Websites for Therapists Part I

Having a website for your practice is one of the easiest and most powerful ways for you to reach pot

LLCs and Private Practice

I’ve written about LLCs and PLCs before, but a reader wrote me with an interesting question re

Where Do I Start?

Many therapists call or write me wondering where on earth to start when beginning their private prac

 
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Websites for Therapists Part I

September 17, 2015 in Marketing Your Practice

Having a website for your practice is one of the easiest and most powerful ways for you to reach potential patients. My guest today, Daniel Wendler- blogger, speaker, and online marketing expert will join me in this special two-part post to help break down some of the mysteries of practice websites.

I get so many questions about websites:

Do I really need one?
Can I afford one?
How on earth do I get one?
What do all those technical terms mean?
How does a website fit in with my marketing?
Why isn’t my website bringing in new patients?

If you’re asking these questions (or others), that’s exactly why I wanted to dedicate some extra time to cover this important topic and allow Dan to share his expertise.

In this first post we’re going to cover some basic terms related to websites, some of the basic steps to getting your site started, and some of the reasons why having a website is so important for your practice.

First I’d like to introduce my guest for this series- Dan. Daniel Wendler is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at George Fox University. Before pursuing a career in psychology, he worked as an online marketing consultant and wrote a successful online social skills guide. wendlerlogo
 
Today, he combines his skills in psychology and marketing to help therapists market themselves online. He has a wonderful free online marketing guide and you can also connect with him at www.danielwendler.com.

One of the things I really love about Dan’s work is that he makes complicated technical concepts very easy to understand. (He translates from geek-speak to English beautifully!)

 

Do I really need a website?

Before we start talking about the nuts and bolts of websites, I’d like to talk a little bit about WHY a website is important to your practice.

It used to be that physician, peer, community, and word-of-mouth referrals were the primary way patients found therapists. Along came the digital age, and patients have significantly changed the way they research health information and seek out healthcare providers.

Increasingly, your potential patients are looking for you ONLINE.

Think for a minute about your own habits. What do you do when you need to research something? Odds are, if you’re reading this post, you go online for information. It’s likely a factor in how you make many decisions every day.

Here are some statistics that should provide food for thought:

internetusage

Heather:
Dan, from your perspective, how important is it for therapists to have a web presence?

Dan:

If you have a fantastic reputation that attracts hordes of word-of-mouth clients and a large network of referrals — then a web presence is probably not that important. You are already up to your ears in new clients, and you don’t need to attract any more.

But if you’re like most therapists, you want more clients. And if you want more clients, you need to be online. Most clients are going to start their search for a new therapist online, and if they can’t find you, they won’t call you.

Moreover, even if a client is recommended to you by their doctor or a friend, they will often want to research you online before calling. If you don’t have a web presence, you might be losing potential referrals that don’t want to visit a therapist they can’t research.

So the bottom line: If you want more clients than you have now, get online.

Heather:
I think the statistic from Google that “80% of patients use online search before setting an appointment.” says a lot.

Dan, I think your point about patients checking you out online before they come to see you is also very valid. Even if someone gets your name from a friend or a doctor, they’re pretty likely to do a little research online before they call. Right or wrong, it lends you some additional credibility to have a professional looking website they can go to and find out more about you. I think it provides a bit of a “comfort factor” for prospective patients before they pick up the phone and call.

 

Website Terminology- What does it all mean?

website terminology for therapists

Heather: A lot of therapists are confused by the terminology related to websites. Dan, you do such a great job of explaining these technical concepts on your site
www.marketingfortherapists.org, so I’m going to throw out some of the terms I get a lot of questions about so you can help break them down for my readers.

Here’s a word that throws people- Hosting. Sounds very friendly, but can you explain for my readers what that means for setting up their website, and who some of the popular hosting services are?

Dan:

When you visit a website, your computer connects to another computer (called a “server”), and the server sends you the web page you requested. You can think of a web server kind of like a library, but instead of being filled with books, the shelves are full of web pages. When someone visits a web page that is hosted on a particular server, the librarian gets the web page and brings it to them.

A web host is a company that owns servers and rents them out to customers. It’s possible for you to build your own server in the basement if you want, but this requires a lot of technical know-how and so almost everyone just pays a web host to host their website for them. The most popular kind of hosting is called “shared hosting”, which means that lots of different websites are put on the same server, and the server resources are split between the websites.

