Creating a Successful Private Practice with NLP
Written by Dr Richard Bolstad
Section A: Setting Up An NLP Business
If NLP Is So Good, Why Aren’t I Rich?
A while ago, I wrote an article about marketing your NLP Training business. Since then, I’ve had repeated requests about how to apply the same ideas to one on one NLP consulting. In fact, it’s the most common question that new NLP Master Practitioners ask: How do I set myself up as an NLP coach, consultant or counselor, and earn enough money to live from it?
Their story often has some of the following elements. The Master Practitioner inquiring is a relatively introverted, quiet sort of person who prefers to stay at home rather than be out meeting people. Being self-employed and seeing clients appeals to them precisely because it seems to be reachable without having to interact with large groups of people in a large, impersonal organization. They also like the idea of being self-employed because it seems likely to free them from imposed schedules and from chunked down planning or record keeping.
The person in this common story has never been successfully self-employed before, but they are sure they know exactly what it takes: good intentions. So they spend their time and energy tidying up their internal expectations, and affirming that they believe in an abundant universe. They put out advertising for a few weeks, and tell themselves that if only their attitude is correct the universe will provide clients for them. They tidy up and create a perfect space to receive clients into. After that first few weeks of abundance consciousness, disillusioned, they give up and go back to working for someone else (someone who doesn’t have this belief in the inevitable abundance of the universe, but none-the-less is making money in a universe where abundance is possible); or they may even just go back to being unemployed. The only thing that hasn’t changed is their belief that what they did was “the right way” to attract clients. Sometimes they decide that another training is what they need. Off to learn yet more techniques to use even more skillfully with the clients who never came.
So why isn’t NLP working for them? They may end up blaming either NLP or themselves, but the truth is much simpler. The answer is that they simply aren’t using NLP and they aren’t releasing the potential they already have to be an extraordinary healer and change agent. They know exactly how to cure a phobia, they know a lot about how to decorate an office, and they know almost nothing about how to market a business. The basic idea of NLP is to find out which patterns highly successful people are using to achieve success in a specific way, and then to replicate those patterns. That means letting go of the certainty that you already know everything that you need to know. If you want to earn money from seeing clients, then you model people who are doing that. You wouldn’t tell people with a phobia that they just need to believe in the abundance and safety of the universe; you would show them how successful people have actually cured their phobias. That’s modeling. That’s what you could also do in relation to private practice as an NLP Practitioner. This article is about doing that.
If you think you already know how to create a private practice, and you want to reassure yourself that you are right, this may be the wrong article for you to read. If you just want to get rich, then this is definitely the wrong article, because I didn’t model getting rich. I modeled how to create a private practice doing one of the things I love most (NLP changework) and being paid for it. To illustrate each of the steps in my model, I will give examples from two specific NLP consulting/counseling businesses. These are Transformations (initially set up in Christchurch by Lynn Timpany, Bryan Royds, Margot Hamblett and myself in 1994) and the Sattwic Counselling Centre (set up in 1999 in Wellington by Damian Peters).
You’re In Business!
OK. The next thing I want to tell you is that being in private practice will require work. The kind of work that is so exciting that you can’t wait to get up and do it. Like waking up the morning after Christmas and rushing out to build something with a new set of blocks or create a new dolls house. There is a very simple reason, as Michael Gerber says, why 80% of small businesses fail within the first five years. It’s not because the people running them don’t work! It’s because they do too much of the wrong kind of work. They do the technical work they were trained to do (in our case NLP coaching and counselling) as well as all the paperwork of running a business. Gerber says a elf-employed practitioner has three roles. They fit neatly with the creativity strategy Robert Dilts modelled from Walt Disney (Dilts, Epstein and Dilts, 1991). They are the Entrepreneur (dreamer), the Technician (realist) and the Manager (critic).
Most of us, Gerber points out, get into NLP counselling or coaching as doers, as technicians. During our NLP trainings, we get good at what we’re doing, and then we start to dream about being in business on our own. So we rush out into the world following our dream. The missing element, says Gerber, is the Manager. Most people think of a manager as the person in charge. But in Gerber’s terms, the manager is the person who (like Dilts’ Critic) makes sure the plans of the entrepreneur and the work of the technician actually gets to succeed. He says, “The Manager cleans up after the Entrepreneur.” (Gerber, 1995, p 26). Aware that something is lacking, a newly self-employed coach-counsellor often ooks around for help, and hires someone to do all the paperwork; to tidy up after them. Unfortunately, that’s not the point. The new “office help” doesn’t know your overall values, your vision as an Entrepreneur. In the end, Gerber, suggests, they just make the gap between your dreams and the day to day realities more obvious! What’s missing is the manager in you. The decision, Gerber suggests, is whether you want to be primarily a Technician (in which case you’re better off working for someone else) or a Manager (in which case the coaching that you arrange to be done is more your product than your job). I would rephrase Gerber’s position and say that the important thing is to be clear, at any particular time, whether you are an Entrepreneur, a Technician or a Manager.
A Manager can think of their coaching as a product that is outside of and separable from them. They have the ability to step back from it and critique it, to plan it as a business, to market it, to model its success and even to package that success as a franchise. In Gerber’s terms, most of my articles about counselling and coaching are addressed to you as a Technician. This article is addressed to you as a Manager.
What is the solution for the introverted person with that “common problem” described above? Robert Hamilton and John English (1993) say that research reveals particular metaprograms and values which are associated with small business success. Here is their list. I’ve explained this list to people who then offer counter-examples. “I know someone who never set goals and is rich”. So once again, let me say; if you already know better, this may be the wrong article for you to read. On the other hand, if you identify one of these as a challenge for you, this is your opportunity to acknowledge the challenge, and either develop this skill or find someone who already has it to link in with. (Doing what I just suggest in this sentence IS actually applying several of these skills, by the way).
