Networking is one of the single most important factors in practice-building. I know it’s not what you want to hear but I’m about to make it easier for you.
Here’s the deal: we all know there are sucky therapists out there. We can tell in a single conversation what kind of a space they hold, how well they actually listen, if they seem empathetic, if they off handedly call yo “babe”. I’m going to interrupt myself with this quick story: I was at a dinner sponsored by an Eating Disorder Treatment Center. It was at one of the best restaurants in town. Free delicious food. Free wine. A very soft sell that involved the rep speaking briefly about the treatment center and answering questions. I sat across from a therapist who didn’t treat eating disorders but wanted in on the free-ness, which I gotta respect. Unfortunately she hadn’t done any research and had a pretty negative world view. “You mean to tell me insurance is paying for people to go to treatment centers for eating disorders?” *scoff* At one point she said to the incredibly gracious rep “I went to one of these dinners once & they had a power point. You need to up your game.” I’m not kidding and no she wasn’t drunk. She said that to this lovely woman who was hosting us. Being the caretaker I often am I kept hopping in to try to smooth things out even though the incredibly gracious rep had it under control. In awkward social situations I have been known to try to sequester the stressful person. It’s the social equivalent of covering a bomb with my body. I just want people to have a nice time, damn it! I digress…
So obviously I was never going to send any referrals to this woman and no one else was going to either. And obviously you know better than to act like a total jerk. I think it’s important to remember that you don’t have to make an amazing impression, you just have to not totally mess up. Is that a relief at all?
Anyway, you know when you talk to someone if they are a decent therapist and they can tell that about you, too. Not to sound like your mom or anything, but you really just need to be yourself. Do not start with your credentials or your experience or even your ideal client. Find out about the other person. Be curious about not only their work, but their life if they’re willing to share. Really listen and hold a space for them. Be real, not therapisty. Be a person, not a marketer.
Let’s break it down: people are going to judge you based on how you are with them. If you are warm and open and listen and are truly interested in them, they will extrapolate from that that you are a good therapist. You are not to therapize this other person, even if they open up to you. You are not to open with your ideal client or the fact that you’re terrified you won’t get enough clients. If the conversation goes that way, please be authentic and share these things. People will want to help you once they like you, otherwise you just look desperate. Give folks a chance to know you and like you before you ask people for referrals.
Someone out there is saying, “But Allison, I’m not really that likable. In fact I’m kind of prickly, but I swear I’m a good therapist.” Here’s my response to that: first, make sure it’s not just low self esteem telling you you aren’t likable. Second, even if it’s true that you’re prickly, don’t be fake-nice. There are people/possible referral sources out there who appreciate that real-ness. Roll with that. Find the other prickly people in your area and network with them. Find the people who would be overwhelmed by big smiles and exuberance and hyper-extraversion. They’re out there- I see them back slowly away from me in a crowd. Those are your people.
Keep the focus on relationship building, not business. I can geek out on business, practice-building, and best practices for my clinical population at the drop of a hat, but that doesn’t give me much of an opportunity to get to know the person I’m sitting across from. And ultimately, knowing, trusting, and liking them is what’s going to have me refer to them and knowing, trusting, and liking me will have them refer to me. Yes, talk shop once you have a connection, or if it can create a connection that isn’t coming easily, go ahead. But see the person across from you as a human being before you see them as someone who can send you clients. It’ll take a lot of pressure off and you’ll have much more fun.
Want some more in depth networking advice? I gotcha covered. I had a great conversation about it with Joe Sanok on the Practice of the Practice podcast. There’s a link to a networking infographic mentioned in there. Next week we’re talking about networking events.
How do you feel about networking? What scares you? What do you love?
Allison Puryear is an LCSW with a nearly diagnosable obsession with business development. She has started practices in three different states and wants you to know that building a private practice is shockingly doable when you have a plan and support. After retiring her individual consultation services, she opened the Abundance Party, where you can get practice-building help for the cost of a copay. You can download a free private practice checklist to make sure you have your ducks in a row, get weekly private practice tips, listen to the podcast, hop into the free Facebook Group. Allison is all about helping you gain the confidence and tools you need to succeed.