how to start a private practice mental health professionals

How to Start a Private Practice: A Marketing Guide for Mental Health Professionals

As an experienced psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist looking to start a private practice, it’s an exciting time for you! Having spoken with many mental health professionals in the early stages of creating their practice, we wanted to create a resource on how to start a private practice from a website and marketing perspective.

This post was created to help guide you but also to save you time and money long-term. Building or paying for the wrong website build and marketing strategies can set your private practice on the wrong course and cost you tens of thousands of dollars in costs and missed opportunities.

Let’s dive in!

1) Create A Private Practice Foundation

Before you start a private practice, there are questions you should answer fully. Typically, when we take on a new mental health professional as a client, these are common questions we ask before we even begin. Many of our clients need to rethink their practice’s basics as having this information is crucial for building out a strategy. Let’s go through a few questions you should answer fully before starting your practice practice.

Choosing a Name For Your Practice

Choosing a name for your practice sounds easy enough right? Sometimes it is! But you should first figure out if your private practice will be only you for the duration of your practice or if you plan on operating with more practitioners than yourself.

If you plan on creating a practice with only you serving patients I’d strongly recommend using your name as your practice, like my clients Amy Boyers and Wendy Oliver-Pyatt. In this case of you being the only practitioner, here are some benefits of using your name as your brand:

  • Patients want to work with you alone, so why confuse them with a practice name outside of your own?
  • Patients will search for you by name
  • Using your name as your brand is a more personal approach

Which Patients Do You Want to Serve?

The first question to answer in creating your private practice foundation is “which patients do I want to serve?”

Many of our clients do not accept insurance, so their clientele tend to be more affluent. If you charge $150.00 + per hour, your website quality should reflect your professionalism and value. Why would someone pay you $200.00 per hour if your website doesn’t look professional and they can’t trust that you’re able to help them overcome their ailment?

I would like to point out that even if you charge less than $150.00 per hour, you should still try to make your website as professional looking as possible.

Where Do You Want To Serve Patients?

This next question is a critical component in building out a strategy for starting your new private practice. Here are some possible scenarios of where you may want to serve clients:

In Your Local Office

Having a local office has major benefits when it comes to building a strategy. Specifically, your local office will allow you to create a Google My Business account, which will allow your business to show up in Google Maps when patients are searching for “your expertise” + “your city” (ex: Psychologist Miami). To benefit from Google Maps, you will need a name for your business, an address, and a designated phone number.

If you don’t have a location, you can still benefit from Google Maps. How? I advise many clients to use their home address. While some small businesses use virtual locations, it is a bit of an iffy subject on whether Google hates them or allows them.

Building an online therapy practice

Online

The next option (and one that has been picking up serious steam during Covid times) is to serve patients online. There is a lot to consider when creating a strategy around serving patients “online.” Simply listing on your website that you serve patients online isn’t going to bring new patients in.

The natural tendency is to think about which states you want to target. But a more effective strategy is to narrow it down to cities. This is because service name + city name are much more highly searched than service name + state name.

When determining your online strategy, create a list of state(s) you’re allowed to offer your mental health services in. Then, under each state, create a list of major cities in that state. For example, for Florida I’d create the following:

Florida: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee.

I’d recommend not including cities that are too close to each other, or smaller cities.

Which Treatment Options Will You Offer?

Next you will want to create a list of all the different treatment options you will offer patients. An example would be “cognitive behavioral therapy.” It’s important to have this in your website plan (also known as a sitemap) because some patients will search specifically by the treatment option name.

Which Conditions Will You Treat?

Finally, you’ll want to create a list of all the conditions you treat. This should be a robust list. An example of a condition would be “anxiety.”

2) Research

After you figure out the specifics of your private practice (which was section 1 above), it’s time to do research. We call this the audit phase of helping our clients. In an audit, it’s important to research these 3 key areas: Your strategy, your top competitors’ strategies, and other opportunities.

Your Strategy

In #1 above, I showed you 5 different areas you need to flush out for your strategy. You should have a long list of various items ready for researching. What you should look for are the following:

  • How many people are searching for this specific keyword each month (volume)
  • How much do competitors spend on getting ads shown for this keyword (cost per click)
  • How difficult it is to rank for each keyword (keyword difficulty)

You can find all of this and more by using a keyword research tool. In the next section, we will show you how to access Google Ads, which has a free tool to research keywords. You do not need to spend money on ads to use this tool.

Your Competitors’ Strategies

Learning about what your competitors are doing is a valuable part of creating a strategy. To do this, you’ll want to understand which keywords (or key phrases) the competitors in your city are getting potential patients visits from. For this, there are a number of paid tools or you can use a free tool like we will show you below.

To access Google Ads, a free tool, sign up for Google Ads. You’ll need to sign up for an account here. You should use the same email you used for your Google My Business location.

Once you’ve signed up for your free account, Click on the Google Ads Keyword Planner (which can be found in your Google Ads account by clicking on the wrench at the top right, then clicking on the “keyword planner” link on the far left column), you’ll arrive on a screen with 2 boxes. To find keywords your top competitors are ranking for, you’ll want to click on the left box titled “Discover New Keywords.”

Here you can enter your top ~10 competitors. We urge you not to arbitrarily enter 10 websites. Rather, search on Google for “(city name) + psychologist”. The psychologist sites that are listed here in the search results (not the maps) will give you a good idea of the ‘best’ psychologist SEO websites in your city.