Drive and energy (willing to play at it for hours on end)
Self confidence (believing you’re in charge of your results)
Long term involvement (willing to keep at it for years)
Monitoring money as a method of feedback
Persistent solution finding (seeing problems as just challenges)
Goal setting (clear, specified goals)
Care about using time usefully
Moderate risk taking (willing to take a carefully calculated risk)
Dealing with unmet goals as an opportunity to learn
Using feedback to improve performance
Taking the initiative and acting on your own behalf
Using outside resources to make life easier
Tolerating uncertainty about the results of your decisions
The rest of this article will chunk down into some details about how to apply these metaprograms.
Planning Your NLP Business
There are lots of great books on setting up small counselling or coaching businesses, to guide you through the planning. (for example, check out Beigel, J. K. and Earle, R. H., 1990; Grodzki, L., 2000; and Kolt, L., 1999). They focus on marketing, which is the main subject of this article. But they also discuss some of the simple setting-up decisions you’ll want to make such as:
Are you working alone or in a group? If you’re in a group, how will decisions be made?
Are you going to be legally defined as a sole trader (sole proprietor), partnership, or company (corporation)? If you work, advertise and earn money in a group, you are legally either a partnership or a company (corporation). Companies have more legal protection, in return for more paperwork. Ask a lawyer for help with this decision. Which brings up the issue of outside professional help. You want a lawyer, a bank manager and an accountant from the start.
Where will your business be run from? The question is not whether you’ll have an office. You will. The question is whether it will be in your bedroom, in a separate room at home, or in an office building that you travel to each day. Getting it out of your bedroom is probably a high priority! Will your office and your consulting room (where you see people) be the same room? You’ll also want some way of soundproofing your consulting room or ensuring it is quiet. Sit there and pretend you are having a sensitive conversation with someone, and check how it feels. Of our two example NLP businesses, Transformations was run from rooms in private homes. Three separate consulting rooms were set up in our houses, and a waiting room space provided in two for clients who arrive while a previous client is still in session. The main Transformations office was set up in my own house, and each member of Transformations also used a room as an office (making a total of nine rooms). The Sattwic Counselling Centre is set up in an office building. Initially run from a few rooms there, it now occupies an entire floor, with a central waiting room and office, a staff room, and several consulting rooms. If you are renting an office, check where your clients will park their cars, where they can wait if they are early, and who works from the premises next door (and thus alters the first impression of your office for new clients).
Next you need to consider how to furnish your room/s. What kind of chair do you want to sit in as you do NLP processes. Can you reach a client’s hands to do anchoring from that chair? Can they sit upright and do parts integration in it? Can they relax into a trance in it?
And to run a counselling or coaching business, you’ll want more than chairs. Probably, you want a computer with a word processor, accounting system and database, connected to a laser printer. Being connected to the outside world by phone, fax and email is almost essential. The question is how you’ll manage these connections. Will you use an answer-phone, will you try and answer the phone at any time, or will you pay someone to answer it for you (an office assistant or an answering company)? And yes, Telecom will check whether you’re using your home phone as a business phone, so if you’re at home that means another decision about getting one phone line or two.
Next, you need some decisions about insurance, because your home insurance doesn’t cover all that new equipment. And how about indemnity insurance? (sometimes your national NLP Association can provide this or advise you where to get it.) Maybe you want health insurance, or other benefits that you might have taken for granted as an employed person.
Finally, there’s the issue of hiring help. If you decide to do that, you can do it in two ways; by employing people (full or part time), and by contracting help for specific tasks. Talk to someone about your responsibilities as an employer in either case; employing someone is not a decision you can randomly change your mind about next week. You’ll also want to ensure staff operate in a way that aligns with your values. This means that you as an employer need to very clear about your values (your criteria) for each task you hand over to someone else.
So how are you going? Being a Manager has a different feel about it. For one thing, the costs and risks involved are often much more concrete. The risk is not just that someone might not like your session; it’s that (for example) Inland Revenue might charge you very serious penalties if you don’t get money to them on time! The potential is not just that you might go home feeling like you did your job well; it’s that you might go home feeling that you are on track with your life mission and creating a world worth living in!
There’s one more aspect of being a manager to consider though. If no-one knows about your fantastic NLP consulting business, you don’t get to carry on playing the game. So in the next section, I want to start thinking in detail about how to build relationships with clients and bring your business alive.
Section B: Ready For Marketing
In the last section, I talked about some of the issues involved in setting up an NLP consulting business. What we are going to discuss next is marketing this NLP business. Marketing means building relationships with people who want to benefit from the incredible gift of NLP. They already want the benefits that you can offer, for the very same reasons that you first wanted them: because those benefits will transform their lives, creating happiness and success where there was confusion, anxiety and depression. So marketing is not some serious, amoral business activity that you do in order to lure people into the “real” NLP sessions. Marketing IS the beginning of the NLP change process. Remember back to your first contact with NLP. When you first read about NLP, or heard from a friend what amazing things they had learned, you were already changing your life; you were already doing NLP.
M ission A uthenticity R esearch K nocking on doors E nthusing Clients T hrough Care
Mission: What Makes It All Worth While?
As the Entrepreneur in you knows, though, there are some very good reasons for going into business. Getting clear about what those are in your specific case is important before we consider this “mysterious” field of Marketing. This involves asking yourself some fairly standard NLP questions about what your mission in life is, what your vision of your business future is, what your values for lifestyle and career are, and what your evidence procedure for “success” is (Bolstad & Hamblett, 1999). NLP training itself is great preparation for being in business. Being in business means you can focus your entire life on your mission, and directly create your vision of ideal lifestyle and work.
With Transformations, setting a mission involved us discussing our individual visions as a group. At a Transformations meeting in 1994, we defined our mission as ”To provide clients with highest integrity, world leading, life-transforming human change technologies.” Damian Peters says that the creation of the Sattwic counselling centre evolved directly out of his setting a mission during his Master Practitioner training, and he keeps the planning sheets from that training at his counselling premises still. He was inspired at the time by the film “Patch Adams”, which he saw on the plane on his journey to teach NLP in Beirut in 1999. The film tells of the work of an American doctor who set out to create an alternative hospital. The Sattwic centre provides alternative health care as well as NLP based counselling.
