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Online Therapy Appointment Scheduling Q&A

Interview with Clinton Power, who can be found on Twitter as @SydneyTherapist

His website to see how he does online appointments: www.clintonpower.com.au

Of all the online tools, technologies, and ways to make your life easier as a therapist, online appointment scheduling is probably up there on the most nervous yet exciting tool.  It attracts therapists because of the potentially higher “conversion” rate of a web visitor to client and yet it repeals therapists who are too frugal for the monthly fees, or too nervous about how to schedule in person while people are scheduling online.  I’m excited to ask a techie therapist who has been doing online scheduling how this all works!

How much do you pay a month for your online scheduler and can you share any of the online schedules that you’re aware of?  Any “must have” features you suggest for US readers who aren’t using your scheduler?

I am paying $19.95 a month and use www.appointmentsonline.com.au This is an Australian company, so may not be as relevant to your US readers if they are wanting US customer support.

I also trialed:

www.appointmentquest.com/

www.gobookings.com

www.appointment.com

Some of the essential features to look for are the ability to accept or decline appointments before they are confirmed, auto-responder for confirming or declining appointments and the ability to completely control which appointments you make available and how far ahead.

My system is currently bringing in SMS reminders, so I am eagerly awaiting this inclusion so I no longer have to manually enter SMS reminders.

I have seen other systems that allow for wait-listing for popular times.

 

What percentage of your prospective clients are scheduling themselves online?  How do you pre-screen them to make sure they’re a fit as far as your ideal client niche, your fees, etc?

Currently about 80% of prospective clients schedule themselves online for the first appointment. The way I pre-screen is I never confirm an appointment without speaking with the client(s) first to check for suitability. So essentially, I see the online appointment scheduler as another way to make that initial contact with a client.

Only a very small percentage of clients go back to book subsequent appointments online. They tend to be the clients that come irregularly. This is very convenient for both of us as they can book in an appointment anytime at their convenience and this saves endless calls back-and-forth trying to catch each other.

While on holidays last year, I had my vacation responder and voice mail messages direct people to my website to book online. I had 8 new clients booked in when I came back from holidays in the usually very quiet period of January. I called all the bookings to confirm and screen a few days before I went back to work and had a full week of work to return to. This is one of the advantages of the system and saves me having to employ a PA or pay for a phone answering service when I am on leave.

Do clients pre-pay when booking appointments?  If not, how do you avoid no-shows?

The only sessions I request pre-payment for are telephone consultations, for obvious reasons. Again, I see the online bookings as no different from a client that calls on the phone. Because my policy is to always speak with the client before I confirm an appointment, I make sure they are suitable and I have established a connection with them. For this reason, I have a negligible no-show rate.

How do you schedule existing clients?

I schedule them in the session and then enter them into the online appointments interface. They then receive a confirmation email and that time can’t be double-booked online. Only very rarely have I booked someone in a session and someone has booked online before I had time to enter it into the back-end of the system. Most people understand when you call them and offer them an alternative time.

How much of your schedule do you release for appointments?  This is especially important for new therapists who may have a LOT of openings and don’t want to display they aren’t busy.  Any suggestions?

I release one month at a time.  I then blank out all my pre-existing commitments and current client bookings.

I would suggest for new therapists that they only release a couple of spots a day to avoid having too many openings.

How do you manage the natural schedule changes, say you get a call Monday 10am for a Wednesday cancelation.  Do you try to quickly go into your appointment scheduler and “open up” that time?  Can clients cancel on most appointment scheduler systems?

This is very easy for my system. When I cancel the appointment, the time automatically opens up again for a new client, unless I want to block it off. I can’t speak for other systems, but I would think this is pretty standard.

Would online scheduling work the same or better for the therapists who have slots that clients fill for the same day/time, or for therapists who schedule at the end of each session on a first come first serve basis?

I’m not sure there is a difference. The only inconvenience with my system is they don’t offer recurring appointments, so I need to manually enter the recurring appointment for the month. I do believe other systems offer recurring appointments.

