Twenty years ago when the Soviet Union had recently disintegrated, I heard a discussion between some young Russians on capitalism and marketing strategy. Only a couple years out of the cold, these men had virtually no sense of business. What’s disturbing to me is that many counselors, social workers, and psychologists in private practice have little more business acumen.
The key to a successful mental health or substance abuse practice is marketing. What is marketing? Marketing is simply all the means by which a business attracts and retains customers. It includes:
Market research: Do people want the therapeutic services you wish to offer? Are there sufficient numbers of clients and can they pay? Are they being served by other agencies? Are the courts and other referring institutions looking for agencies? How do you get the information you need to make good business decisions?
Program development: What programs do you wish to offer? What do you want to be known for? What will be your flagship program? What treatment/counseling protocols drive your programs?
Promotion: How will you reach your prospective clients? Word-of-mouth? Flyers? Speaking engagements? Advertising? Free lectures to other therapists or the public? How do you convert interested people into committed clients?
Retaining clients: Are your facilities attractive and comfortable? Do you appear well organized and professional? Is your manner with new clients inviting and enthusiastic? Do you deliver the services you say you do? Do you give clients an opportunity to provide feedback about their counseling experience?
These are important questions. Do not blow them off. Whether you’re starting your own practice or you want to improve your agency, you need to plan with these questions in mind. Following the basic principles of business can make the difference between a failed and a successful practice.