I’ve known many counsellors that have expressed an interest in seeing clients online, but the tech side of things put them off so it stayed on their to-do list.
Well, guess what? Due to the coronavirus, many counsellors have had their hand forced and are now seeing clients online - not necessarily a bad thing as it’s made people take action.
Some are using it as a temporary measure and can’t wait to get back to face to face, but others have discovered that they really like it and can see the many benefits for both them and the clients and want to keep offering online counselling.
So if you want to offer online counselling, how do you attract online clients?
Well, there are many, some for the client and some for you.
Convenience is the main one. They don’t have to travel to you, which saves them time, money and effort.
When seeing a counsellor recently I had to get from my house to theirs, which made a 50-minute session take up 2 1/2 hours, often more if the traffic was bad. That took a pretty hefty chunk of my time.
So clients can see you in the comfort of their own home, no travel costs, no nasty weather to contend with, no car parking spots to find and pay for.
And if they travel a lot for work, you can maintain that all-important continuity.
Also Grow Your Private Practice members are reporting that they are getting great results with online counselling, and many clients seem more relaxed as they are in their own home.
If you are renting a room, seeing your counselling clients online can save you money. Sometimes, that can be a lot of money.
Time is another big benefit. One of the GYPP members said their commute takes 5 hours a day, 3 times a week and they don’t get home till after 11 pm. So some very clear benefits there.
Online, the client usually pays in advance, so fewer issues with cancellation fee’s - something that’s important to do, but let’s face it feels uncomfortable.
And it's a whole lot easier to attract clients online as you aren't restricted to attracting clients in your local area.
I’d definitely be opting for online now because it gives you access to a far, far wider audience.
Working face to face it might impact what you choose as your niche. For example, I have a friend with a passion for working with couples that also work together, but worries there aren’t enough potential clients to fulfil that niche in her local area - and she's probably right. But if she works online, she can cast the net a lot wider.
Yes, you can still start with a Seedling Niche, which is what I call a temporary niche (I write about it in my book Grow Your Private Practice), but make EVERYTHING you do is about that niche.
Seedling niches are very wide, basically choose from one of these:
So as you can see it can still be a wide subject like anxiety. Grow Your Private Practice member Zoe Clements from Sticks and Stones Counselling has the niche of anxiety, but has really niched down on it.
She calls herself an anxiety counsellor, all her social media posts focus on anxiety, all her blogs and she is currently writing a book about anxiety.
Can you see how someone with anxiety is far more likely to choose her than someone that just has anxiety listed on their website?
We recently had Sarah Dosanjh from The Binge Eating Therapist come and talk about setting up and running therapy groups in the Grow Your Private Practice community. She has completely claimed her niche of binge eating and has just published a book ‘I can’t Stop Eating’.
She's called herself 'the binge eating therapist' and thats what she talks about on social media and her YouTube channel.
Can you see how claiming their niche makes them THE person to see for people struggling with that issue?
When people have all the counsellors in the country to choose from, then you really need to stand out.
So when you want to attract online clients, get crystal clear about who you work with and your messaging so you can:
I hope you can see how important having a niche is. It means you become the ‘go-to expert’ and will be known for that topic.
Once you are clear on your niche, communicate it everywhere.
On your website, let people know that you work online and talk about both the benefits of online counselling and who might benefit most from it, like
Let people know online counselling isn’t just a convenient alternative for those that aren’t able to attend face to face. No, it’s as effective as face to face but has the added convenience of:
Be positive and unapologetic when you talk about it. Online counselling isn’t the poor relation of face to face counselling.
Numerous studies - including two 2013 studies published in the Journal of Affective Disorders and Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Networking - found online counselling to be as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy. In certain instances, online therapy may be more effective.
Use positive language and an active voice. So instead of
‘If you can’t do face to face counselling I also offer online’
‘For your convenience, I offer both face to face counselling and online’.
If you struggle with positive language on your website, take a read of my blog 'Can you help your clients (and do they know it?).
(If you have the Grow Your Private Practice book, I talk about in chapter 14, Messaging.)
Social media is a powerful - and free - way to connect with people and attract online clients. By sharing relevant, useful and interesting posts to do with your niche you will become know and be the obvious choice when someone is ready to access counselling.
When working face to face you need to attract people from a certain radius to you, which means on social media you have to take care to attract people in your local area which actually takes a little more thinking about.
However, when working online that isn’t a problem so your posts will reach far more people/potential clients.
When attracting online clients, social media is a big deal. It’s definitely something worth investing time in learning about and using.
