You’ve set up your online therapy business, and you’re ready to take on clients. Congratulations! But have you thought through the client journey from their first contact with you to the first paid session? Is your system set up for a smooth and efficient onboarding process? 

And even if you’ve been working online for a while, are there any ways you could improve the client journey to make it more straightforward for potential clients?

The client journey is an essential thing to think about, as the more complicated it is, the less likely people will decide to work with you. Ideally, it will be simple and easy to navigate while checking all the boxes for you as the business owner.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into what you need to get your client from their first contact right through to their first session. We’ll cover tools, schedulers, contracts, and more.

Where Can Potential Clients Contact You?

The first step is to think about how people can get in touch with you in the first place.

Do you have several ways for clients to get in touch with you, or only one? For example, these could include your website contact form, various social media platforms, directories (like the LIT Directory), or directly via your email address or phone number. 

Secondly, do you monitor all these platforms regularly – or could you be missing messages from potential clients? If you have too many different contact points, you might struggle to stay on top of them all. Then, you could easily miss a message or take several days to respond (by which time, the client might have turned to someone else instead). 

From First Contact to First Session: Managing Your Contact Systems

Make sure you have clear instructions on your website and wherever you promote your services so people know how to make that first contact with you. Otherwise, it could leave potential clients confused or give them too many different options (leading to decision fatigue). 

You’ll need to decide whether you want people to contact you via email, your website contact form, or something else.

But either way, we recommend limiting your contact options to a maximum of 1-2 routes.

It’s easier and simpler to check one or two places to see if you have messages from a potential client. For example, you could list your email address as your main point of contact, e.g. on directories or social media platforms. You can also disable messaging on Facebook and Instagram to limit the ways people can contact you. Then, it can be more straightforward for the client to know how to reach out to you. 

You can also manage expectations by setting up an autoresponder on your email, Facebook page, or Instagram. It’s helpful to let them know how soon to expect a reply (especially if you work part-time or are on vacation). Another option is to automatically forward all communications to your email – there are several tools that allow you to do this. 

Photo by Urupong on Getty Images Pro

The Client Journey: Your Needs Vs. Your Client’s Preferences

You should think about what will work best for your potential clients but also for you as the business owner. Do you want to have a phone number where people can reach out to you at any time? Or would you prefer to keep all communication online and asynchronous?

And for your clients, what makes the most sense for them? Where are they most likely to contact you? Those are the platforms and contact methods you should make available.

The best contact method for your clients might vary from location to location. In some areas of the world, businesses rely on WhatsApp much more than others – one of our LIT members based in Mexico shared that WhatsApp is essential for her clients, while in other parts of the world, WhatsApp might be seen as unprofessional. 

Ultimately, you will need to analyse what will work best, both for you and your (potential) clients. While you can use tools like autoresponders to manage different platforms, you’ll still need to check them regularly. So, keep it simple and reduce your first contact points to a minimum, making it easier for you to manage and respond quickly to people who reach out to you.

From First Contact to First Session: What Happens After Someone Contacts You?

Once someone gets in touch with you, what are the next steps? If you’re setting it up for the first time, think about how many steps there are between that first contact and the first session. And if you already have a system, how confident are you in how you have your processes set up? 

Here is one example of how the onboarding process could look:

  1. An initial message from your client
  2. A response from you with a link to a questionnaire, contract, and your scheduling tool 
  3. An automatic reminder before the first session
  4. The first session 

That is one of the simplest onboarding systems – but it can vary depending on your system and setup. 

From first contact to first session - signing a contract is an essential step
Photo by c-George on Getty Images

What Does a Client Need to Know Initially – & What Do You Need to Know?

Before meeting with a new client, think about two things:

  • What they need to know from you about the process (especially if they are new to therapy)
  • And what you need to know about them

It can be helpful to consider the onboarding process from the client’s point of view. Is it simple and easy for them to navigate, or are there too many steps along the way? Do they have a clear understanding of what will happen when, or are they getting confused along the way? 

Another key point is whether they know up-front how much they can expect to pay to work with you. That’s important, as you don’t want to spend time meeting with someone only to discover they can’t afford your services.

Ideally, the client journey should be simple and straightforward. But you also need to collect the relevant information you need before the first session. 

