Episode 44 – Shelly Smith, LMFT Jennifer Labanowski, LMFT United Counseling Wellness

Episode 44 – Shelly Smith, LMFT Jennifer Labanowski, LMFT United Counseling Wellness

August 9, 2017

 

Welcome to The Online Counseling Podcast. My name is Clay Cockrell, and I’m an online therapist based in New York, but I’m working with clients all over the world. And I’m here to learn with you about how technology and online therapy is changing and improving our field. Part of what we do here is explore different technologies that help us connect with our clients, and also what regulations are affecting the online therapy industry. But sometimes, we get to talk with therapists who are actually doing this work. And I always love those interviews because I find them inspiring and I always learn something new from a peer who is out there in the trenches. And today, we get to talk with two online therapists who have come together as partners to launch their own online practice. And it just makes sense, doesn’t it? Two heads are better than one. And I hear from a lot of counselors who say they want to start a practice but are scared to get out there alone.

 

CC: So maybe after today’s podcast, you will consider partnering with someone to share some of the workload and maybe encourage each other to achieve success together. I know that is the case with Jennifer and Shelly of unitedcounselingwellness.com, based in Illinois, but serving clients in four states now. These women are inspiring and really embrace the mentality of, “Why not?” [chuckle] But before we jump into the interview, just a quick update on the directory. As many of you know, this podcast is associated with the Online Counseling Directory, which is very similar to Psychology Today’s directory, but geared toward therapists and coaches who are connecting with their clients online and offering telemental health as part of their services. We are a listing service. Therapists pay a monthly fee to be part of the directory, and when they get referrals through the directory, we don’t take any percentage of the fee.

 

CC: Our whole goal is to grow your practice and help clients who are looking for online therapists find them easily. So the update is that we are continuing our offer of a year-long membership price. Not sure how long we’re gonna be able to continue that, because it does reduce the monthly fee from $24.95 a month to around $12.47 a month when you pay for the year upfront. It’s an incredibly good deal, and we want to continue it as long as we can, but I’m just not sure how much longer we’ll be able to do that. So head on over to onlinecounselling.com, click on List My Practice, and all the information is right there. Okay, on to Shelly Smith and Jennifer Labanowski, both LMFT therapists who founded unitedcounselingwellness.com as partners and are working together to serve their clients as a team and to grow a successful therapy practice that will have a huge reach. Let’s jump right in.

 

CC: Hello and welcome. I’m really excited to have two guests with us today. We have Shelly Smith and Jennifer Labanowski from Illinois with an online therapy practice that is relatively new. Shelly and Jen, welcome to the show.

 

Jennifer Labanowski: Thanks, Clay.

 

Shelly Smith: Thanks so much for having us.

 

JL: We’re really excited.

 

CC: Absolutely. And I just remembered, I need to turn off my camera so that my sound guide doesn’t… Okay, so you can still hear me, right?

 

JL: Yes.

 

SS: Mm-hmm.

 

CC: Okay. It helps with the upload of all the information. So there’s that. But welcome to the episode and I’m really excited. Your website is unitedcounselingwellness.com. You have been working as a team for a while, which I find fascinating. Can you tell me a little bit… And since we’ve got two guests, identify who you are when you speak, and tell me a little bit about your journey into therapy and then your journey into working with a partner, starting a business together.

 

SS: Sure, we’d be happy to. This is Shelly, and I came to online therapy initially by a sort of meandering route. I got my undergrad in secondary education in English and was a teacher for a while, I taught middle school Language Arts. I then transitioned into a youth director position and, through all of that, was seeing a lot of families and adolescents and people who needed help, who were asking me questions that I wasn’t equipped to answer. And so I went back and got my master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. And in that, I was able to then begin to start working with families and couples and really helping people in the way that I saw the need for. So out of grad school, I realized that I would be a much better fit for private practice. Going into an agency or doing that sort of work just didn’t really suit me, and I didn’t think I’d be very good at it, to be honest. [chuckle]

 

CC: Really? So you went into private practice right after grad school?

