Local networking is one of the most fun and rewarding practice-boosting activities that you can do. Yet for those of us who are introverts, (moi included) it can be really hard to get started.
First, there’s the organization factor. You have to:
- Find people to connect with.
- Choose how to reach out to them.
- Figure out what to say.
- Actually do it.
- And then follow-up.
Second, the emotion factor. At each step along the way, listed above, you can easily tank your private practice networking power. How do I know? Because I’ve done it!
As some of you know, I’ve relocated my private practice a few times. (Thankfully, I don’t anticipate doing it again anytime soon!) Each time I’ve moved, I’ve gotten to know the community. That’s the fun part. I love to talk to people. I also love networking events, where you can turn to the person next to you and shake their hand. But I will sabotage myself every step of the way when it comes to introducing myself to new people by phone or email. There’s something about that inability to read the other person before I talk that makes me freeze up.
And by freeze up, I mean avoid like crazy. Here’s some of the actual excuses I have come up with in the past to avoid initiating phone calls/emails.
- I have to put my dog up because he might bark while I’m on the phone, and that will look unprofessional. But he’s sleeping, so I guess I can’t make the call now. Oh well.
- I have to write an MYOB blog post. Because there’s no way you guys can wait an hour.
- I have a lot of emails to respond to. And that takes care of my email duty for the day!
- I think that it would be better if all the nice dishes moved to this cabinet and the plastic cups to that cabinet. This is so important I must stop now and test my theory.
- I have to decide if I’m enrolling in this new training class before the deadline expires. This obviously must be given the entirety of my brainpower for the day.
Isn’t it ridiculous how some people procrastinate? Sure am glad that’s not me…
We can all laugh at this, because even if you have no problem initiating contact with other people over phone and email, you have something you procrastinate about. And as a counselor, you probably know why you procrastinate about it.
Usually, it comes down to good ol’ fear.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of failure.
Fear of not being good enough.
And so on.
Our negative self-talk fuels this, saying things like:
- These people are trying to work. They don’t need me interrupting them.
- They probably already have great therapists they refer to, I don’t want to get in the other therapist’s way.
- Who am I to call these people and “tell” them to send me clients?
- What if they get irritated/angry/annoyed with/by me?
- If I was a really good therapist I wouldn’t need referral sources.
Writing this to you now, I can tell you that’s all B.S.
I know this to be true, instead:
- My goal in private practice networking is to help other referral sources to do their work. By connecting with them and offering to send them articles, come and do a talk, or helping them meet other needs I’m working to make their job easier.
- If they do have a great therapist to refer to, then my calling them won’t change that. But if they do not have a great therapist to refer to, or they need someone with my particular experience, then I am helping them connect people with what I do.
- I believe in networking we are just here to make ourselves assets to the community. We’re absolutely not calling to say “send me your clients.” That doesn’t work, and it doesn’t serve. If we serve potential referral sources, the referrals will come.
- If they get irritated or angry with us, it’s a good opportunity to put our counseling skills in action. “It sounds like my call really came at a bad time. I’m sorry that it made you feel frustrated! Is there a better time or a better way to talk about how I can support you?”
- If nonprofits need to advertise their services…AND THEY DO…then your need to market says nothing about your ability or lack of ability to do your job well. Marketing is just getting yourself known.
From all the times I have re-started my practice – I know all this to be true. I have started from scratch before, and built up a practice that could support me and my family.
There’s no reason I couldn’t do it then, and there’s no reason YOU can’t do it right now. But we can easily forget that if we listen to the negative voice that comes into our head. So let’s not do that anymore.
Instead, let’s focus on the backbone of MYOB Counselor – community – and come together to get this done.
I’m challenging you to take on 5 simple tasks this week – if you start today (Monday) then by the end of 5 workdays you’ll be closer to increasing your private practice networking power and really effectively serving your community. When you give, it comes back to you and it grows your practice.
So, let’s do this together.
5 Days To Increased Private Practice Networking Power
First, find people to connect with. Grab a piece of paper and start making some notes. Come up with 5 people that serve your ideal client group.
If you get stuck, here’s some questions to get you started: Who does my ideal client listen to? Who do they go do for advice? Who is there in a crisis?
Second, choose how to reach out to them. There’s really only a few options: you call, you drop by, or you email.
Dropping by can work well for potential contacts who maintain open hours, but may backfire with contacts who schedule their days. It can also leave the impression you have nothing better to do than to visit, which may seem desperate. I recommend you try to meet with people in person after establishing a connection with them through phone or email.
Emailing or LinkedIn is generally a good option to connect with professionals who schedule their hours. If that doesn’t work, you can always switch to giving them a call.
Calling can be great to convey your true passion for the work, as it’s harder to convey this over email. It’s often a good choice for types of professions generally filled by chatty, friendly people.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet of my best guesses for how to approach common referral contacts:
- Fellow counselors
- Medical professionals (except doctors, I’d go through the office staff by phone)
- Sales/Retail Professionals
- Massage Therapists
- Exercise teachers/coaches
- Victim’s Advocates
- Nonprofit agencies
- Any large organization where your email could get overlooked
Third, figure out what to say.
I like to keep it short and simple –
- I tell them who I am in one sentence.
- Then I tell them how I would like to help them and why.
- Then I ask if they would like my help, thank them for their time, and tell them I am looking forward to hearing back from them.
Fourth, you will actually SEND the email or actually call them, sharing what you have rehearsed from the previous day.
Make sure you have their name right. Make sure you can pronounce or spell their name. Check for spelling errors.
Read over your email, take a breath, and hit send.
– OR –
Ask if the person on the phone has time for a brief question, say your spiel, and then let them talk from there.
Fifth and finally, you have to follow up.
It is NORMAL for 80-100% of your first contacts to be overlooked or missed. Read that again if need be. Most of the time, most people you contact will not return your first emails or your first calls. It’s not personal. They just meant to and forgot, or they don’t need what you’re sharing. Either way, plan on following up one more time, just to say hey, I wanted to check in and see if you got my message – just making sure there’s not anything you need! After that, if you don’t hear anything, it’s okay to give it a break and talk with someone else instead.
However, when you do get a positive response from a contact, DON’T let it slide! After you connect with the person, if they’ve asked you to do something for them, make sure you do it. Whether it’s sending them some flyers, connecting them with someone else, it doesn’t matter. This is your chance to show them that you’re a reliable person that is not just connecting with them for your own benefit, but because you care about the community you practice in. If no explicit follow-up is planned, you can still send them a nice note (snail mail or email!) saying thanks for their time, you enjoyed meeting them.
Try this for 5 days with 5 people, and you’ll be surprised by how much easier it gets! What’s more, you’ll become more confident in what you have to offer.
And don’t forget – you don’t have to do this alone! Post in the MYOB Counselor Facebook group and find someone who wants to do this alongside you. We’re stronger together – so get connected.
Let’s work together to share our work and grow our practice through private practice networking!