is a collaborative effort between you and your customers. You find out what they need, when they need it, and how they want to access it — by attracting folks to who you are and your expertise; by asking questions along the way; by LISTENING to your market; by responding to the needs of your target market.
Start your marketing NOW
Together you will build your “brand”; together you will walk into the sunset of satisfaction and success by providing valuable services (and perhaps products), and becoming the answer to the “BIG Question”
Next time we’ll talk about what that marketing might look like…