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The Biz-Savvy Consultant – An Interview with Susan Giurleo, PhD

Dr. Susan Giurleo is a psychologist and private practice consultant–the Biz-Savvy Therapist.  She talked to WTCI via email about what she does and how she does it.

What’s your background? What do you do now?

I am trained as a PhD counseling psychologist and focused my research around education and career development. Over time my interests shifted a bit to helping children with developmental issues such as ADHD, autism spectrum and learning disorders. I was a school psychologist for awhile, worked in a group practice and then got tired of working for others and went out on my own. The whole idea of starting a business was overwhelming and scary to me. I had no business background and neither did anyone in my immediate family. But I was motivated to learn because I wanted to create my ideal practice, utilizing evidence-based approaches to help kids and families in distress.

I spent a lot of time learning how business and health care work. Once I got the business fundamentals down, I started to learn how to market my practice. I quickly realized that marketing involves psychology at its core. The best marketing speaks to people’s needs in a way that allows them to understand products and services and make purchasing decisions.

Learning how to market my practice was fun and rewarding. And led me to where I am today.

Now, in addition to my private practice, I write my blog BizSavvyTherapist.com and provide business coaching and consultation to mental health professionals in private practice. My focus is on the marketing of small practices because I feel that is where people can do the work they love and make a very good living at the same time.

All of the business skills I talk about and teach are ethical and promote good mental health. I teach a strategy called “content marketing” (some call it ‘information marketing’). This approach combines valuable psychoeducation to the public,while at the same time promoting a practice and mental health services. Content marketing allows a practitioner to position herself as an expert or the “go to” person in her community for a specific treatment issue or condition. Based on solid, ethical content clients start to self-identify a fit between their needs and a specific practice or provider. At the same time referral sources such as physicians, lawyers and other professionals come to see the provider as a reliable source of information and quality care for their clients.

The BizSavvyTherapist allows me to combine my passions of promoting mental health, education and entrepreneurship. I feel that the more clinicians I can empower to have strong practices, the more people we can help and serve. It feels like a win-win–more clients, more healing and more income for providers.

How do you go about working with clients using content marketing?

My coaching process has evolved over the past few months.

Initially I ask my coaching clients lots of questions about their reasons for becoming a therapist,why they want to build a practice, what their ideal practice looks like and who they want to help.

To build an authentic practice each one of us needs to know our “why.”  Why do what you do? Who do you help others? What drives your decision to work for yourself?

The truth is, it’s not easy to be a small business owner. Yet, so many therapists start their graduate training with this goal in mind, but graduate with no idea how to go about the process of making money in a helping profession. So, we need to get at the heart of our motivations to be in the business of helping.

Once there is clarity on the why, we then explore how that translates into a profitable business. From my client’s core passions and interests we develop a focus, or a specialty from which they can build an authentic, rewarding business. We generate a business plan that incorporates a balance between their business and the lifestyle they desire. I call this “career/life balance.”

Once this base business plan is in place, I can teach and advise how to do the “nuts and bolts” work of building a website/blog, provide services that clients want and will pay for, and multiple income streams and marketing.

Ultimately, the goal is for therapists to have a solid business that helps people with specific needs and generates a good profit.

In this way, helping professionals can do the work they love and get paid well. It’s not hard to do once people are very clear on their motivations and goals.

What are the basic marketing lessons that apply to therapists?

The cornerstone of any success business requires that we offer something specific that solves a problem or addresses a pain point for people. By default, therapists are trained to help people in pain, but we are rarely specific enough about this.

Human beings naturally categorize things, ideas and people. We are hard wired to sort out “what’s in it for me?” Therefore, we pay close attention to the details of a business or service offering. We are willing to invest our resources (time, money, energy) into something that looks like a good fit for our needs.

This means that therapists need to become more specialized and demonstrate an expertise in one treatment area. People don’t work with generalists. They want providers that can meet their specific needs.

Without a focused specialization, all marketing efforts are wasted. No one can successfully market “therapy.” First of all, how do you define that well enough so people see that they need it? And, let’s face it, no one will trust someone who says “I can help you with any problem you may have.” Would you trust a physician who says they can treat any ailment from cancer to schizophrenia? Of course not. So the first basic marketing lesson is to develop a specialty.

After deciding on a focus for your practice, the next step is to develop a marketing “home” where all of your marketing activity comes together. I always suggest this be a website built on a blog platform (WordPress is my preference). Having a robust web presence allows people to access your information 24/7 and eliminates any need for brochures since the website has all the information people will need.

The website becomes the place where you provide information about your specialty, articles that are informational and helpful to clients (and potential clients). You can list services, products, free newsletters, etc. Once these basics are in place you then branch out into social media using Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic back to your site. It really can be quite elegant and efficient once you get a good basic online structure set up.

And the third marketing tip: show yourself online. Put a picture of yourself on your webpage, get rid of those pictures of sunsets, beaches and drops of water (they don’t mean anything to people). When you engage in social media, always have a picture of yourself associated with the account (whether it be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or another networking site). Therapists are essentially marketing themselves. We don’t have a product. If you won’t show your face online, people will not trust you. Our culture increasingly expects to see faces of others online. The internet is the new community center. I know many therapists are uncomfortable with the concept,but we can’t change cultural shifts. If you want to engage in a marketing plan, be ready to show yourself. Nobody will every visit with an anonymous therapist.

Are there marketing ideas that don’t fit for this profession?

The one things many marketers recommend that therapists can’t use is testimonials.

Ethically, we can’t ask clients to give us feedback that we then share with others.
Sometimes business minded clients will offer a testimonial, but I recommend a policy of not using them because our ethics codes are clear that testimonials can be a place of misused power differential. That really is the only area where we need to adjust our marketing efforts.

However, I also want to say that I hear a lot of talk in professional circles about how therapists should not use social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) but that is incorrect advice. There are many ways we can use these platforms ethically and safely to promote mental health and to market our practices. As long as the information shared is factual and never references real client stories or situations, social media is a powerful tool. There is a lot of debate about this, but many of the people engaged in these discussions don’t seem to really understand the flexibility in these platforms. It is absolutely possible to have an ethical social media presence. I recommend therapists learn how to use Facebook and Twitter with their “professional” hat on, rather than approach it as they would as a private person.

I talk about ways to use social media on my blog.

Any final words of wisdom for people building a private practice…?

Start with one thing. Take one action. That could be meeting with a professional colleague for lunch or coffee, writing an article for a local publication (online or off line), heading over to WordPress.org and starting a blog. The process of building and marketing a practice can seem overwhelming, but when we break it down into steps and stick with it, a lot of progress can be made in a short period of time.

I wish every one the best in their practice building efforts!

Find Susan Giurleo, PhD on the web at BizSavvyTherapist.com, ChildDevelopmentPartners.com, and on twitter: @susangiurleo.

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1 Comment

  1. Great interview.

    I agree 100% with this …

    “Without a focused specialization, all marketing efforts are wasted. ”

    and yet sssooooooooo many practitioners post a laundry list of conditions on their profiles/sites.

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