 

SS: I did. Yeah.

 

CC: Wow! And when was that?

 

SS: That was in 2012. Yeah, so I think because I had some prior careers, I had enough knowledge of myself as an employee and as a person, I knew what I wanted. I had two young, very young children at the time, and a husband with a decent job. [chuckle] So I was able to make that work and it allowed some flexibility for my family that we really needed. So I just jumped in with both feet. And that’s actually right at the beginning of that private practice is when I met Jen, and so she and I really got that started at that point. You wanna talk about your background a little?

 

JL: Yeah. I’ll lead you up a little bit to the point where I met Shelly. My route to marriage and family therapy was, I guess, a little bit more direct. I had my undergrad in psychology and figured out pretty quickly that I wanted to go into counseling, but in undergrad, started learning a little bit more about marriage and family therapy, specifically. So I went straight through and got my master’s at Kansas State University, in Marriage and Family Therapy. And right out of grad school, I took a job with an agency, working in foster care, and I loved the work, but it was all crisis, all the time. And just being fresh out of grad school, that lesson was fresh in my mind of, “Don’t do 100% crisis clientele,” or at least that’s what we were warned about. And I was feeling the effects. And so the idea of being able to take a step outside, to be able to serve the clientele that I wanted to serve, but be able to have also clients part of my case load who were not dealing with as many challenges and who weren’t in constant crisis.

 

JL: So the idea of an online therapy private practice really appealed, and Shelly and I met through a common supervisor. The marriage and family therapy population in our town is not large. [chuckle] So we met, and our supervisor was really fabulous, getting the two of us together and helping us figure out how we might get started. So we started out with some initial… Several referral sources contracts that could give us enough security to say, “We can both do this, we can launch a small private practice.” And we really weren’t, at the time, focused much on a marketing aspect, because we had a good number of clients coming in the door. And so we set up shop and had a pretty casual… I guess, casual in terms of we just weren’t thinking too much about having to sell ourselves, because we already had this little thing ready to go.

 

SS: It was going and it was working, and we had our referrals, yeah.

 

JL: Yeah.

 

CC: Wow, that’s great.

 

SS: And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last four and a half years now.

 

JL: Absolutely.

 

CC: Okay. And now, where are… You said Illinois, but where in Illinois are you?

 

JL: So we’re actually… This is Jen again, sorry. We’re actually in Peoria, Illinois. Both of us moved here for our husbands’ jobs, and both of us actually knew that we would not be here forever. And so it worked out really nicely for us to set up shop together, knowing that at some point, both of us would probably be moving on to other parts of the country.

 

CC: Wow. Okay, great. So you start a business together, which I think is just brilliant. Does it help in shouldering some of the responsibility, knowing that you’re not alone? What are some of the benefits that you found in going into business together?

 

SS: This is Shelly, and we’re both grinning and chuckling in the background right now, because I don’t think I can even begin to explain how helpful and important it’s been to do this together. I think if I were doing it alone, I would have given up a long time ago. [chuckle]

 

JL: Yup.

 

CC: Really? Okay.

 

SS: Or at least not had the support I needed, or the encouragement. And now that we’re sort of transitioning it into something much larger, I’m pretty sure I would’ve kept very small.

 

JL: Yeah.

 

SS: But it’s been able to give us so much benefit. So when we were in practice the last four and a half years, we found ourselves not only sharing referrals sometimes, or I might see one part of the family, or see an individual and I might send the couple to do work with Jenny, or something like that, but we would also share, of course, expenses, which is incredibly helpful when you’re setting up shop, to begin with. And we were also… I know there’s someone I can always call when I have a crisis situation, or when I have a concern about a client, or if I’m not sure and really just wanna bounce a therapeutic idea off of somebody, I know that Jenny’s always there and always has my back and it’s going to be… It’s just having a partner through it all, so that I don’t have to do it all alone, which is incredibly valuable.

 

JL: It really is. This is Jen. It’s almost, I don’t know, it’s almost like we function like a really happy, healthy couple.

