Joseph R. Sanok: Counselor, Private Practice Owner, Marketing Expert, and Blogger
The Practice of the Practice Podcast: Counseling | Private Practice | Blogging | Small Business
In this podcast I talk about marketing your counseling private practice by developing a killer website. We discuss evaluting other’s websites, improving your own, and gathering content to use. I started with doing one episode, but once I got going, I realized that there was more than enough for two episodes, so this is part one about how to develop your own counseling private practice website.
In this episode you will learn:
- How to evaluate websites in your town so that your counseling private practice can thrive
- Learn how to make yourself stand out without paying a marketing consultant
- How to gather content for your counseling private practice website so you don’t get sued.
- What pages are standard for a counseling private practice website
- Tips, advice, and ways to continue to grow your counseling private practice
Links and Items Mentioned in this Podcast
Friend’s Work I like
All photos are from the Creative Commons, thank you to LifeSupercharger.
To link to Joe’s Google+ .
Here is the Transcription of This Podcast
Launching a Private Practice Website Part 1
Welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok, Session 2.
I’m Joe Sanok, your host. I’m here today to help you make your counseling private practice even more awesome. I’m really excited about the show today, Session 2. We’re going to be talking about websites and I wanted to dive into this right from the get go for so many reasons. The first reason is that, as counselors, we don’t really take the time to evaluate what the business community is doing really well. I think we just get in our bubble of counselors and, sometimes, of social justice and social work and all these great things that are helping the world, but we don’t see the connection between how professional we look and how well we can effectively help people.
A website is just such an essential part of a counselor’s private practice, of their image, of kind of their ability to succeed that I wanted to just take some time to really talk about websites.
How Joe Became Interested in Websites
It was actually in, I believe, January 2012, so not too long ago at the time of this recording [January 2013]. Microsoft Office Live is where I had my website for two years since 2009. They decided to start charging for their hosting of their websites. The design for Microsoft Office Live was really functional. It looked pretty good, it had a decent look to it, and it was pretty easy to use.
At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to stop using it — I put a lot of time into the website, but it wasn’t ranking on Google anywhere for my keywords. I didn’t understand why. As I looked into it more, it was because it was within Microsoft’s server and the way that it was, I hadn’t pointed it correctly. Google didn’t see MentalWellnessCounseling.com as its own separate thing.
As I talked to some of my design friends, Chelsea Bay Dennis, from Chelsea Bay Design — you should check her out if you have any design questions, but she said, “You know what I use is WordPress”. At about the same time, my brother, Pete Sanok, from DrinkTown.com, he had told me about this guy, Pat Flynn, who had this website, SmartPassiveIncome.com.
I decided that I was going to move away from [Microsoft]. I was on Pat Flynn’s website, SmartPassiveIncome.com, and he was talking a lot about ways to build money outside of your typical work an hour and then you make this much money, and then you work another hour and the only way to make more money is to do it through hourly work. That’s a whole show in and of itself, to talk about how counselors can effectively build passive income, and I hope to do that in future sessions, but for now, we’ll stick to websites.
Anyway, he was talking about how he used WordPress in conjunction with his hosting, which was Bluehost. and my brother was just learning a lot about web hosting. He found out that Bluehost was around five bucks a month and you can have unlimited domains.
I built my website. I was ready to make the switch and I got all the pages set. There was that moment when I needed to end MentalWellnessCounseling.com with Microsoft and then switch it over to my new WordPress site, so I took down from Microsoft and, I kid you not, it was five minutes later, the power in our house went out. I’d been developing this through, I think it was in April , when the power went out. My wife was over at a girl’s night with some girls and my daughter, who was probably 10/11 months old at that time, was asleep and the power goes out. It comes right back on, but our cable internet was completely out. It was out for a good week and a half.
I couldn’t believe it. At the moment I just turned it off from Microsoft and took it down, I couldn’t log back on to it, at least, to temporarily turn it back on. What had happened is we had this crazy, massive snowstorm, now referred to as “snowpocalypse”, where it really affected the area way more than my website. I mean, the cherry farmers up here, where I live in Traverse City, Michigan, the cherry capital of the world, I don’t know if that’s going to continue with this kind of changes in weather, but they lost 90% of their cherry crop because of the warm spring. The flowers had already started blooming and the freeze just wiped most of it out.
