One of the biggest challenges for anybody embarking on marketing their private practice, or any business for that matter, is where to spend their marketing budget. The plethora of opportunities continues to grow: leaflets, posters, postcards, directories, signage, and public relations, now compete with websites, Google AdWords, Facebook, LinkedIn and an abundance of online directories. It’s become even more difficult to decide which platform is going to give you the best ‘bang for your buck’. American marketing pioneer John Wanamaker once said: ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.’ In this, the first of a new series of columns I shall be contributing to this journal, I am going to suggest a different, and maybe slightly radical way to help you get more from your marketing spend.

The starting point is probably not where you would imagine. How much does a typical client spend on counselling sessions with you? A client who pays £35 a session and attends 10 sessions would spend £350. Once you know this figure for your practice you can decide how much of the £350 you would be willing to spend on reaching that client. If you were to spend £175 on an advert in your local paper, you would need at least one client to come for five sessions just to pay for the advert, let alone your time and room hire costs. 

So the first lesson here is to think of everything you spend on marketing in terms of what return it will bring. Many rural-based practitioners find that an advert in their parish or local magazine for a token fee of £25 brings a disproportionate return. The fee for an entry on the BACP Find a Therapist Directory for 12 months is £72. Just one new client would pay for this by their third session.

How do your clients find you?

Now you may have spotted a potential flaw in this method. How do you know which of your marketing efforts are prompting clients to contact you? Certainly for your website you could set up some analytics software. Google even provides a free programme called Google Analytics to help. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. The most effective way is to ask every client when they first contact you how they heard about you. I suggest something like: Thank you very much for your enquiry. How did you hear about me?’ The information you get back will be the most valuable marketing intelligence you will ever receive because a real potential client is telling you what prompted
them to contact you.

You might be surprised by the answer. When I started recording the source of new clients to my own practice, I was expecting most people to have found me via my website. The truth is it was a mix of recommendations from other counsellors, a friend who had been on a workshop of mine, a postcard in a local café, a business card from a health professional, my LinkedIn profile, and many other ways. In reality clients will find you via lots of other routes and many of those are low cost or free. The trick is to work out how your clients find you. If you discover clients are coming from leaflets and postcards you have had permission to leave in a local counselling centre, café, library or community hub, your job is to stock them up weekly and make sure they never run out. One word of advice: if a client tells you they found you on the internet, it is worth asking if they remember which website it was. You will then be able to distinguish whether it was a directory, social media profile, or your website, if you have one. To help you get started I have added some tracking form templates to the new ‘website resources’ section of the BACP Private Practice website, along with a few examples of how to fill them in.

When you know where your clients come from, you have precious and valuable insight into the key referral source for your business. As for the money you won’t be wasting any more, maybe you will invest it in more marketing. Or it might just sit nicely in your back pocket. 

Martin Hogg is a counsellor and marketing expert based in Birmingham. He runs regular BACP Professional Development Days on ‘How to ethically set up, market and develop a successful private practice’.