Private Practice Marketing: How to find your first counseling private practice client

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Today’s Private Practice Marketing resource (and sponsor):

Legendary Lion

What does the podcast mean to you? Leave me a message on Speakpipe

Read the whole podcast transcript here: Private Practice Marketing Transcript

What you’ll learn in this podcast

  1. The first counseling client: How to get your first counseling client?
  2. Practice Marketing: How to improve private practice marketing to get the first client.
  3. Three key practice marketing: Techniques that work
  4. A question from a listener about how to handle counseling no shows and when to charge.


Resources from this podcast

Music from the Podcast

Silence is Sexy

Tamara Laurel


private practice marketing


private practice consultant headshot

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+ . Photos by Willy D


Here is the Transcription of This Podcast

How to find your first counseling private practice client

I recently launched the podcast episode, Private Practice Marketing: How to find your first counseling private practice client, this is the podcast transcription of that episode.

Private Practice Marketing Intro

This is the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok, session # 51. I’m Joe Sanok, your host and I am so glad that you’re with me today. I hope your day is going just fabulous. Today’s show is actually sponsored by Legendary Lion. Legendary Lion creates just amazing websites, logos. They’re actually the ones that helped me with the Practice of the Practice update that I did back in March and April of this year and since that time, we’ve, depending on the month, I got between three and four times more traffic than before. If you saw the website before, it was a huge upgrade.

Podcast Advertising

Actually right now, Legendary Lion is upgrading Mental Wellness Counseling website for us, also. They were actually the very first people that I approached when I decided that I wanted to test out sponsorships. I wanted to talk a little bit about that because this is something new for the podcast, and I wanted you to know why I’m doing it. In my MO I wanted to be very transparent about that.

As you may know, every month I post my monthly income reports, and you know exactly how and where I’m making money. I wanted to talk a little bit about sponsorships and why as we move forward in the next 50 episodes, I mean, we just hit episode 50 last week, which is crazy. I can’t believe that I’ve stuck with it this long and that the audience has grown this much in just over a year. It just blows my mind how many people are out there, and I really couldn’t have done it without you.

You are out there sharing and telling people about this podcast and have so many people there are just great ambassadors for Practice of the Practice. As I look at sponsorships within this podcast, just like other things I recommend, I want to make sure first and most foremost, that it is something that is amazingly useful for you. It’s something that I understand, it’s something that I think is going to help you, it’s something that I love. That’s why I started with Legendary Lion, because Aaron over there and his team have treated me really, really well and with all my consulting clients usually we partner with them for any sort of web or logo work. So, I started there.

Let me kind of take you through the process of how I did it. I looked at how many people are listening every month, and then I’ve, also, in talking to the audience, know about how many individual sessions people are doing in a week

so then that I could talk to Aaron or talk to any other potential future advertisers on the show about the impact of their money. If they pay for the show, at the top of the show and the end of the show, I’m going to say their name and then I go into with them how many people probably will hear about their services, just for me talking about it.

First and foremost, I want to make sure it’s an awesome product for you.
Secondly, it helps pay for my time to do this. I’m taking time away from my family. I’m taking time away from clients, time that I could just be maxing and relaxing, but instead I’m doing the podcast. It helps pay for my time, but it also then sets the stage for future developments.
How to position yourself to make more money

In 2015, I’m planning the launch of the “How to Become a Consultant” podcast, which my goal right now is that that’s going to be a five-day a week podcast. It’s going to be 10-15 minutes every day throughout the week so that on your commute every day you can listen to it. Other people can learn about how you transition from whatever job you’re in into doing more consulting, to add that as part of what you do — whether you are someone that mows lawns or makes cupcakes or you’re a counselor — how do you become a consultant?

Part of it is that I’m looking forward and thinking, how do I create a bigger audience, and then how do I develop sponsors that might want to help sponsor that podcast, because when I launch that podcast, it’s going to take a lot of time, it’s going to take a lot of effort and I’m going to try to outsource some of the editing side of the podcast. How do I set myself up so that I don’t have to work as hard on that podcast as maybe I have been with this one because I do all the editing and sound and finding songs and all that for this podcast?

