Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why I Wouldn't Do Groupon For a Private Practice (and 2 Exceptions)

Unless you've been living under a rock, you have probably been heard of Groupon by now. If not, you might take a moment to visit Groupon now (or one of it's evergrowing list of competitors, like LivingSocialLocalTwist, or local newspaper & TV station ones) before reading onward.

In short, each of these companies markets a coupon promotion to a HUGE group of consumers (via a website and email list) that you can only purchase for a short time (24 hours to a few days). They are really quite a good deal for the consumer. In the last few months, I bought an Amazon Fresh deal ($100 worth of groceries for $50), a one-hour massage, and a deal from a hardware store ($20 for $40 of merchandise). Quite a good way to save money. I frankly feel a little guilty about buying the massage one, but I'm in need (too much sitting - you fellow therapists and computer people know what I mean).

But if you are thinking about ever doing this for your private practice (counseling, coaching, any other 1-on-1 service), we had better talk. In fact, STOP, do not sign anything yet. In most cases, it just is not good business.

The basic deal with Groupon looks like this: you must agree to offer a 50% discount off of your usual price. So if you're $100 a session, the consumer only pays $50. Groupon gets half of that, so you end up only getting $25.

There are several problems with driving business this way, the biggest being:
  1. Most of these discount customers will not become repeat clients
  2. If the coupon pushes you over capacity, you will lose spots that full-pay clients want, definitely costing you that $, and possibly costing you the client.
This was definitely the experience of the famous cafe in Portland - the owner of which blogged about her Groupon nightmare. When I look at any service where there is limited throughput (like only one person per hour, for example, or only 10 tables in the cafe), or a store where the profit margin is already low (most of retail, I'd think), you are basically driving down the profit per customer, and your pay per hour. In Seattle, with all the massage deals I've seen, it feels like people are now valuing massage at $30 an hour!

The only business model I've seen that makes sense, truly, is classes. My friend Dina runs an amazing Nia fitness program, and for each class, it doesn't really matter if she has 20, 25, or 30 customers. She can handle it. The costs are the same. If I were teaching a class, and the additional people didn't add to my costs or work, I would consider it.

Now, onto my 2 exceptions: the brand new coach or therapist, and the clinic/group practice.

The Brand New Coach or Therapist: In my first year, I remember when 3 clients a week was a lot! I had lots and lots of free time. The office sat unused most of the time. Time in which I earned exactly ZERO dollars an hour. If I could have had 10 clients @ $20 hour, I would have taken it! I would have taken it for the money, and the experience! So if you have an office sitting open, and you are not making money during those hours it can work for you. It can also provide PR, some SEO benefits, and possibly some long-term clients. (Dear full-fee therapists, please no *not* flame me for this suggestion, as these clients are *not* going to spend the $ for us, trust me on that. These are the people looking for the cheapest therapist they can find.)

The Clinic/Group Practice: My internship was at a wonderful group-practice that had some licensed supervisors, some interns (we were the ones who saw the sliding scale clients) and some externs. If I was running something like this, I might take a look at a coupon deal. You can negotiate fine-print in these deals, and I'd have it limited to sessions with the interns/externs - depending on the fee/pay deal you have with them. In my internship, I wanted the hours and experience (heck, I needed them!)

If you choose to do one of these deals, really focus on the fine-print! I might exclude insurance billing, limit which practitioners you can see, give it an end-date, make it subject to scheduling and availability, and you can even limit the numbers sold. If anyone does try this, please let me know about your results!

Best, Peter

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Predictions for Therapist Web Marketing in 2011

I’ve been a webmaster since the term was coined (1996 @ Citizens Utilities in Stamford CT). I lived through the dot-com/dot-bomb era (ah, the mess that was ShopLocal.com), and doing PPC and SEO for therapists since 2005. The rate of change in 2010 in terms of search engines and overall web marketing, was astounding, and I expect that to continue in 2011.

Marketing for our particular business continues to be tricky, due to the ethical constraints of being a psychotherapist. We can’t (ethically) solicit for online reviews or testimonials from clients. We are even hamstrung in responding *to* poor reviews on Yelp, etc. (been there, and it hurts!). Heck, even having our office as a Facebook Place to be checked into is probably not something we should do. That said, here are some trends I see for 2011:

Google Stays #1, But Something Lurks in the Shadows: Google is still where to be at, folks. Some in the search engine community say the actual percentage of searches that goes on at Google is over 80%, not the 70% that is usually reported. The Bing/Yahoo combination hasn’t made much of a dent yet. Adwords continues to pour in money. (By the way, Adwords will continue to work for therapists, but get more and more expensive, complex and difficult – to me the ROI is really beginning to turn for SEO over Adwords in many cases). Google is taking on Yelp with its new HotPot offering. They pull off huge changes every month or so (Google Instant, the Local results integration that took place around Halloween, etc).

