I visited a massage school this week, to speak to a group of future therapists about business and marketing. If you remember back to when you were in school, you were so excited to learn and practice the new techniques that your favorite teachers were teaching you. But you were probably not so enthused about learning business skills, because you either thought you already understood what it takes to run a business, or you thought you would have plenty of time after graduation to figure that stuff out. However, so many practitioners are often under-informed and fail before they even have a plan. As I shared with those students, I have had many, many discussions with practitioners and employers and there are commonly two reasons that practitioners do not stay in the field for very long:
- Lack of sufficient self-care (i.e. they hurt themselves or burnout).
- Lack of professional skills (i.e. they cannot successfully communicate the benefits of their practice to clients or potential clients, they do not maintain the discipline and professional skills and behaviors required of a healthcare provider, they do not create a budget and a plan and end up doing things haphazardly, or they are too impersonal with their promotional activities).
Lack of sufficient therapeutic skills is not on the list. Now, I am not suggesting that we ignore our technical skills, as we always need to investigate the best ways to help our clients. But we must also focus on the professional skill sets that keep those clients coming.Since your initial education, I’m sure you, like the hundreds of practitioners I have interviewed, have a new appreciation for the professional skills it takes to build a successful practice. I shared my Three P’s for practice-building success with the students I visited the other day, and thought I would also share them here with you.
- Care about the people in your community. Spend time getting to know people and building relationships.
- Build rapport with everyone you meet. Notice I did not say, promote your practice to everyone you meet. Simply connect and create a comfortable environment that sets people at ease.
- Ask questions! If you do not take interest in the people around you, believe me, they will not be interested in you.
- Be ready to demonstrate your credibility. When people ask what you do, don’t tell them the “what” first! It’s a common question people ask, but they don’t actually care what you do. So, tell them how you help people and why you do it (e.g. I provide pain-relieving therapies because I want to help people who suffer from headaches). Then, if they seem interested, you can tell them what you actually do (i.e. what techniques you use), although that’s rarely necessary until they become a client.
- Help clients feel comfortable in your office and on your treatment table by practicing excellent communication skills. Answer questions and explain yourself specifically. Tell them why you are choosing to use particular therapies, based on your intake and assessments. Tell them what they can expect from your treatments.
- Document detailed client intake, assessments, and treatments.
- Provide exceptional customer service, to keep clients coming back.
- Create a schedule that will work long-term. Maintain the discipline to stick to the schedule you create for yourself. Include ample time for promotional activities.
- Make sure self-care is a priority on your schedule. Learn good body mechanics. Learn exercises for building stamina and staying in shape.
- Set goals and create practical action items to achieve them.
- Know your personal as well as your business budgets. Know how many clients you need to break even (just to pay the business bills), how many more clients you need to meet your personal financial needs, and how many more clients you need to reach your goals.
- Create policies and documentation that help you stick to your schedule and your budget.
- Know your local laws and regulations, and maintain a legal and ethical practice.
- Know your mission and purpose, and ensure every decision you make is in line with them.
- Create basic tools for promoting your practice: business cards and a website.
- As soon as you can, create other necessary promotional tools: brochures, client handouts, letterhead, gift certificates, social media profiles, postcards, etc.
- Find local opportunities to talk to people. Connect with clubs and groups that fit your ideal client persona. This may require you to get comfortable with public speaking.
- Make your promotional activities personal. Invite people to you to get to know who you are. Have open houses and social events at your practice location.
- Attend local events. Volunteer, if it fits your mission and purpose.
- Ask your best clients to help! Tell them you are accepting new clients. Give them promotional materials to hand out. Tell them that you intend to be available to them for a long time, and that requires a busy, successful practice. Assure them that they will always have a spot on your schedule!
- If you are an employee, be available to your place of employment for promotional activities, in addition to your treatment availability. Promoting your employer’s business promotes you.
What other business advice would you give to future therapists?