Effective Marketing in a Counselling Business

Professionals in the health and allied industries, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, counsellors, social workers, etc, often work from their own self-employed businesses. In Australia, a considerable section of the industry is self-employed, whilst many other professional counsellors who have not yet become their own bosses, aspire to do so.

In this article, we discuss one the most critical aspects of starting and perpetuating a business: marketing. You will learn how counsellors can gain exposure and build a positive image for their business, whilst developing a good client base – despite their theoretical orientation or experience with self-employment. We hope many of our readers will find this particularly useful to achieve their own business (and personal) New Year resolutions!

Marketing and Counselling

We begin with a basic question: what constitutes marketing? Many counsellors and small to medium business owners believe marketing is simply advertising. This is a HUGE error. Marketing is so much more than just your advertising. Advertising is simply one method, medium or process by which to communicate your product or service to prospective clients.

Marketing however encapsulates:

Strategy; mindset; planning; capital; branding; products and services; product packaging; positioning; pricing; business location; communication; market drivers; business models; innovation; distribution channels; policies and procedures; guarantees; relationship building; sales processes; goals and objectives; business philosophy; and more.

Marketing encapsulates everything that influences the CHOICES of your prospects and clients. And the choices of your prospects and clients relate to:

  • Their perception of your business, products and image;
  • Whether they purchase or not;
  • Whether they continue using or re-use your service;
  • Whether they refer your service;
  • Whether they pay;
  • How much they are willing to pay;
  • Whether or not they endorse;
  • And much more.

As you can see, there is a lot more to effective marketing than just running an ad. How effectively a company undertakes marketing is the primary determinant of its level of success. Marketing is WITHOUT DOUBT the most leveragable process in your business. It is also the most overlooked, and hence the reason for the majority of business failures. Being a qualified counsellor with great experience and a well-established practice won’t help unless people know about it!

Networking for Exposure

In the counselling industry, one of the most powerful ways to build your business image is networking. Counselling clients can be derived from varied sources, particularly community networks – it is very important that counsellors recognise that factor in order to get the appropriate exposure which their businesses require.

Following are some suggestions that can be helpful:

Talk to your family Doctor and let him or her know what you are planning (or about your recently established business) as you may have to make referrals to him/her. Many counsellors get referrals from Doctors and this is usually the result of establishing a meaningful trust relationship.

Likewise, discuss your plans with your family Pharmacist as he/she may also be able to help building your professional profile.

Talk to your local Naturopath/ Homoeopath/ Physiotherapist/ etc. and suggest an exchange of business cards. Explain that you would like to have someone specific to make referrals to and maybe he/she may care to reciprocate.

Contact Support Groups and Agencies in your area explaining the service that you offer. Maybe you can offer to help them out from time to time, even on a voluntary basis. Voluntary work is an excellent way to gain experience and create links with both the community and other professional in health care industries. You can offer your voluntary work in places such as hospitals, aged care facilities, community centres, etc.

One of the best ways to promote your business is by word of mouth, and one of the most effective ways to ensure that this happens is to run group activities such as Grief and Loss discussion groups.

Building Your Profile

As a counsellor, recognition of your knowledge, experience, qualifications and competence are very important. How can you effectively build a positive profile within your prospects and current clients? That is a pertinent question in a counsellor’s career.

As we’ve cited previously, marketing activities such as networking and volunteering play a major role in building the counsellor’s profile. Primarily, it is a way for the counsellor to validate his/her skills and qualifications throughout working directly with clients and other professionals. Secondarily, maintaining a meaningful trust relationship with other professionals and volunteering will help creating the image of a ‘contributor of the community’, which is a premise for building trust and rapport with prospective clients (a very important aspect of any counselling relationship).

Another effective strategy to build a professional profile is to educate others. Creating and distributing informational flyers, writing a newsletter or eZine, running an informative blog, facebook page or twitter profile, conducting workshops and attending discussion groups are all good examples of such activities. Through this process, counsellors position themselves as specialists in their area – thus, attracting prospective clients. The cited activities are also useful for professional development and efficient in keeping the counsellor up-to-date with industry developments, counselling theory and practice.

Improving Marketing through Delivery

A very common way service professionals achieve a differential position in the market is the interesting – and potentially risky – art of over-delivering (and under-promising). But what exactly is over-delivering? Over-delivering is providing a level of service over and above that expected or anticipated for the service provided.

Over-delivery is providing a level of service beyond what you’ve promised your client in your marketing message. An example of service over-delivery would be to provide your client with a surprise complimentary gift after the first session. The gift may be in the form of a tele-coaching session, a seminar, a book, or perhaps a voucher to the movies or a massage session.

Many astute counsellors actually provide services of other business professionals in order to provide their over-delivery. For example, in the case of a free massage above, you may be able to do a deal with a health spa that is willing to provide a complimentary session to your clients in the anticipation that your client will continue to use their service in the future. This type of arrangement is a powerful win to all parties – You are able to provide your client with an added benefit, the health spa gets a potential long term client for low cost, and your client gets a free massage.

The intention of service over-delivery is to build goodwill with your clients. It’s intended that this goodwill will translate into business benefits for you. Those benefits may be longer client contracts, increased referral and stronger product endorsement.

Generally your perceived gain from over-delivering your service would be greater than your cost to provide the additional benefit to your client. (In the above example your cost is actually zero). Clearly it’s very important that you take into consideration the cost of over-delivery in your financial planning. When engaging in this process, you must be aware of the cost/benefit relationship that will arise from it, ensuring that for every cost involved, there is a mutual benefit.

However, every investment requires a systematic approach in order to be successful – and over-delivering is not different. You’ll need to establish goals in order to measure the outcomes of your efforts, and also to avoid having financial problems due to an ill planned promotion. You can include the following points in your over-delivery strategy:

Establish primary objectives

List each advantage of over-delivering in a priority order. Referrals, networking and partnership possibilities are all reasons for this type of promotion. Your primary objectives will also be parallel to your current position in the market: whether you have just started your business, included a new service, found a new niche, etc.

Find a target market

The main objective of over-delivering is to provide more satisfaction to customers. For this reason, look for groups that can offer a great deal of options for your business, such as networking possibilities. Once you’ve established the right target, you’ll be able to refine your promotion and possibly calculate the most likely outcomes of each interaction.

Choose your gift

Now that you’ve decided what your target market is, you need to decide on what you are going to offer. You may provide extra services of your own, or negotiate with a local service provider to exchange vouchers for referrals. There are many options to choose from, but the most important thing is to ensure that whatever the gift is, it will have some value to the client.

Create protocols

You are going to face a constant trade-off between the amount of extra time you are going to spend with ‘give-aways’ and how much you can actually spend. Creating protocols will help you to balance this equation and ensure you’ll neither go too far on over-delivering, nor too low. It will also give you enough flexibility to deal with various opportunities that may arise throughout the process.

It is important for the counsellor to realize that marketing is an ongoing process – and to ensure that the service delivered is of the highest possible quality. With the appropriate training, the passion to help people and the dedication to get a business practice on its way – your career is likely to become a success!