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The Business of Private Practice
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Four Tips for Serving Your ‘Customers’

By Deb Legge, PhD CRC LMHC

Private practice is a business. Like most businesses, clinical mental health counselors have customers. As service professionals, however, we make a distinction between our “clients” (those for whom we provide clinical services) and our “customers” (referral sources, people who hire us to speak or write, and businesses for which we consult).

Follow these four tips to serve your “customers”:

1. Find out what your customers need.

Meeting a potential source for referrals, handing them a stack of cards, and asking for referrals usually doesn’t generate more business (clients). How can you tell people that you can help them until you know what they need?

Take time and show your interest by asking how you might 

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best help. You might be surprised at what you hear. The collaboration might spark a synergy that brings about great ideas. At the very least, right from the start you are showing your prospects that you care, and you are willing to listen to their needs; you are there to serve. (Consider this quote attributed to author and motivational speaker Simon O. Sinek: “There is a difference between offering a service and being willing to serve. They may both include giving, but only one is generous.”)

2. Develop trust and credibility with your customers over time.

People want to do business with people who are highly regarded in their field. You must become an authority. To do that, establish yourself as a likable expert in your field. When making a decision, best-selling author Michael Port says people follow a consecutive series of steps:

  1. Consider their choices.
  2. Determine what they believe or not.
  3. Put a value on what they heard.

(Port’s 2013 book is, “Book Yourself Solid Illustrated: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling.”) 

 Likability is one of the biggest influences on whether or not people believe you. Just like gaining trust and establishing credibility, likability grows over time. 

If you want the referrals … build trust, establish your credibility, and be likable. Then, not only will you know that you are the best referral—your customers will, too!

3. Let customers know you are willing to help.

As you are building your relationships with potential referral sources over time, you will have opportunities to let them know whom you serve and what you do. Most important, you will be able to let them know why you do it. 

Defining your target market (whom you serve) and the work you do with them (what you do to help them) are certainly very important pieces of information to share with your potential referral sources. Showing these prospects your passion (why you do it) is the piece that will animate and excite you, and make you stand out from the crowd. 

Top that off with a genuine appeal to your prospects to allow you to help them serve your shared target market. 

That is what solid referral partnerships are made of.

4. Offer “invest-able” opportunities to your customers based on the level of trust you’ve achieved.

You can’t expect to be a primary referral source based on an email or a brochure. In fact, you may have to reach out to help for a time (offering to write an article or newsletter, doing a free Q&A on a relevant topic, providing information) in ways that will help you establish trust and credibility.

Next, you might earn a first referral—another opportunity for you to maximize the collaboration to earn even more trust and credibility points. Keep working these steps and the referrals will likely continue.

Over time, the referral partnership should grow. Don’t drop the ball there though! Continue to serve and nurture the relationships. You’ll develop sustainable referral sources that will keep you busy for the life of your business.

Visit AMHCA's Private Practice Library

Getting the information and support you need on “The Business of Private Practice” can help you to build a successful and sustainable business.Visit the AMHCA Member Library for additional articles by Deborah Legge, PhD, CRC, LMHC, on the business of private practice.

  • “Policies and Procedures for Private Practice” (August)
  • “Marketing Your Private Practice”(July)
  • “Private Practice Website Tips”(June)
  • “Finding a Home for Your Private Practice” (May)
  • “Setting Your Fees” (April)
  • “Getting on Insurance Panels”(March)
  • “Finding Your Niche” (February)
  • “Is Private Practice Really for You?”(January)