Every November, a strange phenomenon happens in my town. The phrase “Cold Mountain” starts popping up in conversations. People start glancing at their calendars thinking about Cold Mountain. People ask each other when Cold Mountain will arrive. People clear out space to make way for Cold Mountain.
Cold Mountain is a limited-release winter ale that shows up once per year in the beer-centric town of Asheville, North Carolina. And the annual release of Cold Mountain unleashes nothing less than a frenzy upon the beer-drinking population. It flies off the shelves. People frantically text one another about which stores are sold out, and where a few cases remain. Hundreds of people wait in line at the brewery to buy it. People resell their stash for a significant markup for those who missed the release. Once the frenzy dies down, locals regale each other with stories about how their search for Cold Mountain went (“This guy almost punched me over a 6-pack!” “I thought it was all gone, but found a case hidden under the budweiser!” “I know a store that still has some, but I’m not telling!”)
What, you ask, is so special about this ale? Is it a delicious nectar of the gods, out-flavoring all other drinks? Does it have special healing properties?
Nope. Cold Mountain, in all honesty, is just… pretty good. Not amazing, not life-changing, just pretty good. What creates this frenzy is the principle of Scarcity.* Economists coined the Scarcity Principle term to convey that scarcity creates desire. If diamonds weren’t rare, we’d pay very little for them.
How does this relate to therapists in private practice?
Well, mindset issues are a constant factor in marketing one’s practice, and the scarcity principle affects both the mindset of the counselor and of the potential client.
People are often motivated by something that isn’t easily made available to them. When first starting my private practice, I asked one mentor what the quickest way to fill my schedule would be. He smiled and said, “When a potential client calls, say: ‘Let’s see…I’ve got an appointment on Tuesday at 3pm, or a Friday at 10am,’ -even if you have all day, every day open at this point. They’ll feel motivated to sign on as your client. If people imagine you sitting by the phone, waiting for it to ring, they’ll feel that desperate energy and run away.” Now, I’m not advocating lying to get clients— rather, I’m pointing to a mindset strategy of acting from where you want to be in your future successful, full private practice, and really stepping into that place of success— “trying on” that identity or future-reality. It creates a huge internal shift that helps you imagine what it will feel like when you’re successful, and avoid decisions motivated by fear or desperation.
The scarcity principle also impacts the nature of your practice over the long term. Marketing guru Michael Port (author of Book Yourself Solid) talks about the “Red Velvet Rope” principle, alluding to the rope letting in the VIPs at exclusive nightclubs. The proverbial red velvet rope is the idea that you as a clinician have a limited number of client spots open, and you’re going to carefully choose which clients you work with. It requires that you know who your ideal client is, and that you refer on any clients who you don’t truly want to work with. This is a tough stance to keep during times when you are wanting to fill your schedule, but in the long run it prevents burnout and resentment toward any clients who aren’t a good fit.
The scarcity principle creates a deeper mindset shift, in that it increases your perception, -and clients’ perception- of the value of your services. When a client is thrilled to have the chance to work with you and you alone, the increased buy-in tends to make treatment more effective. One research study showed that when patients paid more for a placebo pill, the “medication” got better healing results— proof that perceived value actually creates positive reality.
Scarcity/rarity also increases your own awareness of your worth. Again, this isn’t about “puffing up”, this is about truly standing in the truth of your value as a life-changing, skilled therapist. The vulnerability that comes with marketing tends to trigger feelings of self-doubt among therapists, so we need the ongoing reminder that what we do is incredibly important.
The scarcity principle is powerful, so it’s important to use it as a force for good. Some industries will use it for manipulative purposes, but in our context it’s truly about a serving mindset.
- It’s serving clients by motivating them to get the help they need instead of continuing to sit on the fence, stuck in their patterns but not motivating to make the counseling call.
- This mindset helps you to recognize your true value, not just to “fake” being a rare commodity.
- It’s ensuring that you’re motivated by the best client fit, not just filling your client-roster at all costs.
How to incorporate the scarcity principle ethically:
- This is not about deception; don’t lie to clients, but be aware of any positive reframes you can make. (when first starting out, I used to joke that “I have a very private practice. It’s very exclusive— only 3 clients!”).
- Ask for referrals without begging. Keep the mindset that you are asking for referrals so that you can help others, not so that they can keep you from having to eat ramen noodles 3 meals a day. When you hand out business cards to contacts, give them 1-3 cards, not a stack of 10, which communicates desperation.
- Have a clear idea of who your ideal client is. We have in-depth training on this for members, but there are also great articles and tools for your ideal client discernment available on the web.
- Be aware when you’re feeling fearful, and do what you need to do to manage your energy before entering into networking situations, potential-client conversations, etc. Get grounded in the value of your work by recalling your client success stories, the uniqueness of this profession, and doing positive self-talk and self-compassion. Keep your eye on the long-term process of building your ideal practice.
*Scarcity principle, in this article, is very different from the “scarcity money-mindset” that we tackle frequently in our member materials. More on that to come…
What are some ways you can act (even in small ways) from a place of your future success and “rarity” rather than from current feelings of fear or desperation in your practice?
Jane Carter, LPC is president and founder of the National Association of Counselors in Private Practice. She is committed to helping counselors and other therapists love and enjoy their practice. You can reach Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF COUNSELORS IN PRIVATE PRACTICE
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