It’s really just figuring out that, and you know it’s such a stage for continuing to grow, to continuing to expand and so for probably the next eight weeks, I’m going to test this out and I do want to hear from you. I want to know if you think that this takes away from the podcast because, really, first and foremost, if this podcast is not useful to you, if it’s no helpful, if it’s not helping you grow your private practice, then you’re just going to stop listening and you’re going to tell people to stop listening. That’s not what I want at all. I want to make sure that I can continue to grow what I’m doing while also making sure I’m helping you grow what you’re doing, so that we’re all offering just amazing things to the world.

Let me test this out. Legendary Lion is going to be sponsoring four of these and I’ve talked to a few other places that I think are amazing products and haven’t heard back from them yet. My assistant is already starting to work with some other potential advertisers as well and it’s exciting. It’s something new, it’s a new way to grow an income and grow the practice. I’m just trying to be fully transparent about that. You will hear for a little bit at the beginning of each show and the end of each show just who helped sponsor the podcast and let me know if you hate it and let me know if you love it. I would love the feedback.

The first counseling client: How to get your first counseling client?

So, today what I wanted to talk about is your very first client. A lot of what we’ve talked about has been kind of more advanced things. When you have a practice that starts to plateau or those sorts of things but I recently got an email from someone that said that all that you share is great and all but what about my first client? Like I haven’t had a client yet. What I do?

I thought, today’s episode I want to talk about what you do to find your very first client, even before you see someone. I recently launched the video and that will be in the show notes. It’s a video of how to start a private practice in one day and it’s for less than $200: the five things that you need to do in one day to launch a private practice to get it started.

I’m assuming that you’ve already started. You’ve filed your LLC paperwork, you have a location — a location that hopefully, is one that you’re paying either by the session or as a percentage of what you bring in, not just going in and renting a space and hoping that it works. I mean, very low risk that you have a counseling phone number, you’ve got your counseling website, you’ve got your counseling business cards — that you’ve got all that done. Now, what?

Let’s talk about some things that you can do to bring in that very first client because it’s so exciting. I remember my first client. My very first client, Monica Lieser who was in Podcast Episode 30 — something. She was talking all about couples and sex and I’ll have a link to that in the show notes, too. She actually gave me my very first client in private practice. I remember that day. I had been hustling and talking to people and networking and getting to know people.

When nothing is working

Nothing was working. It had been like months and I had a group practice and I’m just like seriously, I don’t know what else I can do because at that time it was like — I’m not on insurances because I’m a new graduate. I don’t have those years of experience that you need in Michigan. The people that have called have insurance and want insurance and I didn’t know all about how to talk about private pay counseling and all that.

Monica, she was seeing this couple and she referred the husband from that couple to me and I will be eternally grateful to her for that because that really got the ball rolling. For me, to be able to have that very first client and build that confidence was such like you just remember it. When I opened Mental Wellness Counseling, I still remember my first client that followed through with me. It’s such an awesome moment.

Practice Marketing: How to improve private practice marketing to get the first client.

When you’re not there, what do you do? There’s a number of things that we’re going to talk about in kind of really big chunks. So, the first big chunk is just kind of private practice marketing. How do you get your name out there? Now, I would say Psychology Today, in most communities is a really good resource because Psychology Today, when you google, almost any city, it’s the first or second thing that comes up: their therapist finder.

If you email me, you’re able to — I can refer you and then you’ll get a free six months. By doing that, I also, if you decide to go with them and pay for it, and I think it’s $29 a month. I figure, hey if you get one client every six months, it’s paid for itself. If you end up going with them, then I’ll get a month for free, so we both win.

Email me and I’d love to refer you and then we also get to be in each other’s networks. Psychology Today in some communities there are 50 pages of therapists. In those communities, maybe it’s not worth it. Maybe in New York City it’s going to be really competitive around there.

The way they do it with how it ranks is, they randomly rank different people. It’s not like Google, but they just rotate you through. You may be on Page 49 for a while, but you might be on Page 1 for a while. That would be pretty awesome. I’d say get your name out there by doing something like Psychology Today. I would also say that just doing tons of in-person networking and kind of you first round I would say is really just set up a lot of appointments to meet people face-to-face.

What doesn’t work in setting up a counseling private practice

The letters were: “Hi! I’m new to the area. Or I just opened my practice.” From people I’ve talked to and from personal experience that really doesn’t work very well. I would say set up a bunch of in-person appointments where you go meet with a doctor for 10 minutes, you go meet with a pastor, and you meet with some lawyers. You meet with business people, just to shake to hands, introduce people — the kind of people that you want either as clients or you want referring to.

