Networking, marketing, and network-marketing: we often use the terms interchangeably. But in reality, networking is a subset of marketing. Marketers call this “inbound marketing”–organic marketing in which you build the know, like, and trust factor, so that people are likely to return to you in the future. It’s not heavy duty sales, in fact, it’s really not sales at all. The goal is to build relationships not immediately turn a profit. At its best, it is enjoyable, and lead to a rich network of collegial relationships. At its worst…it can feel schmoozy and salesy, and you go home with brochures for water coolers and pyramid scheme hair products. Let me explain.
I’ve tried a whole lot of approaches to networking. I’ve admired some of my more business-y friends and acquaintances who are really good at networking. My realtor friends are especially good at this. They know it’s a numbers game… by connecting with a wide band of professionals from a variety of industries and being helpful and supportive, they will generate goodwill. Eventually, everyone knows someone who is buying or selling a house. And depending on the housing market in your area, that 3-6% realtor commission on a house sale is a significant chunk of money. So by casting a wide net for a widely sought after product (houses… a huge proportion of the population at some point buys or sells a house), they have a great strategy. And because most of us non-realtor type people understand enough about wanting to buy a house that a realtor is involved, we can easily drive business their way.
Now look at us as therapists. Yes, we might argue that a wide portion of the population would benefit from therapy. But, many (most?) will not seek out therapy. This will depend a little on the demographics of your area and the value and accessibility of mental health services. Regardless, I think we can agree that we have less of a reach, strictly by-the-numbers, than realtors. Next, consider what we do and how we tend to specialize in treatment of a specific population–often based on the demographics and/or psychographics of those groups. If I tell my realtor friend specifically what kinds of clients I want to work with, that information may not be super salient to them. All they know is I’m a therapist and they will send people to me if someone asks them for a therapist’s name. I then will spend time sorting through payment options and alignment and presenting problem. Quite honestly, these types of referrals rarely generate clients for me, though I can often help them to find someone else in the community that is a better fit.
The difference is, the clientele that are a great fit for me is a narrow segment of the population, stratified by presenting problem, geographic region, age, and payment options. For the realtor, it’s a person buying a house, period. Doesn’t matter their age, how they’ll pay (as long as they can), their demographic factors, and within reason even their region as a realtor would likely travel slightly further for a one or two time house showing than my client would travel for weekly therapy appointments.
Casting a wide net for a realtor = great strategy
Casting a wide net for a therapist = not such a great strategy, and often leads to frustration when you can’t provide service to a direct referral.
So the realtor is well suited to network broadly and develop rich relationships with a wide subset of the population. I’ve attended some networking events that seem to cater to such connections. I’ve met lots of people who provide house services (like inspections, repairs, etc), as well as people with businesses that have a wide appeal (hair care products anyone?). But they can be super awkward for therapists, as non-therapists struggle to figure out who to send your way, while you are thinking to yourself “hey that’s great that you and your spouse are seeking a marriage therapist but I’m not real comfortable working with you in therapy after I just sat here and chatted with you over cheese and wine.”
Can you still network? Absolutely. The difference is, therapists will get more bang for their buck if they drill down on the “who” of networking. Who is likely to send you referrals? Sure, that plumber that you met when you replaced your water heater might remember what you do and send their cousin’s child your way. But that pediatrician that you meet with and get to know–he or she will see in the neighborhood of 40 kids a week, 48ish weeks a year. If you’re just looking at the numbers and the best use of your time, as a therapist you are best served by networking with primary referral sources.
If you work with children, teens, and families, these referral sources might be pediatricians, other pediatric health care/intervention specialists, school administrators and counselors/psychologists, educational specialists, and other professionals who come in contact with large numbers of children and teens on a regular basis. If you work with adults, think about the kinds of people adults talk to when they are looking for a therapist: people they trust, like their doctor, clergy, or hair stylist (truth!). Another route for adult clients to find therapists is other therapists. People will often ask their therapist friends for referrals, and as these therapists are not likely to take on a friend as a therapy client, they’ll be more than happy to send them to someone they know and trust. Therapists are often also frequently referring out when their practice is full, when they work with a child who has a family member wanting therapy, or where there is some other conflict of interest.
The networking-club type networking events therefore may not be a great fit for our work. But connecting in a group or individual manner with other healthcare and therapeutic professionals is a great use of your time, provides you an opportunity to be of immediate service, and builds relationships and community. I’ve seen this done really well by enterprising therapists, setting up regular networking and training events, professional discussion and consultation groups, and professional yet mostly social get-togethers. The key, like any other tool in our marketing arsenal, is consistency. When we are relying on developing rich relationships over time, we need repeated meetings for the time part of the equation to play out.
How do you use networking in your marketing strategy? Hop over to the FB group and let’s chat! Want more ideas for sharpening your networking strategies? Check out the chapter in my book, Intentional Private Practice Workbook. And need to get real clear on your niche so that you are ready to describe it succinctly and confidently when you network? Then you need my 100% free Ultimate Guide to Defining Your Niche! Grab it now from my Resource Vault!