There are five essential indicators as to whether your business will grow this year. I am sure there are more than five, but these are key indicators. In my counseling private practice, these areas almost always point me toward growth or shrinkage.
Growth Indicator #1 | You have defined growth
I was just cleaning out a filing cabinet in my basement. I found a sheet of paper from 2009. In 2009, my wife and I decided to leave Kalamazoo and moved to Traverse City. Before arriving, we took a 6-week road trip out west. We made our way up the west coast and camped and saw national parks. We visited with old friends and connected with new ones. While on the road, I had no identity as a professional. I had left one job and had nothing but a blank slate in front of me. I had a three week position lined up, but other than that it was only our six month savings that would save us.
It was terrifying and exciting.
While travelling I read Levinson’s “The Start-up Guide to Guerrilla Marketing.” I was inspired to write down ideas and goals for my time in Traverse City. On that sheet that I just found in my basement, were goals that defined success with clear ways of getting there.
What is interesting, is that I have not looked at this sheet since 2009, yet I have accomplished most of what was on the sheet. Things didn’t play out exactly how I had speculated, but overall I think I ahead of schedule.
For example, one goal I had was “By 2011 have 20 clients that I charge $50 per session.” I currently have around ten clients that I charge $150. The way that I was going to achieve that was through building guerrilla marketing techniques such as writing for the local paper, giving presentations, and building a high ranking website.
I have done those things. But it was not because it was on a sheet of paper. Despite not looking at the paper in several years, those goals were deeply embedded in my brain.
I knew where I was going.
Growth Indicators #2 | You have a high ranking website
Where do you rank on Google? When someone types in “counseling” + “[insert your town here]” where are you? What if they do other terms like: counselor, therapist, family counselor, angry kids, depression, private practice? What happens, do you still rank high?
When I launched my new website in winter 2012, I ranked on the bottom of page three. In six weeks I had climbed to the top of page one (here’s my article about how I did it). Around 60% of all traffic will click on one of the top three ranking websites. If you are on page two, forget about it.
It’s great to rank high, but your website has to also have a high conversion rate.
High ranking websites that also lead to more clients calling for appointments have three essential components:
1. The website looks good and is user-friendly, meaning that it is easy to find out how to contact you. On my website, I have my phone number in the header for every page.
2. There is intentional linking and building of Search Engine Optimization, including plug-ins, additional blogs, and article writing.
3. The website can quickly change as technology develops. I have found that in building a small business free is best if it works well. I have been using the free website development tool WordPress which has helped me with this, I also have found that BlueHost is the easiest to integrate.
Growth Indicator #3 | You are building a local image
I have grown every year I have been in business. I am not talking personally, yes that has happened, but I am making more through my counseling private practice this year than ever before. The year before that was the same. I launched in 2009 during the peak of the recession, and I still turned a profit.
I am not amazing.
I think I am a good counselor. I think I am a smart marketer. I do a good job following up with clients and referral sources, but most people could do I what I do to build business.
Here are 7 ways to build your local image
- Look presentable at professional meetings. Try to be dressed a step above your peers without being pretentious.
- Have good looking and quality business cards, handouts, and website.
- Make sure branding, colors, and phrases all coordinate.
- Write for your local newspaper, get your column in early, thank your contact, and make their job easier.
- Get on local talk radio about your counseling topic areas. Do this regularly.
- Talk to your own doctors about your small business (see my article about doctor referrals).
- Create innovative approaches to counseling in a private practice that reduce stigma. For example, I offered “Dinner and a Counseling Session” where people paid $100 and also got a $50 gift card to a fancy restaurant. The restaurant gave me a discount because we have similar clientele.
Growth Indicator #4 | You hate debt
In the book The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, Stanley and Danko talk about how the vast majority of America’s millionaires really don’t care what other people think of them. They don’t drive fancy cars and eat caviar. They keep their costs low and their income high.
There are times that you may choose to take on debt, whether it is for school or buying a home. In doing this, hopefully you’ll have a deep sense of anger, frustration, and hate.
I have found that my hate towards debt, has really freed me within my business. When I graduated in 2004, I had around $30,000 in student loan debt. I had worked through school, my parents had greatly assisted with undergraduate school, I had found a few scholarships, and I did Americorp while in school.
My wife and I lived like college students for five years and paid off all of her student loan debt as well as mine. By doing this in my personal life, it has informed how i run my practice. Rather than take on debt to launch, I negotiated rent as a percentage of income, I saved up and grew slowly, and took small well-thought-out steps.
Businesses that choose to take on debt are not guaranteed to fail, but those that loath debt and try and get rid of it will almost always succeed.
Growth Indicator #5 | You love what you do
People often talk about the “X Factor” (not the show), that unmeasurable “something else.” When you absolutely love what you do and get excited about going into your counseling private practice, that love will turn into clients, which will in turn be a successful small business.
In this global environment, if you don’t like one population, you can grow your expertise and change. In fact, counselors no longer have to be stuck with their career choices. They can blog, create online products, and use their skills in new and interesting ways, like writing an ebook.
There are times in all of our careers where we ask ourselves, “Is the rest of my life going to be like all of these Mondays?”
There is nothing standing in the way of creating, learning, growing, and making your career even better. Whenever I read a new marketing book, something about branding, or some other random skill, I get really excited.
Find what makes you explode on the inside and your business can’t help but do the same!
Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He helps counselors grow their private practices through consulting, blogging, and talking. To link to Joe’s Google+ .
Thank you to NASA Goddard Photo and Video for the use of your photo.