Joe Sanok is a counselor, speaker, and consultant for therapists in private practice. He hosts The Practice of the Practice, the #1 podcast for counselors with over 50,000 downloads per month.
Kyle: I’m really excited to talk with you about how Certified Gottman Therapists and other Gottman-trained therapists can build a successful practice helping couples. First, what does a therapist need to know before opening a private practice?
Joe: The very first thing that I typically do with clients is to look at the three phases of practice. Usually, phase one is from $0 to $50,000 in revenue.
During this first phase, your main goal should be attracting your ideal client—identifying them, understanding their pains, and understanding the effects of therapy they receive. It’s also important to understand who they vent to in their life. If they’re venting to their pastor, their yoga teacher, their best friend, how do you connect with those people that connect you with your ideal client?
The next phase tends to be growing your practice. So you’re starting to move away from doing all of the work and potentially adding some virtual assistants to answer the phones, do scheduling, or even adding other clinicians to the practice so that you can expand your reach beyond just your ability to work. This also helps grow the practice to get to that $100,000 benchmark.
Then, over $100,000 tends to be the phase of scaling a practice. What you’re looking to do is to continue doing clinical work and look at how you can impact your community beyond growing up to $100,000. There’s a number of techniques we can talk about for how to do that.
I think understanding those three clear phases of establishing a practice helps people then ask themselves, “What are the tools that I need to move through this phase and then move on to that next phase after that?”
Kyle: I love how you’ve broken this down. Let’s start with phase one and spend a few minutes talking about someone who has completed Level 1 Training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy and is opening a private practice. Where do they start? How do they find the ideal couples that they want to work with?
Joe: In the very beginning, you want to set up your legal structure. For most people in most states, that’s going to be an LLC or a PLLC. I recommend using Legal Zoom or Swyft File. It’s fast, easy, and really affordable.
Next, you will need to set up a bank account for your practice. You want to clearly define what are business expenses and what are personal expenses.
The more clearly you do this, the easier it will be if you ever get audited or if you need to write off different aspects of your business. You’ll also want to set up an online payment account—such as PayPal, Stripe, Square—so that if you’re doing any virtual work within your state it’ll be easier to bill. Or, if someone misses an appointment, you can send the client a link to pay for the session rather than have to wait to receive payment the next time they come in. As well, you’ll want to set up your accounting.
After that, you’ll want to start looking at the infrastructure of the practice. This includes finding an office location. When you’re first starting off, I highly recommend subletting from a therapist that’s already established so that you don’t have as much risk or pressure while you’re establishing your clientbase. Typically, you can negotiate a daily fee or an agreement to pay about 20% of what you bring in to the therapist you’re subletting from, versus going out, renting an office, and hoping you fill it. At the beginning stage, you want to keep your costs low while also making sure that your return on investment is high.
Next, it’s time to look at building a quality website. Websites are now the business— you have to have one. One resource I recommend is Brighter Vision. It’s a great website design company whose services, including tech support and SEO optimization.
You can also build your own website. On my website, I have a walk-through that shows people exactly how to do that.
Here’s a video on finding keywords to help you rank higher in Google:
Next, you want to focus on the operational business things you’ll need such as business cards, I use Moo. You can use websites such as canva.com to design those. Make them look beautiful. With having very few design skills, you can go on their site and create all sorts of content for your website.
Once you get those basics set up, you’ll need to set up a phone system. If you use a phone system such as Grasshopper, you have a unique phone number that then comes to your cell phone.
Many people use Google Voice. I think that can come across as unprofessional because it says “Brought to you by Google Voice” when connecting the phone call. Instead, I recommend looking into a digital phone system.
Next you’ll need to handle paperwork. What kind of paperwork do you need for your intake process? Your progress notes? All of that. I have 28 step walkthrough for people that are at that phase available on my website.
Kyle: I often hear therapists who are starting their website ask, “What pages should I include? What should I put on the navigation bar?” I’d love to get your perspective on that.
Joe: When you’re first starting a website, there are only a handful of things you need to know. First, before reading the content of your pages, there are only two things that people look for when they come to your website. The first question: Am I in the right place? There is so much information out there, so it’s important to make sure people know right away that they’ve found the correct website.
Make sure they also know that you’re a licensed therapist and that you do marriage counseling. Often a website will have a lot of pretty images, but it could just as easily be for a massage therapist as a marriage counselor. Again, it’s important to use images and text to make it clear that people are in the right place.
