Blocks to a Successful Practice – a Personal Experience
by Sue Pash
When I first qualified, I had several mental blocks to creating a successful practice. I had the qualifications and a place to carry out my therapy (which seemed to be used to sit in and worry about getting clients as my marketing seemed to be getting me nowhere). What was going on? After a lot of overheads and marketing money lost (that could have been better spent) I learned a few lessons. The main one was that the greatest block to my practice was not what anyone else was or wasn’t doing, but myself. I had to seriously look at removing the barriers created which were preventing my success.
What is it that’s holding me back?
Like many people, I came into complementary therapy due to my own health problems. Although my health was steadily improving I worried about how I could give advice to others when I hadn’t achieved my own health goals yet? But if I had decided to wait until I was in perfect health, I would still be waiting to start!
My own block is still not entirely gone, but I recognised it, and faced it, and chose to focus my marketing on a different angle, whilst I continue my own healing journey.
Limits and Boundaries
Sometimes my problem was giving a client too much information prior to them making the appointment, which might then not even materialise. Why bother to book if they can get all the information for nothing? If a potential client is allowed to give us the full catalogue of their problems over the ‘phone, and we immediately offer lots of advice or sympathy, even if they book they have already set the tone for any appointment.
Another example of this sort of problem is the client we allow to greatly overrun an appointment, because we don’t have the skills to close the session without appearing to be abrupt. If we are new to practice, and don’t have another client waiting, its easy to justify to ourselves that we have the time, but it is a bad habit to start, and a difficult one to break, once we have begun on that basis.
As gain marketing skill, and for my own well-being, I attended a strategies workshop for complementary therapists, held by a counsellor. For me, although I need to be approachable, I do have to have boundaries. It means assessing with the client whether an appointment is appropriate, without getting over involved, ensuring the client is clear in advance what to expect and what it will cost, and being able to conclude an appointment session at the right time. Professional boundaries need to be in place, we cannot offer a free counselling or advice service. It wastes time and money, it is energy draining. It saps confidence, and it will give the therapist a reputation that will attract similar time-wasting clients. It can sometimes be painful , but we need to regularly review the professional image we are projecting to our clients.
Money is another boundary issue. As an example, if during training, we have been giving free treatments to gain experience, how do we stop that when we qualify and its no longer appropriate? When we suddenly have the financial realities of practice overheads, insurance, continued training, do we feel we “owe” people who have supported our training, or are our friends? Or do we take the view that they have received benefit from the treatments they have received during our training, but that if they want to continue they must pay, even if its at a concessionary rate?
In terms of marketing ourselves as professionals, we may need to review the arrangements. For example if we have given free treatments during training, and this person is proving to be an asset to our marketing by directing new paying clients our way, and is flexible and happy to have the occasional invitation for a treatment, then we may feel differently about it than someone who carries on expecting something for little or nothing. We need to look at how such arrangements make us feel as therapists, as opposed to students. Just reviewing all such arrangements is part of the process of moving emotionally away from training and into professional practice.
As therapists we shouldn’t just do free or cheap treatments because we haven’t yet got enough paying customers, it gives the impression we are still practicing to become therapists. Our time may be better spent on self-development, or marketing ourselves in other ways. It is better to make clear, at the start of our training, what our future intention is when we have qualified. Although it is best to set our boundaries well in advance, it is never too late to review an arrangement we now regret. Sometimes hard decisions have to be made, but in terms of financial reality, and our feelings of self worth as practicing therapists, it doesn’t pay to avoid the issue. We deserve to earn a reasonable living, which means setting those boundaries, limiting the number of concessionary clients to what we can afford, both financially and emotionally. If our decision is that we will only accept two concessionary clients a week say, then don’t accept more, however many gaps there are in the diary this week. Put them in for next week, or the week after, and use the spare time this week to canvas for full paying clients. We cannot expect clients to respect our boundaries, when we don’t respect them ourselves. Marketing takes a while to come to fruition, but if we don’t do it because we are busy doing non-profitable work, we can find ourselves permanently only doing work for people on the cheap. Although once established we may go on to generate enough work through word of mouth, and maybe even have the luxury of a waiting list, regular marketing needs to be a priority when first going into business.
More on Money
When starting out in practice, it is important to gauge what other therapists are charging for the same services we offer. Whilst it is tempting to substantially undercut them with special offers to get clients and get yourself known, it is often a mistake. We may give the impression that we are new (and therefore inexperienced) or that we are desperate for clients (and therefore can’t be much good). It isn’t what is said, but what may be unintentionally implied. Leaflets for half price treatments may be less successful than promoting shorter taster sessions that are based on our full hourly rate for a full length treatment. This isn’t to say that we should never offer cut price treatments, but that we should look at what image of ourselves the offer is projecting. Is the offer only going to attract clients wanting cheap treatments, who will move on to the next therapist’s offer? Or are we attracting people who perhaps haven’t tried complementary therapy but want to find out more about what we do before committing to a series of treatments?
