5 essential steps to define and clarify your target market
When therapists start private practice consulting with me, one of the first things I’ll ask them to do is describe your ideal client. In other words, tell me about your favorite client on your caseload or in the history of your work. I know, we’re not supposed to have favorite clients, much like teachers aren’t supposed to have favorite students—but we’re human, right? And answering this critical question will directly inform your target market.
What do you like about working with this ideal client? How do you feel when you notice they’re on your schedule for today? How do you imagine this client sees you?
Many therapists end up with a calendar full of clients that make their caseload look incoherent. A little bit of work with eating disorders, aggressive teenagers, substance abuse, oh and sometimes career counseling. Now, I can understand if you enjoy having a wide range of clinical experiences within your caseload, but if you want to have a successful out-of-pocket practice, being this general in your practice simply won’t work.
Let’s consider the example of young professionals with anxiety and depression as our target market. Here are some essential questions to consider:
- Where does my ideal client live? Clients want to find a therapist who’s either close to where they live, or close to where they work. A high percentage of clients at least start their search for a new therapist based on location. Knowing this, where is your office, and who is it convenient for? How much are the homes near your office selling for? Are there local parks nearby? Restaurants? Gyms? Schools? In the case of our example, I know that most young professionals in my area live in a few select areas that are considered cool and trendy: Dilworth, South End, and Plaza Midwood. If I want to attract these clients, I may want my office to be close to where these clients live.
- Where does my ideal client work? Some clients will prefer morning or lunchtime slots, and for that reason they’ll be looking for a therapist close to where they work. If that’s the case—where do most young professionals work in my area? I know many of them work in Uptown for major banks such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America. My office is less than 2 miles from here (and my office has a free and spacious parking lot), so I know I’m good to go in this regard. Clients generally don’t want to drive more than 5-10 minutes to get to their therapist’s office—so why not plan your location accordingly?
- How much does my ideal client value and perceive therapy? You’re going to need to stereotype your ideal client a bit in order to answer some of these questions. Again, we’re considering in general how much does my ideal client value therapy? How prone to stigma and shame is my ideal client when it comes to therapy? Or is my ideal client likely to talk openly with their peers about the fact that they’re coming to see me? Do they believe it’s a healthy thing to be in therapy? Is it a priority for them to be in therapy, and with a good therapist?
- How much is my ideal client willing to pay for therapy? Again, speaking broadly, how much do I imagine my ideal client is willing to pay for therapy? If they make $6-10,000 per month, are they willing to spend $400 a month on therapy? What are their other typical monthly expenses? How much do they spend on their haircut, massages, yoga studios, Uber and Lyft, and gym memberships per month?
- How does my ideal client find services or businesses that they’re looking for? This may be the most important question to ask yourself when you’re defining and clarifying your target market. I know that young professionals are most likely to find their next therapist the same way they find a restaurant, a gym, a barber shop, or a mechanic: through the internet, and often through review-based sites such as Yelp. If you see older clients, maybe they’re most likely to ask their primary physician for recommendations (which, if this is the case, at least one component of your marketing plan should be clear to you), or if you see kids, who does their guidance counselor refer to (same idea)?
When you can identify your target market, your marketing efforts will make so much more sense, and your next steps will be clearer to you. When you know who you’re audience is, your message to them will evolve more naturally. Maybe you’re still struggling to identify who your target market is. In either case, signing up for a private practice consulting package will be an investment that will have a high rate of return for you and your business.
If you’re interested in learning more about setting or raising your fees, building and entirely fee-for-service practice, or growing your practice through more intentional marketing and promotion, read more about starting private practice consulting with me, and get in touch through the form at the end of the page.