A ton of people had no power. We had snow refugees at our house from people that had lost power, and it was just really interesting to see how smartphones were the only way people could connect. We said on Facebook, “Hey, we have heat and power. If anyone needs to be a snow refugee come on over. Let us know”. So even those people who didn’t have power could go on Facebook through their smartphones. It was pretty amazing to see, how in the midst of what could have been a pretty major crisis, that our community came together.
Anyway, so I tear down my website, and I eventually get it back up and I had really thought more about the look that I wanted to go to or go for.
I looked at other websites. We’re going to actually do this: I’m going to pull up a random city in Michigan and I’m not going to tell what city it is. We’re going to look at some of these websites, and I’m going to kind of share my thoughts on them. So, I’d done that in the Traverse City area and looked at what my competition was. I just googled “Traverse City counseling” and looked at the top 10 websites to see who my competition was, who I was up against, what kind of SEO they were doing, search engine optimization, which is the way that search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo, determine who’s going to be top ranked. This is based on the keywords within your website.
A Completely Different Approach
There are some strategies that we’ll go into about what you can do to really make your website user-friendly for your specific goals. I thought about my website and I decided to just take a completely different approach because, honestly, a number of the therapy websites — this isn’t unique to Traverse City, this is all over the place — they almost look like funeral home websites where there’s this pleasant tree or some water or a river. I get what they’re going for. They’re trying to have a sense of peace and comfort. That really works for some people, and some people pull it off really well without it feeling cheesy like a funeral home website. But other people really didn’t and it was just sad. I mean, when you looked at it, it looked like some of these sites were built when the internet first came out, and then just never changed.
Think about what clients are hoping for in a counselor. They make assumptions, accurate or not, on who you are as a counselor based on your website. If your website looks professional, they think, “Well, maybe this person is more professional.” If your website just looks like a piece of junk and like it has not been updated, they make assumptions about whether you are up-to-date on best practices in the field and all of these different things. That may not be accurate.
That’s why I’m really stressing why we’re going to talk about websites. I took a completely different approach and I’m going to actually pull up my website mentalwellnesscounseling.com.
I have this really kind of just hip, gray couch. It’s not even like a real couch, it’s like the silhouette of one. Then on the left side it just says, “What will you say on the couch?” Then under my couch it says, “If my couch could talk, it would tell you about couples that have cried because of pain and others who have cried tears of joy in their counseling sessions. If my couch could talk, it would tell you about the angry kids, frustrated parents, and heartbroken couples that talked to a counselor. My couch would tell you about those that have been depressed, the lonely, the hurting, and the transformations into a new life through counseling. My couch has physically supported them while they changed from one type of person into another. While my couch did the physical supporting, I helped with the emotional. Is it time for you to join us and start counseling? Mental Wellness Counseling, a Traverse City counseling private practice.”
So, I took a completely different approach when I launched this website. I was speaking at Western Michigan University at a grad school class as a guest speaker about building private practices, and I didn’t have Mental Wellness Counseling on there at all. I had taken it all off and I had the class evaluate the website. At that time, I had a little bit more about like kind of playing off that analogy of “My couch… My couch…”
A couple of the students said that there are certain words in there that just sounded kind of creepy. That’s the last thing I wanted was to have people think “creepy” when they think of my counseling website. One thing that I think is at the core of building a website, whether it’s for yourself or having someone else do it, you need to be deeply involved, but you also need to constantly be evaluating. I just changed some of the things around on the Practice of the Practice website to add that podcasting right at the top so that people would be able to find it really easy, but what I had to do was take all my articles and put it under one tab called “Articles” rather than have all these other tabs. You may have noticed those differences if you’ve been kind of a long time reader and that’s going to be a change for some people. I hope to hear from you if you hate it. I hope to hear from you if you love it. Those are things that really are going to help make the website more dynamic and easier for people to find the podcasts and things that kind of go beyond just my writings.
Another way that I evaluate my website is I do an annual survey. Every year I use Google. There’s thing called Google Forms that you can use, and I just set up this sweet web page through that. It’s completely anonymous and I have a lot of focused questions.
