Good Business Practice
Patricia Bishop runs a thriving hypnotherapy and healing practice in London. This is a thorough handbook to the complete business of setting up a complementary health practice.
First impressions count
How you run your practice will have a considerable impact on how profitable it becomes, as first impressions are so important. This includes basics such as how you greet your clients on the phone and in person, how professional your business stationery is, whether you run your sessions to time, as well as higher level aspects such as ensuring your clients’ confidentiality and keeping your personal training up to date. Even the name you give to your business will have an impact on its future development.
The following are some of the key areas you may wish to review in order to assess how well these enhance or detract from the image you wish to portray:
- the name of your practice
- the working environment
- how you run your sessions
- how you handle bookings
- your business stationery
- how easy it is for your clients to get in contact with you
- how you run your practice.
Naming your business
It is very important that you consider carefully how you are going to name your business, for you need to ensure that the name will convey all the right messages and present a positive image. It is always a good feature to include wording in the title which gives some idea of what your business is about, for example, a hypnotherapist might use the word trance, hypno or hypnotherapy in the business name, other practitioners might use the words alternative or complementary, or include a pairing of the locality with their particular therapy, for example, Anytown Acupuncture Centre.
You need to make sure that no one else in the same line of business is using that name already, so check the local telephone and trade directories, and also check on the internet. If you are thinking of advertising or marketing any of your products on the internet, once you’ve chosen your business name purchase a personalised domain name for your business which relates to this.
The working environment
Whether you are working from home, within a clinic or have your own set of offices, it is essential that you provide the correct environment for your clients. Your practice room must always be clean and tidy. And while decoration is very much an individual choice, you should consider that not all your clients may share your taste in colours or design. Light, neutral colours are always a safe bet. Avoid visual ‘clutter’ – a small number of appropriate pictures, paintings or certificates on your walls is fine, but be selective or this can become overwhelming.
Furniture and equipment
The furniture and equipment in your room should be functional, comfortable and clean. If you use a couch for massage or healing, make sure you have a set of steps to help your clients get on and off the couch safely. Keep a variety of chairs in your room – some of your clients may find it hard to get out of a low armchair, others may find chairs without arms more practical. Switch off any unnecessary electrical equipment while you are working with a client in order to prevent any unnecessary background noise and to create a more peaceful environment whilst you work. If you use a lot of electrical equipment you may also want to consider investing in an ioniser to reduce the static charge in your room.
Making the room more comfortable
Your working area should be adequately lit, and appropriately heated. You might want to add other touches, such as using plug-in air fresheners, or burning essential oils. These can be helpful for setting a calm, relaxed mood, and they can also act as positive triggers – clients will frequently link a particularly pleasing smell or a piece of music (if you use music in your work) to being in a relaxed state and will often mention how good it makes them feel. Plants can help to energise a room, create a splash of colour and some can also be good for reducing the less than desirable effects of all your electrical equipment (think computers – think spider plants). But do be aware that some of your clients may have allergies to flowering plants so you might want to consider an artificial arrangement instead.
Using music in your sessions can help to relax a client and set a calm and peaceful mood for your sessions. Choose your music with care. Instrumental pieces are usually a better choice than sung pieces, as the words of a song may not be conveying the right message or may prove to be a distraction.
If you are going to use music in your sessions or as background noise in your waiting area, you should be aware that this constitutes a ‘public performance’ and you should therefore register with the Performing Right Society and pay the appropriate annual licence fee – this is not very expensive. Alternatively, you can download music from the internet, or buy CDs and tapes of music which is royalty free – you pay a one-off payment and can use the music in whatever way you choose. For details of the Performing Right Society and royalty free music, see Chapter 12.
You should also consider what subconscious messages you may be sending out by the personal touches you add to your room. If you have photos of your family on open display, these may send unintentional signals to clients who are single, newly bereaved or who have relationship problems – triggering emotions or sending signals counter to your equality policy, so choose carefully. The same goes for pictures or posters which may have symbolic meanings.
Free from noise
Your practice room should be as free from noisy distractions as possible. If you have a waiting room, check whether any conversations can be overheard in your practice room. If you can hear other people’s conversations through the walls, the chances are that they can hear yours. You need to ensure that any information your client shares with you is treated confidentially, so you may need to consider relocating the waiting room or playing some light music to mask being overheard.
