Growing Your Business in 2019: The empty appointment book and being SMART
It can be really disheartening when you qualify and find your appointment diary looking rather bleak after your first couple of months. Your initial euphoria fades as the phone remains silent, no-one texts you for an appointment, and your inbox remains empty. Your family and friends don’t book for treatments, only a couple of your case studies come and see you once a month, and you’ve only had one new enquiry. It can make you feel like all your hopes and dreams of starting a new life have been dashed, and even worse that you are a bad therapist, no good at what you do. But you shouldn’t - having an bleak looking appointment book is something that most therapists experience when they start out.
Some of these feelings come from unrealistic expectations that have been planted as a result of our own hopes and dreams, and sometimes through what we have been led to believe. The reality however, is that your friends, your family, your case studies, while they have enjoyed receiving free treatments from you and have loved what you have done, do not, for the most part, end up forming your client base. They have wanted to support you, and have enjoyed supporting you, but that doesn’t mean that they want to become a paying client once you qualify. And actually, there is a strong argument that suggests that you shouldn’t want them to be your clients:
What about everyone else?
As much as we love what we do and know the positive impact complementary therapies can have on a person’s health and well-being, not everyone else does - yet. Unless you are very very lucky, building up a client base will take time, and while marketing will definitely help you on your way, you will still need a little patience while your reputation and your business develops. But this can be hard, so I would really recommend setting yourself a target to help you manage your expectations, at least in these early stages, although I still use this exercise today.
Setting yourself a target gives you something solid against which to work towards and against which to measure your success, rather than just this feeling that you must be rubbish because your appointment diary isn’t full. For me I knew that I wanted to give up my part-time job in the next year, so I set myself the a target based on the average number of treatments I would have to do each month in order to replace my part time income and wrote this in the front of my appointment diary:
This is what we call a SMART target - it’s specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and it had a time frame. Despite achieving it within the first year, I kept this target for a couple of years because an average of 13 treatments a month was all I needed, but this year things are slightly different as I need to be able to contribute more to the family income.
At some point in the next 2 years I will probably have to start earning a full-time income from my therapy work, but to use that as my target this year would only lead to a sense of failure as I don’t think that it’s realistic to double my income in 12 months. Instead I have gone back over the last 2 years worth of appointments and worked out that an average of 21 treatments per month would be a sensible target to set myself, with a stretch target included:
As with my very first target this is written in the front of my Appointment Diary, and I always tally my treatments up along the way so that I know when I’m on course, when I might need to do a little extra marketing to reach the target, or when I can cut myself some slack as my averages are still showing as at least 21 per month even if my appointments are down in the current month.
So over the next few days, rather than worrying about your perception about lack of clients, why not spend some time thinking about setting your own target for 2019, at least for the first 6 months, so that you are able to manage your expectations and start realising what an amazing therapist you are? Remember to be SMART, and remember that your success criteria should be based on success criteria that matter to you and your family and no-one else.
Next time: The Marketing Mix: Price, Product, Place, Promotion.
Growing your Therapy Business in 2019: The importance of knowing your market
Over the past couple of weeks I have been focusing on what the foundations of our business should be in order to:
- Understand what we really do so we are able to market our business
- Understand the life that we want so that we are able to make decisions about our business that are right for us
- Understand our USP and why this is important in enabling us to grow our business
Not only is this good practice, we need to know what’s happening in our local area and within our discipline/s, but it also helps us understand what people use complementary therapies for, why they come to complementary therapists in the first place, and how they chose which complementary therapist to go to. In turn, all of this helps us to grow in confidence and develop marketing materials and strategies that can help us grow our business.
The complementary therapy market
Because complementary therapies are unregulated in the UK there is very little in the way of data and statistics. What little there was consolidated in a report by Lynn Vos and Ross Brennan in 2005 called Marketing Complementary and Alternative Therapies, (see Bibliography for details), and it is worth a read if you have the time. All we really know at the moment is that in 2000 (!) the UK CAM market was estimated to be worth £581 million, 1% of the total UK healthcare market, and had around 48,000 – 60,000 CAM practitioners .
