Business Mantras

Private Practice Success Newsletter, June 2014

By Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC

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A private practice has continual ups and downs. We often think that something is wrong when our practice dips, even slightly, and right when our practice rises.

But when looked at from a business point of view, minor ups and downs within a solo or group practice are not only inevitable, but correct.

Often, nothing is wrong. This is just what it looks like and feels like to be inside a small business. It’s bumpy.

All of the successful therapists I know insist that their practices do not hold steady at all times. They have times when hours are unfilled and other times when they are completely full. Experienced therapists view the slower times with benign acceptance, seeing them as a restful oasis within the long journey haul of being in business.

Every practice has cycles. The newer and smaller your practice, the more you feel the rise and fall, both financially and psychologically. You may have a limited staff, sometimes a staff of one–just you.

You may get distracted by external situations. Life happens and pulls your energy away from running your practice. Or you may be doing all you can to build your practice but not seeing quick results and getting discouraged.

Owning a small practice is like being in a boat on the ocean. The smaller the boat, the more you feel the pull of the wind on the sails and the rise and swell of the waves. Larger ships have more ballast, more hands on deck to keep things steady.

But if you operate a small practice, you need to stay calm when the waves go up and down. You need to think clearly and stay focused on the goals at hand.

This is where having a few well chosen business mantras and helpful, using some short slogans as a compass to guide your way. I find myself using a dozen business mantras repeatedly each month when I am coaching clients.

Here are 3 business mantras to help you stay calm and focused:

Lynn’s Business Mantra #1. “All marketing is really marketing research.”

When you are a small business with a limited budget, there are no guarantees about what results your marketing efforts will yield.

Marketing (networking, online and print advertising, direct mailing, email blasts, joining organizations for exposure to possible referral sources, sending letters, etc.) is expensive, time consuming and takes effort.

“What is the best use of my time, energy and money?” therapists ask.

The truth is that no one knows for sure what marketing strategy works best in every case.

That is because every private practice is unique–there are many variables in place that can cause the same strategy to work differently. Your location, density of competition, your specific services, your self presentation, even the text on your website or directory listing can make a big difference.

There is no one recipe that works for every situation. Marketing is highly customized. Even tried and true strategies need to change over time. I know that when you actively trying to network, promote, or advertise your practice, the “moving target” of marketing can be very frustrating.

You need to adopt the right marketing mindset. Since marketing is so customized, all marketing is going to also be marketing research. This is just a test! Only by trying something and then trying it again or trying it with a small tweak or adjustment, can you know what will work for your practice at any given time.

So when marketing or advertising, stay curious. Consider whatever you are doing to also be an experiment.

Don’t get discouraged if your idea is not producing right away. Just be willing to learn. Look for measures and feedback, to help you assess and then refine the marketing process.

Lynn’s Business Mantra #2:  “Detach from results.”

Business success is fickle. It can be based on merit and hard work, but just as likely it might be influenced by timing, being first in the marketplace, knowing the right people, or just luck.

Given so many variables, it helps if you can stay in motion, taking steps forward and being thoughtful and strategic about your actions, but find a way to detach from the results of your efforts.

Pamela, an experienced couples therapist, attends a monthly networking group that asks each member to stand and introduce themselves. “I hate this exercise,” she tells me. “It feels promotional and very unnatural. I get tense and end up sounding nervous. I am not good at networking.”

I ask Pamela to focus on the process, not the outcome. The process at the meeting is standing and speaking, with a positive affect, about her work, regardless of who listens or refers.

What could she say if she only wanted to communicate her fascination with her work, or share something she was learning from the couples she worked with?

“I could do that, I love talking about the clinical side of my work. I can go on forever about the amazing shifts I see in my sessions. But do you think the group would respond?” she wondered.

Again, I asked her to just focus on the process of sharing her passion, letting go of how it might be received by others. It was no surprise (to me) when after the next meeting, a member came up to her and said he was going to refer his friend for her services.

“I didn’t know you loved your work so much,” he said. “ I think my friend and his wife need to see a counselor who loves to help marriages.”

Pamela learned a quick lesson about staying engaged in the process, regardless of outcome.

Lynn’s Business Mantra #3: “Small steps count.”

In a small business, its best to pace yourself and move forward with steady, small steps.

A small increase in savings or a small reduction of spending can make a real difference. The addition of a few clients each week or each month can keep your practice humming. Small is beautiful. Let yourself think in short term goals and outline immediate action steps.