Your working area also needs to be as accessible as possible (see Chapter 1 for details about access for people with disabilities), preferably located on the ground floor or with adequate access for wheelchair users. Ensure that the toilets are nearby, that there are facilities for disabled users and that you have somewhere to wash your hands. If you don’t have a designated kitchen area you might find it useful to set aside some space in your room for making hot drinks.
Your session charges
Make sure you set clear guidelines regarding your sessions. List your fees, any cancellation policies you might have, how long your sessions last, the hours you work, how you work, whether you offer an initial free consultation and detail what the client can expect from a session. If you offer more than one therapy you will need to make these details clear for each therapy.
Investigate how much, and how, other local practitioners charge and then charge for your work accordingly. Other decisions you will need to make are whether to:
- offer a free initial consultation
- charge more for evening and weekend sessions
- offer any discounts
- charge for cancelled or missed appointments.
Receipts and appointment cards
Once your client has paid for the session make sure you provide them with a receipt. This can also include messages and reminders, such as:
- details of your cancellation policy
- a reminder of the date and time for the next appointment
- a reminder of any ‘homework’ that your client has been asked to do.
If your receipts are business card size and printed on card, they are less likely to get lost or mislaid by the client as the card will fit neatly into a purse or wallet.
Free initial consultation
Offering a free initial consultation is often a good selling point. In practical terms it will also give you a chance to explore your client’s problems before deciding to take them on and allow your client the chance to meet you in person. It also gives you the opportunity to discuss how your therapy could potentially help the client with their issues. It’s good practice to leave some extra time after the initial consultation in case the client would like to go straight ahead with a session, as they may have travelled quite a distance to get to you.
You may decide to offer discounts to clients who book and pay for a block of sessions, or people on low incomes such as pensioners, students and those on benefits. If you decide to offer discounts you will also need to decide how many sessions in a week, or month, you can afford to discount in this way. If the number of discounted sessions exceeds that which is sustainable, operate a waiting list and get back in touch with those potential clients when the numbers have balanced out again.
There are always going to be situations in life which will cause your clients to cancel their appointments, so it’s best to work out your cancellation policy ahead of time. Most therapists will not charge for cancellations providing the client has given 24 hours’ notice. You may also decide to waive any charges if the cancellation is due to illness or if there’s been a family emergency of some sort. Decide whether you are going to charge a nominal cancellation fee, the full fee, or a percentage of the full fee, and make your clients aware of your cancellation policy when they book a session.
Rather than deal with a cancellation, you may prefer to remind your client of their session in advance, by phoning them, or sending a text message or email. Although it is annoying to have to take responsibility from the client for this, at the end of the day you need to earn a living, so if you are going through a spell of clients missing sessions you might want to try this out. The same applies to clients who reschedule or book appointments over the phone. If you send out a postcard detailing their session date and time you are less likely to have them miss the next session.
Your working week
Whilst a number of therapists work in a very flexible way, others prefer to work to a set pattern. Routine can be very helpful especially if you have a family to look after. It can also work in the favour of clients who want to have their ‘slot’ on a particular day and time each week. Having a set working pattern may make it easier for you to set your boundaries, as it will help you to focus on completing your work during your work hours. You will also need to decide what, if any, out of hours work you are prepared to offer for those clients who can’t manage the usual daytime appointments.
Make sure you list your days and hours of work on your practice brochure and website. And if you are working at more than one location, list your venues and the relevant days and times you work at each.
Number and spacing of client sessions
If you are working in a therapy which requires a number of sessions before any improvement is likely to be made, discuss these details at the initial consultation and make sure that they feature on your literature. Similarly if there is an average number of sessions that clients come to you for help with a particular problem, state this. It will make your job easier as this information will help to shape your clients’ expectations of the therapy you offer.
Assessing number of sessions
When you first meet with a client it is always good practice to assess how many sessions the client is likely to need. Generalisations are acceptable, for example, telling the clients that for most presenting issues it’s four to six sessions, but do state whether it is the case that some problems can be dealt with quicker and detail which problems might take longer – such as deep-seated psychological trauma or chronic medical conditions. This way clients can determine in advance whether they can afford a full course of sessions and you can discuss any discounts if applicable.
Keeping a space between sessions
The spacing between sessions is also important. Some therapies require a client to attend a session on a weekly basis, others which are looking for behavioural changes on the part of the client may require a minimum gap between sessions of two weeks in order to adequately assess the change process. The spacing between sessions is also important to a client from a financial point of view. If it isn’t necessary for a client to attend once a week, let them know what is necessary rather than desirable as this may financially be in your best interests as well. A client may decide to go ahead with a course of treatment if they know the sessions can be spaced out to once a fortnight or even once a month.
