Guest post by Sherry Shockey-Pope
Therapist Practice in a Box

Long gone are the days of completing graduate or professional school, hanging up a shingle on your office front door and having the public flock to for your service or product.  Consumers are becoming more educated and savvy thanks to Google and the internet, not to mention the sheer number of small business.  Opening a small business today means you face many challenges and market competition is one of those challenges that every business owner must learn to conquer.  You may wonder how you can make a profit if there are too many businesses locally or globally that provide the same services or products?  Too many businesses mean too much competition, right?  Entrepreneur Magazine states that competition is good when it “drives innovation, inspires perseverance and builds team spirit.”

We have all heard the stories about the “big box” retail store relocating to the local area and the smaller business struggle to survive.  However, have you thought about the positive effect that having a larger store moving in your area might actually be good for your business?  Small business can benefit from higher visibility by the increased traffic the larger store will bring in. Additionally, the marketing that the larger business conducts can also provide a positive effect for a small business.  For example, I have a dentist friend that opened a business in the same commercial area that Walmart opens a Super Store in.  His office was two doors down from Walmart.  When Walmart mailed flyers to the neighborhood, his business was on the map showing potential customers where his business was located.  Walmart provided free advertising.  He felt that was a win fall for his dental office.  He also saw a 20% gain in business that he felt was a result of Walmart’s presence.

Small business owners often fret when direct competitors move into the same town, the same street or even the same office building.  We become worried that we will have to cut our prices, provide more services, longer hours or spend more money on advertising to “beat back this potential threat”.  For most small business cutting prices alone for any measurable amount of time will place our business on the verge of shutting down.

You may think “I didn’t spend all this money on my professional training just to undercut my prices.”  I would agree you should be paid for your product, services and time.  However, how can we, small businesses, compete when there are just too many competitors in our market space?

Here are 5 unique ways to stand out from the crowded marketplace.

  1. Know your niche and who you are trying to attract. By knowing your customer well, you have valuable data that you can use to market directly to that population.   If you know your segment of the population well then you know what they need, want and what problem you can solve for them.  Even if you are in a large industry, you can narrow down to a smaller group and dig deeper to solve their problem.  According to Kiera Abbamonte of Grasshopper, in her article “How to Get Ahead in Fiercely Competitive Markets” published 12/22/2016, Small Business, Off the Ground advises that finding your niche doesn’t have to hard  or painful.

She suggests a 3-step process:
Step 1:  Take a Broad View of the market: Look at your competitors, who and how are they serving their clients?
Step 2: Find a segment that is underserved.  If one competitor is serving higher-end customers and another is serving the lower end customers, aim for the middle ground.
Step 3: Identify and meet their needs.  Find out all you can about this population. What do they like?  Where are their pain points?  What service is missing in their lives?  Talk to your niche population and find out how to fill that gap.

  1. Make the experience of working with you a better customer service experience. Did you know according to a CEI Survey, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience?  Let’s look at Apple, when you enter into their store you expect a certain level of service.  When you walk in with your computer the “Genius” at the Genius Bar have special knowledge and training to solve your problem, right there.  Apple lifts the customer’s expectation, they over deliver.  In the same survey, 80% of customers are looking toward small business to serve up better customer services.  That gives small business a large opportunity to stand out from larger  One of the ways I do this with my private practice is by sending a survey out twice a year asking our clients how are we doing.  It only has 5 questions and the survey is easy to fill out.  We receive close to 45% return on surveys – which is a high rate of return, average external survey response rates 10%-15% according to Survey Gismo.
    This survey gives us valuable information directly from our customers.  I then can make changes to our service array or our processes.


