ThinkingRecently a colleague complained that despite her efforts at networking and marketing, she was not getting many new referrals. "It's frustrating," she sighed. "I've gone to networking events and passed out my business card. I've done presentations for community groups (although not lately) and sent out letters to physicians over a year ago. I have accounts at Twitter and Linkedin. I did everything you advised. Why isn't it working?"

This colleague's story is not unique. Other mental health professionals share the same frustrations. No matter what they try, nothing seems to have any effect on bringing in new clients. But just as with therapy, marketing is not a simple formula. It requires knowing your client (target audience), understanding where they're coming from and what they need, and honing your message so that is delivered in the right context at the right time.

If your marketing efforts don't seem to be paying off, it might be due to one or more of the following reasons:

People don't have a clear idea of what you do and how you can help them.

Too many mental health professionals describe what they do in terms of techniques and procedures e.g., psychological assessment, cognitive therapy, EMDR, etc. But people looking for help are more interested in whether you can treat their problem, rather than which techniques you use.

Make sure that your website, brochure and other marketing materials state the types of problems you can help with. Do the same when you talk to others about your practice.

Go one step beyond describing diagnostic categories that you treat. It's accurate to say that you help people with depression. However, many folks don't necessarily recognize that they are depressed. Therefore, name symptoms, such as "if you've lost interest in things you used to enjoy..." or "if life seems to be a struggle..." These are easy to relate to.

You're not marketing to the right people

One common mistake that mental health professionals make is trying to appeal to everyone. For example, everyone has stress. Thus, it's tempting to write a generic article or give a talk about stress that covers a wide range of people and situations. But if you do that, you'll dilute your message so much that you may end up appealing to no one.

Instead, address specific demographic segments of the population, where you can give detailed examples of the situations that contribute to their stress. Get extra mileage from your articles and talks by repurposing similar content, as described here.

Another mistake that mental health professionals make is marketing to people who cannot afford your services. They may read your articles, attend your presentations, and talk about you to their friends. But if they cannot afford to see you, they won't make an appointment. Of course, you may choose to see a few people at a reduced fee. However, you won't stay in business if you can't make a decent profit. Therefore, focus the bulk of your marketing on people or organizations that are in a position to pay you.

You're not marketing at the right time

Have you noticed that you see more ads for diamonds around Valentine's day, and more ads for gas grills around Father's Day? That's because people are more likely to make such purchases at these times of year.

Similarly, for certain types of mental health issues, people are more motivated to seek help at certain times of year. For example, every January, there is a surge of interest in making lifestyle changes. Therefore, step up your marketing campaign in January to attract people who are ready to take action. Consider seasonal or situational factors in marketing to other groups as well.

You're not doing enough follow-up

Marketing is not a once-and-done endeavor. It requires regular contact and follow-up. Don't expect much to happen if you simply drop off a stack of business cards at a physician's office, or if you attend a live networking event and shake a few hands.

People are busy, and will tend to forget you unless you keep in touch. This is especially important for building up relationships with potential referral sources.

You're not using social media properly

Do you have a Twitter account? Are you connected with other professionals on Linkedin? That's a great start. But you won't get results if you don't participate in these social media. (They're called social media for a reason!)

Join groups at Linkedin (including groups in your local community) and participate in conversations. As others get to know you, like you and trust you, they will start making referrals.

At Twitter, do post helpful links. But also start following more people, join conversations and retweet others' postings. This builds up familiarity and goodwill.

Participating in social media need not take too much time. Just 30 minutes twice per week can make a big difference.