Save Time with Email Templates

You will probably send out similar information each time someone reaches out to work with you. So, using email/message templates can be so helpful! 

You can have message templates saved within Gmail, WhatsApp, and many other tools. This way, you won’t need to write it all out every time, and you could even outsource this task to a virtual assistant

Our member Cynthia also recommends saving a backup on your notes app on your phone (if you respond to messages on the go) or somewhere else on your laptop. You can also create multiple versions of templates depending on the situation. 

Should you offer a free discovery call for potential clients?

Some therapists prefer to offer a free discovery call before signing a contract with a client and officially taking them on. That can allow you to get a feel for them and pre-empt any potential issues that may come up. It’s also an opportunity for you to screen people and ensure they are a suitable client for you.

Other mental health professionals do not offer a discovery call, and that is also fine. Each option has its pros and cons, so you’ll need to decide which route you prefer for your business. 

If you don’t have a free call, you’ll need to find out more about the person beforehand via a more detailed questionnaire or intake form. You’ll also need to explain more about the process from the first contact to the first session. Give them an opportunity to share any questions they have with you too. 

What to do & what do avoid on a free discovery call

If you offer a discovery call, then make sure to set expectations and clarify in advance how long this will be and what it’s about. For instance, some therapists offer a trial therapy session while others use it as a chance to answer questions and make sure it’s a good fit. Be sure the expectations are clearly laid out when the potential client schedules their session. 

From first contact to first session - a free discovery call is one way to onboard new clients
Photo by fizkes on Getty Images

In our experience, we don’t recommend that you make this an initial free therapy session. Instead, use it as a chance to get to know each other briefly, make sure they are the right client for you, ask any questions, and explain the next steps for getting started with therapy. The typical length is 15-30 minutes maximum for a free discovery call.

We recommend creating a short checklist of what you want to cover during your discovery calls to make sure you don’t forget anything important. You might want to remind the client of the process, address privacy questions, or explain how you might handle tech issues.

How & When to Collect Information About Potential Clients

Before you take on a new client, you’ll need information from them about their history, symptoms, what they want support with, etc. You could collect this information before your free discovery call (if you offer one) or your first session, and having it up-front can be helpful as it allows you to prepare more for meeting the client. 

One way to do that is to have a form the client fills out when they reach out to you to book a free call or request a session. Then, you’ll have more information to assess what the client needs, and it also allows you to screen them and see if you want to work with them. 

But if you prefer, you can ask the client these questions when you meet them on the first call. However, that can be more time-consuming for you, especially if they decide not to work with you or you decide that you don’t want to work with them. 

You should also consider whether the tool you use is compliant with the relevant privacy laws if they share any sensitive data in the initial questionnaire. We go into more detail on privacy and data protection regulations in this blog post, including EHR tools such as WriteUpp and Simple Practice.

What do you do if someone reaches out but they’re not a good fit?

Occasionally, this will happen, and you will pick up that the client isn’t a good fit for you. The earlier you realise this, the better – it will save you both time. That’s why it’s a good idea to send out a detailed questionnaire before your first call. 

Maybe, they are dealing with issues you don’t specialise in, or you don’t get a good vibe from them. But it can be tricky to manage this situation and tell the client without upsetting them or making them feel rejected.  

In that case, you could let them know that you think they would have a better therapeutic relationship with someone who specialises in the issues they want to work on. You can refer them to colleagues you know that have more expertise in this area or share other directories (like the LIT Directory) where they can find mental health professionals.

From First Contact to First Session: Wrap Up

By now, you should have started to map out the client journey from first contact to first session, and you’ll have a better idea what you and the client need to know in the initial steps to working together.  

In Part 2 of this blog post, we’ll cover the essential tools you need for onboarding new clients to your business (from scheduling tools to how to get paid!). Sign up for our newsletter here to be notified when we publish it on our website.

If you need more support in setting up your online business (or you’re ready to take it to the next level), the LIT Community could be just what you need. It’s our dedicated community for location independent therapists around the world, where we offer support, accountability, inspiration, and connection. Find out more here and sign up for our waitlist to hear all the latest. You’ll be the first to know when we’ll next open the doors!

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