The last way that I really try to evaluate my website is, when people come in for a new appointment, I always ask them, “How’d you hear about Mental Wellness Counseling?” and they’ll talk about how they saw me on Psychology Today, or what I wrote for the paper, or they heard me on the radio when I used to do a regular radio program in our town, or if they heard it from a friend. Then I’ll often ask about them, “Did you check out the website beforehand?” Most of them had. They’ll make comments about what they liked about it or what they didn’t like about it, and that helps me continue to evaluate the website.
How to Evaluate Websites in Your Town so That Your Counseling Private Practice Can Thrive
Let’s go to Google — I want you to do this at some point — I’m going to go to Google, pick a random town in Michigan and I’m going to put that town’s name in with the word “counseling” and see what comes up. I’m not going to tell you what town it is because if I talk about some of these places, websites, I would hate to have those people be really hurt by it. I’m going to try to pick a town that I really don’t have any connections with.
So I’m going to click on the first website for this town. Now, my first impression is there’s a picture on the upper left-hand corner and it’s sort of this sketched picture of a house. Then we’ve also got a person that looks like they’re doing some tutoring with somebody. For me, looking at this, it looks very confusing. Is this tutoring? There’s clouds in the background, and they have a good color consistency, but it doesn’t scream “counseling”. If I looked at this, it looks like it could be a tutoring website. I’m going to go back. I’m not going to give too many details because then that person might get mad and hurt and that’s not my intention.
The second one is a consultation service. This is the first time I’ve looked at it. They offer some groups; it says that they are effective. Then it says, “Why choose us for your mental health needs?” and “Getting the right therapist.” So, if I’m brand-new and there aren’t any pictures, the color scheme is great but when I look at this, I would wonder why “consultation” came up when I googled “counseling”.
The next one is Psychology Today, which always comes up in the first couple and usually it’s number 1. Depending on the city, if there’s some higher ranking websites with their SEO, they’ve sometimes outranked Psychology Today, but because Psychology Today is such a gigantic website with their therapist finder, it’s almost always number 1. For a period of time, Mental Wellness Counseling outranked it in the Traverse City area which I thought was pretty stinking awesome.
Now, I’m looking at number 4 here. This is actually a really good website. When I clicked on it, right away this person’s name came in and it just said, “Short term counseling that works.” I love this guy’s website. I’ve never looked at it before, but it’s very clear as to what he’s offering and who he is and it looks like he focuses on anxiety and has a blog. Looks like it’s maybe a WordPress. If you scroll to the bottom of the website, it looks like TherapistWebsites. I’m going to click on that.
I think this is the one that does website creation. I’m not sure if that’s the one that’s $60 a month. I mean, he’s ranking pretty high. It’s good for him, but hopefully, and we’ll talk about how to decide whether to do it yourself or have someone do it. For me, 60 bucks a month, you can set up a website if you have just basic, basic skills for around $15. That just blows my mind that some people spend $600 plus.
The next one is very similar. If I go to the bottom it looks like it’s a WordPress site, which again, I really like WordPress. But this one is very clear, great color scheme. It has some photos that are moving. Yes, this is a WordPress website, because I designed a website for somebody else that uses the same theme and the same kind of background. I really like this theme in WordPress. But it’s super clear that it’s counseling and doesn’t look like a funeral home. So, you get the idea.
But when you look at these websites in your town, evaluate what’s working, what’s not working, and ask yourself, “Why are these people ranking so high?” Look at what keywords they have, what things they’re doing to really boost people coming there.
First thing you’re going to do is you’re going to evaluate others and then you’re going to start thinking, “What can make me stand out differently from those folks?”
How to Gather Content for Your Counseling Private Practice Website so You Don’t Get Sued
I’m actually going to just talk about gathering content, and then in the third podcast, we’re going to actually talk even more about how to develop your website.
Let’s talk about gathering content. What are typical things that you’re going to want to do before you even look at launching a website?
Well, in the first podcast, we talked about developing your niche and focusing in on just a handful of things you’re going have as you’re just focused for your practice to develop people that are going to refer to you and to be known as “that person”. You want start with that and then really start to gather photos and writings and things that you are interested in. A great way to do that: if you just go to flickr.com/creativecommons. That is a great way to find just fabulous photos that are free, you just have to give credit to the people. It’s a really great way to use photos and not get sued.
Start to gather, organize, and save the photos on your computer. Then start to write some content for your pages. When you think about a website, you really want to make sure that it’s very clear that you’re a counselor. That you’re a licensed counselor, you’re a therapist, you’re a social worker, whatever it is that your licensure is in your State or country. Shout out to the Canadians and those in the UK that have been listening lately. Thank you so much. That’s just pretty amazing that people from other countries are tuning in.