Avoid losing yourself in daydreams of grandiose visions; keep your objectives specific and doable so that you don’t get discouraged.

One way to think small is “chunking down.” Chunking down is a process-oriented term that means going into detail to find smaller and more specific elements of a system. It’s a useful strategy to combat feelings of overwhelm, when a task seems too large to comprehend, or a goal is too complex to implement.

A new therapist says, “I have a part-time job but also just opened a new office and have a lot of ideas and a big list of action items, but I feel overwhelmed.” Time to chunk down to make it manageable.

To get her started, we make her list manageable and prioritize it. What are the actions that need to happen first (an updated business card, finishing her Psychology Today directory listing.) What can wait a few months? (Print advertising, joining a peer supervision group.) What can she plan for six months? (Advertising online, starting an advanced training in her specialty.)

Finally she has a list of action steps that are small enough to feel manageable to take, step by step, until each task is complete.

Whatever big task or project you want to achieve, it will help to chunk it down. I continually repeat this mantra to myself, especially when I have been at the computer writing all day, with too few pages to show. Small steps, small steps, small steps.

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(Copyright 2014 by Lynn Grodzki, all rights reserved.)

 

Finding Your Niche

Private Practice Success Newsletter, January 2014

By Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC

Do you have the itch to niche? One way to attract ideal clients is to target your market the right way, using a strategy that includes focus, research and ownership.

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In Maryland, where I live, its been a snowy and cold start to the year. This gives me lots of time to think about new year resolutions and I am listening to what the therapists I coach want for their practices in 2014. No surprise, many therapists hope that 2014 will bring them ideal clients — the clients that allow a therapist to do his or her best work.

Here is a strategy that I suggest to help therapists attract ideal clients in 2014: Be intentional and target your marketing efforts. Let me help you understand the wisdom behind targeting a market, or as one colleague says, “Scratching my itch to niche.”

Targeting a market means narrowing the types and numbers of clients you try to attract. You might think, “I need clients now. I will work with anyone. I have many skills and like to deal with a lot of issues and topics. I can work with all populations. What if by targeting my market I miss out on potential clients?”

While it sounds counter-intuitive to narrow your pool of clients, targeting a market is actually the most effective way to build a viable therapy business over time. This is both a marketing strategy as well as a business model. You are building a practice to last, right? You need to get ready for the long term. I want you to conserve your energy, your costs, and your time.

By targeting your market you will achieve three key marketing objectives:
•    Focus
•    Research 
•    Ownership 

First, get focused. Don’t make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. This is understandable, because when you are hungry for clients, you fear rejecting any potential business. It makes sense, in your urgency, to believe that anyone and everyone is a possible client.

But take a deep breath and think this through: you need to have a marketing plan that is effective over time. You want to keep your marketing tasks and costs manageable, so you don’t get overwhelmed. By focusing clearly on a niche, a specialty, you can tailor your therapy message so that it has maximum impact.

When a business owner takes a focused approach to marketing, the conversion rate of potential to actual clients goes way up. You increase your return on investment (ROI). When you get focused, you can target people that are also focused—those potential clients who know what they want and need, and are looking for a therapist just like you.

Next, do some quick research. To build a receptive audience for your services, you need to really know your clientele. What do they need? Is there a service that is not being addressed or needs not currently met?

It’s easier to figure out the needs of the market if you narrow your approach. If your market is too broad, the market research (for example, understanding who your therapy clients are or what specific referral sources value) is too vast and daunting.

Finally, take ownership. With focus and research, you are in a position to offer the right people the right services. It’s time to brand yourself and present your expertise. You can be a big fish in a little pond. With a select market, it’s possible to build a reputation much faster than if you stayed with a broad, vast pool of generic clients.

Still trying to identify your specialty? A therapist can identify a niche in many ways, all based on your uniqueness. Maybe you will set yourself apart based on the issues you treat, population seen, services offered, methods, office locations and hours, or even consistent results. Any one of these can help people identify your practice from others.

Let’s look at this further, with an exercise, a case example, and a helpful checklist. First, the exercise:

Exercise: Find Your Niche
Answer the following questions to gain clarity.

  • Who is my specific target market?
  • How can I narrow this market even further?
  • What are the services, methods, benefits and results I offer to this market?
  • Is anything about my practice different from other practices? How can I highlight my uniqueness?
  • Am I passionate about my areas of specialty?
  • Could I build my reputation on this one specialty?

