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Building a Thriving Complementary Practice

by Bernadette Doyle(more info)

listed in clinical practice, originally published in issue 87 - April 2003

It's estimated that up to 80% of complementary practitioners who have qualified in their chosen field never earn a full time income from their work – and yet demand for complementary health treatments is increasing all the time. At the time of writing, 250,000 complementary treatments are given each week in the UK, and that number is growing. So if your practice isn't thriving in the way you would like, it's time to take a look at steps you could be taking to attract more clients with ease.

Taking a Stand in the Marketplace

The best way to attract clients is to show up and shine! Take a stand in the marketplace. Let the world know what you have to offer and wait for the people who need your help to find you. Easy right? Well on paper maybe, but putting that into practice in the real world is easier said than done. In the time that we've been helping complementary health practitioners to attract more clients we have noticed that many practitioners suffer from agoraphobia. By that we don't mean fear of open spaces in the clinical sense. 'Agora' means the marketplace – and fear of the marketplace is very common amongst complementary therapists. When you qualified in your field and thought about taking your skills to the marketplace, how did you feel? Enthusiastic? Motivated? Keen to pass on what you had learned? Or did you feel unsure? Reluctant? Did the whole idea of having to sell and market yourself fill you with dread? Were you hoping that someone else would come along and do it for you? Or were you keeping your fingers crossed and hoping that your practice would fill up via word of mouth?

This uncertainty is something that needs to be addressed head on. We have found that it isn't just uncertainty about what to put in a brochure that holds people back, but also an underlying lack of confidence about the value you truly bring.

You need to recognize that the value you offer doesn't just come from your qualifications. It comes from you. You do have a valuable service to offer. Think about your best clients. Why do they work with you? How have you helped them? What have you done for them? How have you made their lives easier? What would they tell us about you if we were to sit down with them and enquire what they had gained from your relationship?

Now do you really think all that is by chance – a lucky accident? Or could it – just possibly – have something to do with your skills, your experience, and the value you bring just by being you.

Communicate Your Results, Not Just Your Qualifications

We understand that in the time you have been marketing yourself and your services, you may have encountered apathy, indifference and possibly even outright rejection. For some people, these past responses have led to misunderstandings about the value you have to offer. What you need to realize is that where you have encountered resistance or indifference in the past, it wasn't because there is no value in what you have to offer, it will have been because of how you expressed what you had to offer.

Chances are you've been describing what you do, rather than the results you deliver. By that we mean the problems you can help people solve, or the goals you can help them achieve. It's time to recognize your value, start communicating the results you can deliver, and don't be shy about it! As a very good friend once said : "It's not bragging if you can do it"!

One way to start is by describing the types of people you help. Complete this sentence: "I help people who have a problem with..." Focus on a niche. Don't try to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. You will be most compelling and magnetic in your marketing when you can visualize the type of customer you are trying to reach. Their gender, age, lifestyle, the problems they have, their dreams and wishes, their hopes and fears. When you focus on a specific type of customer, creating a brochure becomes easy, because you just speak honestly and directly to that one person. If you are trying to reach and please everyone in your marketing, you dilute your appeal and your impact. Many people are reluctant to specialize because they fear that they would miss out on opportunities. In our experience the opposite is true. When you have the courage to take a stand and focus on a specific area those people in the world who need your help will respond to you. For an example of this, compare these two headlines. 'Aromatherapy! For all ages. Young and Old. Aromatherapy can help alleviate a wide range of ailments.' 'Having trouble sleeping? Here's a drug free way to help you get a good night's sleep.' The first headline is trying to appeal to everyone and therefore does not directly appeal to anyone. The second example focuses on a specific problem: sleepless nights, and will therefore get the attention of anyone suffering from insomnia.

If you are still reluctant to specialize, here's something else to consider. Even as you read this, there are people in the world who are struggling with problems that you can help them solve. Specializing in the marketplace is the equivalent of turning on the light in a lighthouse. It helps people the people in the world who need your help to find you.

Business Is Personal

Whatever is going on in your business is a reflection of what is going inside you. Unless we clear the blocks to achieving our goals that we hold within ourselves, then it is either going to be an uphill struggle all the way, a stop-start business, a failing business or a success which we are unable to sustain or really enjoy. Money may come flying in but it goes flying out too. A call to do some serious inner work is pretty well certain if you feel you are doing everything right but somehow there is an invisible wall between you and your dream. Or you find it difficult to get things done – even the simplest things. These are blocks.