Ok, so what does this mean for your website? Business man and his network

First, you need a web host. Nobody can access your website unless it’s hosted somewhere (just as nobody can read the books on the bookshelf in your home). If you are using a service like Weebly or Strikingly, you don’t need to worry about hosting – they include hosting in your monthly cost.

If you’re using WordPress, you do need to find a host. There are tons of different WordPress hosts out there, and in honesty, most of them are fine. However, there are two that I particularly recommend – A Small Orange and WP Engine. A Small Orange is cheaper but not quite as fast, whereas WP Engine will make your website load very quickly, but charges more. You can read more details in my article on WordPress hosting for therapists.

Heather:
So, once we have the web host who lets people access our website- can you explain what part Weebly, Stikingly, or WordPress play in getting a website up and running for those who are unfamiliar with those tools?

Dan:

These services are all something called a “Content Management System.” Essentially, they provide the software that allows you to create and edit your website, and then publish your new website to the world. Or in other words, they are the software that allows you to build your new website (much like Microsoft Word allows you to write a letter.) Weebly and Strikingly also serve the role of a web host, while WordPress requires you to find another company to be your web host.

Heather:
And one thing I think it’s important to mention- you don’t have to be a computer programmer to use these software programs!

You likened these tools to Microsoft Word Dan, and much the way Word has templates for labels and other documents, many of these programs have pre-loaded templates for websites. This means that even if you’re not terribly tech-savvy, you can build a basic site using these tools. They often provide video tutorials and other educational materials to help you along as well, so you don’t have to feel like you’re going it alone if you’re a newbie.

Heather:
How about Domain Name. That term seems to throw a lot of people off. Can you help explain what a Domain Name is?

Dan:

Sure. On a technical level, a domain name tells your web browser where to find the server that hosts the website. For instance, if I told you to go to the “White House” you could look up the name “White House” and find that it refers to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Similarly, a computer can look up “MarketingForTherapists.org” and find out where my website is located. All of that lookup happens behind the scenes, and you don’t really need to worry about it.

Heather:
How does that Domain Name tie into marketing and branding your practice?

Dan:

What you need to worry about is the branding potential of a domain name. A domain name serves a technical function (helping a computer load your website), but it also serves a branding function. When someone sees your website in the search results, they make a judgment about you based on your domain name. If your domain name is HoustonAnxietyTherapist.com, people in Houston who need anxiety treatment are very likely to click on your website. It looks professional and it looks relevant.

business worldwide communications backgroundHowever, if your domain name is unprofessional (“DaConselorDude.com”) or vague (“SunshineClinic.com”), it will have the opposite effect. People will be less likely to visit your website, because it doesn’t create a positive impression of you.

So picking a good name is important. Fortunately, I have a free guide to therapy domain names that you might find helpful.

Heather:
I’m really glad you mentioned the importance of choosing a clear and professional domain name. When I’m working with therapists who are just starting their practices they often aren’t yet thinking about their web presence when they start trying to decide on a practice name.

Having a vision for an overall marketing plan (part of a good business plan) can really help. I’ve seen therapists incorporate their practice under a particular name and then find out that the domain name they wanted was taken or the name turned out to be pretty clunky for web purposes- that really threw a monkey wrench in things down the road!

Heather:
I know you do a fantastic job of covering this in your guide to therapy domain names, but can you talk briefly about the process of registering a domain name?

Dan:

This is really pretty straightforward. Go to Namecheap.com and enter in the domain name that you would like to register. If it’s available, you can add it to your cart.

You can then choose the number of years that you would like to register it for — you can register up to ten at a time. (You can also add more years later. If you are sure you will be using your domain for many years, I recommend registering for ten years so you don’t need to worry about it. If you’re not sure, try two or three.) Once you check out, then you now own that domain until your time runs out. If you keep renewing, you will maintain control forever.

Heather:
To get a site up and running then, a therapist needs a Domain Name, a Host, and Website Building Software (or a Designer)? Those are the key pieces?

Dan:

Yes. You can think of it like needing a street address (The domain name), a piece of land (the host) and the tools to build a house (website building software.)

Heather:
Another concept that I’ve found many therapists are not familiar with when they’re starting to work with websites is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Can you explain the concept of SEO and why it’s so important for a website to be successful?

Dan:

Put yourself in Google’s shoes for a minute. Someone has typed “therapist in Atlanta” into the search bar. You want to give them the best websites possible in the search results. How do you do it?

Well, you’re going to look for two things – authority and relevance. I’ll explain both in turn.

