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How to be Available without being a Pushover

It’s a question of boundaries, really.  Mostly I see holistic practitioners hanging out in the extremes.  Either hiding behind locked doors, “by appointment only” signs and take-no-prisoner receptionists or alternatively, spending endless hours giving away free information to anyone who asks.

Neither extreme is good for your business.

There’s no one right answer that fits all practitioners, but there is a suitable range that will help you build your clientele without losing money hand over fist.  You can pick whatever works for you in that range… as long as you are comfortable with it and you’re supporting your business.

In this weeks post I explore how being overly inaccessible can be brutal on your business.  Next week we’ll dig into inaccessibility’s evil twin and look hard at how being a pushover helps you help less people, not more.  


Is Being Unavailable Hurting Your Business?

Maybe you learned that having a “gate keeper” would save you time and make you more productive.  

Maybe you’re afraid of getting wrangled into giving free advice to some individual who just wants to “pick your brain.”

Maybe you think it makes you look more successful if you’re not the one who answers the phone or e-mails, or if it takes you days to respond instead of minutes.

Maybe you’ve been sucked into free consultations in the past and you’ve vowed to NEVER be in that situation again.

Whatever the reason, if you’ve made yourself too unavailable you could be keeping potential clients away instead of welcoming them into your practice as you (and they) would like.

Here are some real life examples of unavailability in action ~

A website with no personal information about who you are or why you do what you do.

Speaking gigs where you say your piece and bolt from the room before you can be hassled by info seekers.

A closed door policy.  No appointment no entrance.  You must commit your $ to me before I’ll commit 2 minutes to you.

Dinner with the doctor where you speak and they eat.  End of story.

A receptionist who keeps out the salesmen and everyone else who walks in your door.

Curt responses such as, “Please contact my assistant in the future.”

Too big for your britches references to nameless “staff” and “team members” who do all your dirty work, even if you’re a solopreneur.   

Formal auto-responders such as, “Thank you for your inquiry.  You will be contacted with a response within 48 hours.”

In a world with 300 toothpaste options where we are constantly inundated with “buy me” messages funded by giant corporations, people are longing for 2 things:

An easy choice and a meaningful connection to prompt that easy choice.

Let’s imagine for a moment, that you’re a Naturopath.  

Let’s also imagine that there are 5 other Naturopaths within a 15 minute drive of your office.  

You’ve all hung your shingle outside your door.

You each charge the same rate and offer similar services.

Now let’s imagine that the other 5 Naturopaths keep their doors locked unless they have a scheduled appointment, they are in an office without windows, and when Sally (that’s my mom’s name :-) calls to schedule an appointment they inform her of the cost of the appointment and also make it clear that they can be of no assistance unless they are paid.

Sounds harsh I know, but that impression could be as simple as a statement like ~

“I’d really have to do a full work up to answer that question.”  

Which could easily be replaced with ~

“There are several possibilities I can think of.  When you come in for your appointment and I can see the whole picture of what’s going on I’ll be able to narrow it down and I’ll have some suggestions for you.”

Both carry the same message, but the first one screams, “You have to pay me for that answer!” while the second let’s the client know that you’re giving it your careful consideration and are looking forward to helping them.

You, on the other hand, have a lovely lobby / reception / retail area, where potential clients are welcome to stop in, take a look around, ask questions and get a taste of who you are and what you do before they commit their hard earned $ to booking with you.

If you were the client, where would you go?

I know what I would do, because I’ve made that decision many times.  I just can’t bring myself to schedule an appointment with someone I’ve never met, to go into an office I’ve never seen the inside of and have committed to spending my money just to see what it’s like.  This is the reason it took me years to explore Acupuncture.  I didn’t really know what it was about.  I didn’t know how much it would cost.  I didn’t know if I would have to get naked.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to call some number out of the phone book to show up and see what happened.

(How many of you Chiropractors have had someone ask if they’ll have to take their clothes off???)

 Let’s face it ~ what we do in the holistic health field is new and unusual to the majority of folks out there.  We need to give them a taste so they can see if they like it, and if they like us, before we ask them to jump in with both feet.

There are lots of ways you can make yourself available for people to get to know you before they become your client.

If you’re not available to play hostess all day, then you must ensure that your receptionist is providing a sampling of who you are.  Another option is providing open office hours on a weekly or monthly basis, even if just for a few hours so that the curious can stop in, shake your hand and check out what you’re up to.

Talk to prospective clients and be kind and encouraging that they make an appointment so you can fully help them.

Give a taste of who you are through your website by including a video of yourself, a tour of your office and pictures of your staff.  Your website is an extension of your business and it’s how most people will find you.

It’s all about setting boundaries and chances are you’ll have a few uncomfortable moments while you figure out where those boundaries should be. That’s okay.  It’s part of the game.  You learn and move on untill you find the right place on the availability spectrum for you and your business.

Next week we’ll dig into unavailability’s evil twin and look hard at how being a pushover helps you help less people, not more.