Four ways therapists waste their marketing budgets

Two arrows in archery target by Casito. Used under GFDL license.Therapists in private practice often set aside money for marketing. Those in agencies or group practices may also have some control over how and where the business is advertised. But as therapists, we don’t usually get much training in marketing. As a result, it’s easy to be tricked into wasting that money. Here are four ways that can happen.

1. Missing the target audience

Your practice or business isn’t trying to reach the entire world. It probably isn’t even trying to reach your entire city. So why would you spend money putting your name in front of people you aren’t trying to reach?

Broad-based advertising for therapists isn’t typically effective. (As with everything discussed here, there can be exceptions. It’s worth assessing whether your practice could be an exception. But unless there is very compelling evidence supporting an exception, the default position should be that the rule applies to you.) Better instead to figure out who your target audience is, and focus on specifically reaching them. Your target audience might be a particular demographic (women, adolescents, recent immigrants, etc.), a particular problem (anxiety, divorce, etc.), a particular goal (better relationships, work performance, etc.), or some combination thereof. The more specific your audience, the easier it is to target your marketing efforts — and the more effective and efficient your marketing can be.

As a sidenote here, it’s worth focusing on one specific audience as you’re in the process of building a practice. Too many therapists try to be “specialists” in everything and carve out several target audiences. This ends up diluting their efforts and — more importantly — confusing prospective clients. I certainly understand the emotional pull toward making yourself available to anyone who will come to your office, but based on what I’ve seen and experienced, your chances of success are actually much better if you aim for one audience than if you try to reach two or more.

2. Missing the message

Once you have defined your target audience, what brief message do you want to give them? Your message should communicate, first and foremost, that you can help them. (“I specialize in your specific issue” is a good start.) It also should communicate why they should choose you instead of the therapist down the block or across town.

Many therapists make the mistake of using language that either communicates nothing at all, or that speaks as if the entire world were made up of other therapists. See this article I wrote on “Journey of the Flower” marketing to see whether you need to make some changes. Ultimately, your first message to prospective clients should be short, specific, clear, and different from those of other therapists.

3. Wasting time

Your time is valuable. Any hour you spend on marketing is an hour you could be spending with clients. So if you’re spending time on marketing that isn’t bringing you clients, you are wasting that time. That costs not only the money you spend on marketing during that hour, but also the money you could have brought in by seeing a client. Wasted hours are expensive.

There are two big ways you can waste time when it comes to your marketing. One is on social media. Unless your specific audience is likely to go to social media in their time of need (see #1 above), your social media efforts will not be effective no matter how much time and money you put into them. As I said earlier, there can be exceptions — I know of exactly two therapists who do bring in a lot of clients from social media. But that’s precisely because they know their target audiences, and their audiences are those rare ones that go to social media in times of need.

Don’t buy into the false notion that you need to be on social. Your audience may use social media, but that’s very different from looking for a therapist on social media. If your audience doesn’t do that — and again, most don’t — spend your marketing time and money where it will be more effective.

The other big way you can waste time on marketing is by repeating efforts that you have seen fail. If six months of tweaking your profile in a therapist directory has brought you nothing, take the lesson already. Give it a major overhaul and a deadline for success, or go ahead and get off the directory. The same applies to search advertising, tweaking your SEO, mailers, or any other marketing campaign you’ve tried. Different things work for different audiences and in different places, so I’m all about experimentation. But when an experiment fails, quit replicating it. Speaking of which…

4. Failing to evaluate

You need to know whether your experiments succeed or fail. There are lots of concrete ways to do this with online marketing, by tracking clicks to your web site and calls to your office. If you’re using offline marketing (reaching out to possible referral sources, for example), there’s a great and simple way to see how well it’s working. However you choose to do it, the most important thing is that you gather data to see what works. Then you can focus your time and money there, and stop wasting time and money on things that aren’t working.

If you’re doing any of these four things in your own marketing, the good news is that they’re pretty easy to fix. And when you do, hopefully you’ll find that you are more successful when spending less time and money.