Case Study: Finding Your Niche

Tracey, a social worker, decided after much discussion that her niche or specialty would be based on her training in anxiety. She had completed two years of specialized training in severe anxiety and she loved the work.

To target this market–those with severe anxiety or diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, performance anxiety, social anxiety or other limiting anxiety disorders– I asked her to do some quick research.

I knew that Tracey had limited time for this research. She was busy, so she couldn’t approximate the kind of research done at a university or a marketing division of a company. But there was still information she could find through local channels that would help her in defining this niche.

She searched online and found support groups for OCD in her area and contacted two of them to find out about their groups, how many showed up for meetings, how active the chat groups were online, as a way of understanding the market.

She talked to a counselor at a nearby university counseling center about the prevalence of social anxiety and performance problems with students. Interestingly, this query also became a marketing win! The college counseling center said that this problem was on an increase and told her they needed resources for referrals. She was delighted to give them her card.

Emboldened by this, Tracey contacted every college or prep school counselor in a 5 mile radius around her office. She also queried 3 other therapists in her professional association known for treating severe anxiety. They said that their practices were full. This created concerns for her.

“If there are already therapists in this niche, why does it need one more?” she asked. “Is there room for me?” I told her that finding a number of other practices doing similar work did not need to be discouraging. Sometimes, it is just an indication of a need in the marketplace. Chances were good that her city could include at least one more therapist with this specialty.

Having done her research, Tracey felt confident and had solid reasons to own her choice of a niche. Her marketing plan was easier to create and achieve because it was specific and very focused. Not surprisingly, her practice began to fill within the first several months with what she felt were “the right clients.”

Checklist

My colleague Ben Dean, founder of MentorCoach, suggests the following list of considerations when targeting a market and finding your niche. His criteria are relevant for a psychotherapy practice as well as a coaching practice. While not all criteria are necessary for a successful niche, they are all worth considering. Here are his top 3 criteria, and then see the link below to his article with all 14.

* Passion. Do you feel passion for the niche? Are these the kinds of clients you would enjoy working with? Do you find the work you will be doing meaningful and satisfying? For those of us at midlife, this criterion is essential. It is not sufficient to be able to be highly compensated. The niche must be satisfying and fun.

* A Burning Need. Is there an intense, perceived need for the niche in the minds of your potential clients?  The more intense their pain (or conversely, the more attractive the benefit you help them realize), the more quickly will the niche respond to your efforts.

* Underserved. Is the niche underserved? As with Tracey, when considering a new niche, know how much is already being offered to the niche. How much competition do you face? What can help you differentiate yourself and your practice?

Want to know more? To see Ben’s entire list of 14 criteria, please click on this link below. (Quick note, Ben’s article is geared for coaches in private practice, but very relevant for therapists.) Here is the link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/coaching/niche-criteria.htm

More next time!

Lynn Grodzki

Responding to Change

by Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC

Email Newsletter, September 2011

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I have been writing this monthly email newsletter for almost fifteen years. In the spirit of the remembrance this month, I decided to look through my files for what I wrote about ten years ago, in 2001.

I found a draft of that old newsletter whose topic was Disruption and Change, sent out the first of September 2001.  Of course I didn’t know what the country would face ten days later; but the topic is still a valid one, as the degree of complication in our world gets ever more intense.

As master therapist Steve Gilligan says, “One thing you can count on is that life keeps coming at you. The next event is already in the mail.”

The events that disrupt our lives and our work are inevitable, but the question remains the same: What is our best response to disruptive change?

Here are 3 strategies I like:

1)    Lean Forward

I learned one important way to respond to change from my few, pathetic attempts at skiing. The hardest aspect of skiing for me is posture: You need to lean forward into your skis. That means slanting your body over your skis, so you are looking down the hill.

I have had several instructors explain this leaning forward dynamic. Leaning forward helps you maneuver your skis. Leaning forward creates momentum, and actually gives you control by putting more weight on the front of the ski. Leaning forward makes the skis easier to turn and more responsive at high speeds and allows the wind to flow over your body at high speeds.

I get it, I just don’t like it. To balance my innate fear of heights and speed, I like to lean back, waaaay back.