What Pages Are Standard for a Counseling Private Practice Website
Write content for you pages. Typical things are “About Me” or “About the Practice”, that’s a tab often, usually like, “What’s counseling like?” I like having a “New?” or “New here? Here’s what you need to know!”, or the kind of the things that you would direct someone to if you would talk to them on the phone. For me, I have a “New Here?” kind of section and in that section I have a map to the office, I talk about what they expect to experience in the first session, a little bit about confidentiality. Then it’s really up to you if you want to have a blog section, or if you have a specific area that you focus in on, maybe have that next. Always, to the far right, you want to have the “Contact Us”. You may not have realized it, but almost every website, their contact us is at the far right. People just get used to that, and they may not even realize they’re used to it. But if you don’t have that on the far right then that’s really difficult for people to find — because they are just so used to looking over there.
Tips, Advice, and Ways to Continue to Grow Your Counseling Private Practice
Then if you can get any quotes from clients without using their names, it’s great to have some sort of testimonial. If you have past clients that wouldn’t mind writing something up, let them know it is going to be on the website. That’s actually what I do on my annual survey. I have a question: “May we use your comments for marketing purposes, such as for the website, without using your name?” Almost everyone always clicks “Yes”. There’s been a handful of people that said “No”. And that’s fine. But to have all these people’s real words say, “This is how counseling has changed my life.” or “How I’m different as a result of counseling” is just a great way to have some of that, what they call, “social proof” that counseling works.
Then I would say pull out a piece of paper and start to sketch out just some ideas of what you want your website to look like and that’s a great to kind of first just get brainstorming. If you aren’t sure kind of even where to begin, if you go to WordPress.org, and then click on themes — so the theme is kind of the format that your website would look like. I use WordPress that’s why I’m going to speak to WordPress because it’s so easy to use and it’s free and just a great way to build the website as you actually can build the website for free. I’ll talk about the $15 thing in the next episode as to kind of how that would work, because there are some reasons that that may be a little bit better quality and image for you. But we’ll get into that in the next episode.
If you go to WordPress, just go to their themes tab, and type in different things. So, you could type in “website” or “blue website” if there’s a color you want or, I don’t think if you type in “counseling websites” that match comes up. But just getting an idea of what the themes look like, will give you an idea of how to sketch out your website.
Then as you write that content, have friends read through it and start to edit. Maybe even do it as a Google Document using Google Drive so that other people can read it, and it can all be in one document. That’s a great way to just get your friends involved and excited about the new launch of your private practice or, if you’re brand-new, just having the private practice be something that they’re standing behind, that they’ve been a part of helping to develop.
That’s where I think I’m going to end for now. If you have questions, as always, please feel free to email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you just need to get going on getting your website going, feel free to check out “Articles”, there’s a whole section on building your own website. I’ve got walkthroughs, I’ve got video walkthroughs, that just can help you kind of take that website to the next level.
I appreciate all that you’re doing, and I just love having a chance to talk with you. It’s so fun when I get to get emails from people asking further questions and getting more involved and getting excited about their own website, their own marketing in really putting in that sweat equity.
So, thank you, thank you, thank you and I hope that you have a fabulous day. Thanks for joining me. I’m Joe Sanok with The Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, and I hope that we can help make your counseling private practice more awesome.
A special thanks to our musical artists. Our intro was from Silence is Sexy. In the middle of the show you heard The Ease Down and then rounding it out at the end was Leslie Hunt. Thank so much for providing your music for us. It’s so awesome.
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that the host and the publisher are not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, counseling, or other professional services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the service of a competent professional person should be sought. Thank you.
I did it the first time that time. Yee Haw!
Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC
Joe Sanok is a private practice business consultant and counselor that helps small businesses and counselors in private practice that are starting a private practice. He helps owners with website design, vision, growth, and using their time to create income through being a private practice consultant. Joe was frustrated with his lack of business and marketing skills when he left graduate school. He loved helping people through counseling, but felt that often people couldn’t find him. Over the past few years he has grown his skills, income, and ability to lead others, while still maintaining an active private practice in Traverse City, MI. To link to Joe’s Google+ .