Once you have these 10 sites entered, click “get started.” You should see a bunch of keywords that these psychologists rank for. Here is an example:

Download this list into an Excel sheet. You can do this by clicking the blue link at the top right “Download Keyword Ideas.”

In this sheet, you’ll find all sorts of gems for your mental health professional business. Take some time to review these in Excel. We recommend lumping similar keywords together. And just like that, you now have hundreds or even thousands of keywords your top competitors are ranking for.

Other Opportunities

One of the benefits of using a keyword research tool like Google Ads is that they will show you similar keywords to the keywords you entered into the “Discover New Keywords” section (see above screenshot). You can also find questions your patients are asking in search engines. These will be valuable for building out content on your website.

3) Creating a Strategy

Now that you’ve written out the above information and researched keywords for your strategy and your competitors’ strategies, it’s time to organize it into a website strategy. We call this process creating a “sitemap.”

Your sitemap can be created in an Excel sheet, it doesn’t need to be fancy. This Excel sheet can house all of the keywords you researched, and in a new tab, you can create a tab called “sitemap.” Here is an example of the columns you could include in your strategy:

  • Page
  • Keyword targeted (choose 1 per page)
  • URL (permalink)
  • Metatitle (the title of each page people on Google see in search listings)
  • Metadescription  (the description of each page people on Google see in search listings)
  • Notes – This can include what you need to do on each page. Ex: Write 1000 words

Here is an example of how a basic sitemap would look.

How-to-Start-a-Private-Practice---Website-Sitemap-for-psychologists,-psychiatrists,-therapists

Each row is a page on your website strategy. For each page, I recommend writing 1000 words of copywriting. Read about copywriting for mental health professionals.

4) Build Your Website

The final step of starting your private practice marketing strategy is to create your website and write the copy needed on each page. This process can take a lot of time. The above sitemap has about 30 pages that need 1000 words of copy (the conditions, the services, and the cities). Some of our clients choose to do this while we build their website design, and some clients hire us to do both copywriting and web design.

Your website is like your interior, and patients WILL absolutely judge it on how it looks and functions. In fact, 75% of people have judged a company’s credibility based on its website design.

Need some ideas to make your website the best it can be? Here are some elements that you should consider:

  • WordPress website (make sure it’s the open source version and not .com)
  • Clean, professional looking, and trustworthy to match the price you charge per hour
  • Online scheduling and/or contact form
  • Services listed on separate pages
  • A page for each city you serve
  • A profile for each mental health professional or team member
  • Content that helps patients identify their ailment and encourage them

But having these elements and capabilities aren’t the only task you’ll need to have a successful website to attract new patients. You’ll need to:

  • Make your website fast – Patients that must wait for more than 3 seconds hit the back button almost 50% of the time.
  • Make it secure – It’s a no brainer for mental health professional (and anyone else in the medical field) to provide security on their website
  • Make it mobile friendly – With more than 50% of all searches happening on mobile, and (according to Think with Google) 77% of all smartphone owners having used their smartphones to find local health services in the past 6 months, building a website that is mobile friendly is a must.
  • Optimize it for SEO – The best mental health professional websites are coded in a way that allows search engines to find, crawl, and index (or list) your site in their search results. Your website and your SEO strategy go hand-in-hand. Without a website that is properly optimized for SEO, your SEO will STRUGGLE mightily. Perhaps as importantly, you should have a well thought out strategy built (discussed in #3 above)
  • Make sure it has Schema Markup – Schema markup makes it easier for search engines to find important information on your site. For example, you can markup your physical address.

5) Creating a Marketing Strategy

After you’ve built your website and wrote all that copy required, you’re set up for search engine optimization (SEO) success. But you’re certainly not done! One of the best things you could do is to create a blog strategy.

Creating a blog is strongly encouraged if you’re looking to rise above your competitors both locally and nationally. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. The more keywords you rank for, the more opportunities your potential patients can find you in your city.

Here are some reasons why you need to start blogging (or hire a company that can create content for you):

  • Creating a blogging strategy passes link power to your service pages – Your blogs are a great place to answer common questions your customers may have, or to discuss in detail your knowledge with the public. Combined with backlinks, your blogs can begin to rank highly. We recommend to strategically link certain words in your blogs to specific service pages you may have. For example, if you mention the words “cognitive behavioral therapy”, add a link on top of those words and use your cognitive behavioral therapy page as the destination.
  • Creating a blogging strategy showcases your expertise
  • Creating a blogging strategy connects your business to your customers
  • Creating a blogging strategy tells Google that your site is all about mental health

Your unique blog content can then be disseminated to your social media channels and email marketing. Want more information on creating a marketing strategy? We’ve created a free whitepaper for psychologist marketing strategies.

Blogging for mental health professionals

Blogging is a part of a SEO strategy. A full SEO strategy should include activities that you perform regularly: New blogs, getting quality backlinks, creating citations, creating great content on your website, and many more technical tasks to rank for desired keywords in both search and map results.

Final Thoughts on Starting Your Private Practice

I encourage you to get your practice on the right footing from the beginning. When hiring a website company, make sure that they are competent in SEO. A great looking website is only half the battle; if no one can find your website, you won’t get new patients.

I’d like to thank you for reading our process and strategy on starting your private practice! We hope this was a valuable resource to get you thinking strategically to build out a successful practice.

Don’t be overwhelmed! I know this is a lot of information, but we can help you start and grow your private practice. We work with psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists to help them grow their practices. If you’re still confused on “How do I start a private practice,” Contact us to schedule a free consultation today!

Looking for another way to boost your practice? Join our directory for psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists TherapyByPro!

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