"Helping people who help people"

I’ve got fifty minutes left of nervous anxiety before I get to “meet” my new website.  Five years ago we launched a marriage therapy directory and were pleased as punch by what our webmaster put together for us.  Little did we know how LITTLE WE KNEW!  After a year and a lot of mistakes, I learned a ton and manually revamped the entire site.  It was loads of work, and then more work, and more.  I chose to spend the time rather than outsource it and am grateful for all that I learned.  The thing about therapy, or marketing, or private practice building, or really any topic under the sun, is that there is always something new to learn.  Even world famous people get mentored and trained, even if they are helping millions of people themselves.

My anxiety and nerves come from a fear of failure.  A failure to communicate well with the IT team.  A failure of culture.  I’m in the therapy culture and they’re in the IT culture.  A failure to launch this new website in a way that doesn’t overwhelm our mostly non-techie therapists.  (This last one I have more control over and think a lot about my HR days and the lessons I learned about launching new systems to people whose primary jobs are not to read FAQ and manuals on all the new upgrades.)

Here is what I’ve learned in the last five years of being actively online, marketing to clients looking for therapy help:

you’ll never know everything or be able to do everything. Chose one new thing to learn, focus, and then be proud!  Bask in the glory of whatever it is, from simply setting up a blog, adding a “share this on Facebook/Twitter” button, or simply learning how to write website content slightly better.  Small victories are 100x better than doing nothing.

there is always tomorrow to add more. Focus on your goals right now and do what you need to do.  It’s been four years now that I’ve had a better sense of what I wanted, and finally I’ll be getting it!  If I had added everything I wanted at the moment I wanted it, I do not believe the website would be as functional as it will be.  Nor do I believe it would have been the best use of our finances to have someone constantly tinkering with the website.

don’t be jealous of others. Sure, your competition may appear fancier, but you have no idea what’s going on, how little traffic they have, whether they’re struggling more than you are.  I’m always humbled when I see fancy websites and learn the truth behind them.  Or discover they are doing no better but have a lot higher expenses because they built too much too soon.

take anything you learn and filter it immediately into your own client base and business goals. Immediately my IT firm wanted to install a fancy shipping tool for our website because it was exciting to them.  We don’t ship things!  We never will!  We use Amazon Associates program to guide people to books we recommend, but are NOT in the book selling business.  That is not a good use of our time, nor could we ever get author discounts cheap enough to make our pricing, shipping and handling worth the work.  We’re a therapy directory, not book store.  Similar to website and IT firms, a lot of marketers have awesome ideas and some just do NOT fit with your client base.  Just the other day my father pointed out that a family friend of ours would NOT do well on Twitter because she sees a lot of borderline patients.  She had her house on the market and all her borderline patients CAME to the open house and commented on everything they saw.  Similarly she may not ever want to offer online scheduling, or offer newsletters, or any other common tool marketers recommend, due to the clients she serves and the damage that could be caused by their actions (booking up her entire schedule, or sending lots of email responses to her newsletters, etc.)

know how your clients use your website. Think about your client, literally, sitting down to find you.  The clearest example I can give you is for my niche – couples in distress.  One or both may realize they need help, and one or both may start searching online for a therapist.  BEFORE they call you, however, they will be sharing your website with their spouse.  Makes sense, right?  Why not then have an “Email Your Spouse” option on your website so you make it super easy for them to communicate with their spouse?  Think about any barrier they have and how to solve it.  You would not believe how ridiculous it was for me when I was first pregnant.  I had a job in a cube with people nearby, and did not have a clue what to do.  I couldn’t call the OB/Gyn with everyone around and of course they weren’t on email.  I had to leave work, sit in my car, and call the dr.  If I had to leave a message, I’d be unable to answer because I’d be back at my cubical.  And pregnancy doesn’t have the stigma that mental health has!!  If there is any other therapist near you, and they offer an email address but you don’t, you can bet a lot more people are emailing them because they were like me and unable to be on the phone during the day.  Clients are surfing for therapists during the work day, but not always able to call during the day.

trust what’s going on for you. It can be hard not getting intimidated by all your options, all the marketers, all the ways you can improve.  But I always, always start by asking therapists how is it going?  Everyone has their own story, experiences, goals and personality.  The last thing you want to do is destroy what is going well by adding in new tools or processes that won’t jive with the reasons you’re successful.  And adding new tools, bells, and whistles may backfire on you, making you more stressed and distracted from what you really want to do.  If you’ve got awesome clients with an outdated, horrid looking website, well, maybe that awful website is quaint, makes you more approachable, or your clients may not even be on it if you’ve got a large word of mouth presence.  One therapist I know said it was time to update his ten year old website when a young client said, “wow, I love your retro website.”

study your competition. Look at what they’re writing about, how they’re organizing their website, study it like an anthropologist, learning how they do business, to get new ideas, learn what you like and don’t like.  I know, for example, some of the new content we’ll be writing will have big competition – entire websites dedicated to one small aspect of marital distress.  I also know, however, that we’re better branded and trusted to respond to the same content they write about.  We’re also going to be taking it another step beyond what our competition does.  Our audience is different from their audience, so I can take the best things they’re doing but filter it back to my audience.

OK, so I’ve got ten minutes left before my IT guy shows up.  This was a good use of my anxious energy.  I welcome blog comments if you have any questions!

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Comments on: "Are you online for the long haul? Lessons Learned in 5 Years" (3)

  1. Nice job Elizabeth. This is a really spiffy and clean design. Love the comparisons and contrasts b/w IT and therapists–so divergent, but becoming less so.

    I’ve had to learn a lot of IT stuff due to my blog and my therapy website and believe you me, it pays to research, experiment, and hire a web designer/coder. I try to learn a little each day, b/c you’re right, nobody can know it all.

    Thanks for this awesome resource :).
    ~Linda

  2. This was such an affirming blog for someone like me who is just starting down the road of website, twitter and facebook marketing. I enjoy how real you are. Thanks for all you share so generously!

  3. I loved this post! As I’ve gone through the website building process, just choosing colors can be overwhelming. There comes a time when you learn, you try, you do, and then you just put it up and go on so it can start working for you! Thanks for writing this- I don’t feel like the only one who’s felt this way going through this process!

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