Email marketing for private practice is enjoying a renaissance. Why?

There’s no single reason but in these odd and isolated times it provides a level of “connected-ness” that has been sadly missing as a result of lockdown. It’s also easy to set up, cost-effective and if done respectfully gives you a direct channel to your audience that you just don’t have these days with social media.

To make it work your messages need to be engaging and must genuinely “speak to” needs, interests and desires of your audience.

In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know to create and execute an email marketing strategy that will have your audience looking forward to seeing your messages in their inbox. It’ll include:

What is email marketing for private practice?

In short, email marketing is the process of communicating with your current or prospective clients through email. With the ever-growing amount of online marketing that internet users are faced with every day, effective email marketing can be incredibly helpful to cut through the noise and speak directly to your audience.

However, as with all marketing efforts, the focus of effective email marketing lies on building a relationship with the recipients rather than on just promoting and selling services. Providing your audience with helpful tools and content can help you stand out from all the other promotional content in their inbox.

Later in the article, I’ll cover what exactly a valuable email would look like but for now, let me just say that if you follow the guidelines outlined in this article, email marketing can have a huge variety of benefits for your therapy practice, including: 

  • Building relationships with people (clients and non-clients) through personal and authentic interactions
  • Encouraging prospective clients to move through your client journey to become paying clients
  • Promoting content from your content marketing efforts such as blog posts, videos, podcasts, interviews, etc. 
  • Promoting specific services and/or products to clients and non-clients
  • Improving your client experience by keeping them informed about their treatment or any other important information 

Whether or not email marketing is right for your private practice will heavily depend on what your overall marketing goals are.

If you are unsure what you want to achieve with your marketing efforts, I highly recommend you start out by checking out this overview article I wrote a few months ago (you can also download it as a eBook here if you’d like). 

How to create an email marketing strategy for your private practice

The foundation of any successful marketing effort always lies in knowing exactly what you want to achieve. Who do you want to reach and how do you want to communicate with them?

By setting a clear email marketing strategy for your practice, you’ll be able to judge whether or not email marketing will help you achieve your overall objectives. 

Graphic overview of how to create an email marketing strategy in four steps

Step 1: Define your email audience(s) 

The most important decision you’ll want to make to begin with is figuring out what kind of people you want to fill your email list with. In order to do that, you’ll want to act under the following assumption: the more relevant your emails are to your audience, the more successful and effective they will be as well. 

That means that the narrower you can define your audience, the more relevant you can make your emails for that audience. 

This process is generally referred to as email segmentation. All it basically means is that by separating your audience into different sub-groups, you can then send emails that are extremely specific and relevant to each audience’s needs, interests or preferences. 

How you separate your audience is completely up to you. If you’re just starting off, it might be a good idea to start with one audience so that you can test the waters. Once you’re ready to advance, defining client personas can be helpful to understand what audience segments might work for you. You might consider the following options: 

  • Lists for prospective clients, current clients, past clients 
  • Lists for different audience demographics (age groups, locations, language, etc.) 
  • Lists for different client groups, client concerns and/or different treatment options

Step 2: Set your email campaign type(s) 

After you’ve defined who you’re going to send emails to, it’s time to take a look at what you’re going to send them. There are a variety of different types of email campaigns you could decide to send and which of them are relevant will highly depend on the needs and interests of the audience groups you defined in Step 1.

Some ideas you might consider: 

  • A weekly/biweekly/monthly industry newsletter 
  • New content announcement emails (blog, social media, etc.) 
  • An automated welcome series to familiarise new email subscribers with your practice 
  • Updates on anything related to your practice and services 
  • Information about events, workshop you’re hosting or participating in 
  • Promotional deals regarding your services and/or products

These different campaign types don’t have to be mutually exclusive either. For example, if you’ve decided to segment your audience into prospective and existing clients, you might want to separate your emails campaigns as following: 

All email recipients: 

  • Monthly industry-related newsletter 
  • Announcements about new content on your website or social media

Only prospective clients: 

  • Automated welcome series to familiarize with practice and services 
  • Information about services and promotional deals 

Only current clients: 

  • Updates on anything going on in your practice 
  • Invitations to additional services, events, workshops, etc.

