10 Ways to Succeed in a Rural Market
- Do Really Good Therapy
When you finish grad school, you know enough just to be dangerous. When the time comes that you feel you’ve developed your style and have a predominant theoretical orientation, get some additional training in that orientation. As counselors, we know that there are many paths to wellness, but a path you must choose, lest you wander in the wilderness of mediocrity. Become knowledgeable in a theory and comfortable with the interventions that flow from it. When you get really, really good at whatever therapy fits you best, you will develop a reputation of being really, really good altogether.
- Start and End on Time
Your clients will often be traveling greater distances than do urban or suburban clients. They will be pleasantly surprised when they are not made to wait in a lobby after having driven for many miles to come to see you. Remember, too, that if they are bringing oppositional children or reluctant partners, they have, in all probability, endured a very tense drive to your office. Don’t add to their frustration by making them wait to see you when they arrive on time but you’re running late because your previous session ran long. Your time is valuable–so is theirs!
- Take Every Insurance/EAP You Can (At First…)
While counselors who are drawing clients from more densely populated areas can often discriminate as to what insurances they will take (or if they will even take insurance at all), in rural settings, we often have to “cast a wider net.” When you are starting out, it is worth the time to get empaneled with as many options as you can. When I first opened, I even did CISD and health fairs for EAP companies until I had a larger caseload. After you have established yourself and your practice, then it is possible (and maybe even advisable) to reduce (or eliminate altogether) the amount of different insurance you take.
- Return Phone Calls and Emails Quickly
New clients often tell me, “You were the first one to call me back” (or even, “You were the only one to call me back!”) whenever I ask them how they chose us. With less choices available, potential clients in a rural area will often call every counselor (all four of us!) on the first page of Google and wait to hear back. We routinely answer the phones (spend a little on an in-office administrator or on a virtual one so that your phone is being answered), but we can’t answer every call. When we get a voice mail or an email contact, we typically get back to them that very same day. If you’re not, you’re losing a potential client to whomever is.
- Respect Privacy
I rarely go to the grocery store or a restaurant without seeing a former client or a current one. That is why, at the intake, I stress to new clients, “If I see you out in the community, I’ll walk right past you and act like I don’t know you; not because I’m rude, but because of your rights to privacy. (Unless you say, “Hello” first–I’m not a prick, after all!”) As rural counselors, we often worship with clients or see them at the same academic, athletic, or community functions. While there is nothing wrong with going to a counselor, people have to know that you won’t betray them at the bank or barber shop if they don’t want to be seen talking to you. Often, someone will come up to me at a church or community function and say, “You are my grandson’s counselor, and he really likes you.” “Well,” I say, “I can’t confirm or deny that I even know your grandson, ma’am, but I can confirm that I’m extremely likeable.” You’ll establish a reputation for being discreet.
- Get Involved in the Community
This makes sense on a few levels. First, of course, is that we are all members of a community, so get involved, lazy bones! Do your part. Second, you will make excellent business and professional contacts when you join a service organization, church, or volunteer activity. Chances are that, when you are rolling up your sleeves, you’ll be doing so next to a lawyer, dentist, or teacher who will remember that you were part of doing something good and they will refer their clients, patients, or students to you. Third, each person you meet while you are volunteering has at least one family member they know who would benefit from counseling. Routinely, when I am at a volunteer activity, someone with whom I am volunteering will ask for my card for their adult son, nephew, or granddaughter.
- Make Contacts
When I first opened, I mailed introductory letters to every school counselor in the county. After that, I followed up with phone calls to every school counselor within the ZIP Code and scheduled an appointment to meet with them to give them my cards, pamphlets, and make a personal connection with them. I also mailed information to every attorney in my ZIP Code and the neighboring one. I reached out to fellow counselors to let them know that I was an available referral source for them and made an effort to know the services they provide so that I could refer to them when necessary. In an effort to introduce myself and our services, I’ve visited the offices of doctors, lawyers, judges, HR directors, even elected officials. Making contacts leads to fostering relationships.
- Offer a Lot of Time Slots
You’ve probably already figured out that your most sought after time slots are 7 PM, 6 PM, 5 PM, 8 AM, and around lunch (probably in that order). I’ve seen clients at 9 PM and even (on rare occasions) at 10 PM. I’ve seen them at 7 AM on a Saturday and 6 AM on a Tuesday. While you can and should establish general hours of operation and certain inviolate ones (I don’t work on Sundays), especially when you’re starting out, you’ll have to see ‘em when they want to be seen. Many is the time that we are picked over a competitor because we offer Saturday or evening hours. When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton (apocryphally) said, “Because that’s where the money is.” Why would I see a client at 7 AM on a Saturday? Because that’s when they wanted to be seen.
- Be Memorable
You can call your practice “Purple Crystal Counseling” or “John Doe Consulting,” chances are, you’re not exactly a household name (try even pronouncing mine correctly). If you want a dose of humility, ask the child who’s returned for his second session if he remembers your name. When your clients are telling their family or friends that they’ve been going to counseling and it has been super helpful but they can’t remember the name of the practice where Mike, their awesome counselor works, they can say, “They’re the funny counselors.” (Our tagline is “Counseling with a Sense of Humor.”) Even if it’s, “They’re right by the airport,” find something to easily distinguish yourself or your brand. “They have that big orange sign.”
- Pay Attention to Detail
“This place is too nice to have a lobby that looks like that.” I’ll never forget when a client said that to me at a former job. Our rural clientele is often rushing to our office from their work, which is typically blue collar or even agricultural. I’ve had to clean up grass clippings tracked in from work boots, barn straw from off my chairs, smelly air from the hygienically challenged, and, in the restroom, things that I am still trying to forget. Sure, I could wait for the weekend janitor to arrive, or I can keep everything crispy so the clients are glad they chose us. At the end of the night, give the lobby a once over, check the carpets and straighten the magazines, and, sigh, poke your head in the restroom to make sure it isn’t a nightmare.
Mike’s website is built by Brighter Vision Web Solutions – beautiful websites for therapists for just $59/month! Click below to get started!