Practitioners and the perpetual student syndrome

Massimo GaetaniI will define the perpetual student syndrome as the tendency for some professionals to go for new courses and specialisations every time they struggle to get new clients.  They end up within not too long with more qualification than they can possibly list in a single sentence and yet they are surprised that, despite their wealth of qualifications, they struggle to get enough work.  I will analyse in this post how and why it happens and how it can be avoided.

Having spent over 10 years marketing machinery and devices for factory automation I often noticed how many sales people tend to blame their product/service when they cannot sell them; customers are often looking for something which is different, better, cheaper, faster than what’s available.  It’s easy to justify customers’ requests and looking for another product or service than blame themselves for the lack of skill or determination in selling what’s available.

The same principle applies to some of the practitioners I have met. Many of them specialise initially in one treatment, e.g. Swedish massage, and then they follow it up by sports, deep tissue and various others; alternatively an initial hypnotherapy course is followed by NLP or coaching.  In some cases I even saw people with a fair amount of experience in physical therapies to learn talking therapies or vice versa.  This is can be defined growing their skills horizontally rather than further improve their core skill and growing vertically (e.g. being the best hypnotherapist in town who helps with weight loss).  Biggest downside of a horizontal growth is that they often need to rebrand themselves or market the new skill in a different way to what they are used to.

There is an obvious minimum level of qualification and specialisation which is necessary to enable you to work; you cannot practice unless you have a relevant and valid qualification for what you practice.  It could be the case than one extra specialisation can enable you to broaden the number of issues you can treat and, therefore, the number of clients you can see.  On the other hand the incremental benefit of the latest specialisation will be less and less in terms of ROI.

A solution to the perpetual student syndrome is to grow vertically into your profession by specializing what you offer and what you treat to your possible best rather than horizontally into new treatments which might just seem interesting but, likely, will not any easier to market neither more remunerative.

A few tips about leafleting

LaeftletsIn a world where social media has literally transformed the way we (should) market our businesses we can still find many businesses who embark in traditional marketing exercises; good news is that  some of them, if well executed, still work.  This post will briefly discuss leafleting, a form of advertising and promotion which can be used effectively for certain complementary health practices.

By leafleting I mean the design, print and distribution of leaflets into households within a specified geographic area.  Leafleting is particularly effective for a local business interested in reaching out to a well defined local community.  We are here considering an indiscriminate dropping to all household in a particular area rather than posting to a mailing list which will be discussed in a different post.

Leafleting can work well if you can assume that at least one person in each house can be interested in what you are offering: e.g. massage and other wellbeing treatments can lead to successful campaigns.  Hypnotherapy for weight loss and smoking cessation can also work well; very niche treatments for phobias, on the other hand, might not apply to enough people.

There are three essential functions for a leafleting campaign:

  • Announcing something: opening of a new business, changing of management for an existing business, arrival of a new therapist and so on;
  • Running a promotion: money off your next treatment, get three treatments for the price of two and so on;
  • Raise awareness and branding: let people know you exist and they might decide to contact you or buying from you when they have the opportunity.

Each of the above function will have an impact on the message that the leaflet will have to deliver.  In order to maximise the possible return on investment here are the main tips about a creating a successful leafleting campaign.  They are the results of many campaigns run by our clinic directly as well as on behalf of our practitioners:

  1. Decide very accurately the function for the leaflet from the list above and execute on one function only.
  2. Adopt a format which is compact and efficient: A6 (kind of post card), A5 or 1/3 of A4
  3. Have a professional design which uses your colours (from your logo and company image) and your typefaces.
  4. Have a message which is captivating and with a clear call to action: e.g. “call our office” or “Email us” or “go to this website and register”.
  5. If you are running a promotion make sure to have a time limit to instil urgency.
  6. Have the leaflets printed professionally on good quality paper; first impression does matter.
  7. Deliver a minimum of 3000 leaflets per run and run at least 3 deliveries in the same area; there a number of options to deliver the leaflets: you can do it yourself and do some exercise or contact a reliable company which will do it for you. It is essential you have very clear where you want them distributed and have a way to check and measure that they effectively delivered.
  8. Measure results and success of your campaign: in general between 3 and 5 inquiries per 1000 leaflets dropped are considered a successful campaign; anything above that is outstanding. Inquiries will likely arrive within very few days from delivery although sometimes people will save it for later.

Leaflets have a very short life, usually the time from the front door where they fall to the closest bin. When I initially considered them as a marketing tool it came natural to me thinking that they have little chance to deliver their message and they are a waste of paper and they do pollute indeed.  On the other hand a successful campaign which delivers 10,000 leaflets and converts to just 30 clients will generate, if you charge £40 per session, £1,200 of immediate new business with 5-10 of these new clients that might come back more than once.  By budgeting £300-400 for a batch of 10,000 leaflets you can make a net profit of around £800 per campaign with the advantage of reaching out to clients you would not connect to otherwise.

Organising workshops and other speaking gigs

Massimo GaetaniPublic speaking is a great way to share knowledge with a group of people and it helps to demonstrate your expertise in a particular field or sector.  Practitioners in Complementary Health, particularly the ones offering voice therapy, can use public speaking as a very effective marketing tool.  Many of the targeted audience at the gig may appreciate the speaker’s expertise and often engage in one-to-one projects.

Speaking at an event organised by others allows a first timer to concentrate on delivering quality content without the need of getting involved the whole logistic of the organisation. I would suggest anyone interested in testing their speaking skills to explore which events could accommodate the topic they would like to showcase.