  1. Stand out from other small business by being your unique you. Let your personality shine through.  People want to buy from people they like, trust and are connected to. Customers want to purchase from authentic and genuine people.  Not everyone is going to be your ideal client that is a given, but there will be customers that are 100% your ideal client.  What makes you unique in your space. Do you have specialized training? Maybe you have a concierge service that raises you level of service. Do you consistently meet or exceed customer expectations?  Do you have a straightforward way to make appointments with you?  Take a moment to write down 25 items that are uniquely you. For those overachievers in the group, see if you can complete a list of at least 35 items What is your unique selling proposition, (USP)?  Now write a list of 25 item of your clients’ needs. Once you have those lists think about a marketing plan to inform your customers how you can meet their specific needs. Our clients won’t know about us if we are not our own best cheerleaders. Let you shine through in your marketing.


  1. What is your number? How many actual customers do you need to be successful?  What will that number be 30, 50, 100, 1000 or more?  In my business I need on average 25 clients per therapist, per week.  I have 15 therapists and if I do the simple math I would need on average 375 per week.  That sounds like a doable number to me.  If I add another therapist, I only need to hustle for 25 new or existing customers.  Think about the numbers you need daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and set goals for those.  Look at your targets regularly.  Are you meeting them, exceeding them or do you have more work to be done?  Keeping track will help you know where you are headed in the future. Numbers can also be motivating to both you and your staff.


  1. Let’s talk about your talent (staff), that you have employed.  Do they know your USP? Do they know what your values are and how to demonstrate those values to your ideal customers?  Are they motivated to meet or exceed your goals?  Do they even know your goals?  You need your employees not only skilled and well trained, but they must feel you value their contribution to your overall mission.  Spend the time on training them, provide feedback and give simple, direct instructions of how and why you want things done in a certain manner.


Being a small business owner is exciting and challenging.  Many entrepreneurs took the risk to open a small business to control their own destiny, have freedom of scheduling, the ability to hire people they want to work with.  Additionally, the reward for all this risk is reaping the benefits of profits and for many, giving back to our communities.  However, sometimes we put up road blocks to our own success.  We give up before we find our voice, we are not clear with who we serve or how we serve them.

We look at competition as the determining factor if we succeed in business or if we fail.  We think I can’t realistically compete with business X down the street or across town.  I would suggest that we look inward more and be our own competition.  Ask yourself “Am I doing better today than yesterday, better this week than last week? Is my message strong, clear and does it resonate with our customers”?  One of the advantages I see being a small business is our ability to pivot quickly within the market place.  To attend to our customer’s problem with solutions.  To have the ability to alter our course or add a new product line or service when we find the need. Therefore, I see ourselves as the biggest barrier to our success.  However, if we take an honest look at our business, our mission, knowing our niche and how we solve our customers problems, I believe we have won more than half the battle over our competition.


Sherry Shockey-Pope, LMFT is Founder and author of Therapist Practice in a Box design to help graduate students, newly licensed practitioners or anyone that wants to build a successful private practice the first time. She provides the support and coaching you need to take your business from an idea to a reality. Her attitude of “let’s get it done and stop talking about it” has helped many struggling clinicians and small business owners. She is the cheering squad you need to build that successful practice. She is passionate about helping and teaching others how to build a private practice. She feels we can help our communities across the nation heal if we have competent clinicians who can earn a decent living in private practice. Therapists Practice in a Box is the graduate school program on business practice building that you never had. Her website has many other helpful resources.

Sherry is also Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer of Central Counseling Services a large group practice in Riverside, CA that serves over 500 clients a month. She sees clients, manages and provides supervision to interns and associates. She has been in private practice full time since 2009.  Additionally, she lectures for Public Child Welfare Training Academy; San Diego State University, Department of Social Work where she always receives excellent feedback on her presentations for her innovation, knowledge, passion, and her entertaining manner and fun learning style.  Participants have requested her to teach all their graduate classes.


Blogs of Interest

What’s Missing from Your Marketing Plan & It Doesn’t Cost a Lot?

The 4 Keys to Vanquish Fears as You Build a Private Practice.

Can You Write a Treatment Plan? Then You Can Write a Business Plan.

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How to Find Freedom in Your Private Practice -

Through knowing:

1. Who you are

2. Who you serve

3. And how to take your message to Market

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