Saturday, July 5, 2008

How We Started a Small Business - sort of

In April, my husband left the world of public service and went into private practice. He is an independently licensed clinical counselor. Since then, I've spent a great deal of time trusting in the Universe, learning how to run a business, how to network, how to advertise with almost no money, and how to keep the faith when my bank account is very low. Currently, there is enough money. It's the timing that gets tricky.

I moved into the position of project manager, public relations specialist, accountant, web master, researcher, and secretary. I really enjoy all of my roles!

Here's what we've gotten ourselves into over the last three months:

  • Named the practice
  • Created the Website
  • Advertised with Google Adwords
  • Office
  • Furnished Office
  • Business Cards, Brochures & Flyers
  • Began Search for Printing Services
  • Speaking Opportunities
  • Joined Chamber of Commerce
  • Blogging/LinkedIn/Twitter
A couple years ago, I was blogging on a fairly regular basis on Xanga. I tried to get hubby into it but writing is not really his thing. He's much stronger at in person presentations and is a very dynamic speaker. He did do a couple of blogs though, under the name "Cincinnati Therapy Guy". I'd forgotten about that. So when we were trying to think of a catchy name for his practice, he mentioned it and thus he became the "Cincinnati Therapy Guy". I think its easy to remember, descriptive, and shows his sense of humor and humility.

So, getting the word out was my highest priority. Part of getting the word out included getting a website up and running. Since we were advertising solely online, this was crucial. People want to get an idea about who you are before they come to share their deepest, darkest secrets with you. I have set up websites before, purely for sharing my dog pictures with my relatives out of state. I had no clue about sitemaps, search engine optimization, or link bait. I'm sure a professional could do much more with the site. For now, I think it gives visitors the information they need and is simple to navigate. I used Nvu to create the site and FileZilla to publish to our webhost.

(Snag) I changed webhosts somewhere in the middle of all of that. In hindsight, I'd have made the switch in a more planful manner. As it was, I didn't have the pages ready when the new host kicked in. I've always used templates or FrontPage to create sites. While the new host has templates, the available software is very different than I'm used to. It took me a couple of days to find software I could figure out. I didn't realize it would be so complicated (and maybe it isn't but it was beyond my ability to figure out)!

Word of mouth is the best form of advertising. We have some of that, since he's been seeing clients part time for a few years. We need more new clients though! So I looked for other ways to let people know he was now available full time.

We wanted to be listed in the phone book but that was expensive and complicated. His main base of operations is our home and you cannot use a home phone number to list a business in the Yellow Pages. Not even online. So, while I think it's a disadvantage, I think it's one we couldn't afford to do anything about. Another phone line is not in the immediate budget and we already had business cards.

Google Adwords is a really simple way to advertise on a budget. You choose some keywords that describe the products or services you're selling, create some (hopefully) eye catching ads, set a budget, and begin getting new traffic to your website. This is supposed to make the phone ring. It has been ringing but I'd like a lot more ringing!!

Google has done a good job of walking you through this process, with blogs, forums, and videos. They explain how to run a good campaign, how to create a sitemap, and search engine optimization. Currently, I'm trying to decide whether it's better to use search targeted ads or placement targeted ads.

(Snag) Hubby does most of his work out of our home. We live in a crappy neighborhood though and I was concerned that people were finding the address and then calling someone else. So my feeling was that he needed an office in a better location. We found a couple that we could reasonably afford and some that we could afford and really liked. Many were far too big. The one we liked best wasn't particularly sound proof though, and sometimes people in therapy yell or sob. So we had to find something else.

He stumbled upon his current office in his travels. It is in a convenient location, the perfect size, has ample free parking, and inexpensive. I'll save the adventure of furnishing the office for another blog. Suffice it to say, it's furnished and getting that way was an adventure. :p Interestingly enough, each of his new clients has preferred to come to our house rather than his office.

Early on, he got business cards from Staples. One should be sure to proofread these before you order and when you pick them up. We returned 1000 cards once because they misspelled "counselor". When we picked up the replacement batch, they misspelled his last name! Sadly, we had both handed out tons of them before noticing.

Current advice from a number of sources indicates that business cards are no longer necessary. Perhaps that's true for a lot of industries but I think they've been helpful. He isn't selling products and his services are very specific. People don't always need his services at the time he meets them. Sometimes it's months later, or they have a friend or family member who wants to see a counselor. For him, business cards are small and discrete, which is perfect for people who want to see a counselor.

So how else do you let people know that you offer counseling services in the Greater Cincinnati area?? Hubby goes around town talking to people. He goes to New Age shops, yoga places, doctors' offices, lawyers' offices, and he spends a lot of time in coffee shops. He loves Starbucks but he is also fond of the Coffee Emporium and Take Ten. He hands out cards and we even made him a flyer. Oh, we also have bumper stickers that advertise his website. Next on our list is brochures.

Brochures are tricky because you can't really create a nice one at home. So we have been searching for a printing service. This has been more difficult than you'd think. There seem to be a lot of printers in our area. One met with him and he was impressed with their prices and presentation. But the sales person didn't show up or call at their next scheduled meeting. Eventually he spoke with her again and set up another appointment. We were running late because we were dropping off furniture at the office so I called her. Before I could explain that we'd be late, she said she'd been meaning to call because she couldn't make the appointment. I told her hubby would call her later to set up something. Instead we've been searching anew. Because if your potential printer doesn't call you to say they can't make a meeting, will they call you back when you need 1000 flyers by next Friday? I don't trust that they will. I mean, isn't this like interviewing for the job? If they will treat you poorly during the honeymoon, do they really need your business?

Dennis has spoken at a Kiwanis meeting, a civic group, and a local social club. He's been to open houses and grand openings and mixers. He joined the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and is reaching out to local small business owners about providing an Employee Assistance Program. He's also interested in doing short presentations at brown bag lunches and speaking at events held by non profit organizations. He's volunteered to do counseling for military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families at no charge. He's doing a workshop on meditation later this month.

He's started blogging again and this time, he's going to stick with it. He's also on Twitter (as CintiTxGuy) and LinkedIn, as of this weekend. So we're reaching out, in every direction of which we can think. I'm reading blogs, to learn from the wisdom of others. I send him emails several times a day, with links to blogs that might interest him, blogs about blogging, articles about current news in mental health, to websites that look like I want ours to look, to events he might attend, groups he might speak with, and anything else I can think up!

We still have lots to do, lots to learn. I'm confident it will work out and pay off. Not because of all the time and effort but because Dennis is a warm, caring person; he's a good therapist. He has healthy boundaries and he takes joy in his clients' progress. He loves his work and he's very good at it. And I'm just going to keep shouting it from every mountain top I can find.


Sue said...

You make me wish I lived in the Cincinnati area, because your husband sounds like the kind of therapist I'd like to have. So if you do as well in your other promotional materials, you should also have people who do live near enough who will want to come talk to him.

rainie said...

Thanks, sue! *hugs*

Jessica G said...

Aw! You met Sue! The other woman I look up to and admire! :)

Damn, you guys have been B U S Y!

Does he take medicare? Ha...I really do need a new therapist. :)