Starting a private practice is exciting! It can also be daunting, overwhelming and exhausting. The concept is simple: rent a space, hold therapy sessions with clients, write notes, rinse and repeat. If only it was that easy. Where do clients come from? They don’t just show up knocking on your door. Building relationships in your community will help to establish your reputation as a clinician and build a steady referral base. There is opportunity in every relationship and here are a few ways I’ve established a steady referral base by networking locally:
- In our digital, fast-paced world, sometimes a friendly, quick email can be effective. Research therapists in the area and send them a quick email. Let them know your name, expertise and you are not a new therapist, but new to the area and would love to meet up. Take time to read their website and do a little research about them before you contact them. In your email, compliment something you like about their site and make note of maybe a similar population you both work with and mention you’d love to pick their brain about the ups and downs of private practice.
- Along the same lines of sending a friendly email, take it one step further and extend an invitation for coffee or breakfast. As therapists, you understand time is limited and only allows for small breaks here and there throughout the day. Being mindful of the other person’s busy schedule, offer to come to their office for a quick visit or see if they would be interested in meeting for breakfast. Face to face contact with someone is the best way to start and build a relationship. If they accept your offer for you to come to their office, make sure you don’t show up empty handed. Bring coffee or treats from your favorite coffee shop, pick up lunch on the way over, or a box of doughnuts always does the trick.
- The opportunity for a relationship with other therapists doesn’t stop after your first meeting. A few things I do to foster a stronger connection is after your initial meeting, follow up by sending a friendly, hand-written thank you card. In the card thank them for their time and mention something you learned from them or enjoyed talking about. Make sure to include a handful of your business cards as well! Ask them to please keep you in mind for future referrals. Another thing to do after your first meeting is connect on social media platforms. Follow their business Facebook and Instagram accounts and engage occasionally by commenting on posts or sharing their content. A little support can go a long way!
- You may have favorite local business owners in your area that you already frequent their establishments (anything from yoga studios to coffee shops and juice bars to doctor offices). Pick one or two of your favorite places and reach out to the owner. A phone call is best, but email will do as well. Even better pop in their place if you can! Let them know you are a new business owner and love what they are doing at their place and would like to collaborate with them sometime in the near future for an event. I was able to connect with a local juice bar and they offered to put my marketing material in their giveaway bags at their grand opening of their newest location. Later on, we were able to collaborate and offer a free Mindful Eating event to the community.
When starting to network locally in your community, think about the purpose of the relationships you are looking to build. You are hoping to become the “go-to therapist” for your expertise in your area. You ultimately want these individuals to think of you when they need to refer someone. Some relationships don’t require as much effort and like I said, there is opportunity in every relationship. Make sure to always have business cards on hand and don’t hesitate to give them out to people in small talk situations (for example, while striking up a conversation while in line for coffee or at the grocery store). You never know where your next client may come from!
Alycia Burant, MA, LPC, NCC is founder, owner and therapist at Healthy Minds Therapy in bustling Alexandria, VA. Her practice has three locations in Northern Virginia providing expert support and services for people in times of need. When she is not working, she enjoys relaxing with her family, wine tasting, cooking and traveling.