The nature of the 'inner block' is a combination of hidden beliefs which are literally stopping your success story from unfolding gracefully. Don't worry, you are not alone, we all do it. Let's say you have hidden judgements on successful people? "What me!" you may say. But check it out. Is it possible that somewhere in your mind you judge successful people as maybe 'sly', 'on the make' or just 'selfish'. You are hardly going to want to count yourself among them, so as success approaches you will sabotage it. Or maybe you think money is not 'clean'. Or, if you carry a lot of guilt, you will forbid your own happy story taking place – obviously. So unless we are willing to explore ourselves and our own true feelings we cannot clear these blocks. It takes courage and willingness, but when we do, the next level of success surely beckons! We see this time and time again. Our business is a mirror to us. And because business relates to our masculine side, very often our relationships with our fathers are a key relationship. Any problems here will very often show up in the success of the business or practice. Work on that relationship will bear fruit in the business. Uncanny but true.

So be curious, creative and think laterally about what is going on. If a client cancels, maybe that was what you wanted or thought you deserved. Be responsive to events, be willing to be accountable and get to the point of power where you realize that as you truly change your mind, your business will change too. Once you get into these transformational, even miraculous principles, it's actually great fun.

It Doesn't Have to be a Struggle

Traditionally we've been told that creating a thriving practice is about hard work and effort. Searching for clients; convincing them that you have what they need; proving that you are better than the competition; spending money on brochures and advertising. It's about hard work, persistence and the battle of the fittest. In contrast, our approach is about ease. It means attracting people to you, and then facilitating them through the process of deciding whether you are right for each other.

We urge you to give up scrambling and competing for business in overcrowded market places, and take a stand in such a way that you draw and attract your ideal clients and projects to you. So the first step is to make that decision. For many of us, it's easier said than done. Even though many of us are tired of struggle, tired of wondering where the next clients will come from, tired of earning less than we deserve, many of us are still unwilling to give up doing things the hard way. Why? Because the 'old way' works just enough to convince us that it's worth sticking with. Even a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day! Most of us have been brainwashed into believing that success would come if only we could motivate ourselves to work that bit harder than everyone else who was competing for the same prize. So we either work hard and get burned out, r we don't work hard and feel guilty for being lazy! Too many of us are still attached to the outdated belief that success comes from a result of hard work. Are you willing to give up doing things the hard way? Are you willing to start attracting success rather than striving for it?

Having a thriving practice doesn't have to be about effort and struggle and hard work. It can be as easy as you choose it to be. You can hunt and chase and compete if you want to, or you can make life much easier for yourself. We want you to realize that success isn't something you have to strive for. It's something you allow.

You Can Market Yourself With Integrity

You may have been reluctant to market yourself because 'selling' and 'ethically' aren't words you usually put in the same sentence. Perhaps you feel that if you became 'too commercial' you would somehow lose the heart and spirit of what you offer. Just about all of us have had the experience of being on the receiving end of pushy sales or advertising techniques and the last thing we want is for people to see us like that. The trouble is, in our eagerness to avoid coming across as too 'salesy', many of us go to the other extreme and find it difficult to describe the genuine value we bring. Or we avoid selling and marketing activity altogether, telling ourselves that we would prefer to have our business grow by word of mouth and recommendation, even if it takes years.

Yes it's true that there is a lot of manipulative advertising in the world, but that doesn't mean that your brochure or advertising has to be like that. You can market yourself with integrity. The fact that there is manipulative marketing out there at the moment is precisely the reason why more of us need to get into the marketplace and be examples of integrity. Avoiding the marketplace, or considering yourself superior to it does nobody any favours.

Remember, there are people in the world who need your help, but right now they haven't even heard of you because you haven't taken the time to attract their attention and speak to them in their language. Think of your brochure as a letter to that person you haven't yet met, but you know needs your help. Speak to them directly. Let them know that you understand what they are going through, and show them you may have a solution.

To build a thriving practice you don't need gimmicks, and you don't need hype. But you do need the courage to recognize that you do make a difference, that there are people in the world that need your help and that they will be better off as a result of finding you. Some people are reluctant to do that because they think it's arrogant. But which is more arrogant? Being honest about your true talents and gifts? Or staying small, resenting the fact that no-one values you, complaining that the world is unfair because you think you can't do what you love and be well rewarded.

We believe that you are someone who is driven by an urge to contribute and make a difference. You deserve to succeed. The suggestions we have made in this article will only work when you have decided that you deserve to succeed. Are you willing to make that choice? Are you willing to make those clients who need you more important than your fears? Think of all the people out there who won't get helped if you stay hiding in the shadows. For their sake and yours, it's time to claim the success that you truly deserve.


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About Bernadette Doyle

Bernadette Doyle and David Peet have created Healthy Business for complementary practitioners and therapists who want to create a thriving and prosperous practice. For a free information pack on Healthy Business Tel: 0800 652 7784. They can be reached on

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