This Week's Poll
In Part 1 of this series we talked about how to best manage your available client schedule from 30,000 feet. I gave you a set of guidelines to use in setting your overall weekly work schedule. This week we'll take a look at the 5 primary sources of clients you'll utilize to fill your client schedule, then next week we'll talk about how to maximize the situation for short-term profit and long-term defensive strategies.
Why Do I Need Multiple Client Referral Sources?
Basing your entire practice on a single client stream simply because it pays better or presents you with less work is a train-wreck waiting to happen.
Things change. Discretionary funds dry up in economic down-turns and runaway housing markets. Anchor companies change locations and take their insurance and EAP benefits (and employees) with them. Specializations and "hot topic" treatments come and go (ask the surgeons that used to make a living doing tonsillectomies back in the '60's, or ear, nose, throat doctors who made a killing sticking tubes in kids ears in the 80's and '90s's). Things change.
5 Practical Ways to Fill Your Client Schedule
From my point-of-view there are only 5 major client streams:
1. Online Marketing
2. Local Referrals/Word-of-Mouth
3. Insurance Panels
4. EAP Panels
I'm not a proponent of the, "hang your shingle and they will come", way of thinking so let me tell you a little bit about why I believe you should take a proactive approach and avail yourself of all 5. In no particular order:
This is the sole tactic most often employed by the crowd that thinks a practice will grow all by itself. Claim a few directory listings and hope people find you in a Google search. It works well for some, not so well for others. I encourage you to do it and check your listings at least once annually, but don't rely entirely on this channel. You're just asking for it.
This channel will probably provide 99% of the counselors out there with the fewest number of clients every year. Why? Because it takes time, effort, and discipline to do it and you have to get out of the office do it right.
When I say "Local Referrals" I don't mean from other counselors. You're competing with them for the same client base for the most part. The only exception to that would be if you held some certification in a specialty that no one else in the area has, then maybe another counselor might send someone your way.
Local Referrals will come from closely related professions: medical doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists,...that's the group to work. Personally I spend zero time working the mental health in-patient facilities because not only are they in competition with you for out-patient care but by the time they've cycled through a patient, that client has no insurance benefits left anyway.
Insurance companies have all the money, they have the referral influence, and billing has gotten a whole lot simpler with the advent of EHR's. When your self-pay clients experience a shortage of discretionary funds during a financial downturn, your insurance clients will keep coming through the front door.
The red-headed step-child no one wants to entertain because it doesn't pay as well as everything else. Here's a couple reasons to cultivate a solid referral relationship with at least 2-3 different EAPS's anyway.
First, the pay is not as bad as you think it is anymore. Pick the right ones then accept an EAP appt or two each week to fill in the gaps in your schedule. A $75 pay-day is better than $0 when it comes time to pay the rent.
Second, they are begging counselors to see people in person right now and will be for years to come. Tell them, "yes", 2-3 times a week when they inquire about your schedule availability and they'll move you to the top of their call-list.
Why is that a wise move? You'll appreciate how smart you were in doing that when your self-pay dries up for a spell and your revenue takes a sharp drop. You will have already built the spigot and all you have to do is turn it up a bit for an immediate revenue increase. Nice.
You'll have to put in the work up front to get certified but that's only half the work. Now you get to tell all of your "Local Referrers" about your new skillset and availability. You'll do that through your "Local Referrals" marketing efforts which are gone through in uber-detail in our workshop, The Counseling Landscape Part 2. Specializations are only worth a fraction of their true value if no one outside of your office knows you offer them.
- If you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket dries up where will that leave you? Spread your risk and invest your time in cultivating client streams from several different sources.
- When your, "it'll never happen to me" moment happens to you, you'll be glad you took a long-term, proactive, defensive position and protected yourself, your practice, and your family.
Plan Smart. Be Safe. Serve Others.
Kathleen Mills, LPC-S, CEAP
Got An Opinion?
These posts are my beliefs based on a) almost 30 year practice as a mental health provider and b) my own research. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to leave your civil, constructive comments below. I try very hard to back up my liberty-based statements with my own experience and/or verifiable facts and I would ask you to do the same. You do not need to be logged in to leave a comment.