Today Maryanne and I sat down and did a private practice business check-up. We went through her financial spreadsheets and saw how she posted her insurance checks. We looked at her appointment book and tallied how many of her clients were insurance, private pay and sliding scale. And then we got down to the nitty-gritty of how she spends her business hours. Maryanne spends several hours each week sending out client invoices and bringing charts up to date. She pays her bills, looks at expenses and generally keeps her business humming. However, when I suggested that at least one hour of her business time is spent on relationship building she stopped me cold in my tracks.

“Thanks, but no”, she said.  “I’d like to try marketing to grow my practice, but after seeing 24 people over four days, I do not have the energy to relate to one more person.”

I hear you, Maryanne. You’re not making any time to just sit and think–much less relate. I knowyou’re pouring over spreadsheets and sending out invoices. But I don’t hear you having any contact with the people who could potentially send you clients!

We determined that many of her clients come from a student counseling center. “Do you ever talk with those clinicians who refer to you? With their caseloads, I bet they are so grateful, to be able to send someone to you.”

Maryanne smiled. “Not really. We are all so busy just keeping up.”

This is a common refrain–the press of business keeps you from putting those all important referral relationships first. So, we considered a new strategy for Maryanne’s business meeting .

My advice: The relationship “work” is the thing you neglect, so instead of starting with your invoicing, we are going to start with some chatting. Send an email to  your two favorite referral clinicians at the student counseling center this week. Ask them if you could spend some time on the phone next week to hear about the areas where they have the most need. Tell them, “I wanted to tell you that I really have enjoyed working with you. Is there anyone I could take care of for you?” And by the way, don’t forget your elevator speech! It’s a great one–Your specialty is anxiety, depression and codependency with college students, so use your favorite line – – “I specialize in codependency in those people who don’t know where they end and others begin.”

Who do we turn to when we need help? We turn to our friends. And Maryanne, that’s what you’re lacking in the professional world. You’ve been so busy building your practice and taking as many clients as you can to fill your days that you forgot to enjoy the relationships that can turn into friendships. Who better understands the press of business? Before you know it, you will be getting to know each other a little bit, commiserating and bonding over the work of therapy.

We therapists are a serious bunch, but there’s room in your day to just spend some time with the people who are in the trenches alongside of you.