Step 3: Choose your email marketing provider 

Implementing a more sophisticated email marketing strategy with different audience groups and campaign types will (almost always) require the use of a professional email marketing tool.

Even if you just want to send super simple monthly updates to one audience, I highly recommend using professional services over your Google Mail account for several reasons: 

  • Sending a large amount of emails through Gmail or any other regular provider can quickly lead to you being suspended
  • Your emails will be less likely to land in spam filters if you’re using a professional and reputable email provider
  • You can design and personalise your emails to make them look more professional
  • You can easily create different email segments and send different email campaigns to each group
  • Depending on the service and plan you use, you can set up email series that will automatically be sent out as soon as someone signs up to your email list
  • You can make sure your emails comply with necessary privacy regulations (more on this in the next chapter) 
  • Every email and campaign will show analytics and performance (open rates, clicks, etc.) 

Luckily, there are many different options to choose from and some even have free plans that you can use until you hit a certain number of subscribers (usually around 1-2k or so).

This overview of email marketing services for small business will give you a really great run-down of all the different options, their features, pricing plans, etc to help you make a decision on what option is best for your practice. 

Step 4: Define what success looks like to you 

Part of every successful marketing strategy is clearly defining what success will look like so you can judge whether or not your strategy is working. What your criteria for success are will depend on your unique set of circumstances of course.

If you’re just getting started or want to keep things as simple as possible, you might want to ignore all different measures of performance and simply focus on sticking to a consistent schedule and growing your email list with high-quality and engaged subscribers. For many practitioners, this type of quality over quantity approach can be way more effective and more realistic. 

However, if you’re a maths nerd and love measuring and analysing numbers, you might want to consider setting your goals based on different metrics such as new subscribers, email open rates, click-through rate etc. Every industry usually has different statistics for average email metrics.

I recommend spending some time researching them and using them as benchmarks when setting your goals.

Statistics of Email Open Rates and Email Clickthrough Rates in different industries
Source: Hubspot

How to set the legal foundation for email marketing

You’ve created a solid email marketing strategy for your private practice. Great! But before you start growing your email list and sending out emails, it’s important to cover all the legal requirements you’ll need to consider so that you follow all privacy and safety regulations. 

GDPR compliance

One of the most important things in this regard is making sure you’re GDPR compliant (if GDPR applies to you). GDPR compliance will be something that not only spans your email marketing but all of the data collection across your practice and can have serious legal consequences.

If you’re new to this – I recommend checking out the GDPR section on our blog to help you get a better idea of GDPR and, if required, consulting a GDPR/privacy expert if you have specific questions.

To sum up a few of the things that will be important in regards to your email marketing though, you’ll want to make sure you always: 

  • Ask for consent before you send out emails to a new contact (through sign-up form or double opt-in)
  • Use explicit and clear language about what kind of emails they can expect 
  • Store data in a secure manner and only use it for the purpose the contact agreed to
  • Give your subscribers the option to unsubscribe from your email list whenever they want (and follow through with it)
  • Delete all stored data if it has been requested

As I mentioned before, using a professional email marketing product can be incredibly helpful when it comes to complying with GDPR as many of the leading products provide all the tools you need to stay on the right side of GDPR straight out of the box.

Most providers have features that will allow you to embed compliant sign-up forms into your website and set up an automatic confirmation email that is sent to your new subscriber to confirm they want to join your list (so-called double opt-in). They also allow subscribers to remove themselves from your list whenever they want and give you access to full email data records that you can easily edit and delete if requested at any time.

