Helping Clients Choose You
By Karen James Chopra
Last month in the Career Convergence article "Launching a Successful Private Practice", we explored fears about launching a private practice. For many, not being able to attract and keep enough clients is the greatest concern. Finding clients for your practice does not require glitzy marketing materials, just some careful thinking about how you can build a relationship with potential clients so that coming to you for help is easy, almost inevitable.
Each of the tools below is an opportunity to foster a bond of trust and openness with a potential client.
A website is essential. The bulk of my clients find me on the web, making marketing easier. A website with the right information and tone can convince a client to work with you. To increase the impact of your website:
- Balance professionalism with warmth. Don't simply describe how accomplished you are. Clients are most interested in what you can do for them. So tell them.
- Give them a sense of who you are by writing in the first person and telling them how you work.
- Help the client imagine working with you. Vignettes of client issues, checklists of questions, stories, cartoons, bibliographies - all help the client try you out as a counselor.
- Include useful resources -favorite books, websites, inspirational quotes. If they like these, they will like you.
- Include an informal, approachable photograph of yourself.
- Make it easy to contact you by having an email link on every page.
First Phone Call with the Client
Once a potential client has left a message for you, return it as soon as possible. This contact can determine whether the client will choose you.
- Leave a warm message, or if you reach the client, check if it is convenient to talk. If not, schedule a time. That thoughtfulness is another way to help a client feel comfortable choosing you.
- Guide the conversation. Before the call, plan a series of talking points to use until your first calls flow comfortably.
- Avoid the temptation to begin by describing what you do. The client wants to focus on him or herself. Start by inviting the client to describe the issue, then briefly explain how you would work together on that issue.
- Ask for questions, and answer all questions fully. Ask again, and maybe even a third time, if they have questions. They will only commit when all of their concerns have been addressed.
- Be prepared to discuss fees and number of sessions. If the caller doesn't raise those questions, you should offer the information.
- Before the end of the call ask if the client wants to schedule an appointment. If "no", give the client the choice to call you back or have you follow up by a specified date.
- Understand that not everyone will become a client. That's the just the way it goes.
The Welcome Packet
Create a welcome packet to mail or email to clients before the first session to orient them on how you work. It conveys your professionalism, and further strengthens the bond between you and your client. Here are some suggestions for what to include:
- An informed-consent form explaining your policies, practices and procedures in non-technical language written in the first person.
- An extensive data form that includes at the very least contact information, family and medical history, experience with counseling, military service, marital/partnership status, religious affiliation, learning disabilities, recent losses.
- Instruments, inventories or checklists that you find helpful. Make sure that these are quick and easy to complete or they could impede the bonding process.
The First Session
The first session is another critical step in crystallizing the bond between you and the client. Focus on the client's concerns. Among the topics to cover are:
- A quick orientation to your office.
- An overview of your proposed agenda for the session. Give the client the opportunity to make changes.
- Additional questions or issues that may have surfaced since the initial phone call.
- A closing strategy. Ask how the session matched the client's expectations before scheduling the next session.
- Homework. It continues the bonding process between sessions. First assignments should be easy and fun -challenging assignments at this stage can make the client feel incompetent.
When clients feel respected and heard, and see you as accessible and professional, it is easy for them to decide to work with you. By giving potential clients multiple opportunities to form a bond with you, you remove selling from the equation. Then you can do what you do best: career counseling.
Karen James Chopra, LPC, MCC, NCC, has a flourishing career counseling practice in Washington, D.C. She has also worked in the outplacement industry for Lee Hecht Harrison and Resource Careers, and was a regular guest commentator on a local radio show "Your Career Life." Recently, she has filmed several career "how to" videos for MonkeySee.com. Her website is http://www.chopracareers.com/, and her email address is: Karen@ChopraCareers.com .