The specific private practice networking strategy

Once you do that, you’re going to have an idea of the maybe 50 people that you go meet. That you figure, if you meet one person a day for 10 weeks, that’s 50 people over the business week. That’s like if you’re not seeing people you might as well be networking like it’s a full-time job.

You go shake hands, you meet people, and you talk to them. From those 50 people, who are the 10 that you felt like you really just connected with? I’m talking like, “they’d be a good referral for us.” I mean, who were the people that you liked? Who were the people that you enjoyed talking to? I think about who have been my biggest referrals? My own doctor has been one of my biggest referrals. The pastor that married my wife and I — he for a long time was a big referral but he ended up moving to a different city so your referrals sometimes leave.

Then the rest are just kind of a handful of people that I tend to connect with here and there. There are almost all people that I feel like I like them and they like me on a personal level. I think of some of the people that I’ve met. Like I used to be on the radio. I’m on the radio now, but at a different station. I was on the radio for this call-on therapy show. Well, the lady, ‘Mary in the Morning’, Mary, was not there and this other guy, Steve, was filling in. He filled in for her and he was just really cool. During the commercial breaks we’d chat, and I was like, “Hey, Steve. Would you like to get breakfast?” He said, “Sure. That’d be great.” We got breakfast and I bet every other month he and I end up getting breakfast together.

It’s amazing because the more that you get breakfast, the more that you get to know each other. The more that you develop that relationship with that person, the more trust there is, like authentic trust, not just like fake trust where they don’t know you but you just like each other. When you know someone and you like them, and then someone comes to you and says, “You know what? I need counseling.” That person’s going to then refer them to the people they know and trust. They are at the forefront of their mind, not the random person that just sent one letter.

We start really broad with like 50 people, narrow it down to 10 people to have lunch with. Then from those 10 people figure out to like three or four that you just really felt like these are good people that I really want to connect with. Those oftentimes are the ones that will refer to you frequently.

If you have a new doctor that refers someone eventually, follow up with them. So, you don’t have your first client yet but you’re out there networking to hack out of things, that’s the first thing — just making sure that people know your name. The other part within that is making sure that you have a niche or a couple of private practice niches because so many people do counseling, but what makes you different? What’s your personal story?

Private Practice Consulting

I was doing private practice consulting with someone once and they used to weigh like 300 or 400 pounds and then they — I think he weighed like 190 or 180. His story was,

“I used to be overweight and I changed my lifestyle and I want to help you do that too.”

He’d found his story. He’d found his niche as to what worked for him and what was his story.

There was another guy that I was looking at his website and he’d a near-death experience where he was pronounced dead for — I don’t know how long it was. Then he went from being a corporate banker to being a counselor. In the front page of his website he says his story:

“I was pronounced dead and I had a lifestyle change where I went back to school to become a counselor to help the world. I used to be making six figures like it was nobody’s business.”

I don’ think he said “Like it was nobody’s business.” He was making six figures like it was nobody’s business. “Now, I’m a counselor. I just want to help people. I feel like life is too short.” He told his story and then he had specific niches around lifestyle changes about trying to help better the world.

The more that you can articulate what’s your story in a really short, almost like Twitter style, 140 characters or elevator speech, whatever words you use, the easier it is for people to help refer to you. For Mental Wellness Counseling:

we help angry kids, frustrated parents and distant couples… and just about everyone else.

Keys to Practice Marketing: Techniques That Work

At Mental Wellness Counseling we help people across the life span. We have an infant mental person who works with infants and preschoolers and parents all the way up to someone that works with people that are emptynesters or they’re living post-divorce after being married for 50 years. We still kind of say we help angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples… and just about everybody else because people remember them. They remember who we help and it’s just straightforward. I don’t have to explain it. It’s just easy to understand.

The other thing is once you’ve got your website going, making sure that you’re really trying to rank high (here’s an article about using the Google Keyword Tool) and really early on, in your practice before you have clients, putting in that sweat, equity is going to be the best use of your time, doing tons of blogging, doing tons of keyword research, making sure you’re using the terms counseling plus your town.