Getting clear about the reasons for going into business also involves understanding some distinctions between being in business and being employed by someone. In business, you are an independent agent, and this is an experience a bit like leaving home as a teenager. The independence is great, and the sense of personal achievement can be very affirming. With this independence comes a responsibility for things that in the past were done by your employer’s “invisible hand”. You will have great flexibility about how you plan your time, and this will be balanced by the realisation that how you plan your time directly affects what income you get. All in all, there is a feeling of ”growing up”, and “living in the real world” that can be very refreshing.
Being in business means having the courage to go for your dreams. There’s a cliche in sales that the first and most important customer you need to sell to is yourself (LeBoeuf, 1987, p 34-37). Guy Kawasaki (1991) goes even further. Kawasaki worked for Apple Computer Inc. at the time they took on the computer giant IBM. His job title was ”Software Evangelist”. Kawasaki says that the evangelical metaphor had him motivated not by “making money”, but by “making history”. And the goal was not to sell, but to “convert”. Even today, if you talk to someone who owns a Macintosh, you’ll find they didn’t just buy it, they got converted to it. The now much copied Body Shop is another example, Kawasaki says, of evangelism. The Body Shop doesn’t pay for advertising; they rely on their community projects and their political campaigns.
One thing that the evangelism metaphor emphasises is that people do not buy into your NLP sessions because they are good sessions. Why? For the same reason that people don’t buy Bibles because they’re a good textbook. They buy products because of the state that they hope the product will deliver. Another way of saying this is that it’s important to identify which business you are in. You are not in the “NLP” business. You are in something much more important. Landmark Education Inc. runs 3-5 day seminars of a similar type to NLP (Landmark Forum). B.J. Holmes, Landmark’s Director of Marketing and Communications emphasises “We are in the business of selling a product of Transformation.” (Wruck and Eastley, 1997, p 8). That’s where I place NLP too. Marketing starts when you remember what states you are selling (confidence, energy, love, transformation etc), and re-inspire yourself.
In your personal life, it can be useful to get clear exactly what success will mean for you. When someone else employs you, they decide what makes it worthwhile. Now, it’s your game. What will make it worth playing? This is a kind of values elicitation for “success”. Define exactly what success means to you in each of the following areas; the more sensory specific the better, so shift from comparative deletions (eg lots; more; less) to specific quantities (eg 2 hours a day; 15; featured on 3 major TV talk shows). Then identify the three most
important indicators of success from this list or your own additions (your three highest success values).
Education level (Do you need a degree or even a doctorate to be a success?)
Money (How much is enough, not just for now but to retire on?)
Number of clients (How many do you want to be seeing per week?)
Power and Prestige (Want to influence world events? Want to be famous?)
Publications (Is there a book waiting in you?)
Control of time (How easy do you want it to be to simply take a day off?)
Time with family (How much time do you need to know for sure is free for these people?)
Speaking and Consulting requests (Want to be invited to speak, or to offer expert help?)
Community service (How much do you want to be available to help others?)
Authenticity: The One And Only You
Whether Evangelism works depends, says Kawasaki, on three types of people. First and foremost, there is the Leader (that’s you!). Your role is to believe in the vision and to embody it. If Body Shop founder Anita Roddick does not seem to be true to her own animal-testing-free, environmentally-friendly image, then the entire marketing structure of the Body Shop is at risk. Similarly, NLP practitioners who seem to glorify their own addictions, to excuse their own phobias, or to insult and humiliate clients similarly place their own marketing at risk. When people admire an NLP consultant enough to keep coming back for more, they admire not just their consulting style but their life-style. Most of us became involved with NLP because it worked in our own lives, or we saw it working in others’ lives. Evangelism keeps us true to our first intentions.
The second step to successful marketing, then, is to be clear about your vision and willing to hold on to it. This could be called integrity. Imagine two companies, both selling computer keyboards. One, making white keyboards, has 80% of the market. The other, selling black keyboards, has 20% of the market. One day, the manager at Black Keyboards Ltd has a brilliant idea. Black keyboards are not mainstream enough, she decides. She changes the company name to Grey Keyboards Ltd, and changes all their products to grey. After all, it’s more to the centre. But guess what – nobody wanted a grey keyboard! And now, her old customers, who trusted her black keyboards, can’t find her in the Yellow pages. Worse, when they see her grey keyboards, they’re not so sure they can trust them. They liked being different, and grey is a lot like white. And who knows what else has changed inside the new grey keyboards.
NLP practitioners are often tempted by the grey keyboard. Who hasn’t had people tell them that if only NLP was more mainstream, looked and sounded more like everyone else, it might work better. And it’s true that you need a certain percentage of people willing to try out a black keyboard, for it to work. But it’s also true that if NLP looked and sounded like every other system for personal change in the business, it simply wouldn’t exist.
Success, say Al Ries and Jack Trout (1986) is not always about making a copy of the mainstream product. It’s about unique “positioning”, that makes your product stand out from the mass of information that your buyers are coping with. To demonstrate the power of a unique position, they demonstrate with the success generated by being “first” in a field. What’s the biggest selling book ever published, they ask (1986, p 21). Sure; it’s the Bible. But what’s the second biggest selling book ever published? Who knows? New York is America’s biggest port. Sure, but what is America’s second biggest port? It’s actually Hampton Roads, Virginia! In these cases, as in all marketing, not many people remember anything after the “first”.
That’s why Edward de Bono (1992) says that companies which are successful do not do it by competing. They do it by being one of a kind; what he calls ”values monopolies”. Instead of being part of the rat race, they have a product which is so unique that they are in a race of their own. And then they keep creating uniqueness. De Bono calls this Sur/Petition. An example: As far as I know, no-one in New Zealand currently offers a play area for children of clients doing NLP sessions. We get lots of enquiries from people who find attending sessions a challenge because they need to have their kids minded. Whoever offers the first NLP creche will be in a race of their own. Those parents won’t be deciding between several competing providers of NLP. The first creche-organiser-and-NLP-coach will have a monopoly on meeting their values. Kevin Roberts, New Zealander and CEO of the world advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi, calls values monopolies “Lovemarks” (as opposed to Trademarks).
One way of creating a values monopoly is by identifying your unique position in contrast to all other NLP Practitioners. This doesn’t mean fighting them; it means clarifying your position separate from them. Your background inevitably gives you unique skills for working with groups of people or types of challenge that many other NLP Practitioners are neither as familiar with nor as comfortable with. The advantage of specialising in a particular type of NLP work is that people with a particular issue will seek you out because they trust you to understand their goal or their challenge. When someone with a learning disability looks for help, it won’t always occur to them that a general “NLP Practitioner” will offer the skilled help they need. Of course, on the other hand, the disadvantage of specialising is that you could get “type-cast” as a specialist. Sometimes, I have other psychotherapists ring me up and refer clients to me for phobia cures because they have read my article on this in the counselling journal, and they assume that’s all I do. That’s nice, but I don’t see myself only as “the phobia curer”.
Examples of traditional specialisations from the field of Psychotherapy include: Career Guidance, Displaced Workers & Relocation, Geriatrics, Parenting Skills, Sex Therapy, Spirituality, Sports Psychology, Womens Issues, Grief, Chemical Dependency Recovery, Co-dependency Recovery, Eating Disorders Recovery, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders Healing, Sexual Abuse Counselling, AIDS Support, Infertile Couples, Cardiac Care, Cancer Healing Support, Anxiety Reduction, Gay and Lesbian Issues, Gender and Transgender Issues, Children, Adolescents, Couples Counselling, Divorce and Custody Issues, Marriage and Relationship Preparation, Domestic Violence Prevention, Management Coaching, Phobia Cure, Pain Reduction, Weight Control, Wellness Promotion. You can imagine many more.
Lynn Grodski (2000) is a counsellor who encourages counsellors not to specialise in particular client groups or problem areas. Instead she recommends creating a different type of values monopoly by focusing on a special type of intervention. Some NLP examples might include: Improve Decision-making Ability, Manage Difficult Emotions With Integrity, Set Clear Personal Boundaries, Have Loving Relationships, Overcome Negative Thinking, Turn Your Work Into Play, Let Go Of Old Hurts And Enjoy Your Current Life, Transform Stress Into Inspiration.
Specialisation is obvious in the example businesses I studied. Lynn Timpany has focused in recent years on the use of NLP with children, a subject she has written an article on. She specialises in the use of clean language to explore and expand peoples own unconscious metaphors, a subject she runs training on. Bryan Royds previously specialised in coaching and mentoring teachers, backed up by his providing the Teacher Effectiveness Training course. He now specialises in work with organisations. Damian Peters has specialised in the treatment of physical illnesses, especially cancer, a subject that he and I have co-written articles on. He has also developed his own version of several processes such as the NLP trauma cure which he has also written up. I specialise in creating cooperative relationships and enjoy working with relationship issues. In all these cases, our specialisation does not mean we turn away other cases, simply that we promote ourselves most of all in that area.
Confirming Who You Are
Lynn Grodzki recommends designing a very cool linguistic pattern to confirm your marketing “position”. This is a fifteen second introduction to what you do, ready for times when someone asks you, and for times when you are introducing yourself to a potential referral source. Grodzki suggests it should meet the following criteria:
No more than 3 short sentences
No jargon words or technical terms. Eg Instead of “Resource state” say “Confidence”
Use upbeat and positive language
Don’t try to say everything possible. Target one aspect of your work most of all.
Say it with passion
Grodzki gives some sample language patterns:
“My name is…. And I’m a…. (eg ”My name is Richard and I’m a coach for people who want to achieve more than average success in their job”)
“I specialise in…. I really enjoy…. (eg “I specialise in showing men and women how to create a state of total health. I really enjoy seeing the renewed sense of energy and meaning that this gives their lives”)
“I support… in their desire to…, by the means of…. (eg (“I support people with addiction problems in their desire to create a life free of drugs, by changing the unconscious and conscious way their brain responds to different choices for happiness.”)
“You know how…? Well, I…. (eg “You know how a sports coach trains someone to reach physical excellence? Well, I help people train their mind for emotional and psychological excellence.”)
“If you…, I’m the kind of consultants who can help you to…? (eg “If you’ve been in therapy before and felt that you were just going over what was wrong and not getting anywhere, I’m the kind of consultant who can help you to create a whole new way of achieving things based on discovering and building the strengths you already have.”)
Once you’ve written your statement, practice saying it with passion. Ideally, tape record it and listen to it played back. Once you’re pleased with it, USE IT! The original Transformations team and Damian Peters, who we are using as examples of NLP practices that work, both created ways of describing their vision, and used them liberally. Damian emphasises that wherever he is, he talks about NLP. He tells people that it can change their life and he illustrates with stories about what NLP has done for others he has worked with. He keeps up his contact with the internet sites at which New Zealand NLP information is shared (such as www.nlp.co.nz) and with the local Wellington NLP peer learning group. At the start of each client relationship, he gives a standard presentation about NLP and what it can achieve, preframing his work with powerful expectations of success. He has refined this presentation over the years, noting what helps people get a sense of excitement so that by the end of his current presentation, they are virtually begging him to start!
In the next section of this article we’ll think about how you get to places where you can tell people your statement. That statement is really the opening comment in a therapeutic or coaching session. As we go further into marketing, you’ll work out how to complete the session and get paid!
Section C: Marketing
Okay; lets assume you have set up a business, you know your mission, and you’re committed to being true to that mission. In the next sections of this article, we’ll be thinking about how to contact other people so they can play with you. Getting people to know about your existence is the beginning of your NLP work with them, and so marketing is an intrinsic part of doing great NLP work. Most people assume that marketing is much the same as advertising, and boils down to getting out some brochures. Actually, advertising is a tiny sub-section of marketing. Marketing involves the entire relationship between you and your “market” (your past, present and future clients). This includes finding out who those people are, offering sessions that are of interest to them (rather than only of interest to you), helping them find out about and get to your practice, dealing with any situations where people weren’t happy with your work, and in other ways treating all these people as partners in your mission (Joseph, 1987, p 11-19). Making brochures and sending them out is a pretty small part of all that.