Last time I went skiing, I was perched on a steep hill and I was nervous. I had a brilliant plan. If I traversed the hill, only going side to side, it would still count as skiing and I would feel safe. I began to ski this way. But a friend, a good skier, was watching me. She stopped a bit above me on the hill and watched me for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, finally 20 minutes. (I was barely advancing but getting pretty good at going back and forth, back and forth.) Finally she swished up next to me on her skis and said, kindly but firmly, Lynn, the whole point of skiing is to get down the hill.    

When I meet with therapists, coaches, consultants, in small business today, many of whom are frightened about changes that are affecting their practices, they look just like me on skis. Tense, hesitant, of two minds about what steps to take with lots of back and forth reasoning. They are working against the natural momentum of the change.

Like a ski instructor, I say: “Nothing is wrong, this is how it feels in today’s economy. This is how uncertain markets react, up and down – we are just in a downturn. It’s safe to try some new strategies. Try this, lean forward, let your practice shift and it will gain energy as you move forward.”

I tell them that I know leaning forward into the direction of change may feel unfamiliar and downright scary. But in business (and in skiing) it is the only way to advance. And it’s easier when someone reminds you, from time to time, which way you are supposed to be heading.

2)    Accept What Is True

Responding to change starts with our ability to notice that something is different. We often need a wake-up call to take action, also known as the “attention to intention.”

My good friend called me with a common concern. “I am gaining weight,” she moaned. “I work out the same as before, I eat the same as before, but this summer I am up 5 lbs.” We commiserated about aging, slowing metabolism, the unfairness of it all. But she has a clear choice: adapt to her new, older body and slower metabolism, or accept a little extra weight.

We want things to work the way they used to, and they don’t. It’s similar in a small business. We get attached to an old business model that we liked, one that used to work fine, but now, in a changing market, that old model is no longer resilient.

As a business coach, I try to help my clients see what is true for today and likely for the future. Like my friend tracking her weight, I ask them to start by tracking their own practices for data: What is not working well? What is OK? Where do new clients come from now? How long do they stay? Who is in your professional community—who are you talking with each week, each month? Do they refer? If not, why not? How satisfied are clients with your services? How do you know?

We look at additional strategies to attract clients, better ways to set fees or manage schedules, and trends that can bring new opportunities. When we can see the situation and accept it without judgment or blame, it’s so much easier to be strategic about the future.

3)    Respect the Little Things

I don’t listen to a lot of rap music, but one song I like is by T.I. The chorus (cleaned up of profanity) goes: Big things poppin’, little things stoppin’. The lyrics mean that even though the opportunity for growth is right in front of us, small points of resistance can prevent us from moving forward.

As I explored in my newest book, Crisis-Proof Your Practice, when markets change, business opportunities emerge: new clients, ideas, services, methods, structure — big things poppin! If you can’t see these or take advantage of them, you will most likely be dealing with something small but potent that needs to be addressed fast — little things stoppin.

Here is an example from the world of private practice:

After tracking her practice data, Susan, a Canadian psychotherapist, found that she was getting a fair number of calls from new clients who found her on the Internet. But few of these calls converted to actual clients. Her goal was to create a better website that would reflect her services and in doing so, attract the right kind of clients who would follow up and actually book sessions.

She wrote her new website text, found a website designer and with his help, developed a good design. She was ready to launch the site, but then things ground to a halt.

By the time she called me for help, she had been stuck in this place of inaction for six months. We talked at some length to explore any and all concerns that the launch might be eliciting. She got many interesting insights from our coaching calls, and made plans to launch, but ultimately, did nothing. It confused her (and me.) She stayed stuck, with no change in her behavior. I keep dropping the ball, she would say, sadly.

Shift Happens

One day she came to her coaching call quite excited. “I figured it out, Lynn,” she said. “It’s funny, because it was a small thing, something I overlooked, but it acted as a very powerful brake.

“You know how at the top of the site, under my name, I put my professional degree and then the words “Behavioral Psychologist?

I said I remembered. “Well, I realized that I don’t see myself that way anymore. I don’t like the word Behavioral. It’s wrong and not reflective of the way I work now. It’s been right for me for my previous career, but sends the wrong message to clients. I took it away and just left the word Psychologist and all the sudden, I couldn’t wait to launch. It’s up, take a look!”

We looked at her wonderful, new site and laughed together about the unconscious communication between her  behavior (dropping the ball) and the small necessary step to drop the word Behavioral.

Sometimes we have to get everything aligned, big and small, conscious and un, in order to move forward. So although we don’t want to sweat the small things, those things can be powerful and matter in the end.