Keyword Marketing Examples

For example, in Mental Wellness Counseling’s website we often, after our name, Mental Wellness Counseling, at Traverse City Counseling practice. We only have one location but by saying Traverse City Counseling, that’s something that someone is going to google. We routinely rank usually number 1 in our area but sometimes we drop to number 2 or number 3; Psychology Today often outranks us.

That is a great way to be able to rank higher in Google is writing a lot of things around your keywords. Maybe you write articles about angry kids, maybe you write about five ways to help your marriage today. Maybe you talk about how to get through the six weeks post-pregnancy, when you’re not having sex and you’re feeling disconnected and you’re dead-tired and I’m just talking about that because we have a new baby. I oftentimes am tired. How do you stay connected to your spouse?

So, creating articles that people want to share (sometimes known as content marketing) is going help you rank higher in Google, but it’s also going to get your name out there a lot more. All right.

Also, writing “Thank you” notes after you meet with people. I forgot to say that. That’s super important. Put your business cards in there. The more that you get your business cards out there to people, the more likely they are to refer.

Make counseling referrals easy

All right, next. A big thing that you want to do is make it easy for people to refer to you. Give your referral sources, your personal cellphone number. If they ever have a question, if they ever need to consult on a case, you know what? Principals of high school, by all means, let’s got out for breakfast and chat it out as to your students — make it very easy for them.

I have a handout that I give to doctors (how to get doctor referrals) that’s for them to give to their clients. When they give it to their patients, it basically walks them through how do you make an intake appointment? Like who do we help? We help angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples… and everybody else. Then we explain a little bit about that. Here’s how you set up an intake. You call this number, you do this, you do this, and do this. It’s very easy where that doctor can then just hand that to that person.

I still don’t have a client in my private practice

You still don’t have your first client. You’re doing all this stuff.

Get involved professionally with other counselors. Counselors all the time are referring to each other. My very first client was from another counselor that said, “This guy probably needs some individual work beyond just the work that he’s doing as a couple. Go see Joe. It’d be great for you to go work with him.”
Work with other professionals. Get involved professionally with your local counseling social work, psychology group so that they can refer to you and know what types of people to refer and what types of people not to refer. Remember that networking is your job at this point.
Overall, the big thing that you’re trying to do is to develop a network of people that know and like and trust you. That’s super hard to do; it’s out of nowhere because well, there are big cities. We all are trying to grow our practices. We all are trying to get our names out there and it’s a very competitive market sometimes. Honestly, a lot of counselors are not doing these things. A lot of counselors are just not focusing on these sorts of things.

I know this is a little shorter podcast today, but I want you to take the extra time to take some action. Even if you aren’t brand-new, please go out there and grow your practice, implement some of these things. I know that a lot of it was around networking. A lot of it was around getting your name out there but when you make it easy for a client to schedule an appointment — oh I remember something. Sorry, I was starting to wrap it up, but on your website, I’m amazed at how many counselors don’t have their phone number or email at the top of the website. Put it in the header so that — I mean, why are people coming to a counseling website? It’s not usually to read a blog or to just hang out. They’re coming there to schedule a counseling appointment.

So, put your phone number at the top.

Like it’s 101 or it’s pre-101. It’s not even college level. Put the phone number at the top. If you phone number is not at the top of your website you are just asking to not get as many referrals as you could. Also, raise your rates. That’s going to make people continue to have a perception that you are worth more, which you are. You’re worth it.

I can’t think of anything else. I went through my list. Pretty jazzed up, I had coffee this morning. I’m recording this podcast now during the day rather than on the weekend like I was before because I am in my private practice more during the week now. I’m trying to set better boundaries around the weekend. I think it’s kind of working. Let me know what you think.

I’m so excited that you are a part of this community.

A question from a listener about how to handle counseling no shows and when to charge.

I am going to take a question now and answer that. Then we’re going to wrap things up. All right.

Hey, Joe. I had a question about no shows. I’ve been having a lot for some reason lately. It hasn’t been this bad, but I remember you mentioning in the past just in the past in one of your podcasts that you charge your whole fee when you have a no show. My question is, how do go about doing that? Do you have clients sign something? What do you when it’s a first-time client, and it’s a no show? Do you still bill them? Those are just some of the questions I had. Thanks.

