Self-Promotion, No One is Gonna Do It For You..

When I am doing workshops with colleagues or consultations on building a practice, I am often struck by how mortified they become at the thought of self-promotion.  And yet, I know too well what they are up against.  I have been marketing myself for a while now, in a dozen different venues in multimedia, and it is only recently that I have begun to do so without the negative self-talk or twinges of guilt.

What was I worrying about?  Well, in the past I worried that people would say to themselves, “I am so sick of Mike tooting his own horn” or think of me as a narcissist or superficially greedy, etc.  Boy did I have to get over that, and if you want to be a successful business owner, you will too!

Back when I worked in a large institution it was fine to hide out, do good work with my patients and bring home a paycheck week after week.  But when you decide to start a private practice, you are basically committing to becoming a business.  And businesses need marketing.

One of the great things about being a solo practitioner is that your research and development department and your marketing department is the same person, you!  Self-promotion is much easier when you have a product or services that you believe in.  So I look for opportunities to do the things I enjoy, and then show my colleagues and clients how this adds to my value.  When a recent insurance company began stepping up its efforts to bully clinicians, I had no trouble rising to the occasion.  I like reading up on parity, researching and educating myself about the business climate, and thinking about how language can be used by HMOs to disempower therapists.  And after a few conversations with colleagues, who were clearly looking for a fresh approach to that problem in their practice, I realized that I had something of value to offer.  So now I’m doing workshops on the subject and loving it.

It is very tempting to trade the structure of an institution for the imposed structure of managed care.  Don’t do it!  If you do you have only yourself to blame.  As I tell my consultancy clients, you need to remember that the most important difference between you and the insurance company reviewer is that you have better things to do with your time.  The reviewer is a salaried employee who is paid to call you and conduct these clinical reviews.  Whether you are on the phone 5 minutes or 50 minutes, they get paid.  You don’t.  In your time you could be:

  • Seeing another patient.
  • Devising a workshop strategy
  • Networking with a colleague
  • Being the first to call a potential referral back
  • Writing your newsletter or blog
  • Designing your website
  • Writing your google ad
  • Writing an article for your professional magazine
  • Depositing checks in your bank
  • And more!

The way the intimidation tactics work is that HMOs are banking on your need to buy into a system, even a system of oppression, rather than your own.  Yes, they may say they are not going to pay for any more sessions, that’s their mission.  So make the call brief, and use the time to self-promote some other part of your business.

Self-promotion scares many of us even more than HMO reviews, but self-promotion ultimately pays better and gives you more freedom, motivates you to stay current and innovative, and puts you back in the driver’s seat rather than the victim seat.  I want to know:  What can you do to toot your own horn today?


  1. I agree totally, Mike. As I am right now, I spend a fair amount of time plugging myself and my practise. Promoting oneself is a must for building a business!

    • Thanks Lisa, feel free to plug away here as well. You’d be surprised how many referrals you can get when you begin to give some specific example of the work you want to do. It jogs people’s thinking, and they often respond to your interest and your confidence!

  2. I am in a group practice as well as doing my own private practice on the side. I do everything myself to save on costs and I have a great space for very little rent. I am in the process of setting up a website and marketing my services to local doctors who have patients that need individual therapy. The possibilities are endless but are also overwhelming. I wish there was a short cut but there isn’t. It is hard work that will hopefully pay off. The plus side is doing what you love and making money at the same time. Who says social workers have to be at the low end of the pay scale?

    • Snaffy you have the right attitude to do private practice in my opinion! It is important to remember the joys and fun of being in private practice, including making a fee that reflects the time and effort you put into your MSW. One way to focus on the best possibilities for you and the best places to invest your energy is by investing in some consultation. It doesn’t have to be yours truly, but find someone who has the right combination of enthusiasm and experience. Because any consultant worth her or his fee made TONS of mistakes when they started, and you can learn from them without having to make them yourself!

  3. Nicely said, Mike. Less than a year into building my own private practice, I have some confidence to gain in the self-promoting category. I agree it’s essential and I particularly like your philosophy in regards to HMOs. Very helpful reframe. Thanks for the link and I look forward to future ones.

    • Thanks Rachel! I am glad that you are surfing and researching at the early stages of growing your practice! Too many of us jump right in and then get quite the cold wet splash. You can start self-promoting small, by making a point to check in with a “practice buddy” every few days by phone, email or in person, with the agreed goal of telling each other what exciting new developments are going on in your practice. It only takes a few tries and seeing the legitimate interest on the other person’s face to begin to counter that shame masquerading as modesty!

  4. I have never wanted to take insurance, b/c of the diagnosis following client forever. The interesting thing in this blog today is “counter the shame masquerading as modesty”! Excellent interpretation. Although a high percentage of therapists are introverts, there is also the shame factor to consider!! I can stand in front of large groups and give a talk/speech, whatever. But the idea of self-promotion is sooo difficult. I can hear my mother’s voice saying, “Who do you think You are to be tooting your own horn! Self-promo unlocks that old doorway to shame! Any suggestions?

    • Hi Sophia, your point about insurance and diagnosis is very important. Readers, you need to know that once the patient is given a diagnosis of any sort, it will impact and often prevent their eligibility for long-term disability and life insurance. Although Health Reform has made pre-existing conditions illegal in health insurance, this is NOT true for disability, life, and others. So that diagnosis is very powerful!

      In terms of your self-promotion dilemma, your comment has the seeds of the solution in it, in my opinion. Because you already have noticed that you are hearing a harsh introject i.e., mom’s voice. So recognizing that is half the battle. Once you do, you can start putting in place positive introjects. Feel free to imagine me in a party hat saying “toot away, Sophia!” Over time, the power of the negative introjects should fade away, and your practice should move forward even faster on the fuel of your unfettered enthusiasm!

  5. Thanks Mike! The picture is firmly embedded in my consciousness now-and I love it!

  6. Mike I love your line about how it is easy to trade the structure of an institution for the imposed structure of managed care. That is so true and I had not thought about it like that before. Thank you for the interesting ideas and points.


  1. […] other.  Personally I always applaud emails like the one in question, as I think it takes guts to self-promote, but I accept that other people have variations in opinion.  What I had a harder time accepting is […]

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