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Building a Thriving Practice

By Paula Gardner
Posted Monday, October 4, 2004

Building a successful and lucrative practice is today as much about PR and marketing as it is about giving good service to your clients.

But there is a way to raise your profile without spending a fortune on advertising. All it takes is organisation and some long term consistent time and effort. Not much to ask when your reward can be a thriving business.

And business is the operative word, for you are going to have to market yourself as a business, stealing the best and most successful ideas off larger companies and using them to benefit you.

Becoming a business

Even if you are trading under your own name, thinking of yourself as a brand will be an invaluable tool when it comes to publicity. A well defined brand can instantly appeal to people on the same wavelength and helps people remember who you are.

Think of all the big name brands out there - Virgin, Marks and Spencer, the Body Shop, Amazon - they are all a lot more than just having a logo.

How to create a brand

Ask yourself who are you going to target – stressed out executives, worn down mothers who need pampering, people recovering from injuries, companies who might treat their staff as a perk?

If you are saying “Well, Id like to treat them all”, stop. Take one group at a time and build your niche there. Once you are established in that group you can the move onto another, but in the meantime, it is best to put all your focus into one area and really carve out a name for yourself.

Think carefully about the people you want to appeal to. How old are they? What sort of programmes would they watch? What books, newspapers or magazines would they read? What sort of image is more likely to grab them – a pretty poster describing the benefits of relaxation, or a bold poster offering the ultimate pampering experience? Try and put yourself in their shoes and ask what would get you to book a session?

This is going to help you in two ways. First, you can tailor your marketing material (brochures, posters, cards, and website if you have one) to appeal to them, and second, when you approach the press, either via PR or placing an advert, you will know exactly how to reach your target audience.

Now the best bit

Getting your name out and about

Public Relations

* Read every newspaper and magazine twice. The first time for pleasure. The second time to see where your business can appear. Get to know your local press intimately – even the free papers can be good sources of publicity.
* Write a press release (or paying for a press release to be written) and just sending it off is a waste of time. Tailor each approach to each individual publication.
* What is there that is newsworthy about you? Can you tie yourself in with a news story that is happening right now?
* Your press release should ideally be one side of A4 letting people know what you do, where you do it, and how much you charge for it. Remember to write it in a way that would appeal to your chosen group, highlighting the benefits they will get from an appointment. A good tip is to use words you think might appeal to them, whether it’s “relaxing”, “empowering”, “life changing”, “pampering”, “cellulite busting” or “invigorating”.
* Think outside of the box. Your local golf club magazine, old alumni newsletter, NCT monthly publication - all these are wonderful sources of PR.
* Don't pester. You'll get a bad name for yourself. Keep your emails and calls to journalists for when you really have got some news for them.
* Offer something for free - either to write an article on baby massage, tarot reading, or perhaps offer a massage as a competition prize in a publication that your target market reads.
* If you do get some PR make people take action by offering them something special if they book an appointment NOW!


On the premise that it’s easier to sell more to your present clients than to attract new ones…

* Ask for referrals. They may not be referring people to you because it just hasn’t occurred to them or perhaps they are under the impression that you are just too busy.
* On the same track. Ask your clients for their help and ideas. You never know, you may just have the head of a local radio station there on the table.
* You can offer a loyalty scheme where they get an extra long session (don’t give them a free one, make them at least pay the normal price) when they refer a new client to you.
* Take a leaf out of Airmiles book and offer an extra long session when they’ve had a certain number of appointments with you.

Local Networking

* Joining the Chamber of Commerce isn’t just for large businesses. You’ll network; get lots of helpful business advice and think of all those tired and anxious people who might need your services.
* Make yourself a mini network by joining forces with perhaps a homeopath, a hairdresser etc and agree to refer clients to each other. You can even have a group business card printed to give out.
* Join ready made local networks like Business Network International and The Magenta Circle. Surf the internet for a group that appeals to you.
* Taking part in the local community, whether it’s becoming a school governor, or heading up your local Neighbourhood watch, not only gives something back to their local area, but also helps promote you and your business in the local community. You’ve got to get yourself noticed!
* School fetes, Autumn fairs, Christmas shows – these are all wonderful opportunities for getting your name out an about by offering a massage as a prize, getting everyone to fill in a form to enter. There you are – a ready made local mailing list (don’t forget to include an opt out box on the form if they don’t want to receive promotional mail).

Getting Results

* Devoting a little time each week on a regular basis is the best way to get results. Work out how much time you can devote to marketing and PR and timetable it into your diary, just as you would any other appointment.
* Keep notes of who you spoke to and what they said.
* Also keep notes of what you’ve done and how it has worked for you. Before abandoning any approach ask yourself if the problem was you (not enough effort or not enough time) or the approach.

Spending money

Yes, of course you will have to spend some money in the form of brochures, cards etc. But here are some points that will make that money go further.

* When I start working with clients I am always amazed at how many of them have had brochures and business cards printed that are just sitting around gathering dust. Although you do need to keep some the majority of them should be out there spreading the word.
* If you are spending money on advertising it’s always worth waiting until nearer the deadline for ads when you might be able to get a reduced price.
* Don’t forget to ask if there’s any possibility you can have some editorial at the same time. You are spending your money in their publication after all.

About the Author
Paula Gardner specialises in offering consultations and coaching to small businesses and entrepreneurs who want to build a thriving practice. You can read more at ( , or you can talk to Paula on 07941 244343.


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