Boundaries. I LOVE boundaries. If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written about practice-building, you’ll see that I find ways to infuse the importance of healthy, unapologetic boundaries. It’s the cornerstone of what makes a practice flourish. If you don’t have healthy boundaries, your business and your clients are going to stay stuck. What I am about to say may sound contrary to this, but there’s a huge distinction between healthy boundaries and rigid boundaries.
Here are the erroneous messages we internalize from grad school that screw up our websites:
1. Have rigid boundaries. Grad schools tend to proselytize rigid boundaries and can be pretty anti-self-disclosure. I get it. Their programs are usually full of students with limited clinical and life experience, many of whom are in these programs to try to figure themselves out. Let’s not endorse a session full of chit-chat about the therapist’s problems. I understand the utility in being overly cautious, especially with new folks who may not be able to determine when self-disclosure isn’t appropriate.
2. Be a “professional”. We’re also taught to be super-professional. Younger therapists are often the most over-dressed in any agency. We try to use $5 words and our CV’s are brimming with formality.
We take those values to our first jobs and maybe the 10 foot barrier between our humanity and our clients’ chips away slightly. Maybe we realize it’s not the end of the world if we tear up when our client’s vulnerability and pain takes our breath away. Maybe we give up needing to impress our clients and our colleagues with our psychobabble and imperviousness.
3. Sound smart. Often when we venture out into private practice, we keep that damned overly professional hat on. Our websites are a smattering of theoretical orientation blah blah blah and haughty language about our accomplishments and then nothing compelling about why potential clients should get in touch with you. If you took out the picture, you probably couldn’t tell the difference from one clinician’s website to another’s.
4. Don’t be a salesperson. Then there’s the fact that some websites were built without any regard for a little thing called visual appeal. Listen up: people decide whether or not to explore your site in three seconds. If it looks like it was built in 1998, they’re going to hit the back button. We weren’t taught how to market in grad school and there may have been some anti-marketing sentiment. You can’t afford to buy into that anymore. The clients that would really benefit from your unique approach won’t give you a chance if your website is unappealing.
Now I know some of you are going to say that your referrals aren’t coming from people randomly searching and I totally agree. But your potential clients were probably given three names and if your client doesn’t connect to your website copy (what you’ve written), or they don’t even read it, they are going to call the competition.
All is not lost!
Here’s how to make things right:
1. Get clear on your ideal client and write your content to them. Don’t be afraid to nail down an ideal client; you won’t have a caseload 100% full of 29 year old women who are afraid they won’t find love because their moms abandoned them in middle school. You will get a large percentage of your ideal client and you build your “expert” status.
2. When writing your content, try a letter format (minus the Dear _________). Pretend a friend has written you this heart-wrenching letter about what s/he is going through & this is your response. Write like you would in a personal letter, not a cover letter. Write like a person, not a thesaurus.
3. Self-disclose that you’re human. Maybe it’s that you’ve struggled with the same presenting concerns your ideal client has. Mention it but don’t feel like you have to tell your life story (boundaries, remember). If it freaks you out to imagine disclosing this, check in with yourself- are you ashamed of having struggled? Are you afraid of being judged by potential clients or colleagues? You may need to continue to do some work around that for your own personal growth. If you haven’t experienced what your ideal client has, talk about what draws you to working with them, why you find your work fulfilling and feel lucky to do it. Potential clients should be able to read your About Me and tell if you’ll be a good fit.
4. Please write in the first person. Everyone knows you are writing your own “About Me.” It sounds pretentious to write in the third person.
5. No one cares about your theoretical orientation (unless they do). If your ideal client is therapy-savvy and looking for Solution-Focused or DBT, sure, identify it. Otherwise, it just makes people glaze over. People are coming to you because they’re in pain. Describing how you’ll work can be great for therapy-newbies whose anxiety will lessen if given the information. Don’t make them google for clarification. Try “I help people find peace as quickly as possible by implementing targeted, sustainable solutions to their problems.” rather than “Since 2003, I have been utilizing Solutions-Focused Therapy with clients aged 3 to 93.” Blah.
6. Have a Call To Action. Tell your ideal clients to call you! Your website is there for marketing, don’t waste the opportunity. Speak to your ideal client. “Call today to get started on the road to recovery” is ok, but “Call today to stop the cycle of shame and failure” is going to speak more to where your potential client is right now.
7. Pictures are important. Have a recent photo of yourself. If it’s clearly 15 years old, you’re going to look out-of-touch or insecure. If you have other pictures on your website, please don’t be cliche. No one needs 3 obvious stock photos of cheesy families or nature scenes. Save those for the agencies. What do you want your clients to feel when they “graduate” from therapy? Have those photos up. Yes, you can have your ethnically diverse photos to prove that you’re no bigot, but have FUN photos, not the bland smiles that are so often used. People aren’t coming to you to feel like a mountain peak. Unless you’re doing wilderness therapy, nature photos really aren’t relevant. They’re coming to you to feel happy, connected, elated, safe. Show them what’s available in life through your photos.
8. Don’t welcome people to your site or thank them for coming. You will have wasted your 3 seconds on an unnecessary nicety. Make sure whatever text you have makes people want to keep reading.
9. Get Analytical. So this part was definitely encouraged in grad school, but it’s also an antidote to boring website copy. Whether you are using Google Analytics or Metrics built in to your site, look at what people click on. I had a page on my site called “About Eating Disorders” for years. No one clicked on it. Like less than 2% of people who visited my site. I renamed it “Eating Disorders Suck” and now over 10% of people who visit my site click on it. That’s a 400% increase! The content is exactly the same, but the title gets much more attention.
10. If your website is ugly, get a new one. Squarespace
, and Weebly
are user-friendly drag and drop sites with great looking templates. No coding necessary. If you want it done for you, you should check out Kat Love
or Brighter Vision
. They are experts and work exclusively with therapists. You’ll pay more per month, but they add in awesome perks like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which helps improve your google rankings.
For examples of these tips in action, check out my therapy site
. My practice is full, so this isn’t a plea for referrals, but if you need referrals I have lots of connections in my niche and am happy to help.
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.