Outlining his technophobia to cybermania path, the
Stress Doc highlights ten key steps and strategies for enabling allied health professionals to gain
visibility and a powerful marketing presence in cyberspace and beyond.|
The Stress Doc's Guide for Generating a Powerful Web Presence
An increasing number of mental health and allied health professionals are exploring the world of self-employment, whether full-time or part-time. Contributing factors include: a) the mid-life Baby Boomer's desire for more career autonomy and creativity, b) career ennui and "compassion burnout" or c) just being tired of jumping through all the HMO, managed scarcity or insurance reimbursement hoops. And as many of these professionals are learning, despite great skills and experience, if you are not marketing your business -- programs, products and services -- effectively, the world, all too frequently, is not beating a path to your couch.
In a highly competitive, if not seemingly saturated, mental health/allied health marketplace, self-promotion and self-positioning, that is, "branding," is vital for business survival. To be a successful entrepreneur, to stand out from the health field herd, you must have today's critical visibility- and credibility-generating technology tool: a professional and powerful looking (and, even sounding) website.
As founder of the five-year old site, www.stressdoc.com, winner of several prestigious awards -- USA Today Online "HotSite," Mental Help Net, Golden Web Award, etc. -- and showcased by a variety of electronic media let me quickly dispel an illusion: I am absolutely not a cyber geek. Just the opposite. In the mid-90s, scarcely a year after confronting my longstanding computer phobia, I reluctantly began exploring "The Wild, Wild Web." (FYI, I finally lost my computer virginity after a prolonged, techno-phobic affair with a fifteen year-old: my faithful Smith-Corona electric.)
So I've had the time and trial and error experience to glean basic steps and strategies for developing and promoting a website that enables you to share your expertise, look good and helps generate business. Consider "The Stress Doc's Top Ten Tips for Generating a Powerful Cyber-Web Presence":
1. Don't Be the Lone Webber. Leading "On Becoming an Internet Entrepreneur" workshops, I've discovered that many health professionals forego having a website because of a misconception. These folks believe that a web design course is necessary to get started. Au contraire. There are plenty of reasonably priced "experts" (including high schoolers) who can get you up and running. Or consider this example. My strategy for overcoming computer phobia was hiring a temporarily out of work computer consultant for $20/hour. She helped purchase my system, installed it and provided handholding lessons right in my office. (Just the money saved in therapy sessions made this a no-brainer.)
The evolution of my web partnership is also instructive. Several years ago I was hanging out with self-employed business types, far more cyber savvy than I, in a networking group called, "Home Alone." They were all web bound. A sense of prehistoric shame pushed me to approach a colleague who, at the time, was the IT consultant for Howard University, School of Continuing Education. "John," I stated, "you have all this arcane computer knowledge. I have all this psychobabble Let's build a website."
The timing was right. John was starting his own web design business. Initially he took me on as an experiment, and I was a fairly passive partner, mostly deferring to his expertise. But once I realized people were actually visiting the site in surprisingly tangible numbers, just being the content provider was not sufficient. Active involvement in the design and decision-making process was critical.
After a lengthy gestation period, with a couple of design makeovers, we established a basic working format. And for the last few years, John is on retainer ($100/month server and maintenance fee) providing general tech support, posting new articles and PR coverage, making upgrades and additions such as audiostreams, web links, site awards, etc. (Too be explained further.)
The latest collaboration, with The Bright Side, began after their publicist/business development maven discovered my site. After an exhaustive search, Deborah Harper realized "The Stress Doc" website was an uncommon cyber phenomenon: a site by a Licensed Clinical Social Worker that was informative both in terms of topical breadth and depth, had a professional appearance while still being visually appealing and was fun. And there's no reason why you too can't break into the field with a signature site.
2. (Pro)Claim Your Expertise and Value. We in the various health fields possess information needed and wanted by many cyber citizens. This is especially so in the area of mental health where confusion, if not outright stigma, still cloud the picture and practice arena. People are definitely searching and surfing for clear, accessible and usable words of experience and knowledge, of reason and wisdom. For example, I've had numerous emailers thank me for balanced writing on my personal experience with depression and taking Prozac. The online screeds against Prozac made it more difficult for readers to contemplate a meds trial. Confusion or ambivalence lingered despite having consulted with a psychiatrist and knowing that there were indications for depression medication.
