Last October, I landed an exciting internship at a private practice. I just needed to see 12 clients a week to be able to graduate from a counseling master’s program the following March.
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” my supervisor said. “I’ll pay for your therapist listing. You should hit your goal in about a month.”
I wrote a profile of my clinical services for my therapist listing that I foolishly fell in love with. I submitted it to the directory and smiled when it was posted online. I’m about to get a boatload of leads, I naively thought, once everyone reads my amazing ad.
Only that never happened.
The first week I received a fair number of leads, but many of these well-intentioned folks needed a therapist with more skills than I had.
The leads dried up with each passing week. At the one-month mark, I was seeing eight clients a week. Not nearly enough to graduate on time. So I began tinkering with my directory listing to see if I could get it to generate a predictable and steady flow of leads. This turned out to be a wonderful exercise because I discovered five ways to get more leads from my listing.
1) Rotate your zip codes
Some therapist directories let you target more than one zip code. One of your zip codes has to be your practice’s location — let’s call this your static zip code. The other two zip codes — let’s call them your flexible zip codes — can be anywhere in the state(s) you are licensed in.
I frequently target flexible zip codes that are outside of Portland, Oregon, where I work, because Portland is crowded with counselors. This has helped me generate more leads while serving areas in Oregon that may have a shortage of therapists.
I also recommend rotating your flexible zip codes, which is something I do every week. Think of this like fishing. If you fish in the same spot day in and day out, you are probably going to run out of fish to catch. This is especially true if other fishermen are fishing in the same spot. Rotating your flexible zip codes, however, lets you move your fishing pole (i.e., your counseling directory profile) so you’re fishing in areas that are restocked with fish (i.e., clients).
2) Track your listing
The online therapist directory I use provides the following metrics: total leads, calls, emails, website visits and profile shares. But it does not reveal how many leads became clients. Knowing this information is important because it helps determine which zip codes have a higher conversion percentage (i.e., leads that become clients).
And if the leads you generate are not booking appointments, you may need to tweak your approach. Are the demographics in this zip code a mismatch for you? Do you need to respond differently to your leads when you follow up with them? Or are there other reasons?
Another option is to find zip codes that have better conversion rates. To get this information, you can track your listing on a spreadsheet. (Google Sheets works great and is free.)
My tracking spreadsheet, which I named “Lead Tracker,” contains the following headings: listing platform, zip code, county, city, population, test date (the beginning and end date of the test), days of test (the total number of days tested), leads start, leads end, total leads, new clients and conversion rate.
I put the two flexible zip codes I’m testing underneath the “zip code” heading. I then calculate how many leads I generated during the test period (usually a week) using the metrics from the directory listing.
Let’s say I test the number of leads between July 1 and July 7. The leads start is the number of leads my directory service says I have on the day I start my test. So, using this example, if the directory service says I have 203 leads on July 1, then my leads start is 203.
The leads end refers to the number of leads my directory service says I have when I stop my test. If I stop my test on July 7 and my directory service says I have 213 leads, then my leads end would be 213.
For the total leads, I would subtract the leads start (i.e., 203) from the leads end (i.e., 213) to get the total leads (i.e., 10).
Next, I determine how many of those leads became clients by comparing the zip codes on my new client form to the zip codes I’m testing. (This is not error free since I also get leads from zip codes outside of the areas I’m targeting.)
I then calculate the conversion rate by dividing the number of new clients I got during the test period by the number of leads I generated. This percentage lets me know if the zip codes I’m testing are generating paying clients.
I sometimes target zip codes that have a high population density because there are more fish in these ponds. I’ll also target zip codes that have lower population density because there may be fewer fishermen fishing in these ponds. And since I accept Medicaid insurance, I target zip codes that align with the socioeconomic populations I want to serve.
You can find demographics about zip codes at zip-codes.com.
3) Include keywords in your listing
Another way to generate more leads from your online therapist directory is to include words and mental health issues that potential clients are searching for — but only add issues that you can competently treat and not just ones that are popular.
In a YouTube video, Jeff Gunther, the owner of online search platforms Therapy Den and Portland Therapy Center, notes that people most often search for the following three terms: anxiety, relationship issues and depression.
According to Gunther, anxiety is searched 14.3% of the time, relationship issues are searched 13.9%, and depression is searched 12.9%. So if you are clinically able to help clients who struggle with one of these issues, it makes good business sense to include these terms in your profile and specialties sections.
But don’t worry if you don’t specialize in one of these three areas. Gunther describes a few other mental health issues that are often searched: child or adolescent issues (4.6%), posttraumatic stress disorder (4.3%), LGBTQ+ issues (4.2%), self-esteem (3.6%), gender identity (2.7%), family conflict (2.4%) and loss or grief (2.4%).
4) Create a professional website
A website is a modern-day business card. Unfortunately, prospects will judge our clinical skills based on whether we have a website and how it looks. If you want prospects to see you as a professional, and ultimately choose you for counseling services, then it’s a good idea to spend some time (and money) on creating a sharp-looking website by having a professional website builder create your site and getting professional photos.
I invested $250 to have a photographer take and airbrush (thank goodness!) my picture for my website. I also invested $500 to have a professional build my website using Wix, a platform for creating websites that makes it easy to revise or tweak your site after it’s built.
I found both the photographer and website builder by placing a $5 ad on Craigslist.
A word of advice: Get quotes from several different website builders. The quotes I received varied in price depending on where the builder lived. The price quotes increased when the builder lived in an expensive city and vice versa.
5) Follow up with every lead
When it comes to responding to leads, I recommend following the golden rule: Treat people the way you want to be treated. I appreciate when the companies I reach out to for services take the time to respond to me, and I want to be this type of business owner too. (It’s also good karma!) So I respond to every lead who reaches out to me — even if my schedule is full.
People often tell me I am the only counselor who follows up with them. I am not sharing this to shake my own rattle. But when the pond I’m fishing in is teeming with other counselors, I want to be the counselor who stands out because this ensures that people will remember (and hopefully refer) me. And if it works for me, it can work for you too.
Wesley Murph is a professional counselor associate and a national certified counselor who is working toward full licensure in Oregon. Before earning a master’s in clinical mental health counseling, he owned two small businesses, including one that was featured on Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. His joy is being with his young son and wife. You can find him at BuildingBetterOregonians.com.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.