Hints and tips for newbies and prospective practitioners

Massimo GaetaniThe majority of enquiries from practitioners interested in working at our clinic in Cambridge can be grouped into 4 main categories:

  • Experienced practitioners working for the NHS who decide to go private, either part or full time
  • Experienced practitioners working at other clinics who appreciate the free business and marketing support they can get at Salus Wellness
  • Experienced practitioners who have built up a home based practice and decide to take it to a higher level by working from a professional establishment
  • Experienced practitioners with an established practice in another town interested in creating a presence for themselves in Cambridge

To the best of my knowledge we are the only clinic in Cambridge with a clearly stated work with us page and we invest a substantial amount of time and resources to help our practitioners to learn how to grow their own practice.

This is the main reason why we have recently been receiving several enquiries from people who have literally just qualified or even from some who are months away from qualifying. All colleges and institutions teaching complementary health are offering some kind of marketing preparation in some shape or form.  Very often information is delivered as just a few hours of tuition and perhaps a booklet with little substance about the real details and intricacies of running your own business.

So here are my tips about starting your private practice:

  • Failing to plan is planning to fail. Have a plan in terms of how many clients you are going to see and how much you will charge, check what the common price is for your market in your geographical area; if you need a simple idea about how to plan your numbers check this post
  • Define a precise marketing image for your practice. Will you work with your own name or with a different brand? Once decided you need to go ahead and prepare and get ready with your marketing material; the essentials are discussed in this post; remember that everything takes a long time to develop, usually longer than you expect so if you wait until you are qualified you will have weeks or months of delays before your marketing material is as ready as you are
  • Find a place to practice; some people assume that working from home is a good idea but you are exposing yourself and family to lots of strangers.  Be aware that the journey to self-sustainability for your practice will take time, as I wrote in this post; therefore it’s best to find a place that will not cost a fortune when you start but also will not charge a large percentage of your income when you become successful
  • Be ready to face fast times, slow times, stressful times and again and again; starting your own private practice is effectively like starting any other business. Just months or years of consistent and good quality work will ensure the complete establishment of your practice.

Having done lots of mentoring work with start-ups, I often remind them that most projects will take twice as long, cost twice as much and will generate about half of the revenue you calculated in your initial forecast.  It is easy to be optimistic about our own plans but when they don’t work we feel very frustrated.  So it’s a good idea to have a plan, perhaps using a scheme I previously described above and be realistic/pessimistic about expected outcomes.  If we can be of any extra help please contact us via our standard phone numbers and email addresses.

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.