In so many ways I had the wrong expectations when I started. Had anybody told me a few very simple things, it would have saved alot of heartache. So here's 10 things I wish I'd been told.
1. You’re not in business just by having a skill or qualification, you’re only in business when you have clients to use those skills with!
I thought I was ready on day one. I so wasn’t!
I had no idea how to find enough clients to be able to afford to continue. 90% of the work at the start, is finding clients. That changes as we go, and done well, once the business takes off, it only takes 5-10% of the job to stay busy, but I was not prepared for how much I had to learn at the start.
Marketing works differently for us in wellness than for retail and industry. I had a background in marketing in traditional ways and it was useless to me.
It’s a totally different paying field where we need to be more about informing and educating rather than selling. Knowing that would have saved me years of effort and five figure sums. It would also have let me help a lot more people in the first few years, as well as being able to earn a better income when it was badly needed just to survive.
2. You’ll have to spend and advertise – clients can’t mind read and just know you’re there.
I had thought that putting up a sign and putting out cards and flyers was all I needed to do at the start. Turns out most people don’t understand any type of therapy or coaching and just referencing qualifications and skillsets misses those who need our help.
I had to keep getting my message out week after week to build success. At first in newspapers where it was about six thousand a year I was spending to be half way to busy. Then when I worked out the psychology of connection and got on Facebook, that dropped to under three hundred a year.
Again, if I’d known then what I know now…
3. Finding clients is a different skill from helping them.
Yes, I was naive. I thought it would be easier to find clients. That expectation caused a lot of sleepless nights and fear.
It turned out it’s not that finding clients is always hard, just that trying to do it from a starting point of no expertise in therapy marketing, is a tough job. Looking around me now most of the therapists I see have been trying for years and years and are still not busy. It’s heart-breaking.
However, they’re all trying to work it out by themselves while trying to earn an income to support their families. Somehow, we all assume that we should start out as expert marketing gurus for this niche.
It’s a separate skill and trying to develop it from scratch by myself cost me dearly. Had someone explained this to me on day one, I would have saved over ten thousand on newspaper advertising alone in the first couple of years.
4. People won’t always tell you when they’re better.
This was a life lesson learned the sharp way. A client with Irritable Bowel Syndrome came to me. We started working and six sessions in I was really worried. No word of any improvement. Was I wasting her time and mine? Was I delivering value for her money?
It was terrifying to ask is this working. But I did. “How’s the IBS at this stage?” and the answer came back: “Oh, that went away after the 1st session!”
Stunned silence. OK this one was on me. I needed to ask more and be less afraid. Easy to see in hindsight but I’m sure I wasn’t the only novice therapist who did that.
5. It’s not your skillset they want, it’s a solution to their problems using those skills.
I offered Hypnotherapy at the start. No one wanted that. They wanted solutions to their challenges in life and didn’t really care what method was used.
Until I spoke about their life experience, they were not interested in my method. We usually get that backwards. Be about the help not the method and life will get easier too.
6. ‘If you’re good you’ll be busy’ is a lie.
Word of mouth is slow to build for most people. In asking hundreds of therapists, it turns out that if you’re moderately busy it takes an average of 3-5 years for word of mouth to make an appreciable contribution to your practice.
Word of mouth only builds when people talk about us. Some things people talk about more easily than others.
Stopping smoking, losing weight, success in sports, better business performance, yoga, etc are all things people talk about more easily.
Depression, anxiety, trauma, abuse, grief, and so on are things people talk about a lot less.
At the start, how good we are has nothing to do with how busy we are. At the start it’s all about finding those initial clients who can spread work of mouth. The most gifted and best trained therapist in the world is just as likely to be empty and stop practicing unless they work out how to get their message out and to connect with people.
So often I hear people trying to encourage others with sentences like this and it’s counterproductive. If we’re not busy it’s more likely about marketing, rather than how good we are. I know great therapists who are poor and struggling for clients, and other marketting-savvy people who are busy, but who I am not sure are getting results.
Busy does not equal good, and good does not equal busy.
7. People will be available when you are working if you give the times you work.
At the start I worked every time clients asked me to work. If someone wanted to see me late on an evening, I went in. If someone wanted to see me early on a weekend I went in.
I was struggling and couldn’t afford to risk losing the work and I wanted to help the person too.
Turns out that when I told people I was not available at unsociable hours, then but gave them time options that suited me, 19 out of every 20 could actually make it in the times that suited me. I had assumed people could only attend at the times they said they wanted to. It left me with no life. No time off, as at any moment I could end up back at work.
It was a huge steady stress that I didn’t notice, but which held me back from getting myself out more effectively to help more people.
8. It’s not all about price. It’s about the help.
When doubting my ability because I was not busy, I thought I needed to be cheaper. It was purely about not enough people knowing about me and understanding what I do that was keeping me empty, but I worried about money and assumed it was a price issue.
Let’s face it, no one will choose to go for something they don’t feel they need just because it’s cheaper than it was before.
Once I was able to get my message to resonate with those who it was right for, then they saw the need and price was not an issue.
It never was, but I imagined it was and started cutting my price. I saw no extra clients, just less work. I helped the same number of people and was now struggling more. It nearly made me stop.
It’s not about the fee. It’s about the value we deliver. That’s where I had to focus to be successful.
9. A lot of people won’t show up, often for good reasons. Plan for it.
There will be kids who get sick, funerals, last minute work demands and more that will all mean people genuinely have to cancel at the last minute. It’s not disrespect, or nastiness, it’s just life.
We must allow for the fact that we need to book in more clients than we need just to keep going.
There are many options. People could pay in advance when they book, we could just accept it will happen, we could have a cancellation policy (though they rarely work), or any other method we like, but simply getting frustrated and not planning for it was a bad move
If I need to see 10 clients to afford to live then I should book in 12 that week to be safe.
10. It is possible to be booked out.
I really didn’t believe I could succeed when starting. I thought I’d always be poor and struggling. It was necessity that pushed me on to being successful.
Planning to pay income taxes was a great motivator It made me sit up and realise I needed to start taking my business seriously.
I realised that my business is a tool that, when I use it well, allows me to help more people and support my family.
If we want a real income, one that we can live on, we need to help enough people to enable us to earn tens of thousands every year. That’s going to take a bit of time and effort. For me the breakthrough was realising the language and psychology that connects with the clients is the most vital thing, and then applying that on Facebook where I could reach people locally at a fraction of the cost of other options.
I only got booked-out and had a waiting list when I pushed for it. Sitting back and waiting for things to ‘take off’ was a choice to fail.
Success is built. I know no-one who just got lucky and was suddenly busy (I’m sure it happens though), but I see a lot of people who put in the work and pushed themselves. (I see a lot more people who work hard to be successful than who get there with little work.)
I hope you’re getting your help out to a lot of people!
Have a great week,
If you’d like the exact strategies, psychology of connection, and post structures that build my waiting list you can find full details of the comprehensive online training HERE
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John Prendergast is an award-winning Success Coach and and Psycho-Trauma Anxiety Therapist.
He is also the Founder of Therapy and Coaching Success that specialises in helping Therapists, Coaches and other Wellness Practitioners, connect with those in need, build their diaries and earn the income they need.
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