Take Action: Add One Question to Your Intake Paperwork

Benjamin E. Caldwell, PsyD

A lot of therapists take what might respectfully be called a shotgun approach to promoting their work: Get listed on an online directory or two, network, make some business cards and flyers, build a web site, perhaps take advantage of a few other marketing opportunities… and hope for the best.

If you’ll forgive the clickbait title of this month’s column (hey, at least I didn’t call it “One simple trick”), I do think you can get a great deal more value from your advertising time and money by adding one question to your intake paperwork and meaningfully attending to the answers.

How did you hear about me?

If you have a web site, of course, you can go much farther when it comes to data analytics. But if you have a small practice, limited technical ability, or (like many of us) limited time, just asking how clients heard of you is the most efficient and useful way to get the most out of our marketing.

Of course, you have to be willing to actually compile and act on the data you get back. If you track how your clients heard about you, you should find that you can quickly dispense with ways of marketing that aren’t actually bringing anyone in to your office. For example, I know a number of therapists who spend a lot of time on social media – and I know of exactly two therapists who have actually built most of their client load that way. For everyone else I’ve known who has tried it, their carefully-crafted Facebook posts and artfully-timed Tweets have added up to carefully-crafted, artfully-worded wastes of time. (Don’t mistake an effort that produces data such as clicks or likes for an effort that produces actual clients.) They could have spent that time on more effective practice-building.

Along similar lines, I know of some therapists whose profiles in online directories are responsible for much of their practice. And I know of others who are throwing more than $300 a year out the window.

Not every practice is the same, and your ideal client may respond to different marketing than what my ideal client would respond to. That’s why you can safely disregard any guidance on marketing techniques that claims to apply to all therapists. You’ll get the most out of your time and money if you are willing to experiment, and then do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. To get there, you need to know what’s working. So just ask.

We’re all in this together. Thanks for all you do.

Benjamin E. Caldwell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#42723) in Los Angeles. He is the author of Saving Psychotherapy and Basics of California Law for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs.