The Mountains and Molehills of being Self-Employed 

Nicola Griffiths By Nicola Griffiths

Climbing the mountain

Business can be a bit up and down can’t it? If you sit back and think about it that applies to big business as well as small, it affects the employed and the self-employed. But sometimes we think it’s just us struggling to get clients.

As I started to think about writing this article on the ups and downs of business, the following came to mind: Working with a client who climbed Everest I discovered that once the climbers reached camp 1 they then had to return to base camp and then repeat that process. Over a few weeks they would climb a little higher and then come back down again, all done to help them acclimatise. I mistakenly thought the climbers simply went up to each camp in turn, sat there sipping tea whilst acclimatising and then carried on!


Frequently, when talking with both therapy students and graduates, I’m struck with the thought that they too have the same view of business as I had on acclimatisation. A common misconception is that once the ball is rolling and a few referrals come in, everything will be fine. You are on the up and although there may be some quiet times, the summit is in sight and you just keep going up towards it.

My view is that the ‘two weeks’ that it takes to acclimatise on the mountain should be converted to ‘two years’ for setting up a business i.e. there will be BIG ups and downs over that first two years and then it will, in a lot of cases, start to settle down and become more consistent if you’ve been consistent in building that business.
There are a number of things to consider though, such as:

  • Are you marketing 24/7? (Okay, I might give you a 15 minute nap at 2am)
  • Are you good at what you do?
  • Are you in the right place?
  • Is luck on your side?

I find people under estimate the amount of time they need to spend on marketing and sometimes they under estimate the amount of money they need to spend too. If you want to be fully self-employed and seeing 20+ clients a week quickly, then you have to spend a lot of time and money getting there. It’s the equivalent of fast-tracking up that mountain by getting a helicopter to take you up – it’s rather expensive!

Certainly you don’t have to fast-track, you can climb that mountain step by step, the equivalent of reinvesting your client earnings and building your business, equally as good as fast tracking, it’s just a slower climb and it still takes effort.

Talk the talk, walk the walk

In order to be successful, it’s not a matter to just firing off some money in Google’s direction for an Adwords campaign. The most successful therapists I know talk the talk, to anyone who will stop and listen for half a second. They are enthusiastic and persistent and those two words are key. It’s no good going along for 6 months working hard at it, you need to do the initial push for a good 18-24 months to ensure the beginnings of longevity.

I remember one of my sisters some 20 years ago had a particularly rough time and as she sat sobbing into a hankie (this was before I was a solution focused hypnotherapist bear in mind, so I wasn’t able to snap her out of it!), a friend said “Don’t worry, it’s like a mountain range, there are some peaks to get over in the next few months but then it’ll all start to smooth out”. I so laughed at my sister’s response: “Yes, sob, that’s all very well, sob, but it’s flippin Everest and K2 in front of me at the moment”!

Keep on keeping on

Funnily enough, her friend was right, it did smooth out. And that’s exactly what happens once you’ve consistently put the time and effort in to building a business. After two years I see stronger businesses beginning to form if the therapist has worked consistently. Those who’ve been in business 4 years or more are, in the vast majority of cases, ticking over very well. There will be exceptions, sunshine tends to have people rushing for beaches rather than therapy rooms etc and our own circumstances, focus and health all have an impact. On the whole I do see things becoming easier once consistency has been established.

After the first two years, it’s pretty obvious what happens. Those people we saw whilst training, those we saw in the first few years, and those people we have constantly enthused to over all that time are still referring. It’s like a steam train, slow to get going but quite majestic once it gets up to full steam.

It may be helpful to know that most successful therapists struggled in the early days. If you are struggling now, you are not alone! However, if you give up then you won’t see the rather nice view from the top. It’s your choice.
An ex-colleague of mine who also climbed Everest said: “…. I thought that climbing Everest would be a mountaineering challenge... instead it's turning out to be a test of patience, patience, and more patience.” Being self-employed is a journey and you can’t arrive at the destination until you’ve taken the journey, so patience is required not only for climbing mountains!

The steps along the journey:

  • Qualify to become a therapist.
  • Keep the momentum going. Taking a break shortly after qualifying or taking your eye off the client-ball by deliberating over a website causes problems. Seeing clients is the most important thing, even if your next initial consultation is to the cat!
  • Don’t focus on just one marketing activity – spread your net but not too thinly. Work out what to spend your money on, put that into place then turn your attention to anything that is free that may attract clients.
  • If you have a no-show, a cancellation or you have an empty day/week/month, there’s your opportunity to sit with pen and paper and work out what you need to do next.
  • Talk to self-employed people who are more experienced. What did they do to get more business? Remember, they don’t even have to be a therapist to give you ideas.
  • Attend CPD courses and supervision – they help to generate energy which you need to motivate yourself.
  • Ensure you’re having social interaction, especially with other therapists as well as friends. I’m always saying that physical therapists such as osteopaths, chiropracters, acupuncturists etc are a great source of referral for those who are therapists working with the mind and vice versa, but only if they know what you do. Reciprocal therapy sessions should sort that one out.
  • Don’t let competition put you off, although be aware of who that competition is. The competition are educating your potential clients of what you do, just get yourself out there so your client sees you too.
  • What markets are you missing? Do you stand at the school gates; have lunch with former colleagues; know a group of people you can give a talk to; is there a Women’s Institute or equivalent in your area? Exactly how many people live in your area? How can you contact them and possibly in a different way to what others are doing?
  • Smile. The world is watching. Walk the walk and talk the talk.
  • Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm!

When I became fully self-employed I’d spend every Wednesday from 9am to 10am sitting with my sister who’d also just set up her own business and we’d brainstorm how we could get more clients. There is no similarity between how we work with our clients, I’m a hypnotherapist, she’s a graphic designer, yet there is so much common ground on how to get clients. As we’d sit there we’d have an agenda and we were very focused on what we wanted to achieve each Wednesday. The main advantage of these weekly one-hour meetings is we would come away energised and full of ideas.

There’s a good reason we tell clients to positively interact.

Finally, keep going. It will pay off and the view is rather spectacular!

What’s the best way to maximise your chances of making a success of the transition from paid employment to being self-employed? What are the pitfalls and how can you take steps to maintain motivation and momentum when things get challenging?

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