The opposite problem is a therapist overcharging in an effort to show how good they are, which will also yield poor results long term. Repeat business and recommendations don’t follow when people think they could have got the same service for substantially less money, and word soon gets around. Most established therapists don’t worry about other therapists using price gimmicks which can’t be maintained, or substantially overcharging, which leads to a poor reputation.
My personal view is that if we are not specifically asked by a client, then we shouldn’t confess we are new therapists, (although new to the area, or new to the clinic would be OK). If we are good at what we do, we have practiced, we are qualified, we are insured, and we act professionally, as if we have been in practice for ages, there is nothing to give the impression to a prospective client that we are “newbies,” and charging the local standard rate will be expected. We need to believe in ourselves to be able to project that to our clients.
Clients Who Don’t Turn Up
Another important boundary to have in place is what to do about people who don’t turn up, change arrangements at the last minute so there’s no chance to book anyone else in, or are continually late etc. Although things do happen and we need to stay flexible, we soon get a sense of who is messing us about. A client who consistently uses avoidance tactics is perhaps not yet in an emotional space where they are ready to take responsibility for their own health. In terms of our own well-being and our self-confidence as practitioners, it is important that we don’t encourage this by being overly accommodating.
For example, persistent offenders need to know that, if they book a one hour appointment and they are 15 minutes late, their time left for treatment is three quarters of an hour. They must still pay for the full hour. If we regularly have a problem, publish a notice in your literature and on your waiting room notice board that you have a policy of charging for missed appointments and for appointments cancelled on less than 24 hours notice. Sometimes something unavoidable happens, and we can still give every client the benefit of the doubt. However, when the alarm bells start ringing, recognise it and make sure boundaries are firmly in place. Time is money and you need to let persistent offenders know that your time is their money.
After a great deal of thought about the practicalities of it, and my own feelings of self-confidence, I now no longer chase round after such a client, and I am prepared to drop any client who makes me feel I am being taken advantage of professionally. If I continue with a client on that basis, the underlying message to myself (and any prospective client) is that what I offer may not work as well, that I don’t deserve to earn a reasonable living, and that my time isn’t important. Its harder if the appointment book is empty, but in terms of my own well-being and stress management, and the long-term financial survival of my business, boundaries are important.
Our Own Well-being
I’ve also discovered that its very important to make time for looking after my own well-being. Although as therapists we can do things for ourselves to support our well-being, it is often useful to have a treatment with another therapist. It signals to ourselves that we are worthy of additional support, both in terms of our health as an individual, and also as a therapist. This is not a luxury, it is an important overhead or tool for my practice. From a purely financial viewpoint, being healthy means I am less likely to lose some of my business through illness.
As a bonus, if we go for occasional or regular relaxation treatments ourselves, we may attract other therapists as clients as well, or obtain referrals. Over time we may build a rapport with the therapist, there may be opportunities to network, or we can see how they run their practice, and pick up tips on things that work, and things that don’t. Very often it can give the feeling of “Well I can do that too.” We can lose feelings of insecurity and isolation when dealing with other therapists who may have been established for some time.
It’s an ongoing process, but if I begin to feel that my business is stagnating, or if things just don’t feel right, it’s a signal to me to look at what my individual blocks to success are. For me it has meant looking at whether I really want to do that type of work at this particular time in my own healing journey, or whether I should concentrate on things I am entirely comfortable with. Its meant asking what professional image am I projecting to prospective clients and the other therapists I network with. It has meant continually evaluating whether I am keeping my boundaries and limits in place or letting them slip yet again? It has meant constantly checking if I am doing too much, or if I need some down-time and a treatment for myself.
I find that not looking at potential blocks to success is usually more of a problem than the blocks themselves. If I do not regularly look at mine, I would either give up my dream, or my practice might be limping along, with me still spending too much time sitting in my therapy room waiting for things to happen.
What I have learned is that if my own feelings of lack of self-confidence or lack of self-worth stop me from moving forward and marketing myself confidently, I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t attract clients. Self-development as an ongoing process is a vital tool for a successful practice.
Even writing this article has made me look again at a couple of issues I have allowed to creep back into my practice. I have dealt with two situations that I have been avoiding, but which were draining me. Although difficult, having dealt with them I now feel lighter, relieved, and ready to move forward. Although everyone’s blocks to success will be different, unless we honestly, and regularly, confront our individual issues, then no matter how good other marketing tools are, our practices will be bound to suffer. But if we diligently keep on top of these thing, we can prosper and our businesses can succeed and grow.
Best of luck with your own practice development!
Building a Successful and Ethical Therapy Practice by Fiona Biddle
Building A Successful Private Therapy Practice by William Poynter
How To Be A Successful Therapist by Celia Johnson
The Successful Therapist : Your Guide to Building the Career You’ve Always Wanted by Larina Kase
The Therapists’ Network Website: http://www.therapynetworkonline.co.uk