Sure you can!
If you’re a MFT intern or trainee, or even a student who hasn’t started your placement yet, it’s never too soon to start thinking about your private practice. And if you plan on your website being one of the ways you generate client leads, you should consider building it now.
Why? Because it takes a long time.
Website Traffic is a Long Road
Having a website is like building a business in the middle of the desert. No matter how big and flashy you make it, you have to have a way to bring people to it.
How do you bring people to your website?
There are many ways, but advertising and search engines are the main ways. As a student, there’s really no reason to pay for advertising, because you have no services to offer yet. It’s not worth the money.
You can start working on the latter though. And you should, because it’s a long process.
Google takes anywhere from months to over a year to find, trust and start ranking your website in search results. So, if you’re thinking, “Once I graduate, I’ll have my license, throw up a website, and clients will start pouring in,” think again.
In addition to it being a long process, another reason to start a blog is because as a student, you have some advantages.
Double Dipping Your Course Papers
As a counseling psychology student, you’re in writing mode. You’re already writing tons of content for your program, so why keep it hidden away on your hard drive, never to be seen again? Put it to use by putting it on your blog!
There’s usually some flexibility in each paper you write for your counseling program. This means, when you choose each paper’s topic, keep your blog in mind. Ask yourself, “What topic am I interested in, that fulfills the requirement for the course, and will also be a good fit for my blog?” This way you get the most out of your time!
A blog is also a great way to find your therapy niche. The more writing you do, the more you’ll learn about yourself, your interests, and what you will specialize in as a marriage and family therapist. As you start narrowing your focus, so should your blog, and your future private practice.
Where Do I Put My Blog?
On your future private practice’s website, of course!
Don’t throw your writing up just anywhere. There are tons of free blog sites out there, however, this isn’t going to help YOU much. All you’re doing is putting useful content on a site that someone else owns.
Instead, purchase a domain ($8-$12/year) and build a simple WordPress blog on there. This way you’re putting useful content on something you own, which will start building relevant traffic and will more likely bring you clients in the future.
How Do I Get Traffic?
By building quality, niche content, on a regular basis.
Google ranks website using a very complex algorithm that is constantly changing. There are people who seem to have dedicated their lives to trying to cheat this system and take a short cut to getting ranked high. Google quickly figures out this strategy, makes an update to their algorithm, kicks the cheaters out, and the cycle starts again.
The only way to survive these constant updates to the algorithm is to produce honest, quality content. Content that helps people. This is what Google values and you should too (since you are in the business of helping others)!
Google also values a consistently growing site. So, getting on a regular posting schedule is a good idea. Even if it’s only once a month. Keep the site growing.
Google also values older domains. As soon as you register your domain, the domain is born and Google knows this date. A domain that is 5 years old, will be trusted by Google more than a 6-month old site.
Google also looks at how many links and what type of links are pointing to your website. Think of these links as votes to your website. The more you have, the more Google will respect you. It’s not just quantity though, Google looks at quality.
For example, if harvard.edu linked to your website, this is huge! You’ll get tons of respect and love from Google. On the other hand, if you have 500 links from shady, not relevant websites, you’re going to lose Google’s respect FAST! You might even disappear from Google altogether.
A great way to get links to your website is to write for other websites that are relevant to yours. This is called guest posting. Usually when you contribute to someone else’s blog or website, they’ll allow you to post a link or two from them to you. Being a student, I think gives you an advantage in this area. When you’re a student, you’re non-threatening. You have nothing to sell. People are more willing to help you out during this time.
All these things: quality content, a consistently growing website, domain age, and incoming links are the main factors Google uses to trust, and therefore rank your site.
This takes time! So, why not start now instead of starting from zero when you’re licensed?
What About State Regulations?
Many students are scared that they’ll get in trouble from the BBS. This is something you should be concerned about, but it’s not something that should stop you.
At least in California, as long as you’re not advertising yourself as something you’re not, you’re fine. So, don’t have things like “psychotherapy,” “therapy,” “counseling,” etc. in your domain name. Instead, just make your domain your name (e.g., joeshmoe.com).
Be cautious what you write about. I would stay clear of writing about your internship or traineeship, as it might give others the impression that you are providing services, and are in private practice. Not good!
Don’t give advice. Stick to a research, “this is what I found out,” approach. No matter what stage you’re at, giving advice online is never a good idea!
Don’t put a phone number or address on your website. This can also be misleading, making it seem like you are a business, providing service.
I would even consider playing it safe, by putting disclosures in your footer on every page stating what you are and what you ARE NOT (e.g., “This website is for information only. I’m not a licensed professional and do not offer services of any kind.”)
I would also use caution about your email. Once again, don’t have “therapy,” “counseling,” or any other misleading words as part of your email address. Simply your name.
Also, some therapy associations offer free legal consulting. I strongly recommend taking advantage of this by getting in contact with them and discussing your site. They can give you helpful things to stay clear of, to make sure you’re not breaking any laws.
Blogging isn’t for everyone. You need to be passionate and consistent to see long-term results. If this isn’t you, I would worry to much about starting now. Perhaps, just buy a domain so you can at least get some age and history on it while you’re in school.
If you’re passionate about writing in your area of growing expertise, starting a website doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated:
Domain ($12/year) + Hosting ($120/year) = $132/year (that’s $11/month!!)
Install a free WordPress CMS (websites 101) and start building your practice for tomorrow!