The other night I was going through survey responses I've received from my readers (in my first email, I invite all of my new readers to complete a super short survey to help me tailor my emails and blog posts to focus on topics they're most interested in. You can check it out here).
In the survey, I ask therapists about the biggest challenges they have when it comes to building their practices. I figured I'd see everything from billing and figuring out insurance, to marketing and trying to learn the best ways for therapists to get their names out there...
But one topic keeps coming up over and over again.
I had to dig in a little to investigate what was going on behind this curtain.
What I learned is that the reason you struggle with networking is because you equate it to...
sounding salesy and sleasy,
talking constantly about yourself,
and having to force your otherwise introverted self to initiate contact with another human being who could reject you or tell you you're never going to amount to anything.
(By the way, if you're trying to network with someone who says anything like that, you need to take a course on how to find non-asshats to network with.)
This week, I want to give you the rundown of how to network like the badass therapist you are. After all, word of mouth referrals are still alive and well in your town, and no amount of SEO, Google Adwords, Facebook ads, or crossing your fingers is going to take the place of forming real, authentic relationships with people.
Let me show you how to network so that it feels authentic and also helps you to build meaningful relationships with other professionals in your community.
1. Start with the lowest-hanging fruit
Whether you realize it or not, you have at least a few connections in your town already. Remember that chiropractor you went to a few times? Or the friend-of-a-friend you met who's a dietician? What about your BFF's husband who also just so happens to be a physician's assistant? There are people already is your immediate social circle who could be potential referral sources for you, so why not start there?
Many therapists think that networking means cold-calling some random therapist or doctor and inviting them out on what essentially feels like a first date. No wonder why they end up putting it off - that sounds awful.
Now, for those of you who still haven't gotten on the niche bandwagon and are trying to make a go of it by practicing as a generalist, now is about the time you get overwhelmed trying to figure out who would be the best people to network with. You're overwhelmed because there are SO MANY PEOPLE who *could* refer to you.
On the other hand, therapists who have niched down have a much easier time figuring out who would be their lowest-hanging fruit. Let's take a therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health. Their lowest-hanging fruit would be anyone they already know in that industry: OB/GYNs, doulas, lactation consultants, and even infertility clinics, just to name a few. If you're still practicing as a generalist, click here to read a blog I wrote about how to make a niche your bitch.
2. Make it a "catching up convo"
Quit being awkward by sending cold emails that say, "Hey [Name], I just opened my private practice and I was wondering if we could meet up and talk about how you can help me build my practice." Would YOU respond to an email like that?
I didn't think so.
Instead, approach your contact by taking a one-down position (remember learning about that in grad school?) and be casual about it.
"Hi [Name], I hope all is well with you. [Insert how you know them/who your mutual friend is/something to jog their memory]. I recently opened up a private practice and would love the opportunity to take you out for [coffee/lunch/etc.] to learn more about your practice so that I can help support you with appropriate referrals. I understand that your time is extremely valuable, so if you would be open to chatting briefly over the phone, I'm happy to accommodate your schedule."
Notice how I gave them an out if they're too busy to meet up. By openly acknowledging the fact that you understand how valuable this person's time is, you'll paradoxically be more likely to get a response from someone who's mostly likely very busy (sneaky sneaky Laura).
3. Do your research
Do not - I repeat - do NOT take a warm lead out for a networking date and then completely blank on what they do, who they serve, where they work, or anything else you could find by doing a 20-second Google search in the parking lot of the coffee shop. That quickly implies that you only reached out to them to see if they could help you (which completely contradicts #4).
Instead, take more than 1 minute ahead of time and learn about this person. Don't be a complete creeper and memorize the names and ages of each of their children, but at least be able to say something like, "I know you specialize in working with [name their specialty]...is this something that's always interested you?" A question as simple as that shows that you actually give a damn who they are.
And believe it or not, giving a damn goes a LONG WAY in the world of networking.
4. ALWAYS focus on how YOU can add value to THEM
Pretend that you're on the other side of the table for a minute:
Someone has asked you to coffee or lunch to learn more about how they can support your practice, but then they spend the entire conversation talking about themselves and their business. You see them nervously shaking their knee up and down like they're trying to work the tiniest muscle hidden in their calf, and they're talking way too fast, almost like they've had to pee for the last 20 minutes.
Get me the hell outta here!
When you ask someone out for coffee/lunch/Skype, focus less on how they can help you and more on how you can add value to them. Ask them to tell you about their business - showing genuine interest - and then try to find ways that you can help support them.
Maybe the conversation organically moves to ways in which you can refer to one another easily with a custom referral form. Maybe you realize that you can create a simple in-office screening tool for them to make their jobs easier. Or maybe you two just have fun brainstorming ways you can work together to help the same population. Whatever it is, focusing on how you can add value to them does two things:
- It helps you change your mindset from a place of asking to a place of serving, and
- It makes them feel good because you're allowing them to talk about themselves (and let's be honest, we're all pretty self-absorbed and love talking about ourselves to anyone who'll listen).
5. Follow up with them. More than 1 time.
And don't just follow up for the sake of following up. As someone who gets over 100 emails a day, the last thing I want is an annoying email from someone I met a few weeks ago "just wanting to say hi." Don't give me extra work.
Instead, send me an email with a link to something cool that relates to something we talked about. Something like, "Hey, I hope all is well. I just came across this article about email marketing, and I remember you sharing how much you love Ramit Sethi. I thought you'd find this interesting because the author actually quotes Ramit. Have a good day!"
If you send me cool shit, I'll always remember you. Better yet, send me hilarious videos of babies laughing and I'll send you all the referrals your heart desires.
OK seriously though, remember what you talk about during your networking dates, and then follow up with the person occasionally if you find something that you think they might like. Maybe even connect them to someone you think they need to meet. Add value.
Networking really isn't hard. And it shouldn't even be all that scary, either.
You're forming genuine collegial relationships with people who may refer to you (and you to them). Theoretically, these are also people who should be networking - so your relationship is mutually beneficial.
And not to undermine the hard work it took to get our masters degrees, but if you really think about it...
We have advanced degrees in relationship-building.
Everything you learned about how to join with a client in the therapy room can also be used to navigate a networking meeting.
As far as I'm concerned, the ability to network well is a secret weapon that you have tucked in your sleeve. Let that give you a nice confidence boost as you go out into the world and reach out to a few people.
Stop being the best well-kept secret in your community and get your badass known.
Comment below and share 1 thing that keeps you from networking with other professionals - how are you getting in your own way?