Marketing or Skills: Which should you focus on for a Complementary Therapy Business?

Improve your technical skills. Or develop your marketing ability. Which would you choose?

If you practice any kind of a complementary therapy, what would you do in the following scenario?

One day, you get two emails. One is from a therapy association mailing list, which you signed up to. They tell you about an upcoming seminar with a well-known teacher, who will be teaching his style. It costs £300.

The other email is from a local adult college with a prospectus showing their next term’s lessons. One of them catches your eye. It offers a course on marketing and strategy for small businesses. It also costs £300.

Just by chance, you recently had a tax reimbursement and was figuring out the best way to spend the money. The amount £300.

So let’s just put aside the notion you could pay for a weekend in Amsterdam. As a therapist, which option would you pick?

From my observations, the majority of therapists,  I have met would pick option 1 – the training seminar with the teacher. I would do too. And in fact, I have taking this choice on many occasions.

But why?

Logically it makes sense. The better a practitioner you become, the more people will find you and the bigger a business you can run. So seminars and workshops seems like the logical way to do this.

Also seminars are usually more fun too.

So why not the marketing course?

Most people write-off  marketing skills.  Seeing it as something you can pick up as they go along.

Most marketing strategies tend to evolve around printing off some leaflets, which lists what services you offer, some information about your therapy. Also some business cards and a website.

Some people may go further and recognise a need to specialise in one particular area – fertility, muscular pain, sport’s injuries, stress.

But wherever your view, it is not a good idea to leave marketing to chance.

It is easy to waste a lot of time chasing the wrong strategy. I know, because I left it to chance in the beginning. I didn’t have a clue. I was like a leaf blowing in the wind.

This does not mean that a person should necessarily enrol in the business course either at the adult college. Is this business course going to be truly relevant to your business?

The rules of business have changed a lot. The old marketing strategies don’t work anymore.

But some do. One of these is the concept of branding.

If a therapy has a good reputation, people will seek it out. Acupuncture has a reasonably good reputation. So too does osteopathy and chiropractic healthcare. Homeopathy has a large brand, but for the last 20 years ago has come under repeated attack by the Western Scientific community. This has damaged its brand significantly.

There is also the question of personal branding. That means you.

What image do you convey to prospective clients?

Do you appear trustworthy, approachable, safe, knowledgeable?

Perhaps you have only just qualified and thinking – well how can I be all that if I haven’t even started yet?

And that is the point of marketing. Marketing is about creating an image. An image that a customer is prepared to invest in.

Think of it going forward. Perhaps you haven’t started. You can still create a brand image. You create the brand image of the type of person that you will become.

Don’t worry about where you are now. Think about the kind of business you are going to become.

You could say it is ‘faking it to make it’. But how else does anyone else start a business?  It is the same thing, whether you are a new dentist, plumber or gardener.

Fundamentally, people want a therapy because they want a problem solved. They pick you because they think you can solve it.

And also the price is a factor.

They pick you over others on the strength of your marketing.

I can open up a clinic right next door to the best acupuncturist in the world. Pretty tough competition. But if my marketing reaches out to a certain demographic and does a good job of creating an image and brand for me, then I can pick up clients that will specifically want to see me and not that person.

Be aware that some people would rather see you than that best guy in the world. Not everyone clicks. You may be the perfect alternative. And they will find you due to your marketing

Marketing is not just about USPs (unique selling points) or business plans with projected figures, which often is just you picking imaginary figures out of the air.

It is about considering who you are and what you are about. Your personal brand.

It is also about looking at what people really want. I’ll discuss that concept in another blog post.

So just to return to the original scenario. Should you pick option A. – the seminar with a teacher, or B. the business skills course?

The answer is – it depends.

It depends on what your focus is at your stage in life. Perhaps you don’t feel confident about your ability, so you want to learn more and improve. You want to meet other practitioners.

Or perhaps you have done hundreds of courses and have picked up lots of certificates. However, your business is sluggish and your skills are confused because you have learnt so many different thing. Then it may be time to take a different approach.

And there is always a third option in business and life. Look for it.

Perhaps hold on to that £300 and ease yourself into learning about business and marketing by doing inexpensive online training or reading marketing or business books (like this one). 

how to set up a complementary therapy business on a budget

I would recommend that a complementary therapist spend as much time studying and practicing his or her craft as studying marketing.

And if you really don’t know what to do with that £300, you can’t go wrong with a weekend in Amsterdam.

Picture Accreditation

Japanese anti-war protester. Taken by Silvia Lüthi.



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