Meet James Guay, LMFT
When James Guay entered the mental health profession as an intern in San Francisco in 1999, he thought finding clients would be relatively easy—hang up his business sign, hand out a few business cards, and clients would knock on his door.
“I was naïve,” he recalls, adding that he quickly learned the power of in-person networking and ramped up his efforts. His work ultimately paid off, helping him create and sustain a busy practice for more than a decade.
However, all of that changed when he moved to Los Angeles in 2011 and was forced to start from scratch. “I really needed to hit the ground running,” he says.
Marketing wasn’t something he initially enjoyed. It took him out of his comfort zone, and he didn’t know where to focus his efforts. At first, he used Facebook ads to target prospective clients in his local area. This strategy was effective because few clinicians had yet to embrace social media for marketing. However, as other therapists caught on, he knew he had to cast a wider net if he wanted to continue to grow his practice.
Fast-forward to today. Guay averages 20 clients per week, all of whom are self-pay. He also enjoys marketing and finds it empowering. How did he transform his practice and his attitude about marketing? Here are some of his strategies:
1. Market with integrity
Always tie your marketing efforts back to your passions and core mission, says Guay. “If your primary motivation is to get clients in the door, I think that just leads to burnout and frustration,” he adds. “It’s about focusing on content that’s truly useful to people regardless of whether they show up in your office or not.”
Marketing is a way of connecting with people and getting your message out there. It’s a way of extending what we do beyond the client sitting in our office.
Ask these questions: What content will be most inspirational and motivational? What will help existing and potential clients reflect, heal, and grow? Attracting new clients—specifically, your ideal clients—is a natural byproduct of these authentic efforts to market yourself, he adds.
“Marketing is a way of connecting with people and getting your message out there. It’s a way of extending what we do beyond the client sitting in our office,” he says.
2. Set a schedule
Create specific time slots for marketing efforts just as you would a client appointment or other networking meeting, says Guay.
3. Make it a learning experience
Guay, for example, taught himself how to film videos (something he knew nothing about) so he could create vlogs and other multi-media content. Before his schedule was full, he researched, wrote, filmed, edited, and posted one video per week on hot topics in mental health such as mindfulness, communication, self-criticism, and more. “This was a great way for me to let people get to know who I am and how I work,” he says.
An added bonus was that being on camera also helped him tackle some of his own insecurities and self-doubt. “It was a therapeutic process for me to be authentic, own what I know, speak my truth, and reclaim my voice,” he says.
4. Embrace social media
Therapists tend to shy away from exposing themselves on social media, but Guay says being a ‘blank slate’ can actually hinder practice growth. “There’s a level of professional responsibility to be genuine. It’s the whole ‘#moderntherapist movement,’” he says. “The more we show up—and clients can relate to us—the more clients show up to do the work. This is a different mentality than how it has been.”
Still, marketing content—including social media content—should be primarily about the client, he says. “You need to speak to the ways they’re in pain or suffering. You need to make it obvious that you ‘get’ them, and you need to provide possible solutions,” he adds.
Many mental health professionals shy away from social media, citing concerns about confidentiality and privacy. But it is possible to use social media in a way that is both ethical and effective, and the reluctance among some therapists to utilize social channels means that there is opportunity for those willing to do so. SimplePractice Learning offers a 1 hour CE course all about Social Media Ethics for Mental Health Professionals. It’s currently available for free, and is a great way to address concerns related to privacy, confidentiality, and professional ethics on social media.
5. Choose your office location wisely
Your office, by virtue of its location and visibility, can be an effective marketing tool in and of itself. In Los Angeles, for example, people tend to seek care from someone who is located within a one or two mile radius of where they live or work, making it paramount that therapists are accessible, says Guay. “In a city environment where there’s tons of therapists and options, geographic location certainly makes a huge difference with where clients show up,” he says, adding that he chose his current location on Sunset Boulevard for this reason.
6. Become an advocate
Guay has done a lot of political advocacy work around marriage and family equality and ending conversion therapy—two important issues for the LGBTQ population in which he specializes. “Speaking up on issues that are relevant to your demographic is another way to create visibility,” he says.
7. Focus on the client experience
For example, the ability to self-schedule appointments online is critical because it can be intimidating to ‘cold call’ a therapist directly, says Guay. Therapists who embrace this technology attract clients who might otherwise not reach out at all as well those who are looking for a tech-savvy therapist.
Paperwork is another aspect of the client experience. Being able to complete paperwork online in advance of the appointment not only saves clients time, but it also reduces stress and anxiety, he adds. These modern-day conveniences are appealing to clients, and being able to offer them is one way to grow your practice.
8. Consider passive revenue streams
Guay, for example, created an online course with SimplePractice Learning titled Fundamentals of Therapy with LGBTQ Clients that has indirectly led to referrals from colleagues. “Therapists get a good sense of who I am and how I work, and then they can refer clients to me,” he adds. Clients themselves have also stumbled upon the course when Googling his name. “Seeing that their potential therapist is teaching other therapists how to do therapy with certain demographics, that leads to greater credibility and visibility,” he adds.
9. Know your online reputation—and strive to improve it
Clients increasingly choose a provider based on reviews they read online. When Guay Googled himself and saw two anonymous one-star reviews (with no written content), he asked colleagues for positive testimonials about his character and work that he could include on his website to counter these negative reviews that provided no additional context for understanding.
10. Attend ongoing trainings
For example, when Guay took a several weeks-long course on hakomi (a mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy) he built relationships with other therapists who eventually became sources for referrals. Longer duration courses—as opposed to day-long workshops—lend themselves to more intimate networking opportunities, he adds.
Remember that when it comes to marketing your practice, variety is essential. “You don’t know exactly what will bring a client in, and often, it’s multiple points of contact,” says Guay.