Guest Post: 4 Commonly Crossed Boundaries in Your Business (And How to Firm Them Up) by Julie Wolk

by Julie Wolk

It’s time to talk about boundaries, people!

This is a subject often broached in personal development – holding boundaries is considered essential for maintaining emotional health (for example, you may choose not to spend time with a particular friend who drains your energy).

But boundaries are rarely discussed in a business context.

And yet, boundaries in business are crucial if you want to run a business with integrity — and actually enjoy doing it.

I see my clients face SO MANY challenges in their businesses that are directly related to boundaries that are too loose or even nonexistent.

So let’s dive in. First, I’m going to tell you the two main reasons your business needs boundaries . . .  and the one secret to creating them.

In the second half of the post, we’ll walk through the four most common ways boundaries are crossed in your business (and how to avoid this).

Your business needs boundaries for two main reasons:

1) So that your business has integrity

Imagine a river and its banks.

The bank makes the river a river. Without it, we have . . . a puddle. Or maybe a delta or something (which is lovely in its own right, but not a river).

Without structure — a boundary to contain it — things get kinda messy. Erosion happens, contaminants find their way in, and the flow can get off course and unpredictable.

With strong banks, the power of the river is channeled successfully. The banks hold the river so that the water can flow, twisting and turning, rushing and trickling out to the sea.

Similarly, your business needs structure, and specifically boundaries, to not only contain it, but to DEFINE it. What is your business and what is it not? How does it operate and how does it not?

The boundaries define the business.

This definition gives your business integrity. What do I mean by integrity? It gives your business strength and reliability.

Something that your clients and potential clients can know and count on. Something that YOU can know and count on, too.

(This feels really good when you nail it, by the way).

Now of course (and we’ll get into this in a moment), your banks can be too high . . . ever seen a levee break?

2) So that YOU don’t burn out

Now we get to talk about poison oak. You didn’t think I could make an analogy about poison oak in a business blog, did you?

Some people think that poison oak is just there to make you extremely itchy. It’s not. My herbalist friends have taught me to respect poison oak and call it, “Guardian Oak,” and there’s a good reason for this.

Guardian Oak grows at the edges of disturbed areas. Basically, humans come in and clear an area to build a house, and we disturb an intact forest in the process. And what sprouts up at those edges where it’s been disturbed? You guessed it — that’s Guardian Oak’s favourite hangout (which is why you often see it at the edge of a hiking trail).

But here’s the interesting part – I’m told the oak grows there to create a boundary between the disturbers (the humans in this case) and what’s left of the healthy, intact forest.

It’s saying, “Please do not pass, I am the guardian of this forest, and my job is to keep it healthy.”

If you go messing around in the oak, you are most likely going to get a nasty rash, and there’s a decent chance it’ll stop you from trying to disturb the area more, no?!

Ok, that was a long-winded way of saying that sometimes you need to create a boundary around yourself to keep the forest of your life intact.

You need to protect yourself, your health, your well-being . . . from the disturbances (aka, humans who want things from you!) so you don’t get burned out.

So how do you create good boundaries?

Before we dive into the four main ways our boundaries are crossed in our businesses, I want to tell you the secret to creating proper boundaries.

Boundaries must be flexible.

Like a tree swaying in the wind, a boundary is strong and rooted firmly in the earth, but not so rigid that it breaks during an average rainstorm.

It has to have give.

I always tell my clients: Make your boundary. You can always make an exception.

People have this idea that if you make a rule, you must rigidly keep it. But if you did that, you would not have the opportunity to try new things, take advantage of new opportunities, and learn stuff you might not have otherwise learned.

Of course if you always cross your boundary, then we’re back to the whole bank-less river thing (not a river, remember?).

It’s a balance.

But just like a plant has a porous surface, allowing water and oxygen in through its openings, a good boundary has some permeability.

So how do you decide when to be flexible, when to bend a boundary? Each situation is different. You need to go inside and ask yourself if it feels right to you to bend your boundary in this particular case.

