If you’re like most therapists, you’re likely getting a solicitation every week. This may be to create a website, list your office, be a guest blog writer, or list your books/products. And don’t get me STARTED on the people selling their marketing skills. Ironic, I know, but I consider myself a “doer”, which means I have to listen to the advice I also give you to make sure it works for ME! We’re both looking for new clients as compared to the marketing gurus are simply looking for people vulnerable in wanting to learn how to market. (Get the subtle difference?)
The biggest difference between aggressive and authentic solicitations would be in the business model of the website and how they treat you when they market to you. There are national websites whose primary goal is for-profit. These websites are often a combination of tons of content, with advertising around the content, and then a therapy directory. This business model is not inherently bad, but I consider it aggressive when they promise the sun, moon, and stars. If they feel any hesitation on your end, they will make you feel foolish for not even “trying.” It’s usually a free offer. “No worries if you don’t want to stay!” They often over sell your “opportunities” to list your books, your service, to “get your name out.”
The inherent nature of the web is people wanting FREE advice. Is the websites primary focus on advice-giving (lots of content), or is it on being a directory (lots of words and organized for people seeking to put money into actual therapy.) You can have a website with 1 million visitors a month and feel like this is the golden ticket! But if you’re only a therapist offering individual services, you take take away the million, figure out how many are even in your area, and within that tiny subset, how many are just browsing for free advice and how many found the website to seek an actual therapist? Oh, and not just any therapy, but the exact type of therapy you offer. If you sell books or CD’s or online classes, you are still stuck either within a category, or are still going to have a much smaller window of people willing to make the huge leap from web surfing to credit-card shopping. And if you get in a site that is just too big, your books and products are going to be lost in what might as well be a huge Amazon search, rather than a preselected list of books on a website people trust is recommending vs simply listing to make money.
One way to find authenticity is to see who is on the website. Are there people you respect? What is the website “story”, usually in “About Us.” Do they have some drive bigger than profit, even if they’re not officially a non-profit? (The Marriage Friendly Therapist site wanted to be non-profit but the IRS wouldn’t let it be categorized that way.) You can also read the content. Some websites don’t have much “quality control.” They simply want as much content as humanly possible so they offer guest blog options to almost everyone. This diminishes the overall feel of the website, as you’re going to have a lot of voices without much of a common theme or value. It is often as much about getting therapists to pay for membership dues in the same of “getting a chance to blog or write articles!” They just fail to mention the therapist isn’t gaining much, if anything, from their efforts. Perhaps being published is its own reward for some therapists. Just be aware you probably don’t own your own material, so you can’t reuse it or publish it later. The hour it takes you to write the article may be better spent networking in your community, or with journalists, so you can get more exposure exactly where your clients are.
Another potential “aggressive” flag, though I say this with caution, is when they require you to link back to them. This is much more common in the wedding industry where you can “get listed for free!” by simply putting a logo/link to their website on your website. They fail to mention they will benefit a lot more than you, because their goal is to get traffic to sell ads, and the more people linking to their website, the more the search engines will make their website appear ahead of other websites with fewer links. The reason I say this with caution, is if you believe in the website, then I don’t want to discourage you from linking to them!!!
I hope this helps a little. I absolutely love when my father or co-founder of Marriage Friendly Therapists, Kathleen Wenger, sends me the latest solitications. Within 10 minutes I can form a strong opinion by poking around. And yes, even aggressive sites may still be worth experimenting. Just be aware that nobody can make promises and every therapist has a unique story about what works well for them. Make sure you are not locked into a contract, make sure you pay attention to when the “free trial” ends, and make sure you pay very close attention to your website traffic to see how much traffic you’re getting from the website.