A community-based marketing method: Community Connection Plans

Posted in Marketing and Branding as a Core Activity, Marketing and Branding during Start-up
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community marketing

For the first 20 years of practice, we struggled with our marketing. We needed to find a community marketing system that we all could embrace and sustain. Fifteen years ago we began the system described here. We have seen significant growth every year since.

An overview

Four times a year, each of our clinicians writes up what we call a Community Connection Plan. This is our community marketing system. This plan shapes the majority of our marketing effort. It has several elements.

  • We begin by asking each clinician to think of a niche area, a target market, they feel competent in. This is an opportunity to think about what types of clients I want more of.
  • Then we want to identify the referrers in our area who refer to these types of clients. This is the target of our marketing effort.
  • We ask the clinician to list our 4 to 6 activities that they want to do int the next three months that put them in a good light with those referrers.
  • Additionally, as the clinician writes up a new plan, they also update the previous plan. The update tells us what actually happened. These are both emailed to one person who distributes them to all our clinical staff. This keeps everyone informed of marketing activity. This also provides a level of accountability.

Additionally, our clinical managers review the plans and sometimes coordinate office-wide community marketing efforts. They make suggestions.

A systemic consistent method

We developed this method as a way of accomplishing several goals for community marketing. The process of writing things up brought focus and commitment to following through. And we found this approach was more powerful than having managers looking over clinicians’ shoulders.

Furthermore, this method also keeps each other informed of what is happening. Additionally, I believe this could work just as well for the solo therapist. The act of writing down a plan increases the likelihood of actually doing it.

Trusted Advisors are best

We want to identify referrers (Target Referrer Population) who might refer to the types of clients I want in my caseload. The best referrers are called “trusted advisors” by those who market professionally. (For more on this topic see the book: The trusted advisor.)These are people who in the course of their work come across people who might need our services.

The largest groups we target are physicians, clergy, and school personnel. We want to find appropriate ways to get ourselves in front of these trusted advisors and build an ongoing professional relationship. (See more on “trusted advisors” here: Finding the right psychotherapy markets.”

Putting it together

Below are several examples of Community Connection Plans.

Example 1 shows a summer plan for Therapist A, usually a slow marketing season for us. It outlines a plan to connect with local churches.

Example 2 is Therapist B’s new plan for the fall. You can see she is changing her focus. We expect the focus to change over time as a therapist finds successes and moves on to conquer new markets.

Example 3 is a first-time Community Connection Plan by Therapist C, who is new to the practice. You can see she is starting with all the fresh relationships.

Example 4 is an experienced seasoned marketer who had been in the same area for about ten years. Notice that as an experienced marketer, Therapist D makes contact with a wide range of referrers. Therapist D carries the largest caseload in our practice. Yet he weaves marketing opportunities into his routine. It is his habit of ongoing and sustained marketing that undoubtedly is one of the reasons he has the largest caseload.

Example 1: A Summer Plan

Summer 2017

Community Connection Plan for:    Therapist A

Target Client Population: Couples in crisis

Target Referrer Population:   Local churches


  • Contact pastors at local churches [Sandwich and Plano] to introduce myself. Determine what needs the church has.
  • Write letters of introduction to ten churches in Sandwich asking about the programs and ministries they provide to couples and families and offering information on Centennial and myself.
  • Respond to those that respond.
  • I created a premarital workshop for the church I attend and shared it with the church staff. They seemed interested in offering the workshop to their congregation. Will try to schedule.
  • Read the book, Private Lies by Frank Pittman as a resource on recovering after infidelity.  I am on chapter 6 and still [slowly] reading.

Example 2: Changing Focus

Fall 2017

Community Connection Plan for:    Therapist B

Target Client Population: Families

Target Referrer Population:   Local family professionals


  • Contact Plano Family Practice to introduce myself and set up a meeting.
  • I have a lunch meeting set on Oct 30 with Christine Moore, a divorce attorney from Sycamore.
  • I am presenting at Valley East Hospital in November on anxiety.
  • We will have lunch with the Sandwich and Somonauk social workers to get the year kicked off.

Example 3: First Plan

Fall 2017

Community Connection Plan for:  Therapist C

Target Client Population: Children/adolescents, families

Target Referrer Population: School social workers, camps/outdoor education facilities


  • Have lunch with at least one Yorkville social worker per month.
  • Co-facilitate school group with Jessica Marks, MSW at Yorkville Middle School.
  • Attend monthly meetings of MACY (Multi-agency Council on Youth) in Kendall County.
  • Observe Tom and Jessica (staff) at Kendall County Outdoor Education Center.
  • Follow up with Gloria Hernandez at Dickson Valley Camp and Retreat Center re: challenge course use and opportunities to co-facilitate.
  • Make contact with Riverwoods Christian Center (St. Charles) and visit their facilities.

Example 4: Experienced Clinician’s Plan

Fall 2017

Community Connection Plan for: Therapist D

Target Client Population: Children

Target Referrer Population: Physicians, attorneys, school officials, nursing home & hospital officials


  • Meet with Drs. Jones, Smith, and John Krause. Review how the referral process has been going as we add new clinical staff.
  • Invite all the Sandwich and Somonauk social workers to lunch in our office.
  • Coordinate with school social workers in Sandwich and Somonauk to provide weekly in-school groups for practicum students.
  • Provide weekly group counseling to students at Prairie View and Haskins Elementary School.
  • Continue developing a relationship through weekly phone calls with St. Mary’s Center (Tammy Nander). Goal is to improve continuity of care between CCC and hospital.
  • Deepen the relationship with Dr. Thomas and Dr. Cole to facilitate the psychiatric care of clients at CCC.
  • Engage in custody evaluations for adults involved in divorces, providing consultation to lawyers (John McBride, Krysta Sams).
  • Provide on-going consultation to medical doctors (Jones Family Practice and other physicians).

(The names have all been changed to protect all.)


In reality, no one actually follows their plan exactly as it was written. That is what we expect. The writing of these plans is not an attempt to control what people do. Rather we are calling attention to what they have been doing. And then we want to focus on what they should be doing next. It really is a consciousness-raising exercise. We expect the plans to be modified as the days unfold.

Additionally, we have found that having gone through this exercise, people are more ready to jump in on unplanned opportunities that just “come up.” Some of the unplanned opportunities may be of higher quality than the ones we had thought we might do. We want that flexibility and spontaneity. It makes us stronger and it contributes to our goal of meeting our referrer needs. We believe our more organized approach to marketing is one concrete way to develop that “in-demand” quality across the board.

Just do it

And of course, it boils down to just doing it. To be successful at community marketing, we must force ourselves out of our comfort zones. Growth can only happen when people know about your services. And you are the best person to tell them and show them firsthand.

Also read:

Spectacular belly flops in marketing

Rainmaker Lessons: Staying optimistic when marketing

What builds referral relationships?

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