 

[laughter]

 

JL: We trade strengths, we’re really well-matched, I think in the first place, just in terms of background theoretical orientation, general world view. So that’s… I don’t think that it could’ve worked this well just with anyone. We are well-matched for each other, but then there’s also this aspect of when one of us is overwhelmed, or really busy, or just not feeling quite as strong, the other one steps up and it works pretty seamlessly.

 

SS: Exactly. Yeah.

 

JL: We were having a conversation the other day about feeling like we both are trying to… We’re both actually relocating really…

 

SS: This summer.

 

JL: This summer. I’m moving in just a couple of days to Minnesota and… Oh, that’s tomorrow. Yeah, that’s…

 

[laughter]

 

JL: So anyway, we both feel like sometimes we may not be functioning with a full brain, but together, we have…

 

SS: Between the both of us, we have one.

 

JL: Yeah. Yeah.

 

[laughter]

 

JL: So really, it’s been a fabulous setup.

 

CC: That’s incredible. I remember talking with Kelly and Miranda from ZynnyMe, who, similar… Two women who are partners together. You’re familiar with them?

 

JL: Yes.

 

SS: Yes. Yeah.

 

CC: Okay. So I made the… I guess in my show notes, I said something about where… They were two friends who decided to go into business together, and they corrected me. And they said, “Actually, no, we were not friends. We were… We decided to be business partners, and then we became friends, and very good friends.” So what… Is that similar for the two of you?

 

SS: That’s pretty much what happened.

 

JL: Yeah.

 

SS: Absolutely. We didn’t know one another prior to meeting for our supervisor and talking to each other, we said, “Yeah, let’s start this business together.” And then, yes, the friendship, absolutely started with that.

 

JL: It all kinda happened at the same time. Yeah.

 

CC: Wow, that’s great. So now, one of you… Who’s moving to Minnesota?

 

JL: Yeah, Jen. I’m moving tomorrow to Minneapolis.

 

CC: Wow. Okay. So now, how [chuckle] do you see that changing? Because I’m assuming that Jen, you’re not going to be going… Or Shelly, you’re not gonna be going.

 

SS: Well, I’m not going to Minneapolis, no. I am actually gonna be moving to Wisconsin in the next month.

 

CC: I see.

 

SS: So we both… Part of how our online therapy component came out of this, we’ll tell you that story real briefly. This is Shelly, by the way. I knew as early as actually last summer, that we may… That my family may be relocating this summer. And so through the fall, that’s when I started listening to your podcast, actually, to all the Online Counseling podcasts I could get my hands on, because I thought, “What a great way to help transition,” and at the time, I thought, probably, maybe just by myself. I wasn’t sure if Jen was gonna be into that, or if… What was gonna happen with our business.

 

SS: But I thought, at least for myself, I would like to try to transition some of my clients to online counseling to continue to work with them, and then also get new clients and be able to kind of balance out the relocation, my husband and kids, and my business all at the same time. And so over the fall and winter, I was playing around with this idea and talking occasionally with Jen about it and getting some ideas in my head about what I was gonna do, knowing that I was gonna be moving. And then she and her husband also knew that they were gonna move at some point, and then it turned out, we realized that our moves were gonna happen pretty much at the same time.

 

JL: Right.

 

SS: Not intentionally. And that’s when one day she looked at me and she said, “Hey I have an idea,” and that’s usually where we get ourselves in trouble. [chuckle] But this one turned out to be brilliant.

 

JL: Right. And I usually preface all of my big ideas with Shelly, I was like, “Okay, you either need to tell me to shut up or keep going, and I’m just dreaming. Hear me out.” But what really… I was hearing a lot about online therapy from Shelly as she was doing her homework and doing a really good job learning about all of the ins and outs, and she knew she was gonna do it, she’s gonna do it right, and that’s where she was getting so much helpful information from the online therapist community.

