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The Business of Private Practice
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How to Develop a Marketing Plan for your Private Practice

By Deborah Legge, PhD, CRC, LMHC



Many private practitioners worry about things like:

  • How will people know that I am here?
  • How will I get enough clients?
  • How do I develop a solid base of referral sources?
  • How do I get people to come to me when they don’t know anything about me?

The solution to most of these concerns lies in how you market your private practice. Unless you are the only mental health provider in town, you have to find ways to draw attention to you and your practice.

That’s what marketing is all about. Marketing is not 

sales—the purpose of marketing is to draw attention and invite potential clients and referral sources “in.” Think of it as saying and doing things that make people notice you and your practice; that invite them to tell you what they need and how you can help. 

Marketing, when done correctly, is your “foot in the door” to learn more about your market and to teach your market more about you. It allows you to start building solid relationships. And solid relationships bring in clients and referrals.

Here is a quick process to help you develop your marketing plan to increase referrals to your private practice.


Determine whom you will target

You should have a clear vision of your ideal client and your ideal referral source. This clarity will help you to customize the messages in your marketing efforts.

If you are shy about writing or talking about your practice, focus on that ideal client or referral source and speak only to them. This will help you stay personal and let your market know that you want to build relationships.

  • Example: Your ideal client (your target market) might be adults with anxiety disorders; your ideal referral source is anyone who has access to and influence over your ideal client.


Decide what you can offer to spark attention

People are interested in what appeals to them. In thinking about your ideal client and referral source, identify what problems, concerns, and needs they may have. Then show them how you can help them out. 

People usually have to get this message a number of times before they will believe or remember you, so don’t expect to send out one mailing and then sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Be creative and find a variety of ways to relay your message to your market.

  • Example: You can write helpful posts about managing anxiety for your blog; you can talk to local physicians to find out how you might best help them inform and treat their patients with anxiety issues, you can provide a list of books and other resources for clients with anxiety.


Find ways to “fan the flame”

Once you get some attention, nurture these new relationships by finding out even more about what your market wants and needs. They want help—they want you to solve their problems; your task is to find out, “How can I best help you?”

As your market starts to rely on you to help solve their problems and meet their needs, you’ll have to find ways to show them that you are reliable. They need to get the message that you are the best person for that job.

  • Example: Find out what roadblocks anxiety creates for your market; find ways to help solve those problems. Perhaps you can create a “talk-down” audio that people can download and listen to when they are having a panic attack. Your local physicians might appreciate a handout to let their clients know more about anxiety and how to manage it.


Build relationships that last

I have referral sources who have been sending me clients for 20 years. That isn’t a fluke. It is the result of relationships that build, year by year. The hard part is not getting the referrals; it’s giving people a reason to keep the referrals coming.

To do this, you must continue to provide valuable services and information to your market. They need to feel really good about doing business with you.

Continually evaluating your marketing efforts will keep your fingers on the pulse of your market. Their needs and concerns may change over time; if you keep sending out the same old messages in the same old ways, your market will become numb to your existence. Things change, and so must you. People never get tired of being asked, “What can I do for you?”

  • Example: I used to provide a light breakfast info session for a couple of local physician offices. It was a great way to begin our relationships together, and those breakfasts went a long way toward opening up the communication between my potential referral sources and me. Over the years, as our relationships have deepened, I realized that those breakfasts are no longer needed or valued. These providers are busy, and so am I. Now that our relationships are established; now that they know me and I know them, I find other ways to express my appreciation, and I contact them from time to time to see what other services or programs they need to solve their current problems.

Bottom Line

If you want a successful and sustainable private practice, you need a good marketing plan. Even more important is that you work that plan. I know you are busy, but you have to find a way to stay committed to your marketing plan each and every month. The success of your private practice depends on it!

Deb Legge, PhD, CRC, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor and a board-certified expert in traumatic stress. The founder of the Influential Therapist, she is in private practice and has spent almost 20 years helping counselors build successful private practices by modeling her success. Visit for more helpful information on starting and growing a private practice, and to submit your questions and ideas for future articles in The Advocate. Email Legge at