Need some help for yourself and your practice? Let’s see if a first step might be individual coaching. To get started click here.  

Are You at Risk?

by Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC

Published in the Private Practice Success Newsletter, August 2011 Edition

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Most economists agree that we are living in risky economic times.  On both a macro and micro level, the financial future is uncertain and worrisome.

What can a small business owner do to prepare for a possible extended downturn?

This month, I will walk you through a clear plan to minimize business risk, so you know how to protect your practice.

Practice-Building in Hard Times

Building a small business is hard and risky, even in the best of times. A large percentage of small businesses fail, and the creation of a business built on “intangibles” – services that are hard for the public to define, explain, or measure – adds to the difficulty.

Because you have so much of yourself, your skills, and your finances tied up in your practice, it is important to evaluate risk. When the market is tough, it’s essential that you evaluate any business vulnerabilities.

Understanding Risk

By risk, I mean both what you do and what you don’t do that can threaten the survival of your private practice.

But risk avoidance is a two-edged sword. You may think that curtailing all investment into your practice right now is the best way to avoid the risk of economic failure.

But not investing in your private practice or giving it enough time, money, energy, opportunities, or brainpower is a way to threaten its survival.

In my newest book about practice building in hard times, Crisis-Proof Your Practice: How to Survive and Thrive in an Uncertain Economy, I explain several ways to manage your business risks. Here are three strategies you need to think about and take action on now.

Risk Reduction

Risk reduction is a way to evaluate the dangers to your practice and then minimize the severity of the loss or potential loss. For example, one basic method of risk reduction in your home is having smoke detectors to warn you of a potential fire.

Risk reduction (think “smoke detector”) for your business includes:

• A written business, marketing and financial plan, backed by your own data, that will help you evaluate and track the state of your practice at any given time.

• A cash reserve to cushion the operating expenses of your practice. (Each practice needs a minimum 6 months reserve to help you get through especially tough months and still pay your basic operating expenses.)

• Regular self care for the business owner so that you as the primary service delivery person don’t get sick, exhausted and unable to work, market and fulfill responsibilities to clients.

• Completing your records and keeping files updated.

• Developing a brain trust of advisers for professional support to help you strategize your next steps, especially when you are tense or anxious.

I know, for many readers, this list may feel overwhelming. If so, think about it this way: This kind of business planning is difficult for many, especially if you were not trained in business. Not surprisingly, a lot of the individual business coaching I do right now focuses on protection. Small steps can have huge results. I see, repeatedly, that anxious professionals can become much calmer business owners by taking the right actions.     

And there is more to consider on this topic.  Here are 2 more strategies:

Risk Retention

Risk retention means having a way to accept and survive a business loss if and when it occurs.

Let’s say that you have a private practice in a cold climate, and an unusual series of snow and ice storms put you out of business for a month. This risk of weather is one that can’t be avoided, reduced or transferred and is “retained” by you, by default.

Risk retention (think “bad weather”) requires that you:

•   Plan for worst case scenarios and then try to average out losses over time (the bad winter month gets incorporated into the overall profit and loss statement for several months or a full year, to try and amortize the loss.

•  Anticipate slowdowns and losses as a normal part of the ups and downs of doing business and keep a reserve of clients (waiting list), cash (savings) or opportunities (networking or marketing possibilities) so that you have more than enough to keep you busy in slow times.

•  Focus on staying flexible in how you deliver service; if clients can’t come into your office when their child is ill or weather is bad, can you do the session by email, by phone or send them an audio tape or written report that you have created specifically for them during the session time to substitute?

Risk Transfer

Risk transfer means that you transfer a loss to another party, by contractually having agreed to the risk. In this way, the risk doesn’t fall entirely on your small practice, but is either shared or taken on by someone else.

Risk transfer (think “sharing”) includes:

•  Enforcing cancellation policies that you and your client have agreed to. If the current policy is too harsh, set one that you can live with and enforce without discomfort.

•  Negotiate with landlords or other vendors for a reduction in price or payment terms when circumstances cause a loss of income. Often a landlord, credit card company, training company, or other vendor is willing to work out some temporary terms of payment rather than lose your business altogether or see you go bankrupt.

•  Maintain insurance including malpractice insurance, rental insurance, and life insurance on partners or associates, if their income is critical to the operating income of a practice.

OK, do you need help  securing your practice against risk?

Let’s work together on this. Schedule an intro session today to see how business coaching can help you cope with a difficult economy by clicking here.