Networking – A Personal Experience
By Sue Pash
I believe that many recently qualified therapists eventually come to a point where they make a decision about whether they will ever achieve a successful practice, or whether the harsh realities of paying the bills, and perhaps lack of ongoing marketing, means that they regretfully relinquish their dreams..
When I reached that point a few years ago, I found it helped to make a plan about what I wanted to achieve, and what I could invest in terms of initial financing, and my personal time, in order to market myself and the therapies I offer. I also had to be honest with myself about my marketing skills, and where they fall short (such as in my case cold calling). Eventually I had to decide that I wouldn’t do that type of marketing, rather than think I would force myself, and then procrastinate and make excuses. Additionally, although it works for some therapists, for me paid advertising has always yielded poor results. So I stopped supporting non-local publications.
Having decided what wasn’t working, I looked at what I needed to support both my personal development and in running my practice. Although at it first seemed unrelated to marketing my business, I decided I needed to make more contact with other therapists. I knew a couple from a training course, and, on talking to them, found that they felt the same way about marketing as I did. When you are busy you don’t have time for marketing, yet that’s when it needs doing, so that you stay busy. If the work suddenly dries up, or hasn’t really got going yet because you are just starting out, then marketing often doesn’t bring instant results. Of course the bills still need paying in the meantime. Whether its cold calling, doing editorials, or placing adverts that might yield little work, most of us find some aspects of marketing daunting. Its worse if your appointment book is looking a little empty.
Because of this, I started up a small network for therapists of different disciplines interested in doing some joint marketing on an ongoing basis. When the benefits became apparent, I formed www.thetherapistnetwork.com as a name people would hopefully come to recognise as an umbrella of local therapists, working as a team to promote both themselves and complementary therapy generally. Initially there was just three of us, all living close to each other in Somerset. Our joint marketing involved sharing the cost of a joint advert in the parish magazine, jointly running a stall at a Mind Body Spirit event, and holding each others leaflets to pass on to people when we got the chance. We look out for opportunities for each other.
I went on to lease a shop in a precinct, opposite a health food shop in Somerset. When it became available, I had to make a very quick decision, or risk losing it to someone else. It had been in my long term game plan for some time, so when the opportunity arose I grabbed it.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make it profitable on my own, as I have family commitments that mean I cannot work shop hours six days a week. So I threw it open to the network. Any members who need to can rent the shop as a therapy room at much lower than market costs. Whether it’s a fortnightly clinic, or the occasional use for a client who cannot manage the stairs at their own therapy rooms, the option is there if they need it. I run two open mornings, unless a therapist member wants to use it as a free marketing tool to introduce themselves locally, and I see my own clients on a part time basis to fit in with my family commitments. The aim is to provide us all with a reasonable living, by promoting complementary therapy generally and by sharing the marketing costs.
The group is still growing, and we meet up, exchange ideas, and refer leads if its appropriate. We can also refer a client on a temporary basis to another therapist for a specific treatment, whilst retaining the case. We network, we don’t compete, and we believe both the clients and ourselves reap the rewards of this co-operation.
When new therapists joins us, when we get to know them. Often they come from a background that can be tapped to promote the whole group. We don’t take therapists who just want cheap marketing with no effort, we are each committed to offering some form of support to the group as a whole. Within the team we have someone from finance, someone from marketing, another from sales, another from education, one from nursing. Each offers to contribute to the marketing in a way they are comfortable with. Whether its helping to write editorials about something the network offers, or cold calling to introduce the group, or producing low cost leaflets for other members, doing a newsletter. Each is able to concentrate a small amount of time on their own marketing “niche” whilst avoiding the aspects that they find stressful.
However we are not a business partnership. We each run totally private practices. The network is just for sharing marketing overheads and opportunities, exchanging skills, and for meeting socially and supporting each other. If a therapist gets an enquiry that they are not able fulfil, they can point potential clients to another network member. They know that, at some time, other members will reciprocate. What goes around, comes around. As a group effort, more general enquiries can be converted to clients, who also appreciate being pointed to the therapist most likely to be able to assist them. So everybody benefits.
Can Networking Help You?
What I have learned from experience along the way is that a successful practice takes time and can seem like a struggle, but that it helps to be completely honest about your own marketing skills, where the gaps are, and whether you will realistically fill that gap yourself. Although I have gone on to make the commitment to lease the shop and further develop www.thetherapistnetwork.com it was an idea that started off small and has grown slowly.
Although you may have long term plans, if you currently have too few clients, then it can help to give yourself short term goals. Be specific. Set goals to increase your client base by so many by a certain time, and decide what marketing needs to be done in order to achieve that goal. If it isn’t a skill you are comfortable with, then consider trading skills with someone who is. It can be a friend who becomes your temporary assistant, one who doesn’t mind taking your leaflets somewhere and singing your praises, or doing some phone calls, or writing that editorial you are struggling with.
If you don’t personally know other therapists, consider having a treatment yourself with someone doing something different from you, (so you are not in direct competition). If possible choose someone who is also not long qualified or not too well established yet. If you liked the treatment given and the therapist, see how they market what they offer. Iintroduce yourself professionally and see whether there are any openings for some promotion work together, exchanging your marketing skills. Ask them to think about it and phone you if the idea appeals. Pressure for an instant answer may promote an immediate refusal, or an initial acceptance that is subsequently withdrawn after having thought about it. It is more likely to develop into something worthwhile if they contact you after having given thought to the potential benefits.
However much you liked them personally, be sure that you have no qualms about the treatment you have had, and that the therapist is qualified and insured before making any commitment to network. Expect them to take the same precautions about you, although it doesn’t automatically mean they will have a treatment from you (for example if you offer something they don’t need and nobody would have done unless they did). Although it might feel like you are both interviewing each other, you cannot promote or refer to anyone, or expect recommendations when you don’t know each other. Be discerning, let networking ideas drop with any therapist who is obviously only interested in you helping promote them. You want the sharers, not the takers, and you can quite quickly spot them.
If having made the approach, a therapist decides not to network with you, for whatever reason, then try someone else. Just by talking about it to a few therapists. Word may get to others who might think it’s a good idea, and will get in touch with you.
When you start out in practice it is understandable to worry about the competition, but chosen wisely, three or four (or more) other therapists networking with you can become a great asset to your own business, and your best marketing tool. When a prospective client tells you that another therapist has suggested they contact you, it can be a huge boost to your confidence. The added bonus of networking is new friendships developing and lots of ongoing support. So if the expensive adverts aren’t working, or the leaflets aren’t getting out there, and you need to get yourself known, perhaps networking could help. Best of luck.
The Therapists’ Network Website: http://www.therapynetworkonline.co.uk