Some high-value, easy to follow steps for the self-employed therapist.
1. Know where you want to end up
Without a clear idea of what you wish to achieve, your therapy practice remains (at best) an expensive but fulfilling hobby and (at worst) a costly waste of time.
Many people are hesitant to set goals for fear of failure, looking foolish or being disappointed. I’m not necessarily advocating goal setting per se, but you do need to know what’s important to you and what you wish to achieve.
Some simple goals you could use to guide the direction of your therapy practice are, for example:
- 2x new clients per week.
- 7x therapy sessions per week.
- Increase repeat business from an average of 5 sessions per client to 9 sessions per client.
- Take a 2 week holiday away from seeing clients in July.
- Decrease advertising spend by 20%.
- Reduce home visits by a quarter to reduce travelling time.
Ask the question, “What is the single biggest obstacle holding back the growth of my practice?”
Come up with your own goals. Use the ones above as good ideas and add to them, or adjust where necessary. Start with 3 or 4 to give you some idea of what’s important and where you’re headed. Remember, each statement needs to be ‘S.M.A.R.T’ – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely.
2. Your customers are your most important asset
You cannot practice therapy without clients. And the clients you do see obviously feel that you provide enough value to pay for your time and to (hopefully) return for future sessions.
But my questions to you is… do you actually know what benefits they receive and what solutions you offer? (instead of just assuming that you know or trusting what your college told you).
It’s vital for the survival of your therapy practice that you find out. Here’s how:
Regularly follow up and directly ask your clients for feedback. This can be done by survey or questionnaire, either periodically or at the end of the overall therapeutic encounter (the frequency and way of doing this will vary on the type of therapy you offer – use good judgment and discretion).
Important questions to cover are:
- What was the major thing that therapy helped you with?
- What was your original reason for attending?
- How would you explain the benefits to someone else?
- Would you recommend my services to others?
It’s important to capture the answers as verbatim as possible in their own language, building up a rich picture of the clients’ most fundamental needs and wants.
Remember to pay particular attention to how you go about asking these questions. An unannounced survey in the post without a self-addressed and stamped envelope may be unwelcome. It may be better, for example, to set expectations up-front that a brief Q&A is held periodically to ensure a high standard of care and that an additional 15 minutes is added to the normal session length to account for this (with their express consent of course).
3. Solicit testimonials
It’s fair to say that personal recommendations and other anecdotal remarks have a powerful impact and are highly regarded by those who read them. I’m not entirely sure why, except to say I think it’s to do with basic human nature. Having testimonials is an absolute must for any self-employed individual.
Gathering testimonials should be a relatively simple and straightforward affair once you have clients who are genuinely positive about the help they have received.
However, the full implications of the following decisions need careful consideration before you decide to continue…
- What (if any) personal details you intend to share alongside the testimonial. (eg. name, location, contact details, photo)
- Where and when you intend to share the testimonial. (eg. print media, website, email campaigns, newsletters)
- Whether the client is happy for their details to be disclosed to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) if the testimonial needs to be verified as true and accurate.
It’s best to make personal contact first when approaching your genuinely happy client so that you can visually gauge their response to the suggestion and explain the full implications of the decisions above (remembering that you are already in a position of perceived power as the ‘therapist’).
If you both choose to proceed, confirm what was discussed in writing and have them send through a formal reply – you need a clear record for yourself and any ASA enquiries.
Here’s an example. This is an actual quote from one of my craniosacral therapy clients which I use on my website:
“I found all sessions with Frank really beneficial both physically and emotionally. Appointments were relaxing, invigorating and wonderfully supportive. I often walked away with a renewed sense of calm and restored objectivity. I continue to benefit weeks later. I’d certainly recommend Frank’s work to others.”
Please note: I do know there is debate in some circles regarding the use of testimonials and their impact on the therapeutic frame and transference matters. Do your own due diligence and research (contact your professional association?) before deciding whether the use of testimonials are ethical and appropriate in your personal circumstance.
4. Identify what is blocking new clients
I know I have already espoused the benefits of collecting feedback from current clients, but unfortunately that is not enough. You need to also work out why people who have previously enquired never made an appointment, or worse, why there was a ‘no show’ or a regular client that just stopped coming one day (this approach partly flies in the face of some therapeutic approaches that believe in leaving the setting completely ‘open’, but it is vital to find out from the perspective of running a profitable practice).
In a nutshell, you need to hunt down enough of these previous leads or clients and ask them enough questions until some consistent themes emerge (which you can then begin to address).
And because no one likes to be bothered, especially people who have previously declined your services, it’s likely you will need to offer them an incentive for spending time helping you now.
Here are a few ideas to get your creative thinking mind engaged:
- Offer free stuff of value. (eg. instructions on how to meditate, guided relaxation recording which they can download and listen to, free Amazon gift voucher)
- Offer to make a small donation to charity.
- Offer a reduced price or free trial for an alternative service. (negotiate favourable terms with another supplier)
- Ask them how best to reward them for their time!
Some questions to cover are:
- What initially attracted you to my services?
- What did you hope I could help with?
- Was there anything I did which put you off from making an appointment/returning?
- What could I do differently to change your mind?
5. Finding your ‘perfect’ client
The previous 4 steps all lead here, to the ultimate finale namely the correct identification of, and appropriate communication with your perfect client.
Given the intense competition these days, it’s even more important to accurately reach and talk to those people who will actually use/pay for your therapy services.
Example: It’s not enough as a yoga teacher to assume that “everyone is stressed”, so “the entire world is my market place”. That may indeed be true, but it’s far better, for example, to take the view that some yoga styles are great for muscular tightness in the lower back and then approach local gyms to offer appropriate classes as an integrated part of their physiotherapy program.
Using the feedback gathered in the previous steps, use your newfound knowledge of client needs and wants, testimonials and the reasons why people keep returning to write very specific and targeted marketing copy. Use the exact words, phrases and sentences you have captured in the feedback to cover each of the following points in order:
- Describe what your perfect clients are currently experiencing (from THEIR point of view)
- Write about your qualifications and how this training can help them
- Explain how your service can help solve or alleviate THEIR problem
- Describe the benefits (as the client will experience them)
Here’s an example. I came up with the following for my Craniosacral therapy practice:
Not feeling yourself lately? I am seeking people who feel ungrounded, out-of-balance or just pressurised by life; and/or who would just like to further their own personal development and growth. Often it’s as simple as feeling not quite “right” or fully present in life.
Craniosacral Therapy uses a light touch to bring a gentle awareness to areas of physical tension and emotional holding stored in the body. Many conditions can respond positively since Craniosacral Therapy promotes deep relaxation to improve the functioning of the whole body.
This is a wonderful opportunity to experience this powerful therapy.
* Feel more balanced and grounded
* Process previous events and memories
* Better handle your current situation
Next, start replacing your existing literature and conversations with this new format. Pad it out or trim it down depending on the context in which you are communicating. Only spend time focusing on the places you think your perfect client: works, relaxes, socialises, hangs out, reads and interacts.
As you begin to make these changes, keep track of your progress and refer back to the goals developed in Step 1 so you can review and adjust course as necessary.
What I’ve written here is a complete, but small extract of what I use when sitting down face-to-face with therapists to help them improve their business success and meet their goals in a person centred, holistic manner.
I’m interested in hearing your experience of putting these 5 steps into action, please do contact me and share your story. I’d be glad to hear how you get on.
Ask any project manager about the key to their success, and they will say that delivering a project is often more like a "dark art" or by chance, than a predictable science.