So you are a potential expert or "content provider." How to transform potential into reality? Consider these steps:
a) Carve out a specialty niche. After burning out on a doctoral dissertation quest, big surprise, a major career path niche has been the area of stress and burnout. Another, as mentioned above, has been the field of depression, which I know intimately -- personally and professionally.
b) Write on! Write a couple of niche articles. Five hundred words is a very publishable length. (Some verbose authors struggle to stay under 1500 words but still manage to get published. ;-) Minimize the jargon; write for a lay audience. I call it thoughtful pop psychology. Also, if you can, leaven your message with a little levity. As I've previously penned: "People are more open to a serious message when it is gift wrapped with humor" (Paradigm Magazine, Fall 1997). Trust me, there are a myriad of e-zines and online and offline newsletters constantly on the prowl for good content.
c) Respond to events and opportunities. Right on the heels of the 9/11 tragedy, I wrote an article on "Trauma and Crisis Intervention." (I had taught Crisis Intervention and Brief Treatment for twelve years at Tulane University School of Social Work.) My Webmaster found a burning Twin Towers picture, and my homepage dramatically announced a "new" niche.
d) Don't Be Listless. As in this article, hopefully, use lists to present ideas in manageable chunks for easy digestion and comprehension, for retention and implementation. (In fact, the founder of The Bright Side recently mentioned that my "Top Twelve Tips for Beating Moderate Clinical Depression" was the article with the most site clicks.)
3. Be Visually and Verbally Appealing and Appropriate. The challenge for a website is to engage with words and images, not to distract the surfer/reader. Too many flashing and animated java script gizmos not only slow download time but can detract from your professional purpose. I recall a New Haven, CT reporter upon discovering my website wanting to do a telephone interview on stress. I asked, "Why me?," thinking there were plenty of other experts with an online presence in his Ivy laden area. His reply, "Yours was the only website that didn't look like it was designed by a wacko!"
Now this doesn't mean your site has to have a starched white-collar design. I've already mentioned the visually compelling Twin Towers icon. And I have a fun homepage picture of me in Shrink Rap costumery -- Blues Brothers hat and black sunglasses pushed down my nose. Also, you can liven up a homepage with a catchy phrase, which in this case illustrates my role of "Psychohumorist" . The clever line almost netted me a training gig with George Lucas Film Productions May the Farce Be with You!
Finally, create a web and marketing logos that captures and brands your company's essence. Check out my "No Stress/Humor" icon near the bottom of the home page.
4. Position, Position, Position. You can have the coolest, sexiest, most informative site in cyberspace. But if hardly anybody lands on it So hooking up with someone who can help you get noticed and placed onto search engines like Google or AltaVista is vital. Metatags and key words are the web nuts and bolts that an expert (who may or may not be your web designer) needs to utilize.
And sometimes it's a chicken and egg dilemma: do you build up the site then market or market to build the site? I hired a web-marketing specialist who did a press release for my site when it was still in its infancy in terms of hit (or visitor) numbers. Amazingly, USA Today Online took the bait and bestowed a "HotSite" award. In twenty-four hours over 2,000 hits. Suddenly, I became involved with site design big time.
But these kinds of spikes are usually episodic. You are looking for a steady stream of traffic. And this is in your hands and head.
5. Start a Newsletter, Develop an Archive. One of the best ways to get published online is to self-publish. Sending out a newsletter to a subscriber list, or a link to an article or newsletter on your website, is just a click away. Anyone who writes me for advice or information, e.g., writings on a topic, I'll add to my free mailing list and send them a mix of classic essays and the latest newsletter samples.
Also, catalogue your writings with a brief abstract or article summary. Having an archive encourages surfers to browse and revisit your site. I also suggest a link whereby visitors can send an email requesting a newsletter subscription.
At one time I mass emailed articles three times/week. Next came a bimonthly format. Finally, I've settled on a monthly mailing (to reduce my stress) that's supplemented by special mailings or self-promotion as needed, e.g., a 9/11 article or announcing that the newsletter was showcased by List-A-Day.com, an online newsletter and e-zine review service. (See icon on homepage.)
6. Generate Self-Syndication, Join ProfNet. Having a website of substance and sending out a newsletter, you are on the road to cyber-syndication. Newsletter editors will begin to republish your writings (most of the time emailing for permission). Some of my online publishers: HR.com, Financial Services Journal Online and The Bright Side. Offline publications: Paradigm Magazine and National Association of Social Workers-Metro, DC and Florida Chapters.
But you don't have to just sit and wait. Consider joining ProfNet.com, a service that links newspaper reporters and freelance journalists with content experts. ProfNet has a range of PR services. The least expensive allows you to have a 250-word bio in their database for $125. There's a slow but steady stream of inquiries and telephone interviews. Not only am I quoted in both online and print publications, but appearing in various online publications increases my visibility in those cyber-search engines. And being quoted in the Dallas Morning News, The Bloomberg Report or Fox News Online adds business marketing credibility and cachet. Finally, this ProfNet connection adds valuable resource individuals to my mailing list.
7. Share Web Links. An inexpensive way to spread your words and image is by sharing web links with other site founders. My "Links Page" has at least fifty sites with which I've exchanged logos. This represents the free and open side of the web.
