Community Networking

by Mel Restum, PhD

The philosopher, George Berkeley, author of the article A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Knowledge, has been credited with posing the famous question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, did it really fall?”  In addition to stimulating the thoughts of countless students over the past many years, this question also serves as a wonderful metaphor for clinicians to ponder about their private practices.  If there is “nobody by to perceive them”, as Berkeley mused about trees, do they “exist”?

We work in a time when it has never been more important to effectively “get the word out” and “educate” others about our existence as psychologists.  First, each of us have very specific and very valuable skills to offer to others in our community who are struggling to cope with a vast array of stressors and personal challenges.  Next, while there have never been more choices of products and services for people to choose from, the sheer number of options can be confusing.  While many of these are simply not a good fit for the types of problems we can best help people to overcome, others can be downright harmful. This brings us to the importance of community networking.  While my colleague, Dr. Joe Bavonese, will correctly argue for the importance of internet marketing for our fellow practitioners, we both agree that talking directly to others – whether face to face, by phone or in writing – is the best way for people to meet us and find us credible, and to cultivate relationships over time.

KEYS TO SUCCESSFULL COMMUNITY MARKETING

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  • Recognize the critical importance of the “friendliness factor”; come across as a “real” person who is easy to talk to.
  • See “marketing” as a wonderful gesture by you to educate.
  • Take small steps daily to develop a relaxed and powerful mind set.
  • Take small actions daily to connect with people in the community.
  • Practice your “elevator speech” until it is a part of you.
  • Infuse every “community contact” with the passion you have for your work.
  • Recognize that referral sources such as doctors, media professionals, etc. are also your clients.
  • Listen carefully to referral sources so that you understand what they want your help addressing, and let them know how you can help them along with your mutual clients.
  • When you’re “stuck” and hesitant to move forward with community networking related actions, do the following:

Make sure you have “A Big Enough Why?” for growing your business.  Review all the reasons you decided to go into this profession.  What are the “make or break” reasons why it is critical to expand your practice?  Allow yourself to feel the “pain” if you fail to grow your practice and the exhilaration, relief, calm, confidence, etc. you will feel by doing so.

Reflect on all the wonderful benefits you provide to others, and will gain for yourself and your significant others.

YOUR “ELEVATOR SPEECH”

This will help you focus on your core service message when you are “out” in your community.  Most of us know about this, but almost all of us could benefit from working on this skill.

Here’s how it works:

Imagine you get on an elevator on the fourth floor.  You’re going down to the first floor when the person next to you breaks the taboo of speaking on an elevator and asks, “What do you do?”   You must reply in this format:

“Oh, well you know how ___________________________?”

                                                (problem statement)

“Well, I _________________________________________.”

                              (solution statement)

 

Examples from other fields:  “What do you do?”

“Oh, well you know how cars rust in the winter?  Well, I apply a special space age polymer to the underside of cars to keep them from rusting.”

“Oh, well you know how computers always freeze up and get slower as they age?  Well, I do computer tune-ups to keep them running as smoothly and fast as when they were new.

Examples from our field:  “What do you do?”

“Oh, well you know how there’s a 50% divorce rate?  I teach couples how to resolve past conflicts; communicate effectively and create a close, loving relationship that can last a lifetime.”

“Oh, well you know how many people overeat and then go on yo-yo diets?  I teach people how to make peace with themselves, accept their bodies as they are, and then learn how to eat in a healthy, yet satisfying manner.

Notice how these examples use everyday conversational language that is free of jargon.  Strive for this and you’ll find that both you and the other person will feel more at ease.

ACRES OF DIAMONDS

Here’s another helpful metaphor, a story that is often told by speakers to business people.  The message is simple.  Don’t ignore the opportunities in your own “backyard” before searching for new “prospects” or customers.  For clinicians, this translates into continuing to cultivate relationships with people who already know and trust you.  These include:  current and former clients or patients, other professionals, friends, families and acquaintances.

The key is keeping in touch and remaining “top of mind” when it comes to their remembering who you are, what you do and how you can help them or people they know.  How to do this?

  • Ask new patients if they are interested in receiving periodic updates from you about important topics and about your practice by including this in your standard intake packet.
  • Collect email addresses of your clients at the time of the intake.  Get the name, address and phone number of their primary physician
  • Explain to them the value to them, and their doctor, when professionals collaborate on behalf of their mutual patients.
  • Obtain their permission on a signed Release of Information form and send a brief letter to their doctor summarizing your assessment and treatment plan.
  • Assure them of your respect for their privacy by explaining what you will and will not include in this letter; the symptoms prompting them to see you, the preliminary diagnosis(es), your agreed upon plan of treatment and goal(s) (e.g. weekly psychotherapy sessions to help patient develop more effective “coping strategies”, and invitation to the doctor to contact you if she or he has any questions or if they would like to talk further).  P.S.  You can also send letters to doctors of current clients by following the same steps.
  • Add the physicians practice to your mailing list (both email and building addresses).  Note:  we have developed a step by step blue print systematically following up with physicians and their associates and assistants that is too lengthy to include here.  Contact me (mel@uncommonpractices.com) if you are interested in me helping you include this in your practices marketing plan.
  • Let your patients know that you value referrals from them.  You can communicate this by including a professionally made plaque or sign in your office stating this (look for this in the offices of your own doctor and dentist for ideas), include it in your intake packet, place postcards in the waiting room offering an incentive for referrals from existing clients (e.g. movie tickets, gift certificates to a restaurant or shopping mall or a donation to their favorite charity).
  • Include brief articles about your specialty area and related topics in your waiting room for clients to read (preferably written by you) with a statement like this at the end: “If you know someone who can use help with this type of problem, suggest that they call our office at 123-456-7890 for further information.”

I hope you find these ideas helpful.  However, more importantly, try out at least one of them or a related idea that comes to mind.