So….you’ve signed a sublease for your office and you've set up your practice management software (maybe even a free month with us?). Your applications to panel with Blue Cross and Aetna are underway, and you’ve had encouraging meetings with potential referral sources like a physician or minister.
What else is on the list of essential elements for starting your private psychotherapy practice?
Your Digital Footprint
Your website! No matter the source of your referrals, at least 90% will Google search your practice and check out your website before making their first appointment.
Like it or not, this is where final decisions about therapist selection are made. In addition, an attractive website can be a MAJOR source of new referrals all on its own.
Navigating your options
You have undoubtedly seen ads for “turnkey” websites at bargain prices. You think, “a website is just a page--some text and some pictures-- this seems easy and why pay more?”
If you are working on an extremely limited budget, that's sound reasoning. And yes, you'll have a "web presence" so that you'll seem legitimate if someone searches for you.
But you are giving up a lot by accepting a cookie-cutter site as your private practice storefront. The most obvious deficit is...it will look like a cookie-cutter website! You will not stand out among the dozens of other therapists who also use Wix or Weebly or SquareSpace or Brighter Vision as their dough-shaping tools.
And it will likely take a LOT more time than you're considering allocating to this particular element of your practice.
Not convinced? Still considering muddling through a website template to create a "digital footprint" (that may or may not look like everyone else's)?
Think about online dating profiles instead: if your profile says you like “long walks on the beach, reading by a fire, and intimate dinners with friends” your profile will be the exact duplicate of dozens of others already out there. Maybe you will attract your dream partner. But, more likely, your profile will convey that you don't care enough to give it any effort, and you will attract people who are in the same mindset.
Your dating profile should stand out from the crowd, but without sacrificing some essential elements, like conveying that you are warm, approachable, intelligent, attractive, and confident. And that you are thoughtful and taking it seriously.
The same features should be present in your practice website.
What do you want your site to convey? -- An Exercise
Here is a [slightly anxiety-provoking] experiment that will help you learn more about how you'd prefer to present your practice: enter “psychotherapy” and the name of your town in a Google search, and look at a dozen or so of your therapist competitors.
The inevitable discouragement that likely follows is the goal here: you are now anxious and mildly depressed, just like many potential clients who will seek your services!
Now in the mindset of potential clients, which websites appeal to you? As you look at these websites, consider the following. Take notes or download and complete our free worksheet at the bottom of the page.
- Look at the design: the use of color and white space, the typeface of the text, the use of motion or slow dissolves in the graphics, the lighting in the picture of the therapist.
- In the text, how do they convey warmth without becoming syrupy?
- How do they convey their education and training without sounding braggadocious?
- How do they convey professionalism without sounding stiff and formal?
- How do they convey which insurance and credit cards are accepted without sounding profit-driven
- And how do they convey what I consider to be the most important fact about their practice: “It is safe here, you’ll feel comfortable opening up”?
Armed with the worksheet you've downloaded and completed, the URL's of the websites you used as inspiration, and with the spell- and grammar-checked text you have written about your very safe and comfortable practice, approach a professional website designer.
Start a series of back-and-forth corrective edits to the “first draft” site that is created.
Make sure that the designer includes
- A link to your practice within Google Maps
- A contact form or anonymous email link allows clients to contact you with questions (without revealing your email address to spammers!)
- A link to your Client Portal that allows clients to make their first appointment online immediately. (The TherapyAppointment Client Portal is not only free, but is a HIPAA-compliant home for messages, intake, billing, and everything else you might want to share/collect from clients.
- Remember: as a rule, after a long and sometimes stressful day people are more open to the idea of therapy. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to schedule that first appointment! But unfortunately, this is when you are not available to answer your phone. Hold your work/life boundaries while still allowing clients to take action by allowing them to set the appointment through a self-scheduling platform when it is convenient for them. (With TherapyAppointment's self-scheduling options, you can control cut-offs for appointments so that you don't wake up to a morning booked full overnight.)
Also ensure that your web designer considers “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization). This art form is not for amateurs: it is a method of tweaking the text you have written to ensure it contains the proper “keywords” and syntactical format.
Your web designer’s research will let him know how to make your practice appear on page one of Google search results... because when is the last time you clicked to page two? I can’t emphasize enough that this mysterious art is only practiced by professional website designers: this is the one thing that you can’t possibly do by yourself as an amateur without spending much of your limited and already stretched day in the SEO weeds.
Also consider setting up Google Adwords. This an advertising service lets you pay to have your practice appear right at the top of page one of a Google search. The good news is that it is “pay per click”: displaying your listing is free unless the client clicks on the link to display your website. Setting up Adwords is another art form; ask the web professional to do this for you, as well.
Good luck in your new practice! With the proper website, you can look forward to a nice full waiting room.