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Meet Dr. Marshack » Colleague Corner
Psychotherapy Finances
Dr. Kathy Marshack
April 2000 issue

NICHE MARKETING: Offering consulting services to mom-and-pop businesses

With roughly half of all American workers employed by family businesses, it's not surprising that the market for consultants to advise business owners is large and growing.

It's a natural role for therapists, according to Kathy Marshack, a clinician in Vancouver, WA (a suburb of Portland, OR). She's chosen to zero-in on a market she calls "entrepreneurial couples." Marshack earns us to $275 an hour as a family business consultant. She receives a steady stream of clients --largely by word of mouth - and characterizes the work as not only lucrative, but personally satisfying. "I do other things, but this keeps growing and growing. It's about half my practice," says Marshack, author of the book, Entrepreneurial Couples: Making It Work at Work and at Home.

"I expect it to grow even more because there's so much interest. I do marriage and family therapy, and I started realizing that these couples have sort of unique problems that other couples aren't bringing in. One day, I had a couple say, "Is there a book I can read on this?" That's when I got into my own research and ended up doing my own book.

For practitioners who are already doing marriage and family therapy, expanding into family business consulting should be relatively painless. Many of the same issues apply. But there are some new things you have to know. For example, don't expect to reach out to entrepreneurial couples without understanding some of the basic business problems they face.

"My clients come to me because I'm an expert in this area," Marshack explains. "They'll frequently say, 'The last therapist I had was good, but she just didn't seem to understand that we have contracts that are due, or when we have a worker who doesn't come in, I have to go out and run the backhoe, and it doesn't matter that it's my daughter's birthday.' "

How do you get up to speed? First, if you're in solo practice you can draw on your own experience as an entrepreneur. Next, Marshack suggest, take some seminars or courses at business schools. As she points out, what you learn there may come in handy in the marketing of your own practice. "This is an opportunity to blend two roles. And it's fun."

How does Marshack market this service? You might think she cultivates lawyers and accountants to generate referrals. But those are relatively minor referral sources, she tells us. Instead, Marshack uses a three-pronged approach that doesn't cost her a cent:

  1. She writes a monthly column on entrepreneurial couples for the Vancouver Business Journal. "I'm amazed how many people read it," she says. "That's positioned me as an expert in the area." She gives speeches and presentations to community groups.
  2. She hosts a monthly "networking breakfast" which couples can attend for free to discuss whatever matters they find relevant and important. It's almost like a support group, Marshack says, and it helps spread the word about her services.
  3. Marshack also plans to begin work as a consultant to other therapists who are interested in helping entrepreneurial couples. She is developing a part of her web site (www.kmarshack.com) to accommodate clinicians. She says her fee will be comparable to her business consulting fees.