Three essential marketing tools for complementary health practitioners

Massimo GaetaniThere are many practitioners who have been in private practice for many years and have a strong and well established customer base. These people have built their own business in the days when a sign on the door and an advert on the yellow pages was enough to generate new business. Several years and a few thousands of clients later their practice is entirely relying on their reputation and word of mouth marketing.

Professional practitioners starting a private practice in 2014, assuming they have the serious intention of creating a successful business, will require a bit more planning and correct execution of essential marketing and business development skills. Assuming time, money and resources being scarce it is essential to start from the most basic and important tools available to us all. They are:

  • Business Cards
  • Website
  • Leaflets

The order in which they are listed is the order in which you as a practitioner should approach them. Let’s see below a bit more details about why you should use them.

Business Cards

IMG_20140718_171052126However small and insignificant these pieces of paper might seem they are the cheapest and most immediate form of marketing you can access when starting a business. Please avoid altogether the temptation of designing and printing your own business cards as they will look cheap and tacky. The Internet is full of great offers to have proper business cards designed and printed by professionals; simply choose one. A few suppliers will even give you an interactive website, offering templates, images, themes and choice of fonts and colours. Take your peek and order a few hundreds of them. Avoid the cheapest option for paper and chose 3-400 gsm (Grams per Square Metre) luxury finish. I like to be ecological and believe that non laminated cards are easier to recycle but I’ll leave that choice to you. The business card should contain all relevant contact details you want to share with clients or prospects and perhaps a very short description of what you offer. This last piece of information should be expressed within 2-3 words. Avoid, like the plague, the horrid temptation of writing a long list of therapies you offer and try to transform your business card into a leaflet; it will look awful. Once you have business cards keep them close to you at all times. It is no point bumping into a friend or acquaintance, updating them about your new venture and having no business cards to substantiate your conversation. You can easily expect that 4 out of 5 cards you give out will get lost or left somewhere but, like in any sales activity, it’s a numbers’ game.


WebsiteIn 2014 I am not going to explain why you must have a good looking, modern designed and recently updated website but I’ll explain here two main functions that your website will have for you:

  • Personal Identity: people might know you exist as a practitioner, might have heard of you, perhaps a friend of theirs pass them your details but many will want to investigate who you are, what you do and perhaps whether they like you before they connect with you. If you don’t have a website, if it looks bad or old fashion they might go to another practitioner which fits their taste. In order to be useful for personal identity your website will have to searchable by your name.
  • Business lead generator: people might be looking for what you offer (e.g. massage therapy) or for some conditions they suffer (e.g. back ache) and therefore your website should have a decent level of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to ensure that prospects will find your website, on the first page of Google, when they search for relevant key phrases, not just your name.

A couple of extra recommendations about websites:

  • Use your own name as domain name; it’s easier to remember, it helps SEO for searches which contain your name and it’s very good for personal branding. Some people will suggest you to create a brand for your business (e.g. Cambridge Sports Massage) but, honestly, unless you are in the business of creating a large organisation, creating a brand will incur in the double cost of marketing the brand and yourself as an individual. Just avoid one extra step and use your own name.
  • Use the “” extension or the one that is typically local for your country of operation. Some people assume that “.com” is the way to go and that’s fine if you are in the USA. On the other hand if you operate from sunny Cambridgeshire there is no need to even suggest you might be based outside the UK, hence the “”. I have clients which do regular voice therapy over Skype and they are interested in appearing international and that’s fine. Also, however trivial the difference, a “.com” domain will cost you nearly £10 per year while a “” less than half than that much.
  • Rely on a well designed, professional website for your business and steer away for heavily advertised DIY sites that offer all in one designer, templates, images and allow you to design your own website. Results will look between poor and very poor and it will be obvious to most observers including your clients.


IMG_20140718_171134773Leaflets and other printed material allow you to explain, with some level of depth, what you offer and why people should decide to be treated by you. The previous suggestion about avoiding too much information on your business cards was in fact offered assuming you will have leaflets where you can indeed list your services and the benefits associated to them. You can choose among different shapes and formats but, in order for them to be practical and cost effective I would suggest A6, A5 or A4 folded in 3. In all cases you should, once more, avoid DIY and relying on professional design and professionally printed material; otherwise the results will look obviously home made and cheap. You can decide to have a single leaflet which explains all about you and what you do. On the other hand, if you offer two or more completely different therapies, suitable for very different audiences you better create several different leaflets otherwise your prospects might get confused by finding everything mixed on the same sheet of paper.

Conclusions and recommendations

The three essential marketing tools for the complementary health practitioner are meant to be used together as part of the so called marketing mix. It is said that most people will need to see a marketing message or a brand 7 times before committing to it so I hope it will be clear to you that one of this tool, by itself, might not be enough to secure a new client. Two extra rules about your marketing:

  • All marketing material, like the ones described above, should be independent from the others and self sufficient. Each of them should convey the right impression and message, assuming that people will not necessarily try to find and collect all material available about you. Contact details should be accessible and easy to find; maybe it is me but I find very frustrating when I struggle to find a person in order to buy something from them.
  • All marketing material should look as it was designed as part of a suite. It’s really no point having green business cards written in Times Roman and red website written in Helvetica and then yellow leaflets written in Verdana. If you have no idea what the sentence above means that’s an extra reason why you need to work with professional designers and printers. Invest some time and thinking about what colours best suit you, your audience and the therapy you offer. Do you need a typeface (font) which is very serious and pompous or something a bit more relaxed and laid back? Once the decision is taken than apply it to all of your marketing material and keep it that way until you have a very good reason to change.