I really love this question because I think it really gets to the heart of how we view ourselves and how we view our worth. So often, I hear clinicians that say, “I feel bad charging people for not showing up or I charge them $25 or I charge them $20.”

There are few concepts before I answer this caller’s question because I think that at the heart of this is, what are we worth? How to charge more money? Now, whether you have a full private practice or a struggling one, ultimately, that time that you set aside for that person you didn’t take on new clients. Even if you’re not busy, you had the potential to take someone on during that time. Thinking through what is the — not just the image, but also what’s the standard you want to set for yourself?

I actually charge my full rate if someone no-shows, unless there is a car accident or someone’s really sick and they cancel right before, something like that. I’ve the 24-hour notice clause that they have to give me at least 24-hour notice so that I can try to fill it. At the heart of it is that I could have filled that counseling session with somebody else and so why would I get $20 for showing up, for being here or for keeping that spot open if I could have filled it with a full rate client? That’s part of it.

Accountability of a counseling no show

I think, also, the accountability side. I found that I have a very low no show rate when someone does have to pay for their no show or their late cancellation. Now, there are times where someone calls the morning off. I’ll usually, if I can fill that session or I’m able to go home early, I am flexible around it. You can choose whether you’re going to be completely rigid and completely consistent or not. I don’t do it like based on client. “Oh, I like that person or not.” That’d be obviously unethical.

I think that there are situations when people say the week before, “Oh, my daughter might have volleyball that night. We’re going to have to let know.” Then you know, “Okay, they might cancel the last minute or they might not.” You then kind of take on that risk, as well. I think charging the full rate really helps the client realize that you are busy or you have the potential to be busy and that someone else could have had that session.

Logistics of a no show policy

The way the logistics work is within my intake, I mention it. I also have it in my intake paperwork that they sign off that they’ll be charged the full rate. I don’t keep a credit card on file. Some people do that. I just feel like with so many hackers and confidentiality. Obviously, we keep ourselves confidential anyway but it just feels really weird to me to have like a credit card on file. If someone wanted me to do that, that’d feel really like hacky. I just don’t like that.

If someone then no shows, then in the next session, I charge for that. I may also email them ahead of time. I kind of gage it based on my own clinical judgment. If it’s a brand-new client, though, I don’t charge them for that because if you think of it from a sales perspective, you don’t want to start that therapeutic relationship or that business relationship on the wrong foot. I may mention that I just wanted to let you know that typically with that no show or in the first session you need to cancel the hour before, I will have to charge you that full rate in future sessions. I just wanted to remind you of that and I’ll waive that this first time because you just don’t want to start that therapeutic relationship on the wrong food and you don’t want to start them being double out-of-pocket even though you could have filled that session.

I found that when someone has to pay for that no show, it really reminds them, especially like my teenagers that I work with, I had teenagers that just totally flaked out and their parents say, “You have to pay the full rate. I’m not going to pay it.” Then maybe that teenager’s had to work for a number of hours. Maybe that’s like a full day’s work for them that they’re paying. They then take counseling a lot more seriously. I mean, if you no show on a doctor, you no show on a plumber or you no show on your furnace person you have to pay him.

Why would we change that and change our expectations for people that are coming to us that want to reach their goals? Why would we be less holding them accountable? Those are my thoughts on no shows. I’d love to hear what you think in the show notes. If you go to, you can leave comments there.

Private practice marketing Podcast Closing

Also, if you loved this podcast and we’re entering our second 50 podcasts episodes coming here, if you loved this podcast, I’d love for you to go into iTunes and write a review. It then helps other counselors or other private practice owners find us and it helps us rank higher in iTunes. That would just be awesome to have your honest review there.

Also we want to thank Legendary Lion for their sponsorship of this podcast today. Legendary Lion makes crazy, awesome, hip, cool websites and logos and is doing a lot of SEO work and branding work. They’re just continuing to grow. Check out Legendary Lion, that’s They’re good friends of ours and they’ve been really good to Practice the Practice.

Thanks for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an awesome, awesome week.

A special thanks to the band, Silence is Sexy and Tamara Laurel. Thanks for you music. This podcast is designed to provide accurate relative information in regard to the subject matter covered.

private practice consultant headshot

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 to increase revenue and have more fun! 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.

Photo by Jan Jablunka