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The Changing Image of a Therapist's Practice
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My original marketing plan was to network with other therapists, share marketing costs, use referral opportunities, and generally support each other. The Network I started would promote one or two main therapies for each individual practitioner, so that we are not all competing for the same clients.

Having already got a website, I had taken over the lease of a shop in the precinct. I had high hopes that this would become the main marketing tool of the group, with therapists paying a small monthly fee to have their leaflets outside the shop, and a display board inside. The intention was to have open mornings two days a week, including a Saturday morning to appeal to those working in the week. Prospective clients could come in for information on any of the therapies and meet whichever therapist was running that open morning session. During the winter months low cost light therapy was available, which would contribute towards the overheads. The rest of the time the room would be let out as a treatment room at low cost to practitioners in the Network. We wanted to make complementary therapy more accessible on the High Street.

Taking a Step Back and Reviewing
I had put leaflet racks outside the shop which were working well, and Network practitioners, including myself, were picking up work. Most practitioners already have busy practices, and joined for the networking opportunities. However, as time went on, I was uncomfortable charging for marketing, when I didn't think it was working as I had originally intended. Bookings weren't matching the leaflets being taken, and as such I couldn't offer new practitioners a chance of becoming established.

Offering low rental treatment room sessions wasn't working either. The down side with established practitioners is that most of them already have treatment room arrangements, and new therapists often can't afford to rent the room for a whole session without an established client base. Apart from perhaps a monthly clinic in the town to cater for clients who could not drive, or because an established therapist lives a long way off, and my own part time work, the room got little use. Consequently it did not generate the anticipated rental income that was keeping the practitioners' marketing fees low.

Also the open mornings hadn't developed as expected. They were popular with therapists , but although clients came in, the majority just picked up the leaflets from the rack outside and rang the therapists later. Whilst it was lovely being able to meet new therapists, unfortunately most who were interested in joining us were doing therapies already covered, so I was turning them away.

Having taken over the shop at short notice, I had put up temporary signs which had somehow become permanent, something I had meant to get round to and hadn't. I also found that the shop front image confused people. We looked like we were a shop, but we weren't always open, or actually selling anything other than gift vouchers, and people couldn't just walk in and ask for a treatment there and then on an open morning. With the curtains closed some people were reluctant to come in, even when a notice invited them. With the curtains open a few people weren't sure that they would be closed if the room was used for a treatment. Whilst my idea was for an adaptable space, (therapy room/marketing area/shop), making the concept clear and therefore getting it to work in practice was proving difficult .

Other commitments mean I do not currently work full time as a complementary therapist. When I stepped back and looked at the shop as a prospective client would see it, what I saw was that when the shop was closed, it looked like a business that someone was going to get round to opening eventually. I also began to get concerned that on an open morning, any practitioner being seen through the window was sitting alone, making it look like nobody was interested in complementary therapy. My intention of giving potential clients opportunities to make personal contact with a practitioner was inadvertently creating the wrong impression. Holding an event as an open morning is one thing, holding an open morning hoping people would wander in was another. I got to the point where I realised that I had given it a fair shot for six months, but that I couldn't expect my business to develop just by carrying on doing what I was doing.

I realised that my mistake was to wait and see if my idea worked before committing fully to developing the business image properly. Yet developing the business image properly in the first place is what is needed to give any business a fair chance of succeeding. However at this point I was faced with working out just how deep a financial black hole I was steadily digging for myself. I had gone into the project knowing that the risks are all mine: the start up costs were mine, it is my name on the lease, and all the ongoing overheads are my responsibility. Although we are a network, if it doesn't work out for another therapist in the group, they can stop paying the monthly marketing subscription and walk away. I did not have that luxury. The plus side of the arrangement is that I took the most convenient clinic times for myself, then threw open the remainder to the group. Although there are opportunities for everyone to benefit from the concept of the group if the idea works, ultimately it is my business, my asset and my liability.

A New Image Was Needed
I decided to go back to the drawing board and start again. I was convinced the original concept was good - a network of therapists prepared to market and work together, share the costs and support each other. But firstly we had to look like a team and a variety of different leaflets outside a badly signed shop (that wasn't really a shop) just wasn't doing it. Our image was also attracting therapists rather than clients, which in turn meant we couldn't support any more therapists joining us.

I took a deep breath and committed financially to branding us as a team. This time I made sure I did my homework. The graphic designer now working with my original website designer came to the shop and had a long chat about what I wanted to achieve, and who was the main target market. I wanted something that would appeal to women and men equally, so it couldn't be too "girlie" or too "macho". She felt the previous design was a little more angular, less inviting to clients, both in the graphics and the colours, than it could be. She suggested that instead of it being blues, we should consider making the image softer, natural, earthier colours, perhaps greens and shades of purple, which would appeal to a wider market. The colour shading would be critical to keep it from being too "girlie" or too "macho". She also advised me that I needed an image that would appeal to clients, rather than an image originally intended to attract therapists to a network, which although very successful at the time, was no longer appropriate to my needs.