Calculating and understanding ROI on advertisements

Massimo GaetaniUntil a few years ago owners of small businesses could buy advertisements on a handful of possible media and channels; for several decades the choice was limited, quite obvious and often cost effective.  At that time if we considered advertising on the local press the choice used to be made of one or more local newspapers plus perhaps the parish magazine and a few other publications.  Fast forward to 2014 and, even a small city like Cambridge has at least half a dozen free lifestyle magazines that have been added to the above list.  Each of them is funding its very existence by selling adverts, encouraging local businesses to believe that their advert on that magazine will effectively help their business to sell more…

An old saying about marketing expenditure states that: “50% of my Marketing expenditure is usually lost; unfortunately I don’t know which one”.  That was a fair and acceptable comment before the advent of Pay Per Click (PPC) adverts or banner ADs with measurable click through rate.

How do we measure the Return of Investment (ROI) for that specific advert? Better how can we evaluate, before spending money, that the advert we are being offered is worth the money they ask for?

In my experience some of the people selling adverts tend to come out with very improbable numbers about how many people are reading their publication and the likelihood of one of them actually buying something from us.  A large number of optimistic assumptions are made when mentioning numbers and probability of success; circulation (number of copies sold or distributed) gets multiplied by opportunity factors:

  • if a magazine is posted in a letter box of course it will be read by every member of the household
  • if the same magazine is left in a pub most people having a drink will eventually read it and so on

The fact that we are totally bombarded by adverts from any direction has created in us consumers a nearly total insensitivity to adverts, whether they appear on magazines (please pause reading this article right now and quickly list the 3 most significant brands or adverts you saw in the last magazine or newspaper you read), websites (please repeat the same exercise as before on the last website you were browsing), social media (please again) and street adverts; frankly we must hope that people do not watch adverts while driving and it’s easy to spot people messaging or checking social media on their mobile while walking on the street.

As owners of small business we should really pay attention before spending hard earned cash into a random advert in the hope it will generate extra sales; in my experience most of the times it won’t.

Well presented figures are often helping sales people to make their case stronger.  Here is a story about a phone call I received last week; a man who was trying to sell adverts for our clinic onto doctor’s surgery appointment’s cards.  His pitch was simple “we sell adverts for companies like yours to go on doctor’s surgeries appointment cards”; sounded simple and neat.  Then the pricing “£600 per year, minimum 2 years and we are distributing, on average, 12000 cards per year”.  So, I quickly calculated, £50 per month for 1000 cards over the same period; it seemed high at about 5p per advert.  When I told him I would need to generate at least 10 inquiries per month (that presumably would bring 4 clients). Expecting a click through rate of 1% that for a totally unsolicited advert is way too much and it just won’t happen.  He adopted a defensive pitch coming out with the fact that his company advertise on their same cards and get 60 inquiries per week or about 250 per month; at this point many people would say: “wow” and sign. However when I asked a couple of extra questions I found out that they advertise in 1300 surgeries and I quickly confirmed my case against his numbers; 1300 locations distributing 10000 cards each per year makes it 13 million cards or about 1.08 million per month. In short we can calculate that 250 inquiries out of 1.08 million means a mere 0.023% click through rate it works out to be about 50 times lower than what he offered with his advert,  way too low to be considered.

Modern technologies allow us to gather more data, for free, than we could even have though before.  This can help us consumers and customers to take educated decisions about business proposition that before we should have trusted our gut feeling or, worse, the sales person whose only interest is to close a deal.

Facts about our deals offered via Groupon

grouponOur clinic has been using Groupon to promote some of our services, particularly some massage treatments.  For us it works well because it helps some of the practitioners which recently joined us to get exposed to new clients and some of them get converted into further treatments at full price.

Having dealt with over 1000 new clients over the last 9 months ad still finding a lot of people that do not understand how these deals work I decided to collect some of the many explanations that our team here is giving to members of the public both during phone conversation and via Email.