The second question: Can this person help me? Right away, you want to be able to show that you’re the expert.
You should say that you’ve been trained by The Gottman Institute, mention your levels of training, and if you have been featured in any local media.
Mention a little bit about your training so that they know yes I’m in the right place, they can solve my pain, and here’s the outcomes of the therapy. Once you’ve established that, then you’re going to want to make sure a couple of other things that in your header.
You always want to make sure you have your phone number.
Because on every page you want someone to be able to reach out to you and pick up the phone and call. It’s really easy to schedule an intake. There should be a button in your upper right that says schedule an intake or start counseling, or however you want to frame it, but then it is very clear that this is where you start if you want to schedule an appointment.
Then, the handful of pages that you usually want is you want a homepage obviously. You want a start here page so that if someone is brand new, that takes them a little bit deeper as to kind of the quick questions that people have about counseling.
Then you’re going to want an about us, or about me, or about our counselors page, if you’re a group practice. Like we have at mentalwellnesscounseling.com/us.
We have all of our therapists on one page, then you can click and drill in deeper to each one.
Then under that, we also have issues we serve. That’s where you would put if it’s just marriage counseling what types of marriage counseling is it. If you go beyond marriage, if you do pre-marital, if you do couples, if put the different types of things that you work on.
Kyle: As a therapist, you want to be really clear on what you offer as a therapist and try to even name your ideal client and the promise you want to solve for them.
Joe: Absolutely. You’re going to want to make sure that there’s clarity around there but also the SEO side. If you help couples where one person is dealing with depression, you should have pages about depression with couples work. You should have a page on anxiety with couples work.
So it is super clear as to the website visitor and that the different types of issues that you specialize in can really be helpful to be able to rank higher in Google.
Kyle: I would love to get your opinion about something I see on therapist websites. On the about me I see, “I help out with this problem, this problem, this problem, this problem,” and there’s 25 things listed. It’s like, “Okay, so you can do everything,” but then when I see that, my question is, “But which one are you really good at? Are you really going to fit for me?” Maybe you could elaborate on picking your niche.
Joe: I think a lot of counselors are worried about niching down and they fear that it’s going to limit the market. But if you think about even when we go to the doctor, if you go to your general doctor and you ask for some specialty service like brain surgery, you’re not going to have your general doctor do that. Whereas if you went to your brain surgeon and you said, “Hey, I have this itch.”
They’re going to be like, “Well yes, it’s just this.” They’re going to be able to probably speak to the itch. We always assume that a specialist can do generalist work, but generalist can’t do specialist work. Even a fancy restaurant, if you went to Canlis Restaurant, and you said, “Hey, I really want to have a fancy burger for my father-in-law. He hates this fancy food. Can you make a burger?”
It probably will be a pretty decent burger at Canlis whereas if you went to some Mom and Pop Diner and said I want some fancy french food, they’re probably not going to be able to make it.
When you start as a specialist, it’s really easy for people to then say, “I bet that they do other things.” I also think that when you have that huge list, it just puts people off.
It’s not how we talk. It’s not like if you and I are talking, I said to you, “Let me tell you a few things about myself.” I say, “I’m 5’11”. My wife is this old. We do this.” I wouldn’t give you a list. It’s not how we communicate anyway.
There has been a shift to more narrative-based over the last few years and Google likes that more. We want to impress Google because that’s who decides whether we rank number one or number 50. They want to have a narrative-based approach to it. Just packing a website full of keywords doesn’t work anymore to rank high in Google, which is what a lot of those people are trying to do. “I want to rank for anxiety depression.” A million different things.
Kyle: I think that’s what the benefit is, when you niche down, you can then actually write more for those specific items, and actually find that ideal client.
Joe: Yes, and you can also sketch out a narrative for what that person might be going through. You can say when couples– when someone in a couple just found out that the other person cheated on them, their first reaction is devastation, disbelief. And then, often what happens is this, and then this, and they’re like, “Oh my gosh. This person is reading my mind.” Versus bullet point post affair. Bullet point depression. Here’s a webinar I did all about finding your perfect client.
Whereas, you can actually drill in and say, “I get you.” And that’s when people make those buying decisions, which is what therapy really is, it’s a buying decision even after using insurance to work with you because they feel like this person really gets my problem.
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