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News - Running a successful practice

By Dr Mark Atkinson

What does a successful clinical practice look like? What can you do to survive (and perhaps thrive) within the current economic climate? In this two part article, I am going to be sharing my own experience in running and helping others run a successful practice. I have been self-employed as an integrated holistic medical doctor for 10 years and mentoring nutritionists and complementary therapists for over five years. While your skill, professional credibility and character are all key ingredients to a successful practice, above all else it’s the commitment to taking action and creating a successful practice that matters most.

The five keys to running a successful practice

I define a successful clinical practice as one that delivers an outstanding service to clients, enables you to fulfil your potential as a practitioner and is based on sound financial and business principles. Furthermore, it needs to provide you with a good level of financial income, one that meets your needs and enables the business to develop and thrive. While there are, of course, many different approaches to running a successful practice, the five that I am going to share with you are:

  1. Define a successful practice.
  2. Identify your limiting beliefs.
  3. Get clear about what you do and offer.
  4. Deliver the best possible service.
  5. Market your service, boost your income.

Key one: Define a successful practice

What would or does a successful practice look like for you? What are your vision, mission and strategies for business success? The foundations upon which a successful business and practice is built is the business plan. It’s also the one thing that many therapists avoid doing! A business plan provides you with a roadmap for defining and creating a successful practice. The good news is that it doesn’t need to be long and complicated. In fact, I encourage many of my own students to create a one-page business plan, using the book The One-page Business Plan by Jim Horan, which I recommend purchasing. If you want to create something more detailed, take a look at the Business Link website www.businesslink.gov.uk. In addition to providing a lot of information on writing a business plan, they also cover advice on tax, finances and marketing. It’s a great free resource. Most banks will also provide free advice on creating a business plan. If finances are not your strength, consider using the services of an experienced accountant and / or attending a workshop such as those offered by business link.

Key two: Identify your limiting beliefs

Alongside not knowing how to run a successful business, the biggest barrier for most nutritionists and complementary therapists who are in private practice are the self-limiting beliefs and unprocessed fears that they have around finances and business success. Many of us have beliefs that hold us back. Beliefs are silent assumptions that filter and distort reality. They have an immense power over how our life looks, because it is our beliefs, not our conscious thoughts, that direct and create reality. We have beliefs about pretty much everything. When it comes to business, it’s important to illuminate the beliefs that are potentially going to sabotage your progress and success. One way to do this is with the use of a brain storming exercise, which you can do with a colleague or friend. They read out the following questions and you answer them without thinking. You simply say whatever first comes into your mind, without censoring. Here are the questions:

  1. My greatest fears about my business are …
  2. Success is …
  3. Failure is …
  4. Money is …
  5. When it comes to business, I am …

Your answers are your beliefs.

The next step is to change them. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, because beliefs are programmed into our subconscious mind. However, two approaches that can be helpful, and are worth taking a look at, are Emotional Freedom Technique (www.emofree.com) and Psych-K (www.psych-k.com). A good book on the subject is The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton.

Key three: Get clear about what you do and offer

This sounds obvious but without doing this the message you send out into the world can be confused. The key is to be as specific as possible as to what you offer and do and to describe it in a way that is true, simple and as meaningful as possible for your clients. Ask yourself the following questions: Am I absolutely crystal clear about what I do and what I offer? If not, how can I get clear? Am I a generalist (i.e. work with most health problems) or am I a specialist (for example, in weight loss, skin health or sub-fertility)? What aspect of my work do I find the most fulfilling? Answering all of these honestly will help you to get clear about what you do. If you struggle with this, why not talk it through with a friend or colleagues? Once clear about what you do and what services you offer, the next step is to communicate it to your potential customers. While it is not essential, having a website is a good place to start, as is having brochures and business cards.

Two resources for these are

www.123-reg.co.uk and www.printing.com. While you can’t and shouldn’t be making any medical claims, the key is to communicate the benefits of your services to your customers. The look and feel of the design is, of course, very important – professionalism is the key.

Key four: Deliver the best possible service

The number one strategy for creating a successful practice is to meet the needs of your clients, by delivering the best possible service. This will help to ensure the best possible result for them, but also a happy client is highly likely to recommend you to others. So what would a good service look like, it’s an important question to ask yourself. One way to find out is to ask your clients what they want from you.

Look at what other established practitioners do and systematically go through each part of your service to see if it is of high enough standard. Some things to consider are: the quality of your marketing materials, the clarity with which you describe what you do, the telephone service you offer (you might want to consider an appointment booking service such as www.clinicappointments.co.uk), the tidiness and cleanliness of your clinic environment, the look and feel of your clinic room, the information you provide your clients (do you provide information sheets?), the follow-up service you provide. For example, my own client charges include a fee that enables them to drop me an e-mail to ask questions. This has been hugely popular and vital in terms of providing motivation and ongoing support.

Key five: Market your service, boost your income

At the end of the day, you can have all of the certificates, talents and good will in the world, but that won’t ensure people will come to you. You need to get clients into your room. Here are some suggestions to market your services and boost your income:

Contact a variety of well-established therapists who work within your geographical area. Choose therapies that complement yours. Call them up or e-mail them, telling them about yourself and what you do.

If you can meet them in person and exchange business cards all the better. Being part of a network of practitioners can considerably increase your referral rates.

  • Phone and / or e-mail your local newspaper and offer them a free health-related article that relates to your own practice.
  • Do market analysis – research the top people in your field and analyse them as to what they are doing. Consider contacting them for advice / direction. Learn from your peers.
  • Introduce yourself to local health food stores, doctor’s surgeries and other beauty, fitness and health places. Tell them about what you do and ask whether they will take some of your brochures.
  • If you have a talent for writing, why not consider writing a book or leaflet on your subject – it provides a great marketing tool.
  • Identify the products / services that you could be offering to your patients, such as supplements, natural beauty products, books, etc. and consider a trial of selling these to your patients.
  • Contact existing client database regularly. An e-newsletter is effective, especially if you offer interesting health information articles.
  • Make a list of friends, peers and others and contact them to ask for advice on how to develop your business. brainstorm ideas with a friend – write down the answers – don’t judge them – select the top three and implement them.

Recommended books:

  • Marketing Your Complementary Therapy Practice by Steven Harold.
  • Setting Up and Running a Complementary Health Practice by Patricia Bishop.

Recommended seminar:

Developing Your Professional Practice by Jayney Goddard www.the-cma.org.uk.

For more information on working as a practitioner see Higher Nature’s practitioner website: www.highernature.co.uk/practitioner

Dr Mark Atkinson offers a mentoring service for health professionals. For more information visit www.drmarkatkinson.com.

Dr Mark Atkinson is an integrated medical doctor, founder of The British College of Integrated Medicine and an expert in holistic approaches to chronic health challenges. He is also an award winning writer and author of The Mind-Body Bible and Holistic Health Secrets for women. His website is www.drmarkatkinson.com 


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