Avoiding the spam filter

When it comes to avoiding the spam folder there are a few simple things you can do to avoid it: 

  • Always send emails through a reputable email marketing provider 
  • Only send emails to recipients who have opted-in to your email list 
  • Ask new subscribers to add your email address to their address book
  • Make sure your “From” field says something credible and trustworthy
  • Never write anything spammy or misleading in your subject line (including weird punctuation, capitalisation, fake or misleading offers)
  • Avoid including too many images in the email as it makes them hard to read
  • Don’t include any links to questionable or illegitimate websites
  • Set up proper authentication for your domain (this requires some technical expertise)
  • Make it as easy as possible for people to unsubscribe (always include it in the footer)
  • Keep your email list up-to-date by removing any subscribers who don’t engage

Unsure if your emails are landing in the spam folder? Every email marketing provider offers a feature that lets you send a test email before officially launching an email campaign. I recommend sending one to yourself or someone you know so you can see whether or not it arrives in your regular inbox. 

How to build your private practice email list 

Now that we’ve established a solid strategy and you’ve got the legal stuff sorted, let’s actually take a look at the nitty gritty. How do you build a list of people who actually want to read what you’re sending out?

Screenshot of Mailchimp Email Audience Dashboard
Source: MailChimp

Before I share some of the ways you can grow your email list, I think it’s important to point out that this will most likely be a slow and steady process, not a 100m sprint. It really doesn’t matter if you’re starting off with 3 people on your email list or 300,000.

What matters is that you know who you want to talk to, what you want to say and how you want to say it. And if you follow those things, you’ll eventually get to where you want to be. You’ll just have to be willing to accept that it’s not going to happen overnight and keep going.

Collect emails when someone books or comes to an appointment

If you’re looking to build an email list of your current clients, nothing will be more effective than simply asking them if they would like to receive emails from you. 

If you’re using WriteUpp or any other practice management software you can simply add a link to your appointment confirmations/reminders asking them if they would like to join your mailing list. Clicking on the link would automatically take them through to your sign-up form.

Most clients will probably be happy to hear from you but keep in mind that you should never send marketing emails to email addresses that you’ve collected without explicit permission for marketing purposes. If you’re collecting someone’s email address for administrative purposes, you should always make the clear distinction between the two and allow them the possibility to give their email address without having to automatically sign up for marketing emails.

Create enticing sign-up forms 

If your goal is to grow an email list with prospective clients, you’ll definitely want to consider creating sign-up forms on your website that will allow users to opt-in to your list. You can configure a sign-up form through your email marketing provider who should also give you step-by-step instructions on how to easily embed these on your website.

Screenshot of a Email Newsletter Signup Form Mental Health
Source: ConvertKit

These sign-up forms can be placed all throughout your website: on the homepage, your blog, your contact page. Almost all email marketing providers also allow you to embed sign-up forms in a pop up that you can place anywhere on your site.

Email SignUp Form Options ConvertKit
Source: ConvertKit

When it comes to creating the form, there are two important aspects to keep in mind. The form should be as simple and short as possible (usually first name and email address are enough) as well as as relevant and enticing as possible. You should never deceive your clients with the kind of information they can expect from you in your emails but try your best to convey the genuine value that you plan on sharing with them.  

The one problem with sign-up forms is that most people nowadays have become extremely protective of their information and will be hesitant to give you their information just like that. This is where something called “lead magnets” comes in.

Use lead magnets

The underlying idea of a lead magnet is that you offer something valuable to your audience in exchange for receiving their email address. Instead of just asking your audience to give you their contact information, lean in on the idea of providing as much free value as you can as a way to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge.  

Think about anything that would be relevant, helpful and actionable to your audience and then package in a way so they can easily download it. This might come in the form of eBooks, white papers, infographics, webinars, video or email courses, online tools and templates, access to a Facebook group or anything else that you could think of. 

Leverage social media or any other audiences you might have built 

Lastly, if you currently have followers on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or any other platform, chances are those followers enjoy hearing from you and might consider signing up for your email list as well. You can periodically share some of the content you’re providing via email and invite followers to join via your sign-up page. Or simply add the sign-up page to your profile for people to find when they are interested. 

How to create a great marketing email

You’ve figured out what your email strategy is going to be and have a growing email list waiting for you to get started – so how do you then actually go about writing an effective email? 

Deliver valuable information

The number one thing that will make your marketing emails great is free value. People today are flooded with promotional messages anywhere they go. If you want to be successful and stand out, try not to sell to your audience but rather try to share your knowledge and expertise in a way that is useful and actionable. 