The really great thing about the system is it gives a potential client something to do when they arrive at my site in pain or distress. Taking action can help relieve their anxiety and they feel like they have begun to find a solution to their problem. I always try to call anyone who has booked online within 24 hours.

What would you say is the ultimate ROI (Return on investment) for therapists considering this but not sure if the $20-$50 in fees will actually pay for itself?

I haven’t calculated the exact ROI, but I do know that with so many new appointments being booked every month with the system, the monthly cost is very small compared to the income I generate from the bookings.

Any usual problems or issues that came up when you first started using online scheduling?  How did you fix those?

The only issue I have encountered is that as my practice has grown I have had some extremely busy periods that the online scheduling has become a little complex. One dilemma is the after-hours times are often in high demand and I have had new clients come in and book those times later in the month that I actually need for current clients.

I have solved this by not releasing the after-hours times when my practice is very busy and giving my current clients first preference for those times.

Online scheduling does require greater time and resources for administration of entering appointments, however, it saves me needing to get a personal assistant, and so I am happy to have to put in a little more time.

Could a therapist experiment with online scheduling, say for a month or two, before confirming if they like it?  I don’t mean on the sign up end (I’m sure most have month to month contracts) but from a logistical, client side.

That could be done, however, if clients are used to your automatic email reminders, they may miss them if you discontinue the service.

Do these systems make it any easier to cancel client appointments, say you get the flu on a Saturday and know you’ll be out until at least Wednesday?  Or does it require both contacting each client, and removing them from the schedule, and then blocking out openings the rest of the week that may have been open?

In my system, when I cancel an appointment, it sends notification of the cancellation to the client automatically. I personally would call each client to advise of my sickness. I have a function to block out days if I become sick or I want to remove available appointments at short notice.

Anything else you can add?  Perhaps the ideal therapist for online scheduling and the “never try it if you’re this type of therapist?”

I’ve had great success with my online appointment scheduler and have never looked back. The feedback from clients is they love getting the email notifications and the flexibility of making an appointment whenever they want, day or night. The advantages for me include having clients book when I am leave and when a client books online I get all their contact information, so less work for me obtaining this over the phone.

If you are a technology-phobic therapist, this is not for you. If you are comfortable with technology and are ok with a little extra administration, I think the rewards are worth it.

Thanks so much!!

My pleasure. Hope this has been helpful for you Elizabeth.

 

Cheers,
Clinton Power

———————-

 

I welcome my blog readers to share what they’ve done, learned, or questions!  I’ve seen therapists use Google Adwords with appointment scheduling to add a one-two punch of immediacy and availability.

 

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Why Therapists Resent Marketers

I’ll just admit it.   I’m rather obsessed with marketers.  I just spent a month listening to 38 entrepreneurs in short audio interviews.  I learned a lot about the mindset, the pitches, the guilt they create for people who are afraid to market or too frugal to “put money into themselves as they ask clients to do for themselves.”  I am also fascinated how they both make you feel really insecure, elicit your greed, and temporarily make you unable to resist!  This is not to say marketers are all bad, don’t have amazing information to share, etc.  But even people with great information still fascinate me.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt insecure with a sales pitch  only to realize WOW, the sales pitch was way better than the product.  I end up critiquing everything about the material from the way its taught to what is taught.  And then realize I really do have something unique to offer.  (This is what all marketers want, ultimately, is for you to realize you have something awesome to offer the world and give you the moxy to “just do it.”)

This post is dedicated to therapists who went to graduate school, took licensing exams, and love the art and science of therapy, not marketing.  In no particular order:

Therapists do not appreciate heavy sales pitches.  As professionals, nobody wants a slick one page website with heavy copywriting to tell you the answer is as simple as X.  Therapists are used to credentials and researching trainers or CEU workshops and really like to  know and trust the person, which isn’t possible on a one page site designed with great testimonials and no background on the person.