Having got a designer, it didn't make sense not letting her have free reign with the actual design. It was important to put aside what I liked. I didn't want someone to reproduce my ideas, I needed some new ones! She produced a concept that she believed would achieve what I wanted. As the concept has developed, I have once or twice wondered over a shading chosen, or why something was done in a particular way, but was advised it would come together. I think it has and although at the time of completing this article, all the design strands from the new website (http://www.therapynetworkonline.co.uk), the shop, the stationery, leaflets, advertising, etc are still coming together, it feels right.

What I have learned is that the most important thing when creating an image for a therapist's business is whether the majority of the target market like it. The therapist liking it is a bonus. I have seen many websites that are technically extremely clever but difficult to navigate and find the information I want, and leaflets that are so wordy and complicated that they are a chore to read, and designs done in colours that won't appeal to the majority of the target prospective clients. With the wrong business image, a business can begin to stagnate, as I was beginning to find to my cost. With the right image, enquiries can double.

When the designer came up with the new concept, I asked people of different ages and both sexes what they thought of the image, what did it remind them off. I had various answers from women included "soothing," "calming", "reminds me of something like Echinacea", "simple, modern yet also traditional with the flower." Several men said it was "all right" or that the colour shading stopped it being too girlie. One even said "what new image?" which was good enough as at least it hadn't provoked anything negative! There was only the occasional less than positive response, usually because of a strong personal colour preference. However as the saying goes, you can't please all the people all of the time, and the vast majority of the target market liked the image, so the decision was made.

The Financial Realities
For my project, the financial commitment was for a large group of therapists, a large website, a premises image, leaflets, stationery etc., but whatever the size of a practice, the principles are the same. When a practitioner works part time, like me, it is even more important to get the image right. When on a very tight budget it is vital to get the best image possible with careful use of the money we have. Often one way of doing that is to use whatever other opportunities come up or skills that are available.

Concept and Reality
The shop signs finally arrived, after a 'phone call saying they were being delivered in half an hour! On the same day I was provided with a leaflet template by the designer. As I didn't want the new signs with a fresh image alongside the old leaflets for too long, I produced twenty one new leaflets in time for a meeting with the therapists the following day. They all saw the new shops signs for the first time, and we sat having our meeting whilst folding the new leaflets and swapping them for the old ones in the racks outside. From a concept that seemed to be taking for ever to come to fruition, suddenly within 24 hours all the threads of the tapestry seemed to pull together.

All the different leaflet styles of the individual therapists have been replaced and we are now under one co-ordinating "branded" suite of leaflets, produced by me as part of my marketing service, on a higher quality paper. Visually much better than any design I could have produced, even if it had been professionally printed. Although each therapist has the choice of using their own leaflets without any network branding, unless their leaflet is produced by their professional body, they have chosen the new image.

From the shop signs to the stationery, leaflets, gift vouchers and website, we are a team, but the imaging also allows us to be individual practitioners. The "shop" is now only a treatment room, which if the therapist wants to open up to the public they can do so by putting out a white sandwich board, complete with branding logo. Individual therapists can use the board to invite prospective clients in for a no commitment chat, or to say that an appointment is available at a certain time for anyone wanting a treatment that day, or that taster sessions are available etc. They can turn any empty slots, including those caused by last minute cancellations, into prospective marketing tools.

Therapists can also now earn income, if they wish to, from sales of our own branded range of non-toxic toiletries, gift items and organic massage oils. By choosing products that we are happy to use in practice, we are utilising the brand image to provide a service to clients, generate a little income to cover expenses, and get our name more visible to the public.

And The Results............?
Its early days but it looks promising. Even before the ladders were removed after putting the signs up, I was complimented on the image, and sold a gift voucher. The new leaflets started going quickly, and I have put a printer into the room so that I can connect up a laptop and print out leaflets as and when they are needed, and I can produce posters and signs at short notice. In this way we can try out new leaflet wording, and make adjustments, without producing too many, and by doing them when I am in the room I am working at bringing my work/home life back into balance after three hectic months of juggling the new project with my family commitments and my own practice.

Two new therapists joined in the first week. Having seen the new image, they are confident that it will work out, and I am more confident that I have the tools to make the marketing service I now offer work properly. We now have the professional image to support the eleven therapists in the Network, and already several have received increased numbers of enquiries and bookings.

The branded own label toiletries and massage oils have just arrived. They look really good. Time will tell whether they will be the marketing tool I hoped for. Maybe that will be another story...............? There are several organic products, and a lot that are not claimed to be organic (because of the labelling laws) but are sourced from what is basically an organic source. But they are (straight from the company's blurb): NO sodium lauryl sulphate - NO parabens, TEA, DEA or MEA - NO PEGs or propylene glycol - NO petro-chemicals - NO synthetic fragrance - NO artificial colouring - NO GM ingredients - NO animal derived ingredients - NOT tested on animals - Organic oils and butters - Organic floral waters - Pure essential oils - Herbal extracts - Flower petals and herbs - Natural salts and clays - Marine botanicals - Natural anti-oxidants - Natural preservatives - Biodegradable !

By Sue Pash
All rights reserved. Any reproducing of this article must have the author name and all the links intact.


Biography: SNHS H.I.Dip. (Complementary Therapies),
SNHS Ad. Dip. (Stress Management), SNHS Dip. (Stress Management),
SNHS Dip. (Colour Therapy), SNHS Dip. (Iridology),
SNHS Dip. (Nutrition), Lic. DSR.

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