We expect the feeling of ‘wow, I’m making a difference’, ‘I’m so happy to help people improve their lives’, and ‘this is why I’m here’, and they are great feelings. The job satisfaction is astounding.
However, unfortunately the more common feelings are ‘I’m worried I’ll have to stop because I’m not earning a living’, ‘I can’t afford my CPD’, ‘I’m going to have to get a job that doesn’t help people so I can pay my mortgage’, ‘My skills are being wasted, why did I spend so much time and money on this when it’s not wanted?’ These are the sad reality, day to day for too many therapists. Thoughts are being merely punctuated by the positives, while the crushing reality of a struggling business dominates.
How common is this? Hugely!
My work is followed in over 100 countries, I’m connected to tens of thousands of therapists on social media, and talk to many, many therapists each week. I get a lot of feedback from what people are experiencing.
The bottom line is that more than 2 out of every 3 therapists in private practice say they are struggling. Most are seeing only a handful of clients and are despondent about ever being busy.
The common experience is constant worry about where to find clients, worry about money, and feeling undervalued.
We then nearly always start questioning our choices:
‘Don’t people want my help?’
‘Am I good enough?’
‘Maybe it isn’t possible to be successful’
When we’re not busy we’re thinking about it, or worrying about it more often. It’s hard to leave work at work when we go home, if we don’t know how we’ll pay the rent next month. Our minds stay constantly occupied working on the problem, we relax less, we stress more. Things don’t get easier when we remain stuck in that state.
So what can we do about this? There are 3 ways to try:
1. Lower our stress levels so our brains work better and we feel more able to work for change.
2. Change how we find clients (as the current same old stuff clearly isn’t working).
3. Make sure we’re sustainable as we get busier. i.e. Not burning out, earning a wage that lets us keep going as a professional, having enough time off to live life.
The good news is that these three are interrelated, so improving one area makes a positive difference in the others too.
So let’s take them in turn.
1. When we’re stressed our brains are in crisis mode. Concentration, creativity, clear thinking and long term planning are reduced. It’s also harder to motivate ourselves.
By having some down time – completely switched off from thinking about work – it makes it easier for the brain to give you concentration and motivation when you need it.
In short, it’s easier for us to get some work done after a break. Make that time count. One hour well focused, delivers more than a poorly managed day of stress typically does. Think of it as Doing, taking less than Getting Around to it. It’s easier to get around to it when less stressed.
If you’re antsy and can’t sit still, then go for a walk or do some mindfulness and it will give you a period of better focus. (More activation in your prefrontal cortex and less in survival-mode).
Work in short periods where you work for an hour and then stop. That trains your mind to be able to give focus for set periods. I found this worked well for myself when coming out of years of anxiety, and I have seen it yield dividends for many clients.
2. Change your marketing methods. Cards, brochures, flyers, posters are all useful but won’t fill a diary any more.
Your website is only as useful as the number of people who find it. Putting up a website and thinking that’s a big step is an error. Do have a website, but understand that you need to tell people where to find it, and more importantly – why they would want to!
Keep a focus of ‘How will this make it easy for someone to see how I can help?’ at each step.
Our guiding principle is always ‘How easy can I make it for someone to reach out for help?’
Never think, ‘They’ll look it up if interested’. Make it simple for people to act.
Go where the people are. Use newspapers, speak to groups, use social media (Facebook out-performs all others by 5-1, at least in my testing over several years and in different countries).
Get the word out. As I often say – your fear of putting yourself out there has to be less than your desire to help others. I hope it is!
3. As you get busier, make sure you schedule things to allow you to live.
Your fee has to allow you to pay rent, eat, support family, and whatever else your life entails.
Calculate your fee based on this, not on ‘what are others charging’ or ‘I think that sounds right’, or especially not ‘People can’t afford that’. Don't mind read. Base it on reality!
How many people a week can you see without burning out? Multiply that by the number of weeks you plan to work in a year. Now divide that into the annual income you need to live.
That’s the minimum fee you could charge if everyone showed up and you were full. Charge 20% more to cover expenses and no-shows.
Make sure you protect your energy and don’t over-work because your fee is too low. If that happens you’ll burn out and have to get a different job.
Sustainability is about helping a lot of people in this life. To do that you must be rested enough to do good work, and rewarded enough to be able to support yourself to keep doing it.
Let me leave you with a final thought.
There are more people who need help than we could ever see. It’s not about price, or how good we are (I wish it were), it’s about how many people know and understand our offering.
We only get to help the people who know we exist and understand what we can do for them.
Everything has to be about them, not us in how we put that message out there.
Have a great week. Please leave any comments and questions you like and I’ll be happy to reply.
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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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