Even within the area of advertising, marketing experts (eg see Kennedy and Courtnay, 1995, p 75-79) give their three priorities the following rating:
The specific audience you want to reach =10 points
A compelling offer =5 points
Irresistible creative execution =1 point
They say that for every one hour (or $1) you spend on creative design of your advert, you would be advised to spend five hours (or $5) designing your offer (explained below), and a huge ten hours ($10) learning about your customers, and their needs and values. Here’s where the NLP Practitioner in that “common story” I described at the start of the article often misses the mark. They may put almost all their energy into creative design.
Market research is the old name for studying your potential audiences. Traditional style market research, done by you or someone you hire, can tell you such things as:
what certain people like and want,
what they have heard about your product already (if anything),
what they are willing to pay for it,
who actually makes the decisions you need to influence (eg if school students are central to your market, you may find that their School Counsellors actually control what outside counselling they are able to attend). The person who makes the decision is the person you want to market to most of all.
Apart from simply asking people these questions, research also involves observing what other people are doing in your same market. For example, what are other NLP counsellors or coaches doing that works? Do check that you are modelling actions that are successful, because not all advertising campaigns in the NLP field are working. I was impressed to see that one Hypnotherapist I knew was placing half page adverts in a national magazine every month. I almost decided to emulate his investment, but when I asked him how successful the adverts were, I discovered that he had approximately three responses a year to his thousands of dollars in advertising.
You can identify a useful market segment (type of person who might use your services) both from your own end (What clients or situations do you know most about?) and your customers end (Which customers are most likely to want the kind of services you’d offer?). To explore a market segment more fully, create in your mind an internal representation of your ”typical” desired client from that segment. Create a picture of a person who “represents” exactly the kind of person you are interested in marketing to. For example:
What sex are they?
What age are they?
What cultural identity do they have?
What kind of house or apartment do they live in?
What do they do with their time?
What do they earn?
What difficulties do they have in their life?
What is important to them?
What metaprograms do they operate with?
Once you have an internal representation of the person, you can do your own “virtual” market research….
What would motivate this person to buy from you?
What kind of sessions would they like, and what do they want from it?
How would they make the decision to come and see you, and what could get in the way of that decision?
What could you do that would assist them to get to their sessions?
What are the key benefits that your coaching or counselling could offer this person in their daily life? Benefits are advantages to the person, as described in their own words. If you start by describing a benefit in NLP jargon (like “Being able to quickly access resourceful states.” Then ask that core NLP question “What would they get through having that”?
After thinking through this, you are ready to consider what services to offer. Will you offer different pre-designed packages for your consulting? For example, you might offer:
A two hour “breakthrough session” with a set menu of values elicitation and time line therapy for any core issues identified
A half hour free-sample “goalsetting session”, after which you explain what NLP could do to help meet those goals or that goal you’ve SPECIFYed
Four one hour ”transformation sessions”, one a week, where you work on a specific problem and all the related issues to get a sense of completion with it
A two hour “mini-training session” in which you teach four new skills to help achieve more success in the area of life identified by the person
You can also think through how you could add value to your clients by providing other products or linking them into other services.
Knocking On Doors
Here’s where it gets really interesting for those of us who are introverts. The most effective way to let others know about NLP is not to have them pick up a leaflet, but to talk to them. And frequently, the best place to start will not be with the actual people who are going to end up seeing you, but with those who can refer these people to you: teachers who could refer students after a friend dies on a school field trip, human resource managers or small business owners who want support for overstressed employees, rest home owners looking for services to help grieving or overwhelmed elderly residents, medical practitioners looking for a referral agency to pass on anxious or depressed patients and so on. These people are referred to by Lynn Grodsky as “Practice Angels” (2000, p 108) and by Guy Kawasaki (1991) simply as “Angels”. They are one of the three key elements in Kawasaki’s model of “Evangelism” the others being you as the “Leader” and your former clients as “Evangelists”.
Laurie Kolt (1999, p 56-53) gives more detail about contacting such people. She recommends sending them a letter and a copy of your brochure (more about that later), and then phoning them up. The letter would begin by pointing out the kind of situations where such a person might find that one of their staff or clients will benefit from coaching or counselling. It would then explain that your service is available, and detail your qualifications and professional backup (eg NLP training level, membership of an NLP association, supervision/consultive support arrangements). You might offer to see people either at your office or at their own premises. You’d then ask for a chance to come and introduce yourself, explaining that you know that having met you personally will make it easier to refer to you with confidence. You might also offer to give a brief demonstration or presentation of the kind of work you do. Kolt recommends writing a large number of such letters and sending out and acting on a few each week, aiming to have them arrive mid-week for best effect.
In the phone call, your attitude will convey itself. Remember that you are not selling something that requires a purchasing decision right now, you are a colleague looking for a mutually beneficial solution to a problem this person faces from time to time. In the case of health professionals, you may also have occasion to refer clients to them from time to time. Remind yourself that you have many skills that this person doesn’t even know about, and you have many NLP skills which support your building rapport in the phone interview and the face to face interview situations. Ask clearly for a time to meet that suits them. When you go to the meeting, dress professionally, and bring brochures and business cards. Plan a presentation which gives sensory specific examples of what you can do, including such demonstrations as the pointing exercise (see appendix), or even an anchoring exercise. Ask questions about the type of situations they are likely to come across, and suggest how you could be of use to them in those cases. If you have time, teach them a little of the NLP skills they could use.
Following your visit, ensure you can send follow up information every few months to remind the people you’ve seen of your existence. They are now part of your contact list. The example businesses which I have been discussing have all used referral introduction visits like this to build their business. Early in its history, Transformations focused on arranging a presentation at medical centres in Christchurch. They demonstrated the pointing exercise, and showed the power of negative versus positive language (“Don’t think of a blue tree.”). They explained research behind NLP techniques such as the phobia cure. Lynn Timpany has done presentations at sports centres, teaching sports coaches how to use their language more effectively. Damian Peters has presented to school groups, to elderly rest home managers, and to heads of businesses near his Sattwic Counselling centre.