Sometimes it will be a resounding yes! I am THRILLED to offer my work to this person at a discount because she’s amazing and she needs this work and it feels in service and I need the practice anyways.

And sometimes, you will get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that will say, Do not even think about lowering your rate to work with this person, they’re just going to keep asking for more, and frankly it already feels shitty.

Please listen to this voice. And then make a case-by-case decision.

The 4 Boundaries Most Often Crossed in Your Biz

I have noticed that many of the challenges people face in running a business are actually simply a problem of boundaries.

I’m going to walk you through the four main places where I see boundaries crossed in business all. the. time.

If you can get a handle on creating boundaries in these four areas, you will be well on your way.

I’ll tell you about these four challenges in order of how a client approaches and enters into your business:

  1. Your Niche is Weak or Nonexistent

Well before someone chooses to work with you, they need to know what you do and for whom you do it so that they can determine if it makes sense to hire you.

And for them to know what you do and for whom you do it (otherwise known as your niche), YOU need to know this information.

It is in this way that your niche is the very first boundary of your business.

Because inherently embedded in the niche is what I call – the non-niche. Ok fine, I just made that up.

But seriously, what you DON’T do is as (or more) important as what you DO do. Who you DON’T work with is just as (or more) important as who you DO work with.

When someone comes to you who does not fit your niche, your niche acts as a filter or boundary, making it way easier for you to say, no, I’m not the right person for you, but might I recommend my colleague so-and-so?

Now some aspects of your niche will be more obvious than others. For example, I work with people who sell services, not physical products. I don’t know the first thing about selling products. I wouldn’t even get on the phone with someone selling any kind of physical product because it would be a waste of both of our time.

But I’ve also found that I like working with people who are action-takers, yet that one is a little harder to know without a conversation. So in my consultation calls, I need to ask questions that help me understand whether or not this person is an action-taker so I can decide whether we’re a good fit or not.

Does this person fit within the boundary of my niche?

Because if they’re not, and I work with them, what happens?

Well to be honest, it feels like crap. And it’s draining. And you are not a happy person after a day with the wrong clients on the wrong projects.

Oh, and to boot, you don’t do your best work with these folks because you’re trudging through it, and they can totally feel it, and then they don’t refer other people to you (or maybe even say negative things), and so it’s actually bad for your business too!

So what am I saying here? First, you gotta know (or learn over time, really, because it’s an iterative, evolutionary process) specifically who you are meant to work with and what you’re uniquely effective at and passionate about doing, and be able to say NO to people and projects that are not well-suited to you.  Draw a boundary and enforce it (and make occasional exceptions, see first part of this blog post).

You will be much happier and more successful in your business if you only take on people and projects who are well-suited to you.

And not to mention, you can’t be all things to all people. That’s a sure-fire recipe for burnout.

  1. You Don’t Confidently Ask for and Expect Your Fee

Ok, so they’re a great fit and have decided to work with you. Yay! The next step is their payment. This is the second place on the journey where so many entrepreneurs get wiggly — they end up charging less than their services are worth.

This leads to bitterness in the short run, and burnout in the long run, because if you keep doing things for cheap, you’ll always be hustling for more clients and there will never be enough hours in the day. Can you say exhausting?

So what to do? Set a fee that feels right to you and be clear about it. And expect that if you feel good about your fee, then the right clients will pay it.

I use a combination of three things to decide on my fee:

  • What I actually need to earn overall in my business
  • Where I want to place myself on the range of similar services offered in the marketplace
  • My intuition (literally, a gut check on the number – what feels right?)

Then, I think – in advance – about any exceptions I may want to make to that fee. Is there a type of client who I want offer a discount or scholarship to? Do I want to have a certain amount of pro bono clients or sessions per year? Do I want to charge less initially because I’m experimenting with a new program (beta testing)?

And then, after I get as clear as possible, I choose my number and I simply tell people what it costs (pro tip, you have to be able to say your fee out loud without puking or it’s not the right fee). Or even better, I put that fee right on my website so they know even before they talk to me.