What do people use complementary therapies for?
Vos and Brennans report indicated that people came to see a complementary therapist for:
- Long term chronic health problems – e.g. muscular-skeletal, depression, skin disorders, and allergies
- Shorter term conditions – e.g. viral infections and injuries
- Because therapy helped in the past
- Dissatisfied with conventional medicine / A desire to try a new approach
- To improve general well-being
- Stress-related conditions
Why do they chose to go to a complementary therapist?
This is perfectly summed up in this quote from the House of Lords:
House of Lords 2000 para 3.9, in Vos & Brennabut,2005, Marketing Complementary and Alternative Therapies 
How do people go about choosing a complementary therapist?
Vos and Brennan found that:
- Most clients find a therapist through word of mouth and social networks
- While there has been no research in client loyalty specifically, the strong suggestion is that many clients value a personal and enduring relationship with their therapist
- Clients value the time we spend with them and our working environment 
Well, it means ‘great news’, you are working in a sector:
- That’s growing!
- Where anyone could be your client – ill health and poor well-being is not confined to any one sector of the population.
- Where our clients seek us out because of our reputation
- What they hear: People will form an opinion of you based on how you communicate with them, the words you use whether said out loud or written on your website, social media etc., and how other people communication about you via recommendations and reviews
- What they see: First impressions do matter. Potential clients like to know what you look like to see if you are the kind of person they think they will like. So, this might include photographs of you, photographs of your work space on so on.
- What they feel: Many clients will end up making a decisions based on a gut feeling about you, based on what they hear and see of you before contacting you to make an appointment. They want to be sure that they will feel safe and secure, valued and respected if they chose to have a treatment with you. And then obviously what they feel as a result of the treatment feeds back to word of mouth and reputation, and so on…
And yes, you are right, I haven’t mentioned price as being a key factor in choosing a therapist, because I don’t believe it is - and this is something I’ll cover in more detail in the next couple of weeks.
So what about your direct ‘competition’?
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, I do not believe that there is ‘competition’ amongst therapists in the complementary therapy market, and I stand by that. You will attract the clients that need you based on what they hear, what they see and how you make them feel both before, during and after their treatment.
But, while there is no competition, there is a community; a community of fellow therapists who can offer you advice, support, encouragement and ideas. And I’m not just talking about your immediate locale – I’m talking as far and wide as you want it to reach. So, do your research, get to know some fellow therapists to find support networks, look at what other therapists do in terms of reaching out to potential clients, be inspired by them to develop your skills, to create your own marketing materials, or emulate in your own way if you think that what they have done is amazing, making sure you ask their permission first.
Although the complementary therapy market is a mystical beast as far as pinning down statistics goes, we do know that:
- Our clients value the long consultations and the relaxed, safe environment we provide
- They chose us based on what they hear, see and feel
- We are perhaps unique in the ‘business world’ in that we exist not in competition, but in a community, with our fellow therapists, so make the most of it!
Next week: Qualifying: the ‘friends, family and case study’ myth, and managing expectations.
Vos and Brennan, 2005, Marketing Complementary and Alternative Therapies
[1-3], as Bibliography.
Growing your Therapy Business in 2019: What is your Unique Selling Point?
So, if you’ve been following these posts you’ve had a really good think about:
- What it is you actually do – starting to really get to grips with being able to talk and write about your business, learning to act as an Ambassador if you struggle with selling, and developing a starting point for marketing materials.
- Why you are doing what you do – essentially the point of your business and why you set up your business in the first place, this is so that the life you want runs your business, and not your business running your life.
So, what’s next? Well, my guess is that there are plenty of other therapists in your area, some doing the same as you, some doing something slightly different – how do you distinguish yourself from them, what is your unique selling point (USP)? Errrr…..Yup, I struggled with this to, what was different about me, what was my unique selling point? Actually, the answer is one of the best kept secrets in the therapy world – it’s you.