A great way of judging whether your email is actually helpful or not is by asking yourself “Could I charge for this information?”. If you’re looking to start an effective email marketing campaign, your answer to that question should be “Yes” about 8 out of 10 times.  

Similar to the way I explained lead magnets earlier, sending out a majority of really valuable and information-packed emails will help your audience truly understand your expertise and build trust in you. The moment they need a service that you offer, you’ll be right there at the top of their mind and they’ll be more likely to turn to you instead of one of your competitors. 

Be authentic, genuine and personal 

A lot of times, we tend to think that just because we’re sending out “marketing emails” we have to write in some promotional, professional tone of voice. In reality, I believe that the opposite is true. 

As I just mentioned, everyone is flooded with so many marketing messages nowadays that it’s the genuine and personal messages that manage to stand out. 

Write your email like you’re sending it to a friend. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to share a bunch of information you’re not comfortable sharing of course. But rather focus on addressing your subscribers with a personable and authentic tone that makes it clear that you actually care about the person receiving your email.

Additionally, there are a few ways you can increase the personalisation of your emails: 

  • Instead of just saying “Hello”, add the first name when addressing your reader (this is a function that all email marketing providers offer, see image below) 
  • Include demographic information (language, locations, references, etc.) that aligns with what you know about this specific audience group
  • Include personal references to your life and personal events as long as they’re somewhat relevant/interesting
  • Always end the email with your human name and not your company name
Email personalisation option ConvertKit
Source: ConvertKit

Best practices for writing a marketing email

“From” field 

While it seems rather simple, the “From” field is one of the first things that your subscribers will see in their inbox so making sure they understand who you are immediately is vital. Most marketers agree that including your name and company is the best way to go. 

So if your name is Angela and your practice is called “Therapy Room”, then you might send your emails out from “Angela at Therapy Room”. This allows you to be more personal than just including your company but still ensures that nobody would perhaps confuse you with another Angela they know in private.

Subject line 

The most important thing when it comes to your subject line is that it is clear and enticing. This is how people judge whether or not they want to even open an email so do your best to make this sound as attractive as possible (without being misleading or spammy). 

Ideally, you would keep your subject line as short as possible. It should have an overall length of no more than 9 words (or 60 characters) and not include more than 3 punctuation marks. Lots of people also like adding emojis to give their subject lines a visual boost but again, it shouldn’t be more than one or two max. 

Email body

When it comes to actually writing the email, this is where you’ll have the most freedom to be as creative as you’d like. The most important thing to remember is that your emails should be easy to read and follow. Don’t make them too long and have a clear structure to guide your reader through the text without getting confused.

As I mentioned before, focus on providing value and being personable and you’ll write a great email. 

Images / design 

The visual aspect can be an important factor in the readability and overall appeal of your email. Luckily, almost every email marketing provider offers design templates and visuals that you can use to easily create eye-catching emails. 

The design of your email should be in line with your overall practice branding (on website, social media, etc.). It should look nice and appealing without distracting readers from the actual text of the email. 

When it comes to using images, make sure that all images are optimised for both desktop and mobile and try not to use more than three or four images in total since this can both increase loading time and distract people from what you’re saying. 

Call to action

Every email should end with a “call to action”, a clear and direct call as to what you want your reader to do after they’ve read your email. This could be checking out an article or blog post, downloading a really useful eBook you just published or going to your website to check out what services you currently offer. 

A call to action is most effective if there is only one per email and it clearly stands out from the body of text so that it’s clear to readers what exactly you’re hoping they will do. 

Footer 

Lastly, your email will most often end with a general footer section. This is the area where you’ll need to include company information, links to your websites and perhaps social media accounts and most importantly, the link to let people unsubscribe from your email list.

You can pretty much take a look at the footer of any promotional email currently sitting in your inbox and get a pretty clear idea of what this needs to look like.

