I’ve worked with hundreds of therapists and coaches who are seeking to build private pay practices, and do you know what I hear again and again?

It’s either: 

“I work and work and work and work and WORK. I write blogs, I post on Facebook, and I tweak my website…it’s nonstop, I’m never done…And NOTHING is happening. How do I know what to do, what to stop doing, and what’s really going to return on investment?”

50% of the people I talk to


“I DO NOT KNOW WHERE TO START. The internet is an avalanche of conflicting information encouraging me to do things that feel inauthentic or pushy. So I do nothing. I know I need to promote my practice, but I feel overwhelmed and paralyzed.

The other 50% of the people I talk to

Let’s cut you some slack: therapists weren’t trained in marketing…or sales…or social media…or graphic design…in fact, the skills of therapy can feel wildly out of sync with these business-building strategies (they aren’t, by the way, as you’ll see).

In this post, I want to offer a very simple model that will help you articulate exactly what to do (and why) to get a client. This model will become the Great Filter through which all practice building efforts will go.

If something you are doing fits: Do it! 

If you discover your idea doesn’t fit cleanly inside the model, you have to let it go.

Why? Because in the beginning, building a private pay practice requires one thing only: clients.

If it’s not helping you get them, it’s not helping at all.

So, what does it take to sign a new client?

Your potential client has to know you exist (you have to pierce the veil of ignorance!), they have to believe in you (you need to build a relationship with them), and you have to make them an offer.

Piercing the veil of ignorance: how to get people to know that you exist

The first step is the hardest: how are we going to let people know that we exist? The vast majority of people DO NOT know that you exist.

This is problem number 1.

Imagine that there are millions of people JUST OVER THERE who badly need your help. They’re calling out “Help me, help me!” and you’re over here saying “I can help you, I can help you!”

Problem is, they can’t hear you, because they are trapped behind the veil of ignorance. 

It’s your job to pierce that veil. 

With this we are talking about capturing just a tiny iota of attention. You can do this in any number of ways – through social media, referral networks, cold outreach…honestly, the list is long.

Our goal is to find you one to two attention-getting strategies that feel authentic and fun and then use them strategically.

It will make a huge difference! You can’t help people who don’t know you exist!

The thing to remember, though, is that attention getting is the just first step.

Many of the therapists I talk with are frustrated – they are spending a lot of their time on social media but feel as though nothing is happening.

These are the people who say “I’ve been posting religiously on social media for 6 months and I haven’t gotten a single client from it.”

They seem genuinely shocked when I say “Why would you?”

Attention is NOT enough to get a client. It’s simply the first step.

Building Relationships: Lean on Your Existing Super Power!

The second step in our three-part model is to build a relationship with the people who stop and pay attention. This relationship-building step can take anywhere from 1 minute to many years.

Some people will meet you and be ready to work with you immediately. These are the kind who can go deep, fast. I’m one of those people – I know who I like, and once I like you, IT’S ON.

But that’s not everybody. Other people will meet you, watch you for a few years, and THEN feel ready to make the leap.

That’s okay! Both (and everything in between) are fine.

There are lots of strategies that will move people into deeper connection. Some examples are:

  • Having a website that speaks to their challenges in language that they understand
  • Giving them a quick win through an exercise you’ve created that has been put on your website and shared on social media (aka, a lead magnet)
  • Creating content that you put back in front of them again and again on social media and via your newsletter (videos, vlogs, audios, images, etc.)

Put simply, your job is to bring people in (pierce the veil) and then continuously offer chances to get to know you better.

Over time, by offering them blogs to read or exercises to try or videos to watch you will be building the relationship.

And because of that, whenever they ARE ready, they will come to you.

The number one strategy to build relationship: time with you

No matter how you bring people closer to you, you should always be offering the opportunity to hop on a one-on-one call, especially in the beginning.

That’s because it’s the one-on-one connection that creates the strongest relationship and solidifies trust – and it’s TRUST that creates clients.

SIDEBAR: Sometimes my clients will say, “Some people won’t want to get on a call!” and to them, I say, “Then they probably aren’t the best candidate for coaching and therapy!” And that’s FINE.
We aren’t in the business of making people coachable or ready for therapy. We are in the business of finding people who are coachable or ready, guiding them to believe in us, and offering them our help. 

Be their sign from the universe: make the explicit offer

I know you don’t want to. I know you feel like “if they need help, they’ll ask.” But for the sake of your practice, you MUST offer your services to people!

No one is going to just ask you to help them.

Ok, they might. BUT YOU CAN’T COUNT ON  IT.

Most people are waiting for a sign from the universe. 

YOU must be that sign.

You get to be the person on the zoom webinar who helps people with exactly their problem. You get to be the person offering targeted calls in their social media feed to discuss the exact problem they’re suffering through! You have the chance to be the person who somehow makes them believe that they can truly feel better, who then asks, “Would you like to hear how I work with people on this?” <— that’s YOU.

While it’s great when you are recommended by someone people already trust – maybe their doctor, their lawyer, or their personal trainer – at the end of the day, it’s up to YOU to be the most enthusiastic sign holder for your practice.  

And that means making explicit offers.

The Great Filter returns!

Remember the Great Filter? Put it to work.

Ask yourself: Does your new marketing idea seem like a powerful, high leverage, and efficient way to:

  • Get the eyeballs you need? (Pierce the veil of ignorance)
  • Create authentic relationships?
  • Give you a chance to make an offer?

Yes? Great! Do it.

If it feels unclear or random in any way, recalibrate your time and adjust your efforts.

Things get so much better when you know WHY you are doing things.

As you take a strategic look at your marketing efforts, you might discover that you are making yourself crazy doing something that doesn’t work, simply because you’ve heard from someone on the internet that it’s a way to engage with people. (Twelve times a day of third-party content on Twitter, anyone?) It’s time to let that go!

You may also discover that you have a trove of people who believe in you and with whom you have a solid relationship. The problem is just that you haven’t offered anything to them! Now that’s a good problem to have!

Or you may discover that you aren’t doing any of these things. You’ve been stuck on pause, overwhelmed by options, and unsure where to begin. That’s also fine. Now you know where to start!

And, as always, I’d love to help!

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.