Imagine a 4 year old pageboy at a wedding that’s been made to wear a suit. He’s pulling at his collar, feels constricted, has to be on best behaviour. Very uncomfortable.
Well, that’s how I felt when I went to my first business networking event.
Let me tell you why...
You see, I was trying to be a 'Professional Counsellor’. Capital P, capital C.
I thought I had to behave a certain way and talk a certain way, and I’ve never really pulled off being anything other than me - the person that laughs too loud, has a rude sense of humour and is a bit sweary!
I assumed I had to be very professional and serious, because I thought I was selling myself and I wouldn't be taken seriously just being me.
Imposter syndrome, anyone?
If I’m being really honest (don’t judge me!) I used to see everyone as a potential client. This made me act very differently to how I usually do.
I think my desperation for clients must have leaked out of me and been pretty obvious, so although I never directly ‘sold’ to them (“are you struggling with anxiety, depression, low mood at the moment? Then here’s my card - call me :D"), I’m sure it was written all over my face.
And I'm sure this made me appear stand offish, aloof and unnatural.
And what’s more, I HATED it.
Dodging personal disclosure
As you know, in the therapy room we keep our own personal disclosure to an absolute minimum.
So if you imagine everyone you meet is a potential client, it makes chatting a minefield.
What can you talk about?
It doesn’t make for a very good conversation and will make you seem unfriendly, unapproachable and stand offish - the very opposite of who you are.
And you want to let people know that you ARE friendly, approachable and trustworthy!
That's the whole point!
If you act like everyone is a potential client, and as such have to be ‘a Professional Counsellor’ it causes problems:
People buy, use the services of or refer to people they know, like and trust, so if we feel we have to behave in a different ‘professional’ way, or ‘hide’ ourselves, that will push people away.
You won’t be acting congruently and people will sense something isn’t quite right, so that won’t make them either know, like or trust you.
And that’s not right, because you are fabulous! Whether you’re loud, quiet, shy, funny, serious - whoever you are, you’re pretty cool, so let your warmth shine out, be you and get connected!
Check out 'The Business Of Counselling' course, available in the Grow Your Private Practice club
Isolation is a very real issue for us counsellors.
Yes, because of working on our own, but also due to confidentiality and personal disclosure considerations.
If we imagine everyone we meet is a potential client, then you won’t connect with them, you’ll be keeping your boundaries firm, which is not only bad for business (as I’ve discussed above), it’s bad for you personally.
You’ll not feel connected to people, you’ll potentially not be making new friends and this impacts your feelings of isolation, can increase loneliness, and can ultimately leave us feeling depressed.
Often the people we meet like this will become friends, a colleagues, or acquaintances, it's very unlikely they will want to be clients, so relax, enjoy your chat, go for coffee, become friends. It's all good for your therapist self care.
People you meet at business networking aren’t going to be your clients.
But they may become a great referral source for you: They meet you, connect with you, get to know you and see how passionate you are about counselling, see what you put into it.
So naturally, when someone they know is struggling, you will be top of mind.
This is what networking is all about, and why it's such an excellent thing for counsellors to do to get known locally.
So relax, connect with people and make friends. Because the more people we know, the more referrals we get.
But what if they do want therapy?
There is always a chance that someone you meet when at a business networking event will call you and want to come for counselling.
So it's a good idea to have thought in advance how you may want to handle it.
Trust yourself to know when it's okay and when not.
For me, if I've met someone very casually, chatted a little at the event and not met separately for coffee, I would possibly see them.
In the initial appointment I ensure that boundaries are discussed in depth, and that confidentiality is also fully explored.
But there have been occasions where it's not felt right, and I refer them on to another local counsellor.
I suggest talking this through with your supervisor in advance so you know how you will handle it before it happens.
I want to reassure you that people at networking meetings don't usually approach you for personal therapy, so it's something that rarely happens.
Get clear on your boundaries, and don't let it worry you.
Socialising is good for business and good for you, so enjoy meeting people and connecting.
The more you enjoy your marketing, the more you'll attract clients, so it's win/win YAY!!
Fancy networking with over 6,000 other counsellors and psychotherapists? Then come and join the FREE Grow Your Private Practice Facebook group. It friendly, supportive and we'd love to have you there.