 

JL: And we were also starting to talk about, “Okay, so how do we shut a practice down ethically and getting a feel for, okay, well, United Counseling and Wellness, once we both leave Peoria, will not exist anymore, but how do we stay available in some aspects for our previous clients and everything like that?” And then we were both independently framing what our new practices and our new towns would look like, thinking about the idea of starting from scratch again in private practice, or then joining a practice group and the challenges that would come with that, that we’ve been really spoiled in this world of private practice situation.

 

[chuckle]

 

JL: And when I was learning more about the online therapy aside from Shelly, then I started to think, “Wait a second. If we’re going to different states, that doesn’t necessarily have to change anything. So what if instead of being this small office-based private practice in Peoria, Illinois, we continued our partnership and became a multi-state practice that is serving several states via online counseling with office locations in two cities?” And so that’s kind of… I’m in the process of finishing up my Minnesota and Wisconsin licensure, but hopefully, our setup in the next couple of months will be online counseling serving the entire states of Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana, ’cause Shelly is already licensed in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

 

CC: Wow.

 

JL: And I’m licensed in just Illinois right now. So we’d be serving those entire states online, and then with office locations in Minneapolis, and most likely, Madison…

 

SS: Madison, Wisconsin, I think, is where I’m gonna be.

 

JL: Yeah, yeah.

 

CC: That’s a huge jump from little Peoria to now four states, two locations. Wow.

 

SS: Yeah. We sometimes look at each other and think we’re crazy.

 

JL: Right.

 

SS: But that’s where the partner aspect comes in and is so helpful, because I can’t tell you how many times in the last six months, I looked at myself and thought, “There is no way I would be able to make this leap alone.”

 

JL: Yeah.

 

SS: But to be able to do it with a business partner, somebody who I know I can trust, somebody who… When I’m slacking off because I’m overwhelmed with my relocation, I know that she can help pick up the slack and vice versa, and we can do this together. And it’s made it helpful.

 

CC: Wow.

 

JL: Yeah.

 

CC: So how do you plan to stay in touch? Will there be tele-meetings a couple times a week to have conferences together, to make sure that you’re on the same page?

 

SS: Sure. This is Shelly again. Well, first of all, I’m really going to miss our marathon Friday planning sessions.

 

JL: Yeah.

 

SS: We have met, pretty much, for whether it was two hours or eight hours, we would meet on Fridays when we don’t see clients, and we would just hash out everything that we could possibly come up with. And I think sometimes we’ve had to do those online just because of scheduling or locations and things like that. And so a lot of that will still happen online. We do FaceTime a lot. But we’re in contact pretty regularly via text, and email, and…

 

JL: And Evernote.

 

SS: We use Evernote for a lot of planning, we use Asana with our web design and marketing person. We really found a lot of things helpful already because our lives have gotten so busy.

 

CC: Okay, so wait, back up. There was… Evernote, I know. Asana, I don’t. What is Asana?

 

SS: Asana, we didn’t know anything about this until our web designer said, “Hey, we need to use this.” It’s an app on the phone, or you can use it in your browser, and it basically tracks for groups, it tracks conversations, it tracks to-do lists, it tracks all of your work, of multiple organized teams…

 

JL: And delegation.

 

SS: And delegation, things like that.

 

CC: Nice. So it’s like a project management app?

 

JL: Exactly.

 

SS: It is like a project management system, yeah. Only it’s pretty seamless once you get into it and start working with it.

 

JL: Right.

 

CC: Oh, that’s great.

 

SS: So we’ve found it really helpful and it saved our web designer a lot of time, I think, ’cause she can just post things in there that she needs us to do, and we can just send links to our blogs or whatever it is, and then she can just take it and run with it, instead of having to…

 

CC: That’s great. It’s interesting, I don’t know if you ever listen to Perry Rosenbloom’s Brighter Vision podcast.

 

SS: Yeah.

 

CC: But one of the things that he asks in this lightning round at the very end is that, if you found yourself in a brand new city, and you were gonna open up a private practice, what are the top five things that you would do? And people have wonderful, interesting answers. But the two of you are actually doing that. You have found yourself in a strange city and opening up an online therapy private practice.

