qualifying best fit clients for your private practice

Are You Investing Time Into No-Show Clients?

Have you ever spent time talking to a client over the phone, getting your intake documents, notes, and your mindset ready to meet them, only to have them not show up? There is a sales technique that might help you avoid this from now on. This technique is all about making sure you are only investing your time and energy on the clients that are the best fit and most eager to work with you. The technique is called “qualifying”. It’s a small series of questions and tasks you ask your clients to do or answer before you meet. But it’s more than a sales process, it’s a streamlined version of something we do quite naturally. For example, when we talk with potential clients over the phone, we typically do things like ask for their address, their availability, and their plans for payment. We do this to make sure they are local, they have a schedule that fits, and that they are able to pay. In asking those questions, you’re already qualifying clients. If we are more intentional about our qualifying process, we can streamline our intake process, and even perhaps automate it! Let’s talk about how you can do that.

Know Your Best and Worst-Fit Clients

If qualifying clients is all about investing in clients that are the right fit, then the first step is to make sure you know who your best and worst fit clients are. There’s a process to determining your ideal client, but for this purpose, we’ll just make a simple list. Grab a sheet of paper or your computer notepad, and create two lists. On one list, write who your worst fit clients are. I find it often easier to start with this list. You might come up with things like:

Clients who are the wrong fit:

  • Don’t come on time for sessions
  • Are argumentative/litigious
  • Don’t communicate about missed appointments
  • Aren’t ready to put in the work needed
  • Aren’t able to use the computer well enough to schedule their appointments

And then write down a separate list on clients who are a good fit. You might have something like:

Clients who are a good fit:

  • Are within my niche
  • Respect my office policies
  • Have an easy-going personality
  • Are ready to put in the work to heal
  • Come on time for sessions, or communicate if they can’t

Add as much to your list as you can think of, and then prioritize them based on what is most important.

Set Your Qualifying Questions

The next step is to come up with questions and tasks that help you determine whether a client is a good fit for your business. The point isn’t to ask 50 questions, but to focus on the top five questions that will ensure it’s a good idea to go to the next step. What are questions you can ask to help you determine you can avoid clients that are the wrong fit, and bring on clients who are a good fit? A question like, “I typically work with clients are dealing with [your niche], is that something that is going on for you?” might help you determine if your clients are dealing with the issues you work with. Come up with your own questions that are most important for you.

Set Your Qualifying Tasks

Once you have your questions, you don’t want to stop there. You want to set up a task or two that helps determine this as well. For example, having clients fill out submit paperwork beforehand can help you ensure they are invested in counseling. Alternatively, having a client make an online payment or put their card on file in your system can ensure they are on board with your credit card payment system. Having clients use an online scheduler or client portal system can help you determine whether the client will fit well with your “paperless office”, of if you’ll have to frequently make exceptions for your client outside your system. In this step you want to not only pay attention to whether or not a task is completed, but also how that task is completed. Do they fill out the paperwork on time, forget that they got it, or apologize for being late on submitting it? That might tell you whether or not that potential client values your time and your policies. Do they balk at the idea of putting their card on file? Do they answer questions fully or put one-word answers? That might be a hint at their level of investment. Do they mention that they have to speak to their lawyer before they sign anything? That’s almost always a red flag for me. Do they have trouble using the electronic system, or will they fit in well with yours?  Have one or max two small tasks that clients have to complete before they ever meet you, and make it clear that if that task is not complete, the session will be rescheduled, so that you do not show up to a session without a client.

Then Systematize It

Once you’ve determined your qualifying questions and tasks, the next step is to turn it into a system. You want to make this your standard system so that you no longer have to use much energy to think about it. So, for example, if I get a phone call from a potential therapy client, I know there are five questions I always ask. And I have an acronym that helps me remember those questions if I happen to be caught without my intake sheet. And my clients are required to submit their more involved intake paperwork to me by at least 24 hours before our session, so I can make sure they are invested. Another way to turn it into a system is to automate it. I have those same five questions I ask my clients integrated into my HIPAA compliant online scheduler, for clients who directly schedule online. This way, I know that clients going through my automated system are still a good fit. If a client tries to schedule online who is not a good fit, I can stop the automated process for them, and get in touch to refer them elsewhere. If they are, I can let the process continue to my qualifying tasks: my intake paperwork.