In essence, relevance means “How much does this website relate to the search?” So if someone is searching for “therapist in Atlanta”, Google is going to want to show websites about Atlanta therapists, because that’s the most relevant. You can make your website more relevant by including the most important facts about your practice on your website. For instance, let’s say you are based in Atlanta, but your website never lists your address. Google has no way of knowing that you are an Atlanta therapist, and so it won’t show your website in the search results. Or let’s say that you never include the words “therapist” or “therapy” anywhere on your website. Google might not realize that you actually offer therapy, and so again it would decide that you aren’t relevant. So you can make your website more relevant by including information that helps Google realize that you are a good fit for whatever people are searching for.

Authority just means that your website is reputable and trustworthy. The most common way that Google calculates authority is through links. If someone links to you, Google assumes that means that they trust you and find laptopfaceyou reputable, so every link improves your reputation in Google’s eyes. Of course, the more reputable the site that links to you, the more weight their link carries.

So the basics of SEO are building your relevance (by writing your website to clearly state what you offer) and building your authority (by getting high-quality sites to link to you.) This will make it more likely that Google will decide to show you in the search results.

Of course, this is only scratching the surface. I have a lot more information in my SEO for therapists guide.

Heather:
I’ve gotten calls for help from many therapists who couldn’t understand why their websites weren’t “working,” and it was purely an SEO issue. They were very frustrated that they’d spent time and money on a website that wasn’t generating any new patients. The reality is, if Google bumps you down to page ten because of poor SEO, patients will never find your website and your phone won’t ring.

Building a website with SEO in mind, or tweaking an existing site, can really help make sure patients can find you online. Your SEO for therapists guide gives some really great tips for either scenario. I know the concept of SEO can seem a little daunting at first, but it really isn’t that difficult once you get the hang of it.

Looking Ahead

 

Now that you have down the basic terminology we use when working with websites; know you need a Domain Name, a Host, Website Building Software, and good SEO to get started on your website- where do we go from here?

In Part Two of this post, Dan and I will discuss some of the best options you can use to create a professional looking site. We’ll also talk about website pricing, some of the common pitfalls to avoid, and tools you can use to track your website’s success.

So, stayed tuned for Part Two to learn more about creating your own website or improving your existing practice website.

 
 
 
wendleroffer916

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LLCs and Private Practice

March 10, 2015 in Managing Your Practice, Starting Your Practice

I’ve written about LLCs and PLCs before, but a reader wrote me with an interesting question recently that I think represents a confusion many people have about LLCs and PLCs. The therapist asked whether having her practice under either an LLC or PLC would protect her from being sued if she had unpaid debts.

Old law building

First- What are LLCs and PLCs?

LLCs, or Limited Liability Companies, are a type of business entity that is formed under state law. They offer some attractive protections and advantages for therapists in private practice. Some states also offer a PLC, (sometimes the acronym PLLC is used) which stands for Professional Limited Liability Company. This is another, similar entity, and most states require that a therapist show they are a member of a licensed profession in order to form a PLC. Every state has different rules about the formation of these companies as well as different fees and filing requirements.

These entities are a bit of a mish-mash of a corporation and a partnership. Don’t let the word partnership throw you off- you can be in a solo practice and still take advantage of the upsides they offer. If you are in a group practice or think you may expand your practice one day, this type of entity gives you a great deal of flexibility for organizing your ownership and membership in your company.

The biggest pluses to forming an LLC or PLC: in most circumstances, your personal assets; things like your home, savings account, car, etc. are protected from the liabilities of your practice. And, unlike a corporation, the earnings of the practice are passed through to you rather than being taxed at a higher corporate rate. So, you get the protections of a corporation without taking a big tax hit.

Back to the question- Can you be sued if your practice is an LLC?

Absolutely. Your practice entity will not affect anyone’s ability to bring a legal action against you or your practice. What will be different is their ability to go after your personal assets (with some exceptions). While nobody loves lawsuits, the idea behind forming an LLC is not to stop lawsuits, but to set things up so that if something bad happens that causes your practice to have debts, they won’t become your personal debts.

Courtroom GavelOne notable exception to the LLC protection- in some states, you may be personally liable for malpractice claims (meaning an LLC will not shield your personal funds from being available to pay a malpractice judgement.) However, the LLC may shield you from business debts related to a malpractice claim. There are other exceptions to the protection of your personal assets that should be discussed with a qualified attorney.