 

[chuckle]

 

SS: Right?

 

JL: Right.

 

CC: That’s great. Do you know anyone in these towns that you’re going to?

 

SS: Well, a little bit. We have some friends and family and a couple… I have a couple of networking leads to other online therapists and other professionals, but other than that, not really. So… [chuckle]

 

JL: Right.

 

SS: This is Shelly. I’m moving to Wisconsin. My family is mostly up there, and so we’re really looking forward to that. But, yeah, I plan on joining BNI and really just networking like crazy when I first walk into the town, trying to meet people.

 

CC: That was my answer to Perry’s question, was certainly BNI would be on the top of my list.

 

JL: Yeah.

 

CC: And so, if you’re a new listener and you haven’t heard me go on and on about BNI, it’s Business Networking International. You meet once a week for breakfast with another group of… With a group of independent business owners, and it’s just that the whole point is to grow your business and to get referrals among one another, and it’s been around for the longest time, and it’s all over the world. It’s very reputable, it’s affordable, and it’s a great way to meet the movers and shakers in your town and to build a practice from scratch, really. So I am a huge believer in that. Okay, so… I’ve got so many questions for the two of you. [chuckle] Let’s talk about the licenses. Getting license… That’s expensive, it’s time consuming. How has that been for you? And is there any kind of reciprocity, or do you have to go and present, take the tests over again? What’s the process been like for you?

 

SS: Well, for me, it’s been a little different. So I think I’ll… This is Shelly. I’ll let Jenny talk in a minute about her experience, ’cause I think it’s a little more relevant. I went to grad school in Indianapolis, so coming right out of grad school, I started getting my associate license in Indiana, but then promptly, two months later, moved to Illinois and started pursuing that licensure. So I got both of those just more by default than anything else, ’cause I thought I needed them. And once I moved to Illinois, I knew that we wouldn’t necessarily be here permanently. I didn’t know what our future would really hold, so I decided to go ahead and keep the Indiana licensure and keep working towards that, just because once you start, why stop and why lose it? [chuckle]

 

SS: And then, once I realized we were moving to Wisconsin, I went ahead and just applied for licensure up there. But, again, don’t wanna lose the Illinois or Indiana, since I’ve already worked to get those. And the Wisconsin one was relatively easy to get, because I had the other licensure, there is for LMFT users some reciprocity, I didn’t have to retake the tests. I just had to fill out applications and get the state to send something over, saying I don’t have any negative remarks against me or any ethical issues, that sort of thing. But Jenny is in the middle of all that process right now.

 

JL: Right. Yeah, so I have my Illinois licensure right now and have been in the process of trying to get my Minnesota licensure going, and decided that while I’m in the licensure mindset, I may as well get my Wisconsin one right now anyway. And the reason… And Minnesota licensure is on Shelly’s list…

 

SS: Eventually.

 

JL: At some point. The reason that we wanted to be licensed in each other’s states, just as a quick aside, is because we really do love working together with clients, and we want to be able to refer to each other, if it’s ever needed. So like, say, Shelly is working with an individual on… And he says, “I think my wife and I really wanna do counseling, but we first both have some things that we need to work on individually.” We like the idea of being able to refer to each other, and then have releases signed by the client and be able to consult pretty seriously, so that we know that the client’s goals are well aligned, and it almost… It might look like two individual therapy processes with one therapist, with one person, but we really think of it a more as kind of co-therapy couples therapy, because we’re just holding all of these shared goals. So anyway, that’s why we both wanna have shared licensure even in the state that we’re not living in. And so, yeah. The licensure process, it’s not terrible. The national exam kind of covers us, and then there are some additional requirements state-to-state sometimes. So it hasn’t been too bad.

 

CC: Good. Good, good, good. So I always wanna be mindful of somebody who, they’ve just stumbled upon this podcast for the first time and go, “Wait a minute, they’re doing the online work. How come they’re worried about state licensures?” Some people know this, some people don’t. You need to be… As an online therapist, you need to be licensed in the state where your client lives, that’s a majority of the cases. There are a few states out there that have yet to update their telemental health laws, but almost all… And maybe it is all now. All states require you to be licensed for their citizens. So if somebody contacted you from Florida, you would have to say, “No, thank you, I’m not licensed in Florida,” right?

