How to Enjoy Networking as a Sensitive Therapist
When you hear the word “networking”, what does that bring up for you? Personally, I imagine large rooms of people loudly having small talk and immediately am filled with dread. As many of us have heard and been witness to, networking is the fast and consistent path to building a private practice. When we have a personal connection with another therapist or practitioner, it makes sense that they would feel more comfortable making a recommendation for our services (and vice versa).
For Highly Sensitive and Introverted Therapists, the correlation between networking and success can be a difficult reality to accept. For us, networking or socializing with new people can be exhausting, anxiety producing and unfulfilling. We prefer deep connections, can become easily overwhelmed in new situations, tend to struggle at promoting ourselves and may find it difficult to maintain multiple referral relationships. However, if we can adjust our assumption about networking being superficial self-promotion and focus more on building mutually beneficial relationships, we can transform our dread of networking into a more enjoyable experience. How can we benefit from this tried-and-true marketing strategy without getting burned out?
Network on Your Own Terms
Instead of forcing yourself to attend large networking events or overscheduling yourself with too many coffee dates, give yourself permission to network on your own terms. Ask yourself what works with your current energy levels and need for referrals. Here are a few ideas:
- Prioritize one-on-one meetings over large gatherings. It is okay not to attend networking events and instead focus on smaller get-togethers or connecting at training events.
- If you do attend larger networking events, ask a friend to tag along and set limits on how much time you will stay.
- Select a familiar space to meet a new referral source such as your office or a favorite cafe where you know the layout and menu. Being in a familiar environment will help reduce stimulation so you can focus on connecting with the other person.
- Host your own networking event or open house at your office.
- Utilize online networking as a way to establish connections with other practitioners before meeting in person. Show up consistently by setting aside time each week to engage in local therapist facebook groups or on list-servs.
Maintain Referral Relationships
When you first start to network and build referral relationships, you will of course spend much more time reaching out to folks. The exact number of networking dates to schedule is very subjective and directly correlated with the amount of energy you have, but a good starting point is to send out several invites and meet with at least one person per week. The more clients you need, the more networking you will do. Focus on practitioners that have the same speciality as you but are full or other types of practitioners that your ideal client may see before you (acupuncturist, massage therapist, dietitian, couples therapist, etc).
Once you have found 3-5 solid referral relationships, then you can shift your focus to maintaining these relationships instead of using your limited energy reaching out to new folks. As always, quality is more important than quantity here. When you connect with another practitioner who you enjoy spending time with and are likely to receive referrals from (their practice is full, they work with your ideal client in some capacity), then you know that is someone to nurture a referral relationship with. A good rule of thumb is to reach out about once per month via email or facebook to check-in, share a resource or schedule another get together. If your practice is full, you may want to reduce the frequency to once every 2-3 months, just to maintain those referral relationships for the future.
Although networking in the traditional sense can feel inauthentic and exhausting for Highly Sensitive Therapists, it can actually be an opportunity to use one of greatest Sensitive Strengths to build our businesses and be of service to our communities. Our ability to make deep connections and build strong relationships will be an asset when creating a strong referral network of practitioners who will not only know us and our services, but feel confident to refer their clients to us. Networking on our own terms can transform this once dreadful marketing tool into something we actually enjoy.