The importance of knowing your market

Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, used to say that he did not need market research as he was always planning products and services which people did not expect. I can see his point and it worked out well for him as he introduced to the world personal computers, smart phones and streaming music.  I believe that practitioners in private practice, who are usually offering well defined and known therapies, should have a basic knowledge about the market in which they operate.  What are the key points of a market research for a private practitioner, e.g. a massage therapist?

Market size and demographic

If you consider the city, town or geographical area (later called just area) where you want to operate you should know or find out how many people live there and their demographic, in terms of age and gender distribution, level of education, income and so on.  It’s useful to have an idea about how affluent these people are, e.g. how many of them are already using and can afford services similar to yours.

Competitor analysis

  • How many other professionals in your area offer services similar to yours? You should really have an idea, however approximate
  • Who are your 3-5 best known competitors? You should know them, at least by name, know how much they charge and how busy they are
  • Where are your competitors? You should know where they work and how do they operate e.g. home visits, working hours
  • How active are they with their marketing? You should see whether they spend time and money networking, advertising, using social media, blogging and so on

Where to start

For someone approaching market research for the first time it can be a daunting activity but the important thing is to get on with it and collect some data.  You can start by simply searching what a client might be looking for (e.g. massage in Cambridge) and that will give you a basic idea about how the market is, how many people operate in it and so on.  The next step is to ask the same 2-3 questions to a number of people in different social contexts (e.g. colleagues, friends, parents of your children school mates) and see what answers you get.  Try to be realistic and pragmatic with the results you put together and always test them against new information you get when speaking to other people.  It might also be useful to repeat the exercise every 6 to 12 months just to check whether things are changing dramatically during that time frame or just a bit.

Conclusions

Having an idea about the market you are in will allow you to take educated strategic decisions about your prices, your working days, how much money you should be spending in advertising or whether you should rely entirely on networking and word of mouth and so on.  It’s always better to take decisions based on data, however imprecise, rather than based on assumptions which are likely to be very optimistic or wrong.

Four key marketing tools for mental health professionals

This post shares my experience in helping mental health professionals with their marketing and business development.  It’s important to be aware that mental health is affecting a very large percentage of the population and, with the funding cuts in recent years, an increasing number of people cannot get the attention and treatments they need from the NHS.

For this reason I noticed in Cambridge, over the last 5 years, a strong increase in demand for private mental health treatments like counselling, psychotherapy, clinical psychology, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and psychiatry.

Among the therapies we offer in our clinic some of them are suitable to be marketed to the general public in a similar way to other products and services.  When offering mental health therapies it’s important to remember that there are both ethical and legal reasons to regulate how these therapies are marketed, mostly because they affect vulnerable people who should not be taken advantage of.

In decreasing order of importance the four most important marketing tools for mental health professionals are:

  1. A professionally designed website
  2. Relevant and active presence on social media
  3. Professional directories
  4. Private insurance companies

A professionally designed website

It’s important to have a good website with good SEO (search engine optimisation).  Unless you have previous experience in web design refrain from making one yourself as the result will look amateurish; a professional looking website will payback many times over its investment within weeks or months.  When someone is looking for a solution to their mental health issue they are likely to search online; if they can find your website and it’s a good one, they can realise within a short time you are the right professional to treat them and they can easily make contact with you.

Social media

Many people confuse the use of social media to keep in touch with friends versus the professional use of social media as a marketing tool.  The latter is about creating a presence for yourself as an authority within the mental health profession (e.g. psychology or counselling) and publish or re-publish relevant content about how you can help your patients.  Typical social media that can work for mental health are Twitter to share links of articles from yourself or other professionals, Facebook to collect and share relevant content and Youtube to share videos of yourself or other professionals who are experts  in your profession.

Professional directories

Considering that all of the professions mentioned in this post are heavily regulated you should enlist yourself within professional directories.  These are websites which will check your qualifications and accreditations before accepting you so they offer an extra level of reassurance for patients who can have the peace of mind of using a fully qualified and accredited practitioner  who has been professional vetted.

Private Health Insurance Companies

As I mentioned at the beginning there is reduced availability of mental health treatments from the NHS therefore many people who have private health insurance often decide to use it for their mental health issues.  In these cases, once they have a referral from their GP, and the go-ahead from the insurance they will check the insurance website for a list of local professionals.  While working in similar way each insurance company have their own set fees and minimum requirements to accept a mental health professional within their directories.  It’s worth checking with all of them and decide whether working with all of them or just a few.  Despite the fees paid by insurance companies  usually being below standard market value by 10-30%, I suggest working with them as the cost of acquisition for these patients is minimum and can be used to fill up gaps in the calendar.