Be sure to change the bios on your chosen social media platform to include online counselling and again, really claim your niche.
Write posts about client benefits like:
‘Working online has been really helpful for clients that work away as it means they get continuity, and continuity is so important for counselling. I can still support people even if they are away on business.’
(If you want to know how to use social media as part of your marketing strategy, Social Media Made Simple is a course in the Grow Your Private Practice community which breaks it all down so it’s both simple and effective).
Posting regularly and consistently about things that resonate with your ideal clients will make you stand out and you will be the first choice if they want to access counselling.
Ads on social media can be a very cost-effective way to get in front of exactly the right people - which is why it is vital that you know who those people are.
The more clear you are of your niche and your message, the more likely the ads will be effective for you.
However, before you spend money on ads you need to know what you’re doing on social media. If you aren’t getting engagement (likes, comments and shares) on your organic social media posts, you’ll basically be paying to get more people to see an ineffective post.
Before you put your hand in your pocket, learn about your chosen platform, about how it works and what your followers like to see. Then your paid ad is more likely to be successful.
These can be extremely effective but you need to target your ideal client, so again, you need to get really clear of your niche.
Nathan Gould is a psychotherapist that used Google Ads to successfully grow his practice (in fact, he gave a workshop on using Google Ads in the Grow Your Private Practice community) and says:
'[Online] the niche becomes even more important. Without a location or niche your ads will become so un-targeted they will get lost. This will lead to low click numbers at a high cost.
If people don't have a niche I would suggest using Google Ads as if you did - target one presentation at a time so that your ads remain focused and specific’
Content marketing means using blogs, podcasts and video to attract online clients. They generate awareness, build authority, offer hope, help and reassurance and even offer solutions.
There are many benefits to consistently producing content, here are a few:
When working online, producing regular, consistent content will really make you stand out.
Producing content for other people will get you seen by a wider audience. Consider podcasts and blogs that have your ideal audience in, eg. mum issues, wellbeing, etc
Contact the blogger or podcaster with details about something that will be interesting, inspiring or useful for their listeners. Think about the needs of both them and their readers/listeners and focus on that.
Firstly, what exactly IS email marketing?
Email marketing is where people choose to receive a regular email from you, usually once a week because it contains information about something that interests them.
First, you offer a 'Lead Magnet' - free gift that would be really useful and offers a quick win for the reader. This could be a PDF checklist, cheatsheet, short training, simple challenge. Something of perceived high value.
Then you send them regular emails - preferably weekly - with lots of tips, ideas and value and let them know that you are available to help them.
I do this. I have '54 Specific Ways To Attract Counselling Clients' which people can download for free and then I send they weekly emails. In some emails I share ideas and tips, others I talk more about my book or the membership to remind them that I have other ways that will help them. And they can unsubscribe at any time, they stay as long as they find my emails useful.
Never underestimate the power of networking, both online and offline. Making friends, connections and acquaintances mean you’ll have an army of people out there that will refer people to you. And it’s fun. Great if you feel a bit isolated.
For example, I came across Sarah Dosanjh who I talked about earlier in this blog when she talked about her passion for group therapy in the free FB group I used to run.
I asked her to talk in the Grow Your Private Practice community, which got her in front of a new audience and I know some members signed up for her workshop about running therapy groups.
It’s the know like and trust thing - we now know her, like her and trust her as her workshop was so good. I’ve also recommended her to a counselling enquiry I recently had about eating issues.
I’ve written a few blogs about networking, so check them out and I also talk more about it in the Grow Your Private Practice book
Obviously, this isn’t for everyone and is a major undertaking. But it’s worth considering. It really sets you up as an expert - both Zoe and Sarah that I talked about earlier have written books/are writing books.
Consider speaking at events where your ideal clients hang out. Again, this isn’t for everyone and there might be a little - ok, a lot! - of anxiety about this, but speaking is a skill and as such, it can be learned.
There are many benefits to seeing your clients online and it is actually easier to attract online clients because you aren’t limited to only attracting clients in a certain geographical area.
But to stand out, it’s important to get really clear on your niche and communicate it effectively.
And if you feel a bit confused and overwhelmed by any of this, I’ve got your back.
There is training on all the things I’ve mentioned above (and more) in the Grow Your Private Practice Community. If you'd like to get more focused and have the support of a community of peers, click the button below.
Jane lives in beautiful Lincoln with her 2 boys and rescue dog. When she's not talking about herself in the third person, she's usually found with her feet up and eating Maltesers. Sometimes she even shares them with friends.