 

JL: Right.

 

SS: Yup.

 

CC: Okay. Good. So let’s talk about some of the checklist… Or no, let’s talk about… You’ve been doing online therapy for four months now? This relatively new.

 

SS: Yeah.

 

CC: What platform did you use? What did you go… What has the experience been like for you? How have you set yourself up?

 

SS: Well, we use Doxy.me.

 

CC: Ah. Love Doxy.me.

 

SS: We use Doxy.me, because right now we’re using the free edition, which is convenient, since we’re still trying to figure it all out and get set up. But there is obviously the option for, I think it’s called the professional level or whatever that is, that we’ve talked about, at some point down the road, maybe switching to if we need to do a multi-screen or have multiple people coming in from different places to work, do family work, or whatever that is. So we use Doxy.me as our online therapy platform, and it’s worked really well for me, and for you too.

 

JL: Yeah. It’s worked really well for me as well, yeah. And then we’re using SimplePractice for our practice management software. And again, so far, it’s been really great. We’re really… I’m really liking it so far.

 

SS: Makes it easier.

 

JL: Yeah.

 

CC: Good, good, good, good. And your email service?

 

JL: Hushmail, yeah.

 

CC: Hushmail. And all of these things, you’re pretty pleased with them?

 

SS: Yeah.

 

JL: We have been, yeah.

 

SS: So far.

 

CC: And pretty affordable, too. I’ve heard good things about Hushmail and SimplePractice, and of course, Doxy.me is free. And even their professional level is really…

 

SS: Reasonable.

 

CC: Ridiculously affordable. I don’t know, I hope you guys stay in business ’cause I love you so much, but they’re incredibly affordable.

 

JL: Speaking of other free services that have been good for us so far, we’re using Spruce for our phone, and the level that we’re using it at right now is free as well, so…

 

SS: Yeah, and that’s terrific.

 

JL: Yeah.

 

CC: Okay, so we’ll put all these in the show notes. Okay. But personally, therapeutically, what has it been like going from a face-to-face therapeutic relationship to looking into a computer screen?

 

SS: Oh, this is Shelly. I’ll start. I’ve had a couple different experiences with it. I’ve had both the clients who are only online clients, who I never met in person prior to beginning. I also have clients who were long-time clients of mine, who moved to Indiana or moved to a different location and wanted to keep doing therapy. So I’ve had both experiences, starting with somebody new and fresh online, and then someone who we’ve transitioned with. The people who have… A couple of them now, who have transitioned on to online, I think that first session is always a little awkward.

 

[chuckle]

 

SS: There’s the nervous giggling sometimes at the beginning, or there is a lot of conversation upfront about, “How do we do this?” If their connection is poor, I call them and we talk on the phone or we reschedule the appointment or that sort of thing. But really, just working out all those little details from the beginning have been incredibly important. And of course, I learned actually that from you, from listening to the podcasts, so I’ve really grown, by the way, that was helpful.

 

CC: I’m glad I could help. Good, good.

 

SS: It gave me some good information to really sound like I knew what I was doing, at least.

 

 

SS: But once we got past that initial session with those continuing clients, that seemed to flow pretty smoothly, and we just really have picked up where we left off without any issues. And so that’s been incredibly valuable for myself and my clients. The new clients who have come in, they don’t know any different. [chuckle] So for them, it’s I think a little easier, and it takes… In my mind, it takes maybe a little bit longer to build that therapeutic relationship than it would in person, but not a lot longer, which surprised me. I expected it to be more challenging. But really, after the first couple sessions as an online therapist, just like with an in-person one, things tend to go pretty smoothly and you feel like you know the person in the same way. And so it’s been really valuable. I think I had to do more adjusting than the client did, to do it.