Seriously, it’s you. You ask most most clients why they chose / stick with a therapist and I’d bet money on it that they will talk about how they had heard about you, or how they liked what they saw when they visited your website, and they stayed because they like how YOU made them feel. And, if you ask seasoned therapists the same question they will give you the same answer – it’s not how much you charge, it’s not how long you’ve been practising, it’s not where you are located, it’s not whether you have heated towels or an aromatherapy diffuser, or what you chose to wear – it’s you.
Knowing that you are your own USP is nothing less than a gift, because if you can embrace it, truly embrace it, then you don’t ever have to worry about what other therapists are doing. As long as you are true to yourself you will attract the clients who need you, and who you need. This is not to say that you can’t ever learn lessons from other therapists that enhance your business offering, but you only pick those that resonate with you, not because you feel you have to ‘keep up with Jones”.
There are two great quotes that really illustrate this point:
So really, the bottom line is that now you know what you do and why you are doing it, you just need to believe in yourself and have the confidence to the therapist that you want to be, and slowly, but surely those customers will come.
Next time:- We’ll be looking at the complementary therapy market in the UK, who your clients are, and where you might find them.
Feeling overwhelmed? Forget mindfulness and try some serenity.
The Serenity Prayer is one that seemed, at least in my mind, to appear as either a decorative plate or panel on the kitchen wall of every female relative I had as a child, despite the fact that not one of them was religious. At the time it meant nothing to me, but as I’ve got older I have understood is significance, its relevance in a time where many of us feel constantly overwhelmed by life – whether in the big wide world, or in the microcosm of our home.
I was reminded of this again today when a fellow therapist, posting as his alter-ego as a former youth team football coach, shared some advice he would give to his players when they felt overwhelmed by the idea of the game ahead, or by the scoreline that followed:
- Things I can control, my: words, efforts, actions, mistakes, behaviour, play, ideas.
- Things I cannot control, other peoples: words, efforts, actions, mistakes, behaviour, play, ideas.
Whether you prefer the Serenity Prayer or the advice, the concept behind both is the same. The reality of life is is that there are just some things that you cannot control, and you need to take a deep breath and accept them. Conversely there are things that you can control and that you have the ability to change – if you have the courage. The hard bit, the wisdom, comes in knowing that there is a big difference between the two.
1st January: What is the Point of Your Business?
Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our businesses that we can forget what the point of setting them up in the first place was. For many people, the primary reason for setting up a new business is not about making money, although it is important, the primary reasons can often be to do with reducing stress and anxiety, to spend more time with family and friends, and / or to give them more time to do the things that they really want to do.
I initially set up my therapy business because I was tired of working in education and I wanted to do something I loved, that would allow me to work part-time, and most importantly would allow me to be home for the kids. A year in I found that I was saying yes to any time that a client wanted an appointment and as a result I was working every day of the week, but only for a few hours here and a few hours there, with 2 or 3 late nights where I wasn’t home until well after 6pm. I was stressed, pulled in several different directions at once, and I felt like I was failing as a mother and a wife as I wasn’t there when they got home from school, scrabbling to pull together a quick meal. I realised that my business was dictating how I was living, and the things that gave me pleasure, gave me satisfaction, that made up the life I wanted, were all being pushed to the background. But then a friend introduced me to Business for Bohemians, by Tom Hodgkinson, and my whole approach to how I wanted to run my business changed:
I went for that long walk, I wrote everything down, and suddenly it was really clear. While I wanted to be the best therapist possible, I had only ever wanted to work part-time and I had wanted to be able to take a more relaxed approach to work, being there for my kids when they got home from school and having time to make a home cooked meal. I immediately changed my working hours, with only one late night a week, and reduced my days down to three. Within a matter of weeks I felt calmer, my clients were more than happy to fit in with my new working times, I was there for the kids when they got home from school, and I was able to get dinner on the table for 5.30pm.