Therapists who love therapy are not looking to walk along the beach making millions.  While few therapists would say they make awesome money, I also don’t know many therapists whose dream is to actually QUIT the very thing they went to grad school for and do every day…. seeing clients.  The biggest thing marketers do is elicit your greed at wanting to make easy, passive money.  The tension is wanting more financial security with the reality that to make more money you have to get OUT of the therapy profession into self-help, coaching and what is called “informational marketing.”  There is tremendous work involved in non-therapy profit making and frankly, not everyone is cut out for it or finds it rewarding.

Therapists live in shades of gray. You know there is always more than one way to look at the world, but you’re being sold with one way of doing things without the broader context (I plan on helping you with this broader “what are all my options and what’s involved in each” in the relaunch of who I am and what I offer.)

Therapists have different values around learning and time management.  Marketers, by nature, are obsessed with buying marketing coaching help, reading tons of marketing websites, and buying a lot of marketing books.  That’s awesome because they love marketing and it’s their profession.  Therapists go to therapy trainings, buy lots of books and videos, journals and magazines about psychotherapy, and are generally wanting to improve their CRAFT (therapy).  Most will set up their own “mastermind” groups which they call consultation groups, pay for supervision, etc just like marketers do in their circles.  Marketers never “waste time” learning about marketing because they just turn around and repackage it to their customers.

Therapists however, have much to learn to help their clients and the more time spent learning marketing may be more time not improving, learning the latest research or enhancing a therapeutic technique to actually help your clients.  Yes, you need both therapy training and marketing training, but not all marketers appreciate there are only so many hours in a day and the work of therapy is often draining, requiring great self-care and time away from doing any work.  They also don’t necessarily appreciate that your “art” is not packaged in printed material, but in the actual relationships with your clients.  Marketer’s generally have a strong bias against one to one help, feeling that it’s a inferior way of making money.  (Their positive spin on that is by packaging material they help MORE people who then save money not having to pay for personal coaching.)  Unfortunately packaged marketing material does not let you heavily interact with your specific questions.  It’s like the difference between therapy and self-help books, both have a place and purpose…but I believe there has to be a third way, lower costs than personal consulting but more personalization than self-help materials.

My therapist husband said it best the other day.  The reason for my being is to walk along side therapists rather than talk at you, guilt you, heavily sales pitch you, or otherwise be perplexed why you don’t just invest in yourself via marketing.  (And self disclosure, he’s like most therapists in HATING marketing, so I am living with and having a growing appreciation for the nuance of most therapists.  I’m a wee bit defensive for him and you!)  I believe there are untapped ways to guide you, through THERAPY SPEAK, to help you shift into a marketing-saavy mindset.  But it takes time and patience (mine and yours.)  I’ve got some cool things up my sleeves to help with these exact problems listed above.

I encourage you to sign up for this blog as well as subscribe to learn about upcoming products/services.  I can’t keep you updated if I don’t know you exist! 🙂

Four Unique Features for Therapy Websites

All websites are not the same!  It’s all about your reader.  Here are some features you should consider if you’re a mental health professional.

Available days/times – I don’t mean you have to keep your website super updated, but if you see clients Monday and have never had an opening, it may be better to avoid that day  as an available day for prospective clients.  Even more importantly, if you offer EVENINGS, EARLY MORNINGS, or WEEKENDS, these times could be a make or break for some clients getting help at all.  Do be sure to list those unusual times.  If you ever do intensives, support groups, classes, list those NEAR where you put your availability.  If someone loves you but can’t see you for therapy they may still sign up for something else you offer even if they do see another therapist!