Also consider people that you have contact with from your previous work experience, who may be able to refer to you. That includes friends. You know their needs even more precisely. Remember again that you are simply advising them of the existence of a mutually beneficial service. Early on in the history of Transformations, a friend working at the Christchurch City Council passed our names on to the co-ordinators of counselling for council staff. The results included a large number of client referrals and an ongoing business of running stress management trainings within the council. Damian Peters had previous contacts in the prison service and in Work and Income New Zealand, who have referred him clients, training opportunities for Damian, and even helpers seeking work experience in his office.
Methods of contacting referral sources could include sending leaflets out, running open introductory talks specifically for referrers, becoming involved in professional organisations where people may refer, proposing mutual referral arrangements, hosting open days or workshops at your offices, shared lunches or breakfasts etc. It is also important to consider how you can maintain your relationship with referral sources beyond the referral; by giving them feedback about the results of referral (confidentiality needs to be clarified with both the client and the referrer for you to be able to give such information), referring your clients to them occasionally, asking how you can assist them more fully, sending out a newsletter etc.
Running A Free Introductory Talk
Transformations runs free public presentations in which we introduce both our trainings and our counselling services. At times another organisation will help advertise it for you. For example a school may permit you to run a free talk for their teachers, or a medical centre may permit you to give a (30 minute) free talk to their staff. Don’t trust them to do all the promotion though! Print a flyer as if it was your own promotion, and ask how you can help them advertise.
If you set up your own talk, you certainly need to advertise it, which means mailing out to your contact list, putting flyers up around town, and probably scoring at least some newspaper advertising. It could even mean advertising on radio (a medium that research shows will draw mainly young women) or local television (especially the cheaper costing late night / early morning slots that people watch when they have real concerns). A few years ago, one of our graduates invested over $10,000 in setting up a free talk. It was very successful, and attracted about 200 people. Unfortunately, he never circulated a contact list, so the $10,000 worth of marketing all but went “down the tube”. Adding to the misfortune, in his talk he presented lots of information about NLP and little about the benefits. Trade fairs are another place that sets up free talks. For example, there may be an annual alternative health or accelerated learning trade fair in your city. You can set up or share a stall advertising your courses, meet interested customers, and deliver a free talk to already motivated buyers. Here are the other key suggestions I’d make about running such an introduction:
Where possible, get an assistant to help set up the room, and to handle any logistic challenges. If they have experience of NLP, they can also share that as a testimonial.
Give practical experiences such as the pointing exercise, and explain the benefits of NLP rather than listing technical details.
Get a contact list!
Use NLP rapport skills as you discuss NLP and handle questions.
Here is a sample evening plan to promote NLP consulting:
a) 10 minutes: Introduce yourself briefly. Outline plan for evening. Pass around a contact list! b) 5 minutes: Ask people to get into pairs and discuss what they want out of the evening. Explain value of goalsetting. c) 10 minutes: Pointing Exercise. d) 10 minutes: Discussion of benefits of NLP with examples from cases you(?)?ve worked with in private practice or in your training. e) 20 minutes: Demonstration of collapsing anchors with one of the people present, using a person with a non-traumatic example that they congruently want to change. f) 5 minutes: Details of times and place you can see people. Have your appointment book ready. g) 10 minutes: Questions h) 10 minutes: Group relaxation exercise using trance skills i) 5 minutes: People get back into pairs to discuss what they got out of the talk and what they plan to do with what they have learned.
Enthusing Potential Clients
As you know in NLP, having an outcome is crucial. In marketing NLP too, you want outcomes. Probably you’ll set a 5 year goal in terms of lients. Then you’ll work backwards and identify your goals for this year, and then for the next month. Once you have goals, then you can get out your calendar and begin to timetable in the marketing actions you’ll take.
In order for people to come to you as clients, they need to know you exist. This is not as simple as it sounds. Probably you see a movie occasionally. Consider how much money a movie company spends getting you to know which movies are available. But how many of the movies that are on in your city right now do you know about? Do you know what time they’re showing? Whatever you do know, it’s the result of the movie companies investing millions of dollars. You probably don’t have quite that much to start marketing your NLP business. You’ll need to use your resources carefully. Jay Conrad Levinson calls this “Guerrilla Marketing”. It’s a rather unfortunate metaphor, but it conveys the sense of making do with what you have. A metaphor I like better is that of adventure tourism. The movie company has it’s advertising agency and MBAs (people with a Masters Degree in Business Administration). Think of that as being like the package tour approach to overseas travel. But an adventure trekker carries everything in their pack: they don’t have a tour bus to carry their bags, so they think carefully about what they take. This article is my Lonely Planet guide for your trip into marketing!
Whichever specific techniques you use to get information across to people, there are four core concepts you will benefit from being clear about: benefits, attention, the offer, and measurement. Before we consider specific advertising methods, in the next section, I’ll review these four core concepts.
Benefits are what people buy. They do not buy NLP sessions, or audiotapes; they buy the benefits they will get from those things. People don’t buy shampoo, they buy great looking hair that people compliment them about. People don’t buy breakfast cereals, they buy feeling great all day by eating something yummy at the start. To find benefits, you simply chunk up on the training, asking that age-old NLP question, “For what purpose?”. Benefits contain no jargon (eg they don’t use words like “strategies” expecting that people know what you mean, and they certainly don’t use words like “submodalities”. Ask “What’s the benefit of submodalities?”.
Identify approximately seven benefits of your sessions. Write them down. Ideally, each benefit should be described in less than 10 words, using “you” as the focus (eg instead of, “I will explain the nature of memory” say, “You will learn how to use your perfect visual memory”). Use a verb in the present injunctive form, as if telling them what to do now! (eg instead of, “You will be learning more about using your perfect visual memory” say, “Use your perfect visual memory”). Now choose the most powerful benefit you could offer. It may be one of the ones on your list, or it may be a chunk up on them. You need to choose this one key benefit because of the next core concept:
People pay attention to what interests them. They do not pay attention to advertising at all – unless it happens to interest them. For example, most people, research shows, open their mail while standing by the rubbish bin / garbage can. They open each letter and throw the unwanted parts out. You have about three seconds to convince them to read on before they throw away your mail. If they already know and like you, just your name will be enough to catch their attention. Otherwise, you need to think carefully about what key benefit will grab their attention. Consider using phrases that grab attention such as ”Do your students deserve…”, “At last, a process that…”, “Discover why…”, “Take a giant step…”
It’s similar in a newspaper. People do not go through a newspaper reading each advert carefully in case it contains benefits to them. They skim the parts of the newspaper they’re familiar with, looking for news (that’s what newspapers claim to contain). If you want to attract their attention, make your newspaper advert look like the news – and good news! Unless I can get editorial copy in beside our advert, I tend to use newspaper advertising simply to get the attention of people who already know NLP. So the big word in my advert is “NLP”. If I can get an article in about my work, I choose a benefit for the heading. Something like “New discovery heals phobias in minutes!” or “Study shows time saved by remembering instantly”. There’s no way I’d waste that heading by saying “The Advantages of NLP”. NLP interests you and me. But the question in advertising is what interests your customers.