Here they are:

  • To the best of my knowledge Groupon is the largest voucher based marketing organisation in the world and they are also very strong, if not the strongest, in the UK too.
  • Groupon have invested much time and resources to create a very large database (or list) of people that offered their contact details in order to receive super discounted deals on goods and services.  You are probably one of them.
  • Groupon keeps in touch with their contacts mainly via Emails and by publishing offers on their website.  People can decide from time to time to buy these featured deals.
  • The deals are offering prices which are greatly discounted, usually at 40-60% off the standard price.
  • The contact becomes a client when she pays Groupon for the deal; the money she pays goes straight into the Groupon bank account.
  • In exchange for that money the client receives a voucher that clearly states what she has paid for and what she has bought for that money; the voucher states, in the small prints, how to redeem the voucher and when the voucher expires.
  • Each voucher must be redeemed from the company that offers the service; in our case all redemptions must be done on line on a specific page of our website.
  • Companies like Salus Wellness, that sells deals via Groupon, will receive a fraction of the price paid by the client; in most cases less than 50% of it, once the Groupon commission and VAT have been deducted.
  • Each voucher has an expiry date and we cannot redeem it after that date; if we cannot redeem it we cannot get paid so we cannot offer the service after the voucher expiry date.
  • Before the voucher gets redeemed, even if the voucher has our company name on it, the transaction is between the client and Groupon; once it has been redeemed then the client should be dealing with the company itself unless they think there is a breach of contract and they should in that case report the company to Groupon for investigation.
  • In our case many of the therapies we offer via Groupon are offered by a selected team of massage therapists, which can be different every time; each redeemed voucher gets assigned to the most suitable therapist for the type of therapy requested and the preferred time of the appointment.
  • Some of our practitioners work mornings, other afternoon and other evenings or week ends and they are all busy dealing with their regular clients.  For this reason some vouchers can be redeemed within days while others might require weeks, exactly in the same way as you were calling us to arrange an appointment for a specific treatment with a specific practitioner.
  • Our company is offering the exact level of service for Groupon deals that we would offer when paying full price for a treatment.  This is both because of our strong code of ethics as well as because this is a standard requirement from Groupon.
  • Our latest deals always have the “new customers only” condition: this is to indicate that JUST NEW CUSTOMERS should buy these deals, to help them finding our clinic and appreciate our super skilled and professional practitioners as well as our cosy therapy rooms and our friendly customer service.
  • All of our deals have a 48 hours cancellation notice; if you change or cancel your appointment with less than 48 hours or, much worse, you don’t turn up for your appointment you lose your deal with no possibility of rebooking.

Groupon works very well for any business that would like extra exposure to a particularly located demographic; it’s well organised and with high level of professionalism which makes it a great partner to work with.

Addressing the Glorified Hobby Syndrome

Massimo GaetaniI cannot imagine of anyone working in a factory or as a sales assistant in a shop and define what they do a hobby.  It is also very unlikely you will ever hear a doctor, a solicitor or an architect describing their job as a hobby.  However there are activities that can be carried out as a hobby as well as a profession.  Many artistic disciplines like photography or painting fall into this category and can be considered hobbies by many individuals including myself but they are also providing a living for many professional photographers and painters.

In the complementary health industry I have met many people that have decided to learn one or more therapies, mostly with the intent of helping people around them and often inspired by a need of helping themselves in the first place.  Once one knows how to deliver professional massages or reflexology it becomes second nature to offer these skills to friends and family.  Depending on the personal network of the individual this activity could spread more or less rapidly across a number of people and often make some money in the process.  This is the moment where many people, having made a few hundreds or thousands of pounds, naturally think that they can make a living out of their therapeutic work.

Unfortunately though many people get caught in what I will call in this post the glorified hobby syndrome (that I will refer later as GHS, it’s not a real disease but it truly affects many people) and I will explain here what I mean.    As it was previously discussed on this blog it is well possible to make a living out of therapy and other complementary health practices; this is just if all aspects of running the business are managed correctly.

Compared to manual labour or skilled office employment, paid at market value, complementary health professions can offer much higher hourly remunerations.  At the time of writing this I know many complementary health practitioners charging between several tens to even hundreds of pounds per hours; that can encourage many individuals to think that they can make a great living working just a few hours per week but they are often too optimistic about the time it will take for their business to be self sustaining.  At this point many of them get affected by GHS.

Typical symptoms of the GHS are:

  • Lack of a business and marketing plan, working “as much as I can”
  • Constant feeling of being start-up mode (low income, no budget for typical business expenditures like marketing, assets, premises, constant feeling of working hard but without consistent results)
  • Being busy with life and working in the spare time
  • Being ok with having 1-3 one hour sessions per week, after 6 or longer months they are in business
  • Complaining about the above but, as money is not too much of an issue (having savings in the bank, other incomes, a partner that provides for them), lacking the determination to take serious actions

Having spoken and worked with hundreds of practitioners over the last few years I can now spot people affected by GHS within minutes into a conversation or often by having a look at their website or various social media profile.

Given my job and position I very often challenge practitioner that would like to join our team.  When I feel that someone is affected by GHS and will not be willing to work toward the development of a self sustaining complementary health practice I simply ask how they are going to develop their business.  Treating GHS can be simple and it follows a holistic approach similar the ones used to address other common psychological disorders like phobias or addictions.  We work together to:

  • Agree that GHS is there and it’s negatively ruling their business
  • Agree what will be done to avoid GHS and when
  • Keep them accountable for the actions we agreed and make sure they deliver positive outcome

If you are in complementary health and consider it your main source of income ask yourself whether you are affected, even mildly, by GHS.  By working at Salus Wellness you will be challenged to a point that you feel just a strong urgency to transform your business and create a truly and complete self sustaining practice.