The Power of Online Presence: Mari A. Lee, LMFT Overcame ‘Technophobia’ to Become Best-Selling Author
Discover how some very successful mental health professionals use blogging, social media, and other technologies as powerful tools for their therapy practices.
I’ve discussed in great length ways that my online presence has benefited my private practice. But don’t just take my word for it. Many therapists have utilized the power of social media and blogging to get the word out about their practice, establish rapport, and build trust with those in their community. I’ve asked a few of my colleagues some questions about their experiences (the good and the bad) building their online presence. This is the first of several interviews where you can learn from the professionals. My hope is for you to read these and understand even more just how valuable an online presence can be, not just for attracting clients, but for opening up other professional opportunities. Our first featured therapist is Mari A. Lee, an LMFT who specializes in sex addiction recovery.
1) When and how did you first start putting time and effort into maintaining a strong online presence?
Nearly 10 years ago when I was first starting out as an intern, I knew I wanted to have a website and better understand how to build my brand. I worked with a coach and a web designer to help me understand the basics. I had a Facebook page and a LinkedIn profile to start. Over the years, I began to understand even more the benefit of an online presence, so I eventually updated my website and then found ways to refine and streamline my social media.
2) Please describe what social platforms you currently use.
Originally I started with a Squarespace website and a LinkedIn account; I still use both. However, I now have a Facebook business page where I frequently post and receive feedback. I have a blog as well that I update regularly. I do have a Twitter and a Google+ account, though truthfully, I don’t use them often. Also, I recently moved my professional email to a gmail account and am really enjoying all of the added benefits from Google mail.
One thing I love about social media is how it can connect you to others in the field. I belong to 3 professional organizations for my specialization as a sex and love addiction therapist. I participate often and have found this to be an excellent resource to build my reputation and brand, as well as build trusted relationships with other therapists within my specialization.
3) About how much time do you devote to your online presence? How do you balance it with your other work responsibilities?
I am an author, so writing is a first love to me. I enjoy this practice and find it fun, therapeutic, and exciting to write each day. I write 5 days a week and spend about 30-60 min every morning nurturing my online presence. Though I have a very busy private practice, I really don’t find this to be difficult to balance into my schedule. I think part of this is because writing comes quite naturally to me, and also I have more time to devote to my online presence because I do not have to contend with insurance billing and such.
4) What kinds of things do you use to inspire your content creations; what do you write about?
I love this question! The sky is the limit with respect to what I find inspirational. It could be something from my personal life that I feel would be helpful and supportive. It might be a trend I am seeing with clients in my private practice (for example: Boundaries, Assumptions, Gratitude). It could be a poem I have read, or a movie I have seen, a hot topic in current media, a trend, a project I am working on.
I draw from many sources, and I believe this keeps my writing authentic and “me.” That said, it is important to keep the material relevant and fresh. Writing about female business owners in their 50s, might be a bit blah to someone doing a search, but writing about female business owners taking 10 weeks of vacation a year, making six figures, and writing top selling e-books may have more of an SEO draw.
5) How do you best balance personal and professional in your online activities? Please give examples.
I tend to keep pretty tight boundaries on my personal and professional online activities. For example, I have a social media form for therapy clients as part of my intake packet that they sign. I do not allow clients to post to my business Facebook page or private message me. They may read an article, blog and so forth if they choose, but that is it. I do not accept friend requests or professional links from therapy clients on LinkedIn. I have had a couple of clients attempt to add me as a friend. When this happens I redirect them back to my policy and process in their next session. Thankfully, I have not had any issues to date with clients overstepping boundaries. If that should happen, I would address this as part of the clinical work.
6) What is some tangible evidence that your online presence has grown your business?
My practice has grown to the point where I have recently raised my fees in order to reduce my waiting list. I have been referring out about 15-20 clients per month to other trusted colleagues in my area. However, this is about to change, as I am getting ready to hire 2 new therapists in 2015. I’d like to keep some of this income under Growth Counseling Services, and my business is telling me that it is time to grow. I have also increased my income in the last 3 years by 25% and it grows higher each year. I anticipate 2015 to be a large jump in business/income.
7) Besides attracting clients, what other ways has your strong online presence helped you?
I have so enjoyed connecting with other professionals. My amazing virtual assistant and I met via a Facebook professional group, and it is really fun and enjoyable to see colleagues who have become friends posting updates on their latest and greatest and cheering them on! Additionally, I have been asked to do radio and podcast interviews, my 5-star Amazon book, “Facing Heartbreak: Steps to Recovery for Partners of Sex Addicts” is now the #1 book in the world for spouses of sex addicts, and my e-book for therapists, “The Creative Clinician: Exercises and Activities for Clients and Group Therapy” has been flying off my website store based solely on therapists hearing about this, reading the testimonials and positive posts from other therapists, and then purchasing this resource. In the last year I have been hired three times for paid speaking gigs that paid several thousand dollars each. I could go on and on – the benefits and blessings are innumerable!
8) What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered creating and maintaing your online presence?
I was scared and resistant to learning new technologies. Miranda Palmer, who is a friend and a colleague, has been one of my biggest supports in being gently relentless (and incredibly patient) in supporting me. Additionally, my virtual assistant Kurt has been a huge help in walking me through some of the unknowns. I always share that if I can figure out how to blog, attend and facilitate webinars, host online trainings, navigate my FB business page, and so forth, anyone out there reading this can. I was the biggest scaredy cat of all!
9) How have you overcome those challenges?
I started out with small, focused goals. For example, I worked on my website a website presence, then updated my LinkedIn profile. Pretty soon, I began to attend webinars and, then set aside a budget for paid coaching when needed. I hired a tech savvy virtual assistant who walked me through the world of Facebook and Twitter. The most important thing I have done to help myself is to set aside time to practice each week. I ask questions, I listen and read, I offer to others any information that I have found helpful in order to give back. And I try to operate from a place of gratitude. A polite thank you and introduction with an offer to help the other person (instead of just asking for a hand out) goes a long way in the virtual community, and in real life!
10) What tips or resources can you recommend to help therapists who are new to the online world of blogging, social media, SEO, etc.?
Trust that you CAN do this. Try to lean into your fears and don’t bite off too much at a time. Make a list, and start at the top with a website. Even 3-4 pages is a good start. Hire experts and coaches when needed. Don’t feel like you have to be the best writer in the world or a published author to have a blog or FB business page. Even posting a few short sentences and including a short video clip or inspirational quote is good enough. Baby steps! And here is my numero uno tip: Operate from a place of respect, gratitude, kindness and good will. People and professionals in the virtual communities and social media will get a real sense of who you are very quickly. If you are snarky, a know it all, or mean spirited, this will translate very quickly to the online world. I try to extend from a positive space and in doing so, attract other focused, joyful, interesting, and successful positive therapists and healers. When I come across a Negative Nellie, Envious Irma, Debbie Downer or Fear Fred, I just bow out politely from those kinds of interactions. You will notice right away within Facebook groups, LinkedIn feeds, professional list serves and Twitter who these folks are; these are the people who lead with fear, dire warnings, and rain on the parade vs. picking up a kazoo, jumping on the float and moving forward. I prefer to surround myself with like-minded, whole hearted, authentic colleagues of integrity who are out there making their dreams come true. Best wishes in creating your online presence. If this 52 year-old former tech scaredy cat can do it, so can you!
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S
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Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.