In our inaugural blog post, we told you to think outside the box when it came to referrals when building a private practice. Here’s a strategy to go from inside your safe therapeutic world filled with empathetic clinicians who think just like you, to the larger world of folks that don’t know what you do or why it’s valuable. Learn 10 Supremely Effective Ways to Develop Referrals and Build your Network.

Armed with an exquisite elevator speech and a defined niche, you are ready to contact a larger market and solve a problem, present an alternative, and calm a fear. After all, these three solutions are what bring clients to us. So, decide to bring it to them! How do you do this?

Ask. Yep – it’s the #1 technique that every therapist forgets. An example: As a young mom, I spent a lot of time at the pediatrician with my 2 year old. One day, while we were waiting for yet another strep result, the doc asked–while perusing the chart, “So – you are a psychotherapist? Whom do you see?” I whipped out my elevator speech, explained my niche and then – ASKED for REFERRALS! It went like this:

“So, Dr. Smith, now that you know I like to see young, anxious, overachieving, but worried sick, clients–I’d love to get on your roster of referrals. May I leave you some business cards and remind you from time to time about my practice?”

And I did, and he did. Which leads me to…

Ask the people who refer to your license. M.D.s’ refer to therapists all day long. But in keeping with medical tradition, they often refer to psychiatrists–who then refer to psychotherapists. Reverse that pattern and you then, refer to a psychiatrist if medication is called for.

Every physician in every discipline sees a percentage of patients who also need counseling. Cultivate this arena. Start with your own physician! Tell your Dentist! Call those internists and psychiatrists who are currently seeing your own clients.

Converse with every-day folks. At least once a day, someone asks me “What do you do?”.  It’s often after I start a conversation about the weather, the coffee I just purchased, or the sweater I’m holding in my hands while waiting in line. Traditionally, therapists boundary themselves to be private about their work. Well, yes. We certainly don’t talk about our clients! But we can talk about what floats our boat, every day. So, the next time the person at your favorite coffee shop remarks on the state of their mood…(and you know this happens to us, all the time)…tell them what you do. Hand them a card. Maybe they’ll hand it to the next anxious person in line. Either way, it makes you comfortable to talk about it and you become an interesting person to wait on!

Lose the therapy speak. You know what I mean. There’s a real difference in saying, “ My favorite client is someone who is struggling with how to handle work stress and all the challenges of family life” instead of “My ideal client is someone who has difficulty with psychosocial stressors and inadequate coping mechanisms.” Be yourself, not the clinician whose boundaries are impenetrable. That’s intimidating–who wants to spend 50 minutes talking to her?

Speak at an event. Contact your local Employee Assistance chapter and an organization that supports your niche. There are hundreds of community groups and book clubs, library chats, Hospital seminars, Divorce and Grief meetings, Single Mingles….not to mention NAMI Groups.  You get the idea. Here’s your script after you get the chair of the organization on the phone…

“Hi Ms. Jones, I noticed you meet every third Tuesday of the month. I do public service chats lasting about 20 minutes centering on (Your Elevator Speech and Niche). I’d love to get on the calendar and meet your group. Would you mind if I attended a meeting beforehand to get a sense of your members? I always like to tailor my talks to my audience.”

Cultivate small businesses, including non-profits. Small business, especially, non profits, are always doing more with less. Offer a lunchtime chat on Stress, Anxiety and other Work Habits. (Yes, I just gave you a Title to steal!) Bring a 10-point checklist on letterhead and a bag of dark chocolate. Talk for 10 minutes, ask for questions, and then leave your checklist and chocolate behind.

Cultivate large businesses. This is not as hard as it seems. One of the counselors in my practice recently went to an informational meeting for her Condo association. She stayed for the meet and greet afterward. Two of the people on the board were in Fortune 500 companies; one was in HR. She asked them if they ever went to a lunch and learn—-got the contact number of the sponsoring group and spoke the next month about Introverts vs Extroverts in the Workplace. She spoke to the HR group—who all knew other HR professionals in other companies. Three talks later, she had four clients. Later, she was able to call the HR folks directly at  larger companies, referencing a name and a successful well-attended group.

Tell your clients. Therapists are often reluctant to “market” their own clients. Well, don’t! But do thank them for hanging in, doing the heavy lifting and sticking with it. And mean it! Then, tell them you have extra space in your practice and are always interested in folks that would be interested in what the two of you have cultivated. Remember your clinical boundaries, however. Don’t see the best friend, partner or child. But the friend of a friend or occasional professional associate would work just fine.

Reach out to your referral list of 50. And get 50 more. Sometimes this allows your referral target to feel better about not being able to help you in the moment. Let me explain. My favorite referring psychiatrist and I were discussing a client. At the end of the call, I told him I was really enjoying some of the leadership coaching and consulting I was doing. “I’d like to add one or two of those clients to my therapy practice, too. It would be great to look at some of the underlying issues surrounding the behaviors.” Notice, I didn’t ask him for a referral. However, I ended by saying, “Is there anyone in your network you think I should contact for referrals?” He didn’t, but he kept me in mind because a month later, someone he met at a conference called me. She ended up on my list of 50 too.

Mindfully set aside marketing time every single week. I can’t stress this one enough. Remember, you rented that office and invested in business cards. You have a computer sitting on the desk and the tissue box handy.  If there is an empty hour, make it your Business Planning Hour. You don’t have to call it marketing, if that term scares you. Sit in your chair, surf the net for community groups, play around with your elevator speech, refine your niche. Learn something exciting and new you want to teach to someone else. Then, put your work aside, pick up the phone and call someone. Complement a dynamic therapist in your community that sent out an email about a cool CEU. Invite her to coffee. Repeat.

Once you have these 10 Effective Ways mastered; it’s time to take it wider. Look for those strategies in upcoming posts…