The beauty of Hodgkinson’s advice is threefold:
- It gives you a frame of reference from which to make decisions about how you run your business the way you want
- It is not fixed in stone, as your life changes, as circumstances change all you need to do is to go for that long walk and think about what the point of it all is
- It gives you something more meaningful than money to measure your success against - the life that you want
So as you start 2019, take a moment to think about where you are now, have you perhaps lost sight of the original point of your business - is it dictating your life rather than life that you dictating it? Or, perhaps, like me, you have experienced some lifestyle changes since you first set up your business, which mean that you need reassess the point of your business in order for it to grow and develop in a way that is going to support those changes?
I’m working Wednesday and Thursday this week, but Friday, Friday I have a very long walk pencilled in.
I highly recommend Tom Hodgkinsons book Business for Bohemians. While not all of it felt relevant, there were some key sections that really resonated - not because I am any kind of Bohemian, but because they left me feeling empowered to build the business Iwanted, not one that traditional models of success say you should.
Available from all good bookshops.
26th December: Growing Your Therapy Business in 2019: Do you really know what do?
As well as writing blog posts to help support those interested in using complementary therapies, I'm also an active member of my professional therapist community and want to start sharing some of my experiences with fellow therapists - in training, just qualified, and those who've been around, like me for a couple of years. The time has come where I need to start looking at ways to increase my wonderful part-time life as a therapist to one that is more full-time, and I thought it would be nice to share some of my experiences and plans along the way in the hope that it might help other therapists who may be in a similar position to me.
So, what do you do?
I’m betting that you’ll probably say something along the lines of “I’m a therapist.” You might even list the therapies that you offer and where you work from, for example, ”I’m a Bowen Therapist and Reflexologist working in Bury St Edmunds and Woolpit . Factually correct - but what do you actually do?
You’ve just met someone for the first time. They might be a potential client, they might not be. They’ve just asked you what you do. Do not plan it out, just jot down what you would say - or even better just record directly into your mobile phone. Don’t correct anything, this is meant to be a 1-2 minute exercise.
- We feel we have to go into ‘sales mode’ which can feel awkward
- We get embarrassed
- We find it uncomfortable
- We just panic about what we should be saying
Going back to the piece you just wrote / recorded.
- a) How long did it take you to read out / say what is was you did?
b) Were you talking quickly or calmly, e.g. did you feel out of breath?
c) Did you focus on clients?
d) Did you talk about the benefits of what you did?
e) Do you think that you left opportunities for questions to be asked?
f) How many words did you write / say?
Keep these notes to one side.
Being able to convey confidently what you do is a really important part of building a successful business because:
- You have to be able to talk to people about what you do in order to spread the word about your work
- You need to be able to talk to new clients about how your therapy is going to support their condition / situation.
- If you sound confident it gives you confidence, and credibility
- This initial ‘introduction’ can be used to set the tone / to build on to develop other marketing materials
There are only really two ways and they are:
- Think like an Ambassador rather than a salesperson
- Prepare and practice
As an ambassador your job is to create awareness around what you do. You are not after ‘the sale’, instead you are looking to encourage interest in your therapy, to promote it for the benefit of everyone - therapists and clients. Who knows, ‘a sale’ might come off the back of it, but that sale might not be to you, or it might not come right now - it could be to any therapist up and down the country, it could be today, tomorrow, or in two years time. Spread the love and it will, eventually, come back to you
b) Prepare and practice
The best way to be clear and confident about what you do is to write it down and to practice it!
Take your original ‘speech’ and the comments that you noted in exercise 1b, and now plan it out properly, making sure that it is:
- Client focused
- Benefit orientated
- Encourages questions - because encouraging questions develops a conversation!
It’s short and quick, it focuses on the clients and some of the key benefits. It also encourages questions - Hands and feet?! Massage points? How do you do it on a baby? How does it work with fertility support? From this you can begin developing a conversation - and who knows where that might lead you!
Next time: What is the point of your business?