What Lurks in the Shadows is Facebook: Just imagine this – if instead of leaving Facebook to do your searches, you did them *from* your Facebook page. You’ve just entered Google’s worst nightmare. Of course, it wouldn’t be Google search. Likely Microsoft/Bing/Yahoo. This could be a game-changer. I’ve been wondering when Facebook would really change things for therapists (right now, Fan Pages, and FB ads are nice, but really not a big driver of therapy clients). This might be it. Watch Facebook in 2011, folks.

The Therapist Directory Wars Continue: For so long, PsychologyToday and AAMFT’s TherapistLocator.net had the directory business mainly to themselves. Not so anymore. Hungry upstarts have started eating their lunches. The most aggressive, and most impressive to me is GoodTherapy.org. They’ve rocketed to #2, and are much more innovative than PT, offering CEU’s, marketing webinars, media relations, audio and video, and lots more. I also see innovation in niche-related directories (for various communities or therapy approaches) which can provide good ROI. Directories continue to provide an easy, passive way of marketing your practice. They are not usually barn-burners as far as call volume, but usually more than pay for themselves.

Video – Get off the sidelines in 2011, folks! There are more and more inexpensive ways of creating videos (including some where it’s just your voice over images, like Jing, which I use extensively for Your Google Guy). Flip HD cameras can make some beautiful images. Just like headshots became more and more expected, video will be too. People will choose someone they get to see and get a feel of over a therapist who they only can measure by their written words.

Dynamic Website Technology Takes Over: More and more therapists will be moving their websites to platforms like WordPress and Joomla, or increasingly sophisticated templates on their ISPs. This both with be for practical reasons (the ability to update content without paying/waiting for a web designer) as well the very beautiful visual design aspects, and the ability to integrate social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc). If it’s time to update your site in 2011, I suggest looking at WordPress.

Reputation Mgmt/SMO: You’ll hear the acronym SMO a lot in 2011, it stands for “Social Media Optimization”. Pretty much SEO for Social Media. With review sites like Yelp and InsiderPages having a bigger influence, and with Twitter and Facebook the two dominant players in social media, it makes sense to pay attention to how other therapists in your markets are using these mediums. It also makes sense to check out what is being said about *you* - this is the idea of Reputation Management. Setting a Google Alerts to watch for your name is a good place to start.

Mobile: Smartphones are here to stay, folks (and iPads and other tablets). More and more people are doing more and more of their web-surfing from them. But at the same time, the browsers and screens are improving so much, that customizing a site for these devices is *not* something you need to be concerned with. So just do what you need to do for Local, and the carryover should be enough.

Local: I did a workshop here in Seattle a couple of months ago. One slide just said “LOCAL! LOCAL! LOCAL!” and for 2011 I’d just add a couple more exclamation points. The changes Google made in fall of 2010 (basically combining the map and non-map listings for searches they deem to be for local businesses) made it MUCH harder to rank in a city in which you do *not* have an office. This trend will continue in 2011.

Bing/Yahoo: See my Facebook comments. Otherwise, not much on my radar. I was initially excited by the combination, but have found running ads on their networks to be difficult and underwhelming. How do you beat Google? I just don't see it.

Twitter? OK, I Relent: So I have pooh-poohed Twitter for a long time. I still do from the standpoint of it being a place where your clients live – I still don’t believe that! But what is now obvious is that Twitter is weighing more and more heavily on SEO. If you write blog entries, or articles, or otherwise have news, you should be posting it on Twitter, for the search engines to find.

More Use of Paid SEO Consultants: 2010 was the year where I could see other SEO firms work showing up in the local search results for therapists (though many using tactics I think are unethical, like posting multiple fake reviews). I can only see this continuing and increasing in 2011. It’s a complex, ever-changing world out there on the Internet. I’ve always thought most therapists didn’t want to have to be marketing experts OR high-tech experts – they just want to do good therapy work with as many clients as they’d like. The smart and hungry will be hiring out – expect the rankings in your area to be very, very dynamic in 2011.

All the best, Peter