Often I get asked by our practitioners how to organise an event and I decided to write this post in order to create a simple guide to follow.

The three most important things about organising a speaking event are:

  1. People
  2. People and…
  3. …yes you guessed right: People

In my experience it’s relatively straightforward to take care of all other aspects of the event which we will see below but if the event has no attendance it will have negative effects on both your wallet and self-confidence.  Please take this into account and appreciate the importance of having the audience you expect when you get to the promotion of the event.  Below I will go through the key aspects of organising your event.

Type of event

There are obvious many different events you can organise but for simplicity I will stick to the two most suitable for the sector we are in:

  • Lecture, where you will discuss a topic which should be relevant to your audience; the presentation will be eventually followed by Q&A where people can ask you pertinent questions and you have the opportunity to further showcase your knowledge;
  • Workshop, where you have a more interactive approach and a higher involvement of the audience since the beginning and throughout the duration of the event.

Venue

A suitable venue for your event will have a strong influence on its success so chose adequately. It’s essential to decide how much space you will need which is directly proportional to the number of people you are planning to have and depending on the event you organise:

  • lectures can have the audience organised like a theatre with rows of seats while
  • workshops will work better using a cabaret layout (these are the technical terms which venue owners will be familiar with) where you have tables spread across the venue

Cabaret suits well a long event where a lunch break is included while lectures will work better for a separate are area where refreshments are served.

It’s important to remember that too many people cramped in a small venue will make everybody uncomfortable; on the other hand a large room with just a few people will look like an unsubscribed (a.k.a. unsuccessful) event.

Depending on where you are based there might be lots of possible venues available in hotels, business centres, conference centre, community centres and so on.  Some of them will let their venue by the hour others by the half day or day.  Be prepared to inquire exactly what you need and have a budget in mind.  Also some venues might want to charge you a booking fee or to pay in advance for the booking, with little or no negotiation on cancellations or change of date.  I would always try to pay on the day of the event or after, ensuring that a cancellation doesn’t incur in charges if done by a certain cut-off date.  This is the date when you will get charged if the event gets cancelled. Things can go wrong for a number of reasons and, ideally, you do not want to pay for an event you are not going to run.

Duration

A lecture can last up to a few hours, a workshop even an entire day or multiple days.  You must have very clear in your mind the format and the content when deciding duration as attendees will plan their day around your event.

Date and notice

It is important that you chose a date a time that suits your audience; if you’d like to attract office employees then an evening or weekend will work better than on a Tues morning.  If your audience are likely to be mums then take into account the school run timings.  Once taken into account the above go ahead and chose a date which is not clashing with other similar events in your area as it might impact on your audience.  When organising a new event I would suggest giving between 2 and 3 months’ notice to allow proper promotion and distribution of invites.

Tickets and bookings

Whether you decide to charge for your event or offer it for free it is very important that attendees take it very seriously.  I suggest automating the ticket and booking process by using an automated system.  I personally use Eventbrite which is free for free events and will charge a small commission if you want to use it to sell tickets.  Eventbrite can be quite daunting the first times you use it but it’s really great.  Just make sure you have handy all key information about the event and they all have a place within Eventbrite.  Make sure to fill up important details like cancellation policies and ensure that booking doesn’t end on the day of your event.  You must have a bit of time for yourself to prepare material and to decide eventual last minute manoeuvres. Once you created an event and you have a URL for it you can then go ahead with the promotion.

Promotion

There are many different ways to promote an event; traditional marketing will suggest having posters hanged up in relevant places and small flyers can be printed and distributed.  If you have a list of relevant contacts you can Email them an invitation with the URL of the event you created in Eventbrite.  If you have lots of followers on relevant social networks like Facebook or Twitter you can also use those.  It is essential that you spend a substantial part of your time and energy promoting the event and you mention it to everybody you know, whether they are part of your target audience or not.

Minimum attendance and cut out date

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph having an audience is essential for your event to work.  You might have done everything correctly in order to prepare the event but you realise that there are just 3 people out of 20 expected (or 15 out of 50) a few days before the event.  In my opinion is best to cancel the event and refund the money (Eventbrite will issue full refunds without even charging their commission) rather than having a much undersubscribed event.  Your decision should be taken before

Delivering the event

I have to trust you know what you are talking about if you decide to organise a speaking gig.  Please make sure to be at the venue quite a few minutes earlier to setup and be ready; early birds always happen at every event and it could be quite disappointing for them to find out they are there before you.  Another important thing is to make sure you finish exactly on time so that people with tight time constraints or relying on public transport can leave without feeling that they are missing out.  At the same time remember to have enough time to hang around as several people might want to ask you something which they preferred not to share with others in the Q&A section.

Make sure you carry several spare pens and notebooks as many people forget that taking notes could be useful.

Event’s exclusive offer

Your own event offers a unique opportunity of speaking to people who are interested in you and in the topic you are discussing.  Once you have their attention it makes sense to offer them something extra which could be sold at a promotional price.  This would usually apply to other workshop or one-to-one work.

Collect feedback

While people are at your event they have very clear in mind what just happened.  Take this opportunity to distribute a short questionnaire that can collect key information about how the whole experience was for them.  You can always do this later but the success rate, both in terms of number of people replying and the quality of their content, will be lower.

Follow up

A few days after the event send a message where you thank your audience.  This will keep the conversation alive while it might give you an extra opportunity for those people who did not take the opportunity to buy extra services from you at the end of the event.

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.

Website

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 “.co.uk” 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 “.co.uk”. 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 “.co.uk” 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.

Leaflets

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.