 

[chuckle]

 

SS: They seemed to jump into it, in both situations, jumped into it pretty quickly, and were ready to work and do all of that. But for me, I was just a little nervous about it to start. And so I had to kind of tame my own anxieties about it and get myself together and convinced that I could do this. And then, once I got there, I became as comfortable as they were.

 

JL: Absolutely. Yeah, this is Jen. My experience so far has been limited to existing clients, where we have transitioned over to online counseling in preparation for my move. And the reception that I’ve gotten from clients so far has been, “This has a lot of benefits.” Not only do they get to just continue out the therapeutic process without having to make a referral, like I typically would if I were moving. Just say, “Okay, sorry, this is the end. How can we get you set up with somebody else that you feel good about talking to?” So that’s been a huge benefit, I think, for me and for the client, to be able to have the opportunity to see out the therapeutic process until it’s actually done. So that’s been really big. I have not had the experience of having brand new clients that I have never met face-to-face, meeting them online, and it’s a question that Shelly and I both have been giving a lot of thought to, of just how to break down that digital wall.

 

JL: And it’s something that is really important to us, because having a real alliance with the client and that therapeutic warmth and a real sense of attachment with the client is pretty important to both of us, or I guess more for the client to feel comfortable and attached to us, and there’s a little bit of a worry. How do you do that differently online? And so there are few things that we’re working on trying to think through how to break down that digital wall, but one of the things that we’re focusing a lot on, or that we have focused a lot on, is how the clients can get to know who we really are through our website. I think maybe even something that I’ve heard on one of your podcasts [chuckle] is just the conversation of the client starts when they first land on your website, right?

 

CC: Right, right.

 

JL: They’re getting to know us long before we get to know them, if that’s how they find us. And ideally, the clients that we’re going to be serving, some may be setting out looking for online counseling specifically, and they may find us through the directory and already be prepared for that kind of relationship and see all the benefits and be, just have it in their mind that that’s what they’re looking for. Then we also want to be open to people who don’t necessarily know that that’s what they’re looking for but that it may work well for them, and if we happen to be the right fit therapeutically for the client, that geographical distance isn’t really gonna need to be a barrier as long as they’re in one of the states that we’re licensed in. So anyway, we wanna be able to appeal to those who are looking for online counseling and those who maybe don’t know that they’re necessarily looking for it. And so we really put a lot of work into figuring out… First, figuring out who are we and who is our ideal client, and then finding ways for our website to really show who we are and appeal to our ideal client, not just through the content but through the design, through the photos, through all of that.

 

SS: Yeah, we were… Really…

 

CC: You’ve done a great job. I’m impressed. I know it’s new and you’re still working out some of the kinks, but unitedcounselingwellness.com, I was there just earlier this morning just to kind of refresh my memory, but you’ve done such a great job of freshness and you’re showing your voice so that the conversation has already begun before they pick up the phone. One of the things that a few of my clients have said is that… I have a video on my site that… And I say, “Look, this is what it’s like. I’m talking to you from a screen and only you’ll be able to talk back to me. But this is my office, and this is who I am, this is my voice, and we’re going to do just like a natural therapy but it’s gonna be through your computer.” And so they… You’re absolutely right, you’ve got two target audiences; those that are specifically looking for an online therapist, and those that were looking for a therapist and never thought about the idea of, “Oh, I could do this online.”

 

JL: Right.

 

CC: So there is a degree of educating the population on the possibility here, and I think you’ve done a great job of it.

 

JL: Thank you.

 

SS: We’ve had a fabulous team. We’ve met a lot of local people who saw our vision, really, when we were trying to figure out who was gonna help us create the business that we’re really dreaming about, and we were pitching our vision on to people. We really wanted to put the people who saw our vision, who really saw what we wanted to create, and then they equally got excited about it because they could see our vision, and so they just took it and ran with it.

 

JL: Absolutely.