“Share with spouse/partner” – this could be a simple javascript that your webmaster created, or if you’re able to find a button (free options on socialtwist.com or addthis.com or many other places) you can chose the email feature.  This is a fantastic idea for anyone who does couples therapy or if your audience is a family or parents or kids.  Anytime you don’t have just an individual working on the individual schedule, it’s a great way to acknowledge there will be scheduling issues and someone else is a stakeholder in the therapy.  That other person is likely going to have to read your website and agree that you should be contacted as a potential therapist.  You might as well make it easy for the first person to SHARE your website with a spouse or teenager. With those buttons they usually just have to enter the email address, and it sends without having a “sent” email on your work computer.  It also demonstrates that you’re aware therapy is a “team effort” and conversations will be taking place before the therapist is contacted.

How a Prospective Client Should Connect –  I know that I’m going to do this when I’m a therapist.  If you’ve never seen a therapist before how do you know what to SAY?  Do you send a super short email?  Do you drone on about your issue?  Do you call and leave an awkward, long message?  Does the therapist have a preferred way of being contacted?  Even having a simple area on your site that says, “How to Connect with me” may have a few examples of what they may want to say, or tips to help YOU.  Does it make it easier for you if the client gives you the only available days/times they can see a therapist?  Do you prefer if they mention whether and what insurance they have?  Or what about if they share WHY they’re seeking therapy?  Do you greatly prefer email?  What about whether your phone is an office phone so a client can leave a message at 10pm without worrying about waking you up?  Just mentioning this issue will guarantee new clients because they’ll feel like you GET how scary  it is to call a therapist.

Have Your Email Visible –  people are mostly at work when they’re looking online for a therapist.  Forms on websites sometimes don’t work. Therapists often have weird emails that don’t match their website name which means a client may not even NOTICE you replied and are in their inbox.  People can’t call you at work unless they’re in a private office.  People can wait to call you at home, but then they’re back at work and can’t talk the way they can on email.  For these reasons and more, you are best off getting more spam for more clients.  I’m in my 30’s and I don’t even call my FRIENDS.  I email.  If you don’t believe people use email over the phone, then perhaps you’re never wanting to see someone under 40 years old and this doesn’t apply to you.  I will only passingly mention the phone-bias actually hinders anyone on a sales floor, construction job, or traveling sales people, among many other jobs where email is a better way to share information to book a session.

There are many other unique qualities to being a therapist and having a website, but hopefully I’ll have impacted even ONE therapist reading this.  That one change may give you a new client or even more powerfully, it may result in someone getting therapy AT ALL.  Do comment if you’ve found some cool feature or statement that helps attract clients!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I ran into a FANTASTIC solution to find images for your website.  Yes, therapysites and others have huge libraries.  That’s great.  But if you’re not a member and need photos for brochures, business card, website… this is what I’m using for the Marriage Friendly Therapist website makeover.

Head over to ThinkStockPhotos.com.  I am going to do the $249 month subscription where you can get up to 750 images (note, however, you can ONLY use images in that window of time… so be ready to launch when you download the photos.  They don’t want the images hoarded when they have no use.)  You can buy just five images for $25, I think.

I tell ya, some of these images create a web article all by themselves!  It’s heartbreaking to know the pain couples are experiencing out there and these images really speak to an emotional truth.

Money : Making It or Sharing It

This blog is inspired by my own natural progression in the world of the internet.  It started out writing a book with my father and along the way we’ve hit a lot of bumps and frustrations and fantastic questions regarding being a “merchant” selling stuff.

Our audience is engaged couples, parents of engaged couples, marriage educators, clergy, therapists, wedding coordinators, etc.  Right now we sell our book on our website, and we sell via an Amazon link where we make a small commission if people click on our Amazon link and end up buying ANYTHING (not just our book.)  That’s all fine until you realize how many other people out there believe in your book and have no easy way, in their role, of sharing the book.  It’s a bit awkward for many therapists and educators to handle cash on the fly to sell a book.  We tried this, offering a discount to those who resell it.   OK, so that doesn’t work, but what could?

