From the questions I hear about marketing it seems that most mental health professionals ask: "What are the best techniques and methods?"

That's the wrong question to start with.

You wouldn't ask that question about mental health services. In order to deliver effective care, you first need to know about the type of problem a person has, and the type of person that has the problem. Defining these helps you draw on your experience and education to decide how to begin treatment.

It's similar with marketing. Since there are so many variables, you'll save a lot of time and you'll have a better chance of success if you answer the following questions before you begin:

1. What types of people do I want to work with, and what types of problems can I help them with?

2. Who has access to these people?

3. Where will I find both of the above?

Example

Suppose you enjoy working with couples. Is there a specific demographic or ethnic group that you are effective with - e.g., interfaith couples? late-life marriages?

What types of problems do you want to help them with? Are there any problems for which you do not have expertise (e.g., addiction)? This will help you narrow your focus.

Where will you find the types of people that you enjoy working with - in the community and online? Will you find them at church? at the soccer field? What types of clubs and organizations might attract such people? What keywords might they be typing into search engines when looking for help with their problems?

Who has access to these people and can refer those who need your help? For couples, the logical choice might be other mental health professionals who don't work with couples, clergy, attorneys and physicians. But also consider realtors, hair dressers, bartenders and others who regularly hear people complaining about their spouses.

Referral sources are easy to find. You know where they work and you can find out which associations and organizations they belong to.

What next?

Once you've identified potential clients and referral sources and know where they hang out, think about how you can demonstrate your value to them:

  • Look for opportunities to give talks and presentations to referral sources and potential clients.
  • Write articles and tips sheets addressing the types of problems that your target audience typically experiences, and post them online and/or deliver them in person to your referral sources.
  • Tailor your website and online social networking to the people you want to help and the problems you want to help with.
  • Don't try to be all things to all people. Become known in your community as a specialist in at least one area.

For more marketing tips from The Practice Institute here's a list of our blog posts tagged with "marketing." (They span a few pages - click "older posts" at the bottom of the first page.)

Or, if you are interested in a comprehensive overview of marketing for mental health professionals, check out our new home study workshop, Ethical Marketing to Enhance Your Reputation and Increase Referrals.