 

CC: And that’s the great thing that I’m hearing from the two of you, is that you’re not alone. You are feeding off one another’s spirit and energy, and picking each other up when one is down, and then finding people that are gonna help you with web design and what have you, that are going to also feed off that energy. And so many of us out here in, all those solo practitioners, there are days when I’m like, “Ugh, I don’t wanna do this” [chuckle] And I don’t know what to do next, versus I’ve got somebody to bounce. So I think more and more people need to think about teaming up so they’re not alone.

 

JL: Absolutely.

 

SS: It helps so much.

 

CC: So let’s talk a little bit about marketing for online therapy. You’re going from a small population, relatively small in Peoria, to now four states, now we’ve got millions of people who you could potentially be serving. [chuckle] How are you marketing?

 

JL: Well, I think the website is gonna be a big part of that. So right now, we’re at the stage where our website is alive but not yet launched, at least that’s what our marketing person tells us. So it’s out there and it’s ready, but now the work comes in how to distribute it, how to get it to people. And so there’s… Through all of the SEO magic and all of the PR work that our marketing person is helping us with.

 

SS: Social media.

 

JL: Social media. Yeah, absolutely, just finding, running every different way to, first of all, boost our Google rankings, and then also just become accessible. So we’re working on trying to get as much helpful information on our blog as possible, so that that can become a path that people can take to find our website.

 

SS: And some information that’s just genuinely helpful to people. I think that’s what I like most about the blog, it’s those things that I end up telling clients over and over and over and over again. It’s almost therapeutic for me to be able to just put those into a blog and put them out there and say, “Okay, everyone, just read.”

 

JL: Right.

 

[laughter]

 

SS: And I think that’s been incredibly helpful, and we’re hoping that that just will help people in general, whether they come see us or not. I think it would be super beneficial for the population at large. But as far as marketing, also do a lot of word-of-mouth and a lot of networking. We do some case consultations with other therapists, and we spend a lot of time just being out in the world, socially as well as professionally. And I think that in the end, therapy is about trust, so it really comes down to people knowing us and trusting us and feeling confident by sending us referrals. And in those four states… I’ve lived in three of the four, and Jenny’s lived in almost three out the four.

 

JL: Yeah. It is three, yeah.

 

SS: Yeah. So we know a lot of people across each of these areas, which I think is gonna help as well.

 

JL: Right. Yeah.

 

CC: Absolutely. And just to brag a little bit, you are both brand new members of the Online Counseling Directory, so very excited. And one of you, just this morning, got your first referral, correct?

 

SS: Yes. This is Shelly, and I just got my first referral this morning, so I’m pretty excited.

 

CC: That is great, for just being on the directory for a few days. That makes me excited, knowing that we are returning on the investment, so…

 

SS: Absolutely.

 

CC: Very good. Well, any final thoughts? This has just been incredible and inspiring for me, and hopefully, to our listeners. But any final thoughts?

 

SS: This is Shelly. I think I’d just like to encourage people to consider working with others. And in the online therapy world, especially private practice, we’re so alone oftentimes, and that’s why case consultation and professional networking is so important. But to take it a step further and really be in practice with a partner, really be in practice, in business with someone that you can trust and who’ll pick you up when you need it, and vice versa, it’s incredibly invaluable. And so I’d encourage other people to try to find people that they can do that with.

 

JL: Absolutely, yeah. It’s meant so much for the two of us. And I think that as we’ve gone into this marketing aspect and tried to find this clear vision of who we are, we’ve realized that there is really a clear picture of “we”. We really are a cohesive team, and it has, I think, opened a lot of doors for both of us.

 

CC: Wow. Well, I think that you have opened up the idea of going into partnership to a lot of people. And it’s just such an obvious idea, but there’re so many things out there that are obvious that [chuckle] we don’t pick up on, but this just makes so much sense, to share the burden and the joy and the celebration with somebody in your field. So Shelly Smith, Jennifer Labanowski of unitedcounselingwellness.com, good luck on your upcoming moves.

 

SS: Thank you.

 

CC: I wanna hear more about you, so stay in touch with me. We’ll do updates on the podcast as they continue to grow. Thank you so much for being part.

 

SS: Thank you as well.

 

JL: Thank you.