It’s no secret that networking is one of the most valuable skills a therapist can have in building and maintaining their practice. Prioritizing your network helps you stay connected with other colleagues, remain updated on changing industry trends, and attract new clients.
That said, networking doesn’t have to be synonymous with large social gatherings or handing out your business card to strangers. In today’s modern world, there are numerous options for building relationships with other professionals. Here are some of the best tips to keep in mind.
Remind Yourself That Most People Dislike (Or Feel Intimidated By) Networking
It may very well seem like you’re the only therapist who dreads exchanging business cards in a room full of people. But there’s a good chance you are far from being alone with your angst.
First, it’s important to note that research shows that throwing a group of people doesn’t arbitrarily mean people network well. In fact, networking is most successful when people actually build genuine connections. That said, studies also show that 95% of attendees at networking events spend most of their time corresponding with people they already know (1). In other words, it can be helpful to remind yourself that most people also feel uncomfortable.
Additionally, many therapists identify themselves as being introverted (2). The career itself complements the introspection, deep connection, active listening, and pockets of solitude that most introverts crave in a professional work environment. It may be crucial to remember that you’re in good, introverted company when approaching other people.
Identify Your Networking Needs
Most therapists know they should network, but if you haven’t really identified your why, you probably won’t commit to your networking goals. Before you start thinking about how you intend to network, pinpoint your reasons for needing to make this effort.
Starting their careers: At the beginning of this journey, you may only know the people in your graduate school cohort or immediate fieldwork placement. This is a great starting point, but networking can certainly expand your reach and allow you to connect with other professionals.
Building a referral base: Networking with other professionals is one of the best ways to solicit referrals to your practice. Although online marketing and other sources of advertising can be highly effective, word-of-mouth can’t be overstated.
Professional opportunities: Do you want to grow your group practice? Supervise other therapists? Teach at a graduate school? Conduct research or speak at local events? Although many organizations post various positions, networking is often far more advantageous when it comes to receiving high-quality opportunities.
Case consultation: Therapists should ethically consult with other therapists as part of striving for clinical excellence. Networking can connect you with experts in the field, and it can pave the path for supervisory relationships and consultation groups.
Peer support and friendship: Although this may not be the main goal of networking, the reality is that many therapists feel isolated in their work. This is especially true for providers in private practice or therapists who work solely via telehealth. Networking can connect you to other like-minded individuals seeking camaraderie and emotional support (3).
Professional visibility: Focusing on networking can also enhance your professional reputation. This can inadvertently lead to more opportunities, and it can better augment your practice within your local community or within the field at large.
Consider Where Your Ideal Clients Are
Networking for the sake of networking may feel like a waste of time. And if you embody a random approach when it comes to networking, it’s true that things really might not go anywhere. Instead, you may waste both time and money when trying to meet other people.
It’s so important to consider where your current clients might find you. Are they the type to search for depression therapist near me on Google? Or are they more likely to ask their ob-gyn, dietitian, or physical therapist for a referral? Will they want to use their health insurance, or will they accept paying for treatment privately?
If you don’t know, spend some time truly reflecting on this. Consider doing your own market research. Mentalize how your clients conceptualize and execute the tasks they need to do in their lives. Think about what drives them to seek therapy and how they ultimately choose their therapists.
Many times, therapists only think about networking in terms of connecting with other therapists. But sometimes the best networking occurs with other professionals. Schools, medical offices, wellness centers, and boutique gyms may all act as potential referral sources. Clients are far more likely to accept a referral from someone they authentically trust.
If you haven’t already defined your ideal client, now may be a good time to do so. This reflective process doesn’t mean that you must choose a specific niche or targeted population. However, it can be tremendously beneficial to consider where the people you’re most apt to work with might find you.
Prioritize Quality Over Quantity
It’s tempting to try to squeeze in as many networking opportunities as possible to see “what sticks.” But this approach often leads to burnout, and it’s unlikely to solicit meaningful connections.
Instead, try to focus on building deeper connections. This may be more beneficial than having a larger (but more superficial) network. Prioritize getting to know people on a personal level, and don’t just look at networking as what you get. You need to be willing to give as much (if not more) as you hope to receive.