Meanwhile we had enormous bank fees for accepting credit cards and that had to STOP!  In doing some research, I finally found the answer to so many of my dilemmas!  E-Junkie! I was able to wipe out our insane bank fees, drop our Authorize . net account, and only pay when we had sales.  And even BETTER, we could now allow therapists, educators, and anyone else (including YOU!) recommend our book and make a little bit of the profit.  Why on earth would we do this?  The reality is we can sell few books, or we can sell a lot of books with your help.  And for your efforts, we’d love to help you out.  Afterall, this is exactly what your local book store does.  They get the books in discount and make a little profit reselling them.  You deserve the money as much as the book store owner!

E-Junkie works on both ends.  I can now find people who sell e-books, recommend those books to my website audience, and make as much as I make selling my OWN books.  Everyone chooses their own commission rate and the higher the commission, the more likely I will be to try to sell it.  The ejunkie website basically manages things behind the scenes so if someone clicks through from your website to mine, it knows they are going to get the commission.  It is VERY hard to set up what are called “affiliate” systems on your own.

Beyond this commission stuff, Ejunkie makes it really simple to sell stuff.  You have huge flexibility on taxes, shipping,  “buy now” vs “add to cart” buttons and you can even put MP3 recordings on it!  I use this for my website trainings and it’s fantastic.  I have massive files and there is no way I could easily store them, let alone easily get those massive files to you if you purchased them online.  E-junkie then sends the final cash amount to whoever you use for credit card processing, whether that be Pay Pal, Google, Authorize, or many other credit card processors.  The difference is those processors can’t handle complex shipping, they don’t handle affiliates, they can’t send free copies of things (I can send free links to products via ejunkie.)

If you ever want to create e-books, have MP3 files, or want to sell your real books (at your author discount rates), I recommend at least checking out Ejunkie.  If you want to read our book, Take Back Your Wedding: Managing the People Stress of Wedding Planning,  to potentially recommend and resell it, let me know.  We give 50% of our profit on the e-book version and 25% on the paperback version.  You’d set yourself up as an affiliate of The First Dance : Join our Affiliate Program here. You then grab whichever books (the e-book and/or paperback) code you want and put it on your own website.  It’s simple and it’s pure because you’re linking them back to us to buy the book and simply having it on a potentially long list of recommended books you already have on your website.

Therapists going to the Networker Symposium in March?

If you’re going to be there, let me know.  A local therapist is trying to gather therapists to talk about marketing, informally.  Probably Thursday night?  I’m going half for fun, half for work so I think I’ll be out with a friend Friday night, as well as Saturday, unless I join my father as his guest at the Speakers networking gathering Saturday night.  If you go to the Sunday workshop with Casey Truffo, Lynn Grokski, and Joe Bovenese, I’ll be there.  I love getting different opinions from people with different perspectives.  In the last Networker article Joe talked about doing Facebook ads for finding clients.  I hadn’t thought of that before.  Just like Google Ads, you have to be very careful not to throw your money down the drain.  But my interest has been peaked, so if I convince my husband to try it, I’ll let you know how it goes!

I love nothing more than meeting therapists, hearing their success stories, questions, and frustrations.  Hope to see some of you in March.

Why Marketers Scare Me

I’m just going to say it.  A lot of marketers scare me.  They are absolutely essential, don’t get me wrong.  They do amazing things and the vast majority of us have a LOT to learn from them.  That said…They’re old-school in their experience, but entering (because they HAVE to) and teaching, a world they do NOT UNDERSTAND well enough. That world?  The internet.  Social media.  Technology.  And what scares me is not their good intentions, or that they aren’t good people.  It’s they don’t know enough to know their gap in knowledge. 

How does this happen, exactly?

Well, marketing is about selling yourself well.  The problem is when a marketer isn’t tech-saavy, they may focus on the WRONG THINGS.  Or they may focus TOO TIGHTLY on one thing and ignore huge issues.

Examples:

Focusing on writing good content, at the expense of how the HECK are you getting people to READ the good market-saavy text?  Great text, unread because you can’t get website traffic is, well, great, unread text!  (This is why I have not just a website content training but an ORGANIZATION training…how to organize your website for search engines and your reader.)

