Tips for Marketing Your Private Pay Practice with Lee Chaix McDonough

Jennifer Rollin recently spoke with Lee Chaix McDonough about the best ways for providers to market their private pay practices.

Jennifer: How should someone starting out in practice begin to organize his or her marketing efforts? Do you recommend a marketing plan, if so what books/resources do you recommend in creating one?

 Lee: Yes, I recommend creating a marketing plan. However, it doesn’t have to be complicated! See my response to #2 for a beginner’s guide to organizing your marketing efforts.

For marketing ideas and techniques, I highly recommend Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port or Get Clients Now by C.J. Hayden for general marketing information, and Building Your Ideal Private Practice by Lynn Grodzki for therapy-specific marketing strategies.

 Jennifer: For people launching their private practice, where would you recommend they start when it comes to marketing? It often feels overwhelming for people to know where to begin.

Lee: There are two basic marketing types: “referral marketing,” in which the client comes to you via a referral source (a health care provider, a previous client, etc.), and “direct marketing,” in which the client comes to you from content you created (website, advertising, social media, etc.).

I recommend creating a list of marketing ideas for each type: referral and direct. Write everything down and don’t censor yourself, no matter how ridiculous or outlandish it sounds, because often the best ideas come immediately after the crazy ones! (If you get stuck on ideas, check out the books I listed in #1.)

Once you have your lists, choose four ideas, two from each list, to implement. For each list, one idea should feel pretty comfortable to you and one idea should push you just outside your comfort zone.

Be sure to track your marketing efforts! For example, if you contact all of the businesses in a one-mile radius of your practice (as a referral marketing strategy), create a spreadsheet that notes the business name, the point of contact, the date you contacted them, how you contacted them (mail, email, phone, in-person, etc.), and whether you received a response.

You can use a similar strategy for tracking your direct marketing efforts too. If you offer a workshop or presentation, have the attendees complete a sign-in sheet with their names and email addresses. You can follow up with a thank-you email and free resource (maybe a link to a TED Talk, or a PDF of a resource guide you created) and note if you receive a reply.

You may also want to ask new clients how they found you. This will give you some great information on which marketing strategies are working well, and which need to be revamped or discarded.

 Jennifer: Should people focus more on online or community marketing or is it best to have a balance?

 Lee: I’m in favor of a combined approach. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a 50/50 balance. How much you focus on each depends on your area, how saturated your market is for therapists, whether you offer telemental health, etc.

I recommend starting by establishing a basic online presence with a website and perhaps a Psychology Today profile. Then, focus on community marketing (referral or direct), and direct people to your website for more information. Eventually, you may want to expand your online presence with a blog, Google Ad words or even Facebook Ads, but if you are seeing primarily local clients, I would have a solid community marketing presence established first.

The exception to this would be if you’re doing telemental health and working with clients state-wide. In that case, you may want to ramp your online marketing earlier.

 Jennifer: Are  there any common mistakes people make when it comes to their networking efforts? How can people network more effectively in terms of actually generating referrals?

 Lee: So many therapists approach marketing from the perspective of “I want to sell you something.” In fact, this approach makes a lot of therapists feel uncomfortable  and if you approach a potential client or referral source from this perspective, you’ll probably make them feel uncomfortable too!

So when you are marketing your services, take sales off the table. Seriously. Right now, it’s not about selling your services. It’s about making connections and building relationships and those are two areas where therapists truly excel. By focusing on connections and relationships, we place the emphasis where it belongs– not on us, but on the client or referent.

An easy way to do this is by asking questions instead of making statements. Make an effort to get into the other person’s world. What are their struggles and challenges? What are their strengths? What one thing would help them the most? By actively listening and focusing on their needs, you make them feel heard and validated. Then, when you offer a solution–“your services,”–it comes from a place of genuine and authentic service.

 Jennifer: What are specific strategies that you’ve found to be effective for people in marketing their private pay practices?

 Lee: The most helpful strategy I have used and recommend is to change your relationship with the word “no.”

Don’t be afraid to hear “no.” No feels very personal, but it’s not. The prospective client is not saying no to you, they are saying no to therapy – and to themselves. We may have to hear no dozens of times from potential clients or referral sources before we get to a client who says yes. How willing are you to keep hearing no in the service of getting to a yes?
Be mindful of when you say “no.” For example, if a prospective client calls and asks whether you accept insurance, your initial reaction may be to say no. Instead, view this question as an opportunity to engage.

In Be a Wealthy Therapist, Casey Truffo suggests developing a script that addresses the reasons you’ve chosen not to accept insurance that benefit the client. Perhaps it’s because you have concerns about client confidentiality. Maybe you believe that the client should have control over whether therapy is “justified,” rather than the insurance company. Whatever your reasoning, start by asking the client’s permission to share your perspective, and close with the client’s two options: They can ask their insurance carrier for another provider or they can schedule with you.

Jennifer: Are there any unique or special considerations when it comes to marketing a private pay practice (vs. an insurance based practice)?

 Lee: I’m not sure the marketing techniques or strategies are inherently different. However, I do think that private pay requires more of a time investment when it comes to marketing. For providers looking to build a private pay practice and find more clients, you must devote time to marketing. Schedule that time just as you would a client’s“ literally. Put it on your calendar. Because if it’s not scheduled, it’s not a priority and it won’t get done.

 About Lee

 Lee Chaix McDonough, LCSW, MSPH, ACC is a business coach, psychotherapist, and founder of Caravel Coaching & Consulting. She loves helping mid-career professionals find more joy and satisfaction and particularly enjoys working with therapists and mental health care professionals. Learn more about Lee at


Tips for Marketing Your Private Pay Practice with Lee Chaix McDonough

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C is a therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, specializing in working with teens and adults struggling with eating disorders, body-image issues, anxiety, and depression. She writes for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Connect with Jennifer at


APA Reference
Rollin, J. (2017). Tips for Marketing Your Private Pay Practice with Lee Chaix McDonough. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 1 Aug 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Aug 2017
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