When I write the word “NLP” as the heading of my advert, I am in a sense using a logo. As you set up in business, consider having a logo designed. Placing it in every advert you use will enable people to quickly and unconsciously find your advert. It also conveys non-verbally something of your intention. Our first logo at Transformations was a butterfly. It emphasises the notion of transformation. Our current logo emphasises the international nature of what we do. Each has its place, because just as there are some groups where a butterfly is a little play-school-like, there are some places where a globe is rather multinational-conglomerate-style.
This brings up another important point about attention: conscious attention is the result of cumulative unconscious awareness. After you’ve seen the same advert twice unconsciously, seeing it a third time can be enough to bring it into awareness. Thus, three small adverts in the same newspaper are worth far more than one large one that cost the same money.
3) The Offer.
Once you have someone’s attention, your advertising communication moves to one clear conclusion. It may be where the person fills in a coupon and mails it to you, or where they ring you up, or where they attend your free introductory talk. This conclusion is made more motivating by the use of an offer. Attending a free evening may be an offer. Getting free information leaflets may be an offer. Getting an audiotape at half price when you book a session today may be an offer. Getting free advice about how NLP could benefit you may be an offer. The offer doesn’t have to be fancy. An example of a newspaper classified advert with a benefit, an offer, and a measurable response (see below) could be “Increase memory by 60% in 30 minutes. For free brochure on the NLP visual memory process, phone Visual Memory Services, 03-337-1852” Offers can be “tiered” so that the first offer is for a brochure, and when the brochure arrives it comes with an offer for a series of 5 sessions with a free audiotape. If you choose to tier your offer, remember that in your first advert you aim to sell the first offer, not the final product or sessions! Tell them benefits of the current offer.
Advertising results can be measured, like any other NLP outcomes. This requires keeping a record of what advertising you’ve done and what results you had. Lets imagine that each new client pays $300 on average and costs you $50 in extra materials. If you put a $1000 advertisement in the newspaper, you need to get four more people as a direct result of that advert, for it to have paid for itself. If you get seven, it earned you $750. But how will you know whether someone came as a result of that advertising? The answer is to use key words or even key addresses which mark out each advert. In your newspaper advert, you might say “Call 03-337-1852 and ask for the NLP Breakthrough Sessions”, while in your posters advertising the sessions you might say instead “Phone 03-337-1235 and ask about our NLP Coaching”. By what someone says when they call, and even by which phone they call on, you can tell which advert delivered the call. Once you can measure the results of your advertising, you can even test out different versions of the same advert (eg with slightly different wording, or put on a different page of the newspaper), to see which version delivers best.
Measuring advertising costs in this way reminds you that they are an investment. I invest at least 10% of the income I expect from an NLP training course into advertising. I also invest considerable time. So I choose carefully. Your marketing plan is a part of your total business plan, so it needs to relate realistically to that (in terms of money spent and time used, for example).
In this section, I’ve gotten into the detail of creating a marketing plan. I’ve described virtual market research and the active process of knocking on doors and creating introductory sessions for potential clients and referrers of clients. I’ve discussed the core concepts guiding advertising, the detailed methods by which you can let others know that your service exists. In the next section, I’ll chunk down and discuss the choices available to you as an advertiser of NLP consulting.
Section D: Advertising Choices
Ways To Enthuse Potential Clients
In the last section of this article, we thought about marketing and advertising. I discussed how to set up introductory sessions in which you show potential clients or referrers of clients what you are offering them. I defined advertising as a small subsection of the whole process of building relationships with clients (marketing), which starts when you clarify who you are and who you want to be working with. I talked about some core concepts in advertising such as being able to utilise attention by discussing the benefits of your service to your clients (what intentions will it meet) rather than merely its objective features.
There are a great many choices of ways to make contact with people. Your initial marketing steps for your consulting business might be as simple as
listing in the yellow pages
having a business card made and preparing your 15 second verbal introduction message to say enthusiastically as you give out the business card (discussed in section B)
designing and photocopying a brochure
mailing the brochure out to contacts taken from the local city council directory of community services, and to friends
putting the brochure up on some noticeboards.
planning and rehearsing an introductory referral session (discussed in section C)
contacting ten organisations to arrange introductory sessions
There are some useful hints I’d like to give you about how to utilise these and other methods of telling people about your sessions. In this section, I’ll list these methods under ten headings: Business Cards, Directories, Magazines, Newspapers, Community Bulletin Boards or Newsletters, Mail, Free Samples, the Internet, Television and Sales Talk.
Printing a business card, at $50 for a few hundred, is the most sensible immediate investment in advertising that you could make. It gives you something to hand to someone when you use your fifteen second intro speech. Many people collect business cards for future reference, and you may find that someone contacts you from a card you gave out several months before. The card gives information about where to find you. It can show a photo of you to remind the person of you, three months later. It can be used to write appointments on the back. It can contain text as a sort of mini-brochure. You can put cards up in health food stores, in restaurants, on community noticeboards, and in NLP books in bookstores (ask permission first).
Directories (eg The Yellow Pages):
People who are looking for your services already will look in the yellow pages. You don’t need to convince these people that NLP is a good idea – they already are looking for it. What they want to know is where to contact you and, if you have a display ad (the kind with more than just a name and phone number) what range of work you do. Reading the name of their challenge or goal will trigger a phone call more than general promises. Size isn’t important in the yellow pages unless you can be the biggest on the page (a position probably held by some established business). Listings in other directories may or may not be useful. I paid extensively for a listing in a counselling directory, for five years, with no apparent results.