Learning one little piece of wisdom and not knowing the nuance.  You’ll hear people say “get a website with the phrase of what you do because search engines like it.”  I finally got tired of hearing that and created an entire lesson on website names, your options, and the NUANCE.  There are short and long term issues to consider in your website name.  Do you know what they are?  Do you know what your options are and how you can take advantage of technology to enhance your website name?  Do you know that advice is actually costing people quite a bit of wasted money? 

Marketers love passive income and love to tell you how you too can make passive income.  But again, they may tell how to come up with the book/podcast/ezine, but they’re not likely to tell you how to actually market it, nor tell you how much insane amount of time and effort it takes to actually make real money.   They’re also not going to tell you that you’re a crappy writer, or have an awful topic, or let you know that famous authors with amazing publicity machines behind them still rarely make a lot on their books.  Books you can find in book stores, books with brand recognition, books you know when you buy you can resell used and make some money back.  I know someone who makes probably 3 client sessions worth of money every month from sales on her website.  Pretty cool, eh? But what she’ll also tell you is that it took years, still takes huge effort, and that she would not suggest most people try.  If you took the amount of time she spent to build up, and get ongoing sales, it is far higher than her therapy fee per hour. 

Marketers love marketing.  They love going to meetings and conferences on marketing.  They are not, however, usually nose-to-the-ground where the real people are that you’re trying to attract. Nor are they going to conferences on “how to market tiny websites with minimal website traffic.”  This is what most therapy websites are.   If you were to tell me that you only had 3 hours to get training or insight on marketing your website, I am pretty sure my advice would be to spend those three hours in the online world, finding a website, forum, live chat, somewhere that YOUR client hangs out.  And read.  Absorb.  Observe what people are writing about and what responses they get.  Don’t engage.  Just observe.  You will learn more in those 3 hours about how YOU fit in as a solution because hopefully you’ll learn that what YOU care about doesn’t matter.  It’s what your customer/client cares about that matters.   Then, you have the most amazing, rich fodder to start building your website, so when you do market it, you aren’t marketing generic crap, but amazingly unique, grounded, real-world information that your reader is going to love.  (This is the origin of Take Back Your Wedding, a book my father and I wrote based on thousands of posts on bridal message boards, with real life stories as well.   It doesn’t read like a top down boring list of family systems theories.   It reads as real world,engaging principles that you happen to be able to apply to family systems theory.)

Finally, marketers have a lot of rules about how you need to run things.  You “need” newsletters. You need to contact your customer every x days/weeks/months.  They stress you out and make you feel like your own instincts can never really work or be right.  In my few years  of doing websites and meeting with tons of varied therapists, one thing I know for sure is there is no guarentees. Some therapists (like my dad), are crazy lucky, get on Oprah, 20/20, all the national morning shows, get high paid corporate gigs where he gets to share his Ph.D. research skills and expertise. My dad is the most unbusiness man you can imagine.  He doesn’t do things for the money. He doesn’t do things that don’t sit well for him.  He doesn’t *gasp* collect names and addresses when he speaks to groups.  He has never had to market to get clients.  But, as the daughter, I see the nitty gritty.  I see why he gets journalists calling him about 2 times a week (hint: he has learned to speak in sound bytes, he knows to never sell himself but to directly respond to what the journalist wants, and he gets back to journalists ASAP.)  I see why he speaks to groups (amazingly rich fodder to share with journalists as well as to learn what is happening on the ground, away from academia land.)  I see why corporations love him (a great combo of media saavy, research skills, sociological perspectives, and practicing marriage and family therapist.)

In summary, this may explain why I hate thinking of myself as a “web marketer.”  Even though I am one.  There aren’t a ton of rules and there is room for a lot of creativity.  And as I struggle to closely guard my integrity giving website advice, I hope you closely guard your instincts when it comes to how to market.

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