Conclusion

For many professionals in mental health, particularly those who just left or are still working  in the NHS, the concept of doing any kind of marketing is awkward.  Mental health, similarly to the medical profession is for many a vocation about helping others.  However as most of us have bills to pay it’s essential to understand what can be done to quickly build up a successful practice which is busy enough to make a living.  The tools and techniques described above can help with that.

The working / marketing trade-off

Massimo GaetaniThis post is about the trade-off between spending time delivering your services as a practitioner in private practice and marketing your business in a variety of ways.  If your practice attracts the right number of clients to keep you busy and support your expected lifestyle then you have been doing the right thing for a while.   Your existing clients are enough to generate sufficient demand for your business and refer you to their friends and family; this is probably the best way to maintain a busy and healthy private practice.

On the other hand, if the amount of clients you see on a typical week/month/year is substantially less than what you’d like, you need to spend more time/money/effort in marketing your business.  Depending on your circumstances you can choose what proportion of money vs. time you want to allocate to your marketing.

I spend a substantial amount of time managing and marketing our clinic and I know it pays off by the amazing growth we experienced in both customer enquiries and by the number of practitioners who join our clinic on a monthly basis: we reached 60 therapists earlier this year and we have in the pipeline about 10  who are due to join us by the end of 2016.

I devote a significant part of my work  helping practitioners working at Salus Wellness to grow their respective practice; I do that by spending some time one-to-one with them and organising workshops and networking events for them.   My baseline advice to anybody running a private practice would be to spend on marketing all the time not spent delivering their therapy.  That means allocating a working week into their own calendar as if they were going to the office/shop/factory and working, regularly and consistently, 4-5 days per week 6-8 hours per day.  The illusion of making a decent income working 10-15 hours per week and doing nothing else is merely, as mentioned above, an illusion.

Being found on the Internet

Massimo during his presentationIn this post I will discuss some of the different ways people might be searching for you/your business on the Internet and in a few cases, with an increasing level of difficulty to be found.

There was a time when people would go on your website just when they knew you exist, perhaps after meeting you and they knew the URL of your website.  Then the search engines came along and we all got lazy.  Lazy because it’s no point anymore to look for the correct URL of a website; we search them using Google or other search engines of choice.  But how do we search for people, or a business?  We type a few words, a phrase into the search engine and check the results.  Most people will not bother to check beyond the first page of results so your aim should be to be on the first page of search results for all phrases you care about.

In order to make this example meaningful let’s assume you are called Joe Bloggs and you are a Massage Therapist in Cambridge. Here is the list of search terms in increasing order of difficulty to achieve:

Your name, service you offer and location

This should be your first goal to be found and the simplest way for people to find you on the Internet.   You should check now whether a search will work with one of the following sentences.  Obviously replace Joe Bloggs with your name, massage with your therapy and Cambridge with your location:

  • Joe Bloggs Massage Therapist in Cambridge
  • Joe Bloggs Therapist Cambridge
  • Joe Bloggs Massage Cambridge

If your website doesn’t appear on the first page of google then you should either speak to your web designer or someone who understands the most basic principles of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Your name and therapy – e.g. Joe Bloggs Massage

This should also be relatively easy to achieve in the hope there is not another therapist with your name who offers the same therapy as you do.

Your name and location – e.g. Joe Bloggs Cambridge

This might be a bit more complicated and is very dependent on how common your name is.  If there is a famous person who has a name like yours and lives in your  town it will be very difficult for you to be found on the first page of a search.

Your therapy and location – e.g. Massage Cambridge

This is the most difficult to achieve, particularly if you are new in this business or in your location; depending on the therapy you are offering there might be tens, hundreds or thousands of other practitioners offering  the same therapy in your area.  If that’s the case you might try to optimise your website for the so called long tail searches, e.g. not just the simple therapy and location but adding some extra information like the issue you are trying to address: e.g. massage backache Cambridge.

SEO  is about helping your web pages to be found by the relevant search terms.  A few tips to improve your search ranking and results would be:

  • Have a decent looking, well written and professionally designed website
  • Use WordPress as the content management system (CMS): WordPress has a structure which facilitates SEO.
  • Make sure that your WordPress installation has one of the relevant SEO plugins installed and properly configured
  • Keep your website fresh with new content (e.g. blogging) and add relevant articles about what you offer, how you offer it and so on

If you don’t know much, or anything at all, about SEO perhaps you should speak to an expert and see what he/she suggests.  Our affiliate marketing agency, Salus Marketing, is offering a broad range of marketing services including web design and SEO so you can get in touch and find out more about how we can help you.