Bottom line, there is no magic bullet that can ever fully protect you from lawsuits or other bumps in the road, but, an LLC or PLC is an option you may want to consider to provide an extra layer of protection for your personal assets.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to give general information only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Please consult with an attorney and C.P.A. to learn more about the laws governing these entities in your state and the tax implications of such an entity for your practice.

realpsych

Where Do I Start?

January 22, 2015 in Starting Your Practice

Confused female student

Many therapists call or write me wondering where on earth to start when beginning their private practice. There’s an old adage that every journey starts with the first step- but what the heck is the first step, right? I’ve covered many of the steps and aspects of starting a private practice elsewhere on this blog, but I thought it might be helpful to share a good mental exercise to get you thinking about the resources, people, timing, and other aspects of starting a practice you’ll need to navigate.

This exercise is pretty basic- it breaks out starting a practice into five broad areas; What, When, Where, Who, and How Much? There are obviously a thousand little details beyond these broad categories when it comes to starting a practice, but this exercise is intended to help give you a “big picture” view of getting your practice off the ground.

What
What kind of a practice will you have?
Will you see families, individuals, couples, children? Will you accept insurance or see self-pay patients only? What will be the focus of your practice- Anxiety? Depression? ADHD? Trauma? Women’s Issues? Will you be part-time or full-time?Wondering business man isolated

Identifying the kind of practice you will have will help make a lot of the subsequent decisions you’ll make to get your practice up and running much easier. Being very clear about what your practice will look like can help save you time and money as you work toward the day that you open your doors to your first patient.

Here are a few examples of why this step is so important:

  • It’s difficult to develop a practice budget if you’re not yet clear about the general structure of your practice
  • Without a clear idea of what your practice will be, it’s hard to develop a marketing plan and marketing materials
  • You need to know who your clients will be so you can be easily accessible to them
  • You probably won’t want to buy that beautiful white suede couch if you’ll ultimately be seeing mostly children in your practice!
  •  

    When

    calendarWhen do you plan to see your first patient?
    Starting a new practice can be overwhelming- it can feel like there are ten thousand decisions to make and an equal number of things to be done along the way. Setting a reasonable timeline for yourself to plan and prepare, preferably a bare minimum of six months, and optimally, a year, can make a big difference.

    Allow yourself adequate time for research and networking- and for the inevitable delays in paperwork, leases, and other unforeseeable events.

    Where
    Based upon the type of clients you want to see, where is the best place for you to secure office space?forrent
    Do you need to be located near a bus or subway route? Is it important to be located near schools or a particular highway? What are your budgetary constraints? What image would you like to project with your space?

    Your rent is likely to be one of your largest expenses, and most leases require an initial term of at least six months (a year or two years in some major metropolitan areas). This is a serious financial commitment that will probably be one of the largest contributors to your overhead each month. Are there other alternatives in your area such as renting space from another therapist? Choosing your space carefully is very important.

    Who
    Who do you need to help you support your practice?
    Business woman at the officeThis can include professionals such as colleagues, attorneys, CPAs, referral sources and others. It can also include non-professionals who provide referrals to your practice or other support or advice as you grow and build your practice.

    You can start building the “Who” of your practice long before you ever see your first patient in your new practice. Once you decide a private practice is in your future, gathering names and networking with people who are potential sources of information, referrals, and support should become a habit.

    How Much
    How much money do you need to start your practice?
    How much money will you need to purchase forms, licenses, liability insurance, a website, business cards, letterhead, equipment, furniture, and all of the other items you’ll need to start your practice? How much will your lease and other overhead expenses cost? How long do you estimate it will be before your earnings begin to cover expenses?

    moneyIn other words, how much of a financial cushion do you need to support your practice before your income from patients is solid enough to sustain the practice on its own? Many therapists aren’t fully prepared for the fact that their new practice may actually cost them money when they are first getting started. Developing a budget and having realistic expectations for your practice during the first year to two years can help you get through this phase successfully.

    What if I don’t know the answers to these questions?

    Don’t Worry! That’s the whole point of this exercise- to raise some broad areas that are involved in starting a practice and to get you thinking. And better still- making lists of what you need to learn more about and get you to start researching.

    Google, bug people, ask a lot of questions.

    The most successful therapists are the ones that ask a lot of questions and reach out to ask for help along their private practice journey. (Make sure when you’re making your list of WHO, that you have a long list of people you can call on to help you). The more questions you ask, the smoother your journey will be.