One caveat: be a bit discriminating. Check out the website before you agree to share. You may not want to be associated with one of those "wacko" sites.
8. Develop Marketable Products and Services. Another benefit of a working website is the potential for marketing and selling a variety of goods and education/consulting, coaching and therapy services. At this juncture, primary web marketing targets are my live speaking and workshop programs and recruiting newsletter subscribers. Product offerings include: a) a self-published book ($20) and b) a training/marketing kit for delivering a "Practice Safe Stress" program and/or for helping a professional expand the successful marketing and delivery of their own programs ($175 for a variety of "How To" materials; $250 for the materials plus two hours phone coaching. For details, see the Training Kit link on homepage left index.)
Also, I'm about to introduce an audiocassette. On one side will be two of my clever "Shrink Rap" songs, on the other a ten minute relaxation/visualization script (to help you recover from the Raps ;-).
While I definitely won't be retiring on web sales, a book or training kit order brightens my day. My monthly newsletter has a section reminding folks of my products and services. Also, I have a "What's Hot" link and soon a "shopping cart" icon/link for visitors who want to purchase a piece of the Stress Doc.
9. Push the Hi Tech-Hi Touch Envelope. One of the most compelling cyber developments has been leading an AOL/Digital City chat group -- "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" -- for the past five years. It's a stress support group that grapples with very real work, family, health and relationship/romance issues. We have a core group of about ten or twelve, and new folks drift in and out. The level of intimacy and sharing is not unlike a "real" therapy group. Also, as new members come in, we periodically need to reestablish a balance between "free flow" discussion and a structure that focuses group comments on the person having the floor (or screen, if you will).
I studiously avoid being "the theater style expert" whereby I answer posed questions in front of a passive audience. My goal is to be more a facilitator than "the authority." Many have commented that our chat is unique for it's civility, empathy and solid problem-solving ideas while also being open, energetic and fun. No doubt the quality of the participants is a factor. Email for my article on running a dynamic chat group.
Two more recent envelope-pushing endeavors include adding audiostream and videostream to the site. Dr. Michael Hurd allowed the uploading of our audio interview on "Stress, Anger and Humor." Then, the Clear Communications Speakers Bureau captured a performance segment of a Practice Safe Stress video and created a two-minute videostream that can also be downloaded from the site. Program streams make your website an even more personal and powerful marketing tool. Not surprisingly, the icon links are prominently displayed on the home page.
10. Reap Awards and Rewards. And now for all your hard-earned efforts and quality output your just deserts. I still get a kick when notified by a web-based organization like Mental Help Net or 4Therapy.com that my site has garnered an award.
And you don't have to just sit back and wait. Recently, Ms. Harper, the aforementioned publicist for The Bright Side, submitted my site for consideration and, voila A prestigious Golden Web Award/2002-2003 icon proudly sits near the top of my home page. (Even my low-key Webmaster was impressed by this one.)
Well, it's been quite a journey recalling and cataloguing key steps and strategies in the birthing, nurturing, evolving and maturing of "The Stress Doc" website. And the only thing I can confidently say is, "Who knows what will come down the cyber-pike in the future." Two quick illustrations: Years ago I received an email request for my newsletter from Sweden. When I wrote back asking the obvious, the woman responded that one of the major Swedish newspapers had a series on stress and my website was listed as a resource. In the Spring 2002, an emailer from Dallas informed me that National Public Radio (NPR) had cited the site as a resource on a program about "Bad Bosses." (I'm always the last to know.) You can understand my motto: "I no longer count on nor discount any possibility."
So get started; review the ten steps:
1. Don't Be the Lone Webber
2. (Pro)Claim Your Expertise and Value
3. Be Visually and Verbally Appealing and Appropriate
4. Position, Position, Position
5. Start a Newsletter, Develop an Archive
6. Generate Self-Syndication, Join ProfNet
7. Share Web Links
8. Develop Marketable Products and Services
9. Push the Hi Tech-Hi Touch Envelope
10. Reap Awards and Rewards.
Take the technophobia to cybermania transformational challenge: Go Web Young Cyberite!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , is an internationally recognized speaker and syndicated writer on stress, anger management, reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR! His monthly newsletter was just featured by List-A-Day.com and his writings appear in such publications as The Bright Side, HR.com, WorkforceOnline, Event Solutions, Professional Conference Management Association Newsletters, Mental Help Net and Financial Services Journal Online. The Doc has been profiled in Biography Magazine and has appeared in a Workplace Violence segment on CBS-TV News. He is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" (Keyword: Stress Doc) leading a weekly chat group for AOL/Digital City -- http://www.digitalcity.com/washington/stressdr DC Stress Chat. Check out his USA Today Online "HotSite" - www.stressdoc.com Stress Doc homepage (recently cited as workplace resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad Bosses"). For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-232-8662 (in Wash, DC).