Keeping your sessions to time
Decide the duration of your sessions and stick to it. For many therapies, working on an hourly basis works best – particularly if your therapy is quite exhausting or requires the client to concentrate for any length of time. Some therapies, such as massage therapy, will have differing times for sessions related to particular routines for different types of massage.
Time-keeping during sessions is important. You need to be able to allocate some time within each of your sessions for discussing progress or any problems that your client may have been experiencing, and still leave sufficient time for the therapeutic work. Clients will have an increased respect for you as a professional if they are clear from the outset what to expect. Many clients may be trying to fit in sessions around work and home commitments; if you run your sessions over the allotted time you may be causing problems for your client rather than giving them added value.
Allowing time for breaks
Allow some time either side of each session in order that you can take a quick break, have a drink, make a quick phone call, go to the toilet etc before the next client arrives. Having this gap will also help smooth the situation when clients arrive late for sessions. Don’t, however, feel duty bound to go through a complete session with a client who has arrived late – especially if this means you miss out on breaks or may need to keep your next client waiting. If you keep to time your clients will understand that the same is expected of them or otherwise they lose out. There will, of course, be occasions when you do decide to work extra time for a particular client, and that’s fine – all part of the flexibility of the job – but just remember that you are running a business.
Allowing time for the client’s needs
If the nature of your work is such that your clients are likely to abreact, you may want to allow an extra ten to 15 minutes on each session to ensure that you have time to deal with this in a professional manner. Not only is it more professional to spend time settling the client before they leave, but it also helps build trust and will generally have the client talking about you and your practice in a positive way.
Keeping accurate time
Many therapists find it useful to locate their clock on the wall just above where their client will be sitting – this way you can easily flick your glance from your client to the clock without obviously clock-gazing. If you need to move around whilst you work buy one of those watches of the sort which nurses use, attach it to your shirt or t-shirt and a quick glance will keep you updated.
If keeping to time is a difficult for you to achieve, you might want to think of using a watch, clock or timer with an inbuilt alarm which you can set to go off at predetermined intervals, for example, five to ten minutes before the end of every session. Make sure the alarm is not loud or intrusive in any way - though for those clients who like to chat you may find yourself grateful that they can hear an alarm as it can be a good prompt for them to move on. If noise is a potential issue, try to get a timer where the alarm vibrates rather than sounds.
Before you receive that first phone call or potential booking make sure you have:
- decided on your charges and any discounts
- decided whether you are going to offer a free initial consultation
- the full postal address of your practice room
- details of how clients can get to you by public transport
- details of the nearest car parks if clients can’t park outside your practice
- decided the hours which you are going to work
- formulated a short description of how you work and what your therapy entails.
Putting together an initial booking package
Some clients may request further details about your therapy before deciding on whether to book a session, so it’s a good idea to have a small package of information that you can quickly hand out or mail out.
What should this include?
- administrative details
- details about yourself as a therapist
- details about how you work
- details about specific problems or illnesses you treat
- your code of conduct
- any ‘freebies’.
Administrative details include your costs, your contact details and full postal address of your practice, your cancellation policy, details of your NHS provider number and/or BUPA registration number if applicable, a map of your location, your hours of work, details of how to get to your practice by bus, train, car or tube.
You the therapist
Include a few paragraphs about how you work, whether you specialise in treating any particular problems or medical complaints, whether you combine therapies and if so which ones and how, how long you have been practising, where you trained, your qualifications and membership of any professional organisations, and include confirmation that you are insured.
How you work
Confirm how long your sessions are, what techniques you are likely to use, what the client can expect during the session and whether the client should prepare themselves before the session in any way, for example, not eating for an hour before the session.
Specific problems or illnesses
This could be a separate sheet giving a brief background to the problem, the current thinking on that issue, the possible remedies, how your therapy in particular could help the client and what successes you have had in the past – you could include any anecdotal evidence of change, specific statistics or any testimonials you may have received from clients. Include books or articles for further reading, and list relevant websites which may be able to offer further self-help.
Code of conduct
This is a statement of your professional standards. It should include your confidentiality policy, your equalities policy and detail full information about how your practice is run and what your client can expect. For more information on codes of conduct, see Chapter 4.
You could include a pen (overprinted with your practice details), or an introductory discount voucher.