Most therapists I know have been at this for years and are still a long way from full.
I know physical therapists with over a decade in practice, who are struggling. I know hypnotherapists of 15 years experience who are nearly empty, I know counsellors and psychotherapists with years in business but few clients and the list goes on.
Here's the honest truth – being busy can be accomplished in a few months.
So, why are most self employed therapists and coaches struggling?
It's simple. How to reach, connect with, and encourage a client to act, is a completely different skill-set from the help we give them.
If you were a jeweler, would you expect that fact to also make you an expert jewelry salesperson?
If you were a gardener would you expect to know straight away how to make a living from your produce?
So, why do we think that just because we know how to help people, that we should somehow magically be experts in marketing our work and running a business?
The reality is that I've yet to meet a therapist or coach who gained those skills as part of their training.
Yet we generally just plod on imagining that somehow it'll all magically become busy for us.
For some reason we ignore the evidence – we do the same things that didn't work last time around, and we do them over and over again as if it was an article of faith.
'I've done new business cards, got new flyers, and made new posters'. How often have you heard that? (or perhaps even said that).
In building a practice to the point of being booked out during a recession I got cards, brochures, and posters done up, put them in the places I found worked best, and refined my message on them in response to the data I got in feedback from clients. Even then just 3 out of every 100 clients that came in, were due to the cards, brochures, and posters.
97 clients came in from other sources than those for every 3 they reached!
So, why do we all go for cards etc? Could it be because they are obvious and easy to think of, and because we don't think that finding clients is a big part of the job?
And what about word of mouth?
'Surely if I do a good job for a few people, they will tell their friends and I'll be busy'?
Really? It largely depends on what you do.
Weight loss, stopping smoking, anything with immediate positive results and which are problems people are not overly shy to talk about, will see word of mouth spread well enough, but still not fast enough to make a big difference for most people.
However, if you help with depression, anxiety, sexual impotence, survivors of abuse etc. these clients will be very slow to tell people about you, and by extension, their problem.
Think about it. Word of mouth requires you to see clients and do a good job. You can only start to get word of mouth, after you already find some clients.
You have to get our message out first to let that begin!
Even then the average time it takes for word of mouth to build to be an appreciable source of clients is 3-5 years for a moderately busy therapist! I've asked this question of hundreds of therapists and coaches, and that's the data coming back.
I know therapists who, after decades, are still barely continuing with only slow word of mouth.
OK, that's the bad news. Now the good.
Once we start looking on this as a separate learnable skill and a separate job from how we deliver the help, it gets easier.
Starting to work at finding the clients and not just expecting the universe to magic them up for us, is where it all starts to change.
If you put your message out there with the needs of the client in mind, making it easy for them to see what you help with, and how to access that help, then we get a lot more clients.
Newspapers, Facebook, Speaking to community groups, Linkedin, have all yielded more clients with less cost and work than the posters, brochures, and cards approach. But we have to admit we're out of our comfort zone when we start marketing ourselves in places like this.
That's where we change for the better though isn't it? Outside our comfort zone.
Model what successful therapists are doing. Ask questions. Try different things.
Put your message out on Facebook (it's the best place I've ever seen to get to help more people), use multiple options, speak to groups. Do whatever you can to talk about your help.
There are more people needing help than will ever find help. A lot of that is our fault. We don't put the word out, so people are missed. They linger in suffering, or feel stuck, or stay in pain unaware of help being available.
I was one of them for decades when I was stuck in anxiety and depression unaware that help existed. Yet the person who got me over that after 37 years had the same skills and was trained by the same person as a therapist who lived 20 minutes from my house growing up. That therapist was never busy and and I know many people who could have used his help but he never got the word out.
It's not just the therapist or coach who suffers when we fail to get the message out effectively.
I've seen people get busy in a few weeks, a few months, and a few years. The difference is usually the choice we make in how to tell the world we exist and can help.
I've seen people get clients in 3 days on Facebook. I've seen people be booked out for 3 months on a single 2 minute video. I've seen people get 50+ sessions from one newspaper article.
Success is very possible. You have to build your success.
Waiting and doing the same things again doesn't cut it.
In principle I'm asking you to do two things:
Try new ways and be consistent in the coming months.
Don't keep doing the same thing as in the past.
This isn't the X-Factor. We can't wait to be discovered. We have to care enough about helping people to be willing to put ourselves out there.
Wishing you every success for the year ahead,
Let us know if you want to stay up to date:
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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