Many private practice therapists take some time off in August. In fact, a lot of therapists take the entire month off. This has a WONDERFUL effect on “supply and demand” for therapists who are hoping to pick up more private pay clients. During August, a therapist who is actually available to receive new client inquiries is poised for success. I started my practice in May 2012, just after getting my license; and I took my own full time office space eight weeks later in July. Since I had just taken on more overhead, I was totally dedicated to filling my schedule in August. I was AMAZED at the number of calls I got in August from clients who were seeking a new therapist, and I think that boost helped my practice to get started on the right foot. August is a great time for therapists who wish to build their practice for the following three reasons:
- August feels like a good “excuse” for clients who feel they need one. Clients who have been meaning to “break up” with their therapist often seize on August as a good time to shop because their normal therapist is unavailable, so it seems like a perfect time to reach out for someone new. Yes, it would be better if the client would actually discuss their feelings of dissatisfaction with their therapist before looking elsewhere-- but if the client ultimately prefers to just find a new therapist, why not let it be you? FYI when clients call me to say that they already have a therapist but are searching for someone new, I ALWAYS ask them if they’ve discussed their feelings with their therapist, and I often even encourage them to do so before booking an appointment with me-- but oftentimes, the client has just already made up their mind. So I ask them to help me understand how their previous therapist disappointed them. I explain that I’d like to learn where things went awry so that I can either avoid making the same mistake or possibly help the client find a different therapist if I think I’d actually take the same approach as the therapist they're leaving. Oftentimes, the client has been meaning to leave their therapist for a while, but the therapist has constantly challenged their wish to leave; and so the therapist’s August absence seemed like the perfect opportunity to “slip away".
- Therapists disappear. There are fewer therapists answering their phone or returning initial inquiries. With fewer therapists responding to inquiries, it’s much easier to stand out simply by being available. Many therapists just totally disconnect from their office when they go on vacation. They do the modern equivalent of a “gone fishing” sign, if they even do that much. Many of them don’t even bother to update their outbound voice greeting or email vacation responder to state when they’ll return; they don’t have anyone managing inquiries to at least help inquiries to have a call planned for when the therapist returns; and they certainly aren’t committing to at least check their phone/email for one hour per day so that they can return home to a nice roster of new clients. They just disappear for their own “de-stressing time” and don’t do much beyond offer an emergency backup for existing clients only. This is fine, unless you happen to find a lack of clients to be stressful! Unless you consider yourself so full that you have no interest in new clients and/or increasing demand to the point of warranting a fee increase, don’t totally ignore your new client pipeline just because you’re away from the office! On the other hand, if you’re a therapist who wants to pick up clients, the August dynamics can work in your favor.
- Wait times increase. Wait times for an initial appointment are longer, since there are fewer therapists around. As we all know, clients generally call for a therapist because they’re having a PROBLEM: they had a breakup, they had a panic attack, they had a problem at work. They want to speak with someone SOON. When you have a problem, don’t you sit down at your computer and start reaching out to experts who can help; and base your decision at least partially upon which expert is able to help you IN A TIMELY MANNER? If you have openings, August is a GREAT time to let the public as well as your referral sources know.
If you're planning to be away:
- Consider offering phone or video sessions, even just for a few hours per week for clients who may have a sticky situation arise where they would like your support
- Consider logging in to return new client inquiries for 15 minutes per day, or see my blog on receptionists
- Make sure you give your clients clear homework to do while you're gone so they don't feel like you're putting them "on the shelf" just because you're away. At my office, vacationing therapists also offer the client the option to do what we call "guest therapy" where they see someone else at my practice where the session would be tailored to that client's particular needs. We explain in advance the benefits of getting a fresh perspective, telling your story to someone new for narrative building, exposing yourself to a new person for socially anxious clients, doing a mock job interview for clients who are seeking jobs, or whatever way that the vacationing therapist can suggest that might be helpful for the client.
If you're planning to keep your normal hours:
- Make sure your PsychologyToday, business Facebook, Google Location, and everywhere else your business is listed trumpets the fact that you're available during August.
- Consider taking some Facebook or Google ads since there's less competition and your ads will stand out more. You can take Facebook ads for very little (like $3 per day). You can do this with Google too, but it's not quite as simple as Facebook.
- Reach out to referral sources (or potential referral sources if you don't have any!) to reassure them that you will be here in August since you know many therapists are away. August is a perfect "excuse" to nudge referral sources and remind them of your presence.
- Write a blog about August being a great time for relaxation and offer tips on how to do so; or write a blog about gearing up for September and how to do so. Finish the blog by saying that you're available if anyone wants to discuss the topics further. Share the blog in your newsletter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Mark your calendar to re-post that blog every year in late July so that you can get lots of mileage out of it!
If you’re a motivated therapist who would like to start or enhance your therapy practice, August is an excellent time to do so. August can be a wonderful time for private practice, if you have your ducks in a row. If you’d like more tips, informational videos, and a supportive community as you build your private pay therapy practice, I hope you will consider joining my program for therapists who want to enjoy a private practice that gives them the ability to take good care of themselves, their clients, and their loved ones.