People read magazines for specialist articles which give them in depth ideas. Adverts don’t do that. Some magazines have their own “yellow pages” or diary dates, and those are worth using. The real point of magazines is the articles. Articles give people an opportunity to explore your ideas in depth. If you write an article for a magazine, then putting an advert beside it can deliver. Some magazines will offer a deal where they publish a small article and an ad, and you pay a reduced price for the ad. From my experience it can be even better to include your brochure as an insert, but this is very expensive. Do this only when aiming at a specific geographical area, and with a magazine that goes out to lots of people who are interested in NLP style sessions (a New Age magazine is an example). Adverts that cover a quarter page or more of a wide coverage magazine are very expensive, and rarely deliver value, no matter what the magazine editors tell you. Using NLP magazines is a great idea, as long as you remember that they go out to people who already know what NLP is.
People read newspapers for news, so if you have space write a newspaper article-style advert, with a title, columns and newspaper style “justified” (neatly lined up left and right) typing. Remember that three small adverts costing $200 each are worth more than one larger advert costing $1000. Advertising may be cheaper in community newspapers, but think about who reads them before you use these. In newspapers, as in real estate, research shows there are three basic rules: location, location, location. The right side page is better than the left, the outer edge is better than the inner, the weekend is better than a week day, and certain pages (near the start, or the TV page, or an education supplement, for example) are better than others (say the gardening page). On the other hand, newspapers do have “remnant space” which can sometimes be purchased cheaper (a bit like stand-by travel). Check it out.
You can also write your own press releases. Remember that, to get published, they need to focus on news, not on ideas. Write the article in the style that reporters use, talking about yourself in the third person. Don’t start with an “introduction”; start in the middle of your story with a key attention getting fact. Use short simple words, and include quotes from yourself (eg “At the opening of the new crisis centre today, NLP Master Practitioner Richard Bolstad explained, “We now have methods available to resolve most psychological trauma in one session.” The centre plans to assist approximately twenty people each week.”). Type the article out double spaced, and phone the newspaper to find out who is the best reporter to send it to. Deliver it to them personally.
Bulletin Boards and Newsletters:
Free advertising opportunities are available at shops, community centres and in any organisation (such as a school) that has a newsletter. People looking at noticeboards are in a specific setting. A noticeboard at a university catches people when they’re thinking about learning. A noticeboard at a local shopping centre has a “local community” flavour, and people will feel better supporting something local there. A noticeboard at a bookshop attracts people who know what books are selling, so your advert can link into the latest books. A noticeboard at a health food shop attracts people thinking about their health. Similarly, if you put an advert/article in a newsletter, be aware of why people read the newsletter (to keep up on local affairs, for example). Also, offer to set out the advert on your own computer where possible (don’t assume that the organisation knows what image you want to present. Write the article as you’d write a press release – see above). While we’re on the subject of free marketing, consider exchanging marketing for ther services you can offer. Is there something you can do for an organisation in return for the opportunity to market to their contacts? Can you combine with another organisation to market together at lower cost? How could you deliver to someone else something so valuable that marketing for you in return would be a bargain? The obvious example would be to get someone to do marketing in return for attending sessions.
To use old style mail, you need a list of addresses. There are a couple of ways to keep this list. One is to buy some pages with sticky labels on from the stationery shop. You write each name and address on a label, and then take your list of addresses to a photocopier and copy off a version ready to do a mailout (leaving you with the original to photocopy again next time). The fancier way to keep a list is to get a computer and use a database such as Access. The computer will then do the printing of labels. The advantage of the computer is that you can also keep other information about each person on it – their phone number, what other sessions they’ve had, what they liked and didn’t like etc.
Mail makes a more personal appeal to people - it arrives the way their personal letters do. Research shows that the letter is the most successful format for mail adverts, for this reason. It can best be written conversationally, like a letter to a friend. Write, “Dear reader” (singular) rather than “Dear readers”. Put a day of the week in the corner where the date usually goes. Use Milton model patterns gently (eg embedded suggestions rather than confusion techniques) and always speak to the positive intentions of your reader (eg “In your search for excellence in relationships…”). If you need to go over the page, don’t finish a sentence; have the sentence carry on to the next page.
The best combination of things to send by mail is (according to research) a cover letter, a brochure, and a post paid reply card (you get a postage paid number from the Post Office, and you only have to pay for each letter actually sent back to you). The brochure can show people with a picture what they’ll get. It can list detailed benefits, and contain testimonials from people who are as near as possible to the same as the reader (don’t include New Zealand counsellors testimonials in a brochure for American managers, for example). Remember that you yourself can write a testimonial about what the benefits of NLP are. Always include your name and qualifications: people choose YOU more than they choose your methods! The brochure can include a guarantee. It can also include a reply card or application form. Brochures can be quite simple. Consider using your business card as a mini-brochure. People often keep business cards (and catalogues). They often lose brochures.
The crucial rule about all these pieces is that everything you send should include your address and phone number, and the key details. If an application form is in your brochure, check what gets cut off and mailed with it. You want the person to still have enough details so they can re-contact you, and so they can re-read and think about your services.
It’s also worth considering the appearance of your mailout. Most people expect computer designed brochures. Expensive NLP Business sessions are still advertised on cheap paper at times, but quality paper does add to your image. Research shows that even the colour of the paper does affect decisions. Black print on yellow paper is more likely to be read than any other colours. Dark blue, dark green and dove grey are the preferred colours in business. Many people feel more aligned with recycled paper, which I use for all our catalogues. When getting your brochure printed, shop around for cheap places. Remember that in printing there are three variables you’ll want to choose based on: Quality, Economy, and Speed of Delivery. You can have any two! Jay Conrad Levinson recommends you choose the first two, which means planning ahead. The other thing about appearance is layout. This is a whole field in itself (graphic design).
PS. People read the PS on letters more than the main part of the letter! They want to see what you missed out. So always have a PS on a sales letter.