Screenshot from WriteUpp Email Newsletter
Source: WriteUpp Newsletter

How to measure your email performance 

As I mentioned earlier in the article, whether you’ll want to set yourself performance goals and measure your analytics is completely up to you. For some, gathering and interpreting data might be incredibly insightful and motivating and for others, it might be less appealing 😀. 

Your overall focus should definitely lie on creating high-quality emails that enable you to build long-lasting relationships with your clients but if you want to measure your success and track some of the results, this is how you can go about it. 

Track your key metrics 

In essence, there are four key metrics that you should keep an eye on when it comes to the performance of your email marketing. They are: 

  • Deliverability: Rate at which your emails are delivered to your subscribers’ inbox (vs. spam folder or not being able to be delivered)
  • Open Rate: Percentage of people who have opened your email
  • Clickthrough Rate: Percentage of people who click on a link in your email
  • Unsubscribes: Number of people who choose to unsubscribe from your email list 

If you’re using a professional email marketing provider, you’ll find they have reports on all of these metrics (and more) so it will be quite easy to keep track of them. Depending on what you prefer, you could also create a separate spreadsheet to track the performance by copying your monthly data from the email marketing software.

Test different variables based on your results 

Once you’ve been tracking your data for a while and have a good sense of where your average lies for most of the emails you’ve sent, you can then start playing around with these metrics and see if you can improve them in any way.

What can you do to improve these four metrics? 

  • Deliverability: check for different spam factors mentioned earlier; keep an eye out for emails that aren’t being delivered and remove those email addresses from your list, perhaps consider removing inactive subscribers to keep engagement high
  • Open Rate: test different subject lines to see what encourages people to open your email; send your emails at different times and on different days 
  • Clickthrough Rate: reevaluate if you’re actually providing value to people; test different copy in your email to see what resonates with your subscribers; try different design options 
  • Unsubscribes: remember that unsubscribes can be a good thing if people weren’t aligned with what you offer; consider whether a particular email was off-brand in any way; evaluate whether you accidentally promised one thing but then delivered another; 

An incredibly helpful technique when it comes to testing and improving these metrics is called A/B testing (or split testing).

In an A/B test, you create two emails (email A and email B) that are exactly the same in every way except for the one variable you want to test. You then send these emails to a split audience to see which version performs better.

Most email marketing providers have A/B testing features built into their software so you’ll be able to run these kinds of tests without much technical knowledge or effort.

Let’s say you want to see if adding emojis to your subject line would increase the chances of subscribers opening your email. The step-by-step process of A/B testing would then look like this: 

  1. Pick a variable you want to test: emoji in subject line
  2. Create two versions of the email: one with an emoji and one without an emoji
  3. Send out your emails at the same time 
  4. Analyze your results: which email version got a better open rate? 
  5. Keep the version that performed better
  6. Pick a new variable and start the process over again

Word of caution however – there are a lot of people who fall down the rabbit hole of trying to A/B test every single element to perfection. At that point, it’s easy to become a bit too robotic and lose track of what actually matters – which is providing genuine value to your audience.

Increasing your open or clickthrough rates can be important but if you’re sacrificing value and authenticity in order to improve your metrics then it might be better to back off of A/B testing for a while.

Also, for A/B testing to be statistically meaningful you need a pretty decent-sized mailing list, ideally > 1000 contacts.

Conclusion

Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve covered today: 

  1. Your email marketing strategy will be most effective if you know exactly what groups you want to communicate with and what kind of emails would be relevant for each group. 
  2. Always use a professional email marketing provider like Mailchimp or ConvertKit to make your life easier (they have free plans!)
  3. Using a professional email marketing provider will also be incredibly useful when it comes to complying with GDPR and making sure you can follow spam guidelines (which are both vital to having an effective and legal email marketing strategy)
  4. Collecting email addresses for your email list may be a slow and steady process but by encouraging your current clients to join and including enticing sign-up forms on your website, you will eventually grow your email list.
  5. When creating your emails you should always focus on value and personalisation over any of the smaller details like what tone to use or what images to include.
  6. Keeping an eye on your performance metrics and testing different variables can be a helpful way of assessing which emails work and which don’t but it should never replace the focus on providing genuine value in your emails. 

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