Simply put, the best way to advertise is the one that produces results.
Of course, you can't predict with certainty whether your advertising will produce results. However, you can stack the odds in your favor if you target your ad to the right people, in the right place, at the right time. Let's unpack that idea...
The right people
You know that many people need the type of service that you provide. However, only a small percentage will be actively seeking help at any given time. And many of those people may not be able to afford it. You may do some pro bono work or offer a reduced fee.
However, in in order to pay your expenses and have enough left over to support a comfortable life style, the majority of your clients must be those who not only need and want what you have to offer, but are also able and willing to pay for your services.
Your advertising challenge: Create an ad that gets the attention of those who can afford to pay you, and who are most likely to contact you for an appointment. The ad should address their needs and provide a rationale for contacting you rather than a competitor. For people who are already considering seeing a mental health professional, the clincher might be something like evening hours, free babysitting, or some other factor that is part of your unique selling proposition.
The right place
Once you know whom you want to reach, consider how you can get your ad in front of them. People don't generally search for ads; they run across them while doing something else.
Advertising reps often talk about the number of people who will be exposed to your ad. When they tell you that their phonebook or their radio spot on the local sports network will reach 50,000 people, it may sound impressive. But what if your clientele does not use a paper phone book? or does not listen to the sports radio network? If you advertise in these places, you may reach a lot of people, but very few of them will be interested in contacting you.
On the other hand, if you work with kids and families, you may get more business from placing an ad in church bulletins or PTA newsletters. Your audience will be in the dozens rather than thousands per ad, but a much higher percentage of them will be interested in what you have to offer.
Your advertising challenge: Advertise where your target audience is likely to see or hear your ad. This means you need to know as much about them as possible. What do they read? Where do they congregate? What do they tend to search for online? With whom do they associate? Where do they turn for answers to questions and help for their problems?
The right time
No matter how much you enjoy pizza, there are times when you won't buy it. That's why pizza restaurants don't air TV commercials at 7 am. Instead, they grab your attention around the dinner hour or late at night, when people are most likely to respond.
Timing is important when advertising your practice as well. Would you put an ad on the divider sticks that separate your items on the supermarket checkout conveyer belt? A psychotherapist did just that, including her attractive photo. She probably got exposure to hundreds or thousands of eyeballs each day, from people who are in her target audience.
But were they really paying attention? Were their minds in a place where they'd make the connection between their problems and "here's someone who can help"? Or were they focused on getting out of the store as quickly as possible?
Your advertising challenge: Aim to have your target audience see your ad when they are in a mindset of looking for answers to problems, or for ways to improve their lives. For example, Drs. Lauren Behrman and Jeff Zimmerman, who help people navigate the stress of divorce and coparenting, set up a booth at a divorce expo. Attendees at this event were there to explore strategies and solutions.
Thus Lauren and Jeff had the opportunity to connect with the right people (those who are actively looking for help and are prepared to pay for it)...at the right place (an event where many people of their target audience would congregate)...and at the right time (when these people are actively exploring their options).
How to figure out the best way for you to advertise
Advertising is a trial-and-error process. Narrow the range of error: Figure out whom you want to reach, where they hang out, and a good time to reach them when they are not likely to be overly distracted.
Cost is important. But return on your investment is what really counts. Therefore, set up a way to identify which new referrals came to you via your ad, and calculate the income you receive from them and from people referred by them.