Keep in mind that most people can sense when someone is simply looking to advertise their services or gain referrals. It’s a professional mistake, and it could adversely affect your reputation.
Offer Support and Guidance
Introverts already tend to excel in active listening, so you can use this inherent skill to your advantage when networking. People remember when others genuinely help them. This is especially true if you give them such support without expecting anything in return. Here are some strategies to consider:
Answer thoughtfully on online forums or social media: Therapists congregate on every social media platform from Reddit to Facebook to Instagram. Social media has its inherent downsides, but it can provide an easy springboard for building connections. When it comes to networking, try to focus on how you can be helpful to others. If people ask questions, make an effort to respond genuinely.
Offer to mentor other therapists: If you are relatively seasoned, you may have more to offer to newer therapists than you realize. Whether it’s offering guidance that helps people build a private practice or providing consultation about your specific niche, mentoring can be one of the best ways to establish a sense of competence in the field.
Get involved in supervision: If you have a desire to supervise others, you will be on the front lines of helping train new therapists. The relationships formed in supervision aren’t necessarily part of networking, but being a supervisor can connect you with other professional leaders, educators, and supervisors in the field.
Look for work within higher education settings: Academia can provide numerous networking opportunities, especially if you’re interested in research, publishing, teaching, and getting involved in larger community-based advocacy. Many colleges and universities need part-time or adjunct instructors for their counseling graduate programs, and this can be a great way to get your foot in the professional door.
Attend Relevant Workshops and Trainings
Many therapists find that networking doesn’t feel as daunting when they’re truly connecting with like-minded individuals. You’re more likely to find such people when you’re engaging in activities that feel professionally meaningful.
With that in mind, try to be intentional about the certifications and trainings you pursue. Rather than default to what’s popular or “seems needed,” which ones best align with your interests? Which ones speak to the work you’re trying to improve or complement?
Most workshops and trainings don’t automatically equate to networking opportunities. While there may be mixers, lunches, or icebreakers, it’s ultimately your responsibility to forge connections. It can be helpful to focus on setting a small goal. That may mean asking someone over a cup of coffee what kind of work they do. It might also entail asking another therapist for their email because you’ve been looking to build your professional referral base.
Avoid These Networking Don’ts
Networking, like most professional endeavors, comes with its own social etiquette. While exceptions to the rules always exist, it’s a good idea to consider these rules when connecting with others. You don’t want to build the wrong reputation.
Don’t just ask for referrals right away: Networking should feel beneficial to everyone involved. With that, if you approach a particular setting by asking for referrals, your intentions may come across as disingenuous or even selfish. Instead, focus on how you can also help others.
Don’t gossip about others: It’s never appropriate to gossip about other therapists, even if someone else initiates the conversation. You never know what information might be relayed to that person, and it can also make you look distasteful or untrustworthy to others.
Don’t just wait for others to approach you: Networking does entail a certain amount of stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and this is especially true for introverts. But it’s important to remember that people may not approach you if you present as aloof or disengaged. At the very least, set a goal for connecting with just one person.
Don’t forget to follow up with others: One of the most important components of networking is the follow-up process. Exchange numbers, emails, or other relevant contact information. Then, a few days later, reach out to that person and acknowledge how much you appreciated meeting them. Consider asking an open-ended question to facilitate ongoing dialogue.
Don’t avoid evaluating your own performance: Networking is a skill, and while it may come more easily to some people, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve this skill over time. After specific networking events, devote a few minutes to assess your performance. What went well? What will you try to do better next time? Remember the goal isn’t to berate yourself- instead, it’s to focus on your own strengths and areas where you want to improve.
Final Thoughts on Professional Networking
Although many introverted therapists dread networking, it can be one of the most important skills you cultivate for building your practice. Networking helps establish your presence, and it provides you with valuable opportunities to connect with other professionals.
With that, it’s okay to start small. You don’t need to do everything all at once and remember that no amount of networking in the world can ever replace your own clinical presence. Keep doing good work with clients and keep making the effort to get to know other therapists. With time and effort, this hard work will pay off.