Again, it’s OK to make exceptions occasionally, just don’t make it the rule.

  1. You See Clients Willy-Nilly Instead of Having a Schedule

Payment’s in. Woo hoo! Now it’s time to book those sessions. Seems simple, right?

Well not if you don’t have boundaries on your schedule.

Have you ever scheduled someone to make it super convenient for them, only to realize that it’s incredibly inconvenient for you? Yeah, we’ve all been guilty of it. It’s easy to want to accommodate, but again, the more you do evening sessions that cut into family time, or morning sessions before you’ve had your coffee and a shower, or work right through lunch, the more frustrated you’re going to be, and the more likely you’ll hit burnout in the long run.

If you don’t currently have specific days and hours that you see clients, I want you to create them right now.

I know it’s not always as easy to do as it sounds. Many people fear clients won’t work with them if they aren’t super accommodating. I can say from experience though, it is rare that people who really want to work with you will not find a way to see you during your hours. People respect professionals with time boundaries and find a way to fit it in.

Now, again, there’s always an exception here and there. For example, I have a client in Europe who I see a little earlier than I normally would see other clients, but I love her and I want to do it. See, that’s ok too!

But here’s my most important scheduling tip: Before you create your business hours, put everything else on your calendar that’s important to you. Vacations, days off, working out, family time, meditation time, yoga class, dinner out, whatever it is, put it on your calendar FIRST, and then create your business hours around your life. You will be happier for it.

  1. You Over-give Physically and Energetically

Now it’s time to actually work with your new client. And here, the final boundary issue rears its ugly head.

This one is soooo tricky because it’s sometimes really hard to see where our energy is leaking. I’ll give you one example of this that I see over and over again, but I bet you can think of others, too.

I see clients feel like they “should” give their clients more and more of their time and expertise, even if it goes beyond what their clients have paid them or what’s been promised to them. Or, maybe it IS what’s been promised, and the problem is that your offer includes an overabundance of support, and it’s just too much for you to manage for multiple people.

This behaviour often comes from a place of scarcity. You fear not having enough clients, or a client not sticking around for a long time, and you keep giving, giving, giving. The more you provide, the better, right? Maybe, maybe not.

Your client may be very satisfied, but you? You’re exhausted and feel like you can never catch up. And, sometimes even your clients can get overwhelmed when you offer them too much support or too many things to do/read/consume.

This boundary is closely related to the fee boundary and needs to be considered with it.

What is actually the right and fair amount of service to give your client for the money they have paid? Of course, I can’t answer this question for your business in this post, but it’s something to deeply consider as you design your programs, especially if you find yourself scrambling to answer client emails the second they roll in, or if you give away way too much valuable one-on-one time for not enough money.

Like I said, it’s the most complicated one because it’s fuzzy and hard to see, but if you ever feel like you’re working really hard to hang on to your clients, and feel like if you don’t give more, your clients won’t be satisfied/think you’re good enough/hire you again, you might have problems with your energetic boundary. In other words, you might be an over-giver.

People who provide a service that helps people often get caught in this trap, because, well, we really want to help!

But we all know the rule about the oxygen mask on the airplane by now, right!?

And finally, it’s messy at the edge.

You may be familiar with the concept of transition or edge zones in ecology. If not, it’s the place or boundary where two ecosystems meet. It’s inherently more complex. Two worlds colliding. Twice the number of plants and animals all trying to figure it out together.

When we approach making and holding boundaries, it can get messy. It’s not always easy to tell someone No . . . We find ourselves in rich emotional territory (Is it ok for me to feel this way? Should I just do what he’s asking?) and things can feel complicated.

It’s because you’re in a transition zone.

But when the boundary eventually becomes clear and you can hold it with ease (and we all know it can take a few tries!), it’s easy to see what belongs on this side of the fence and what does not.

And you’ll be shocked you ever let yourself book a client during your yoga class.

And more importantly, your business will feel strong and clear and full of integrity. And people will notice that. And you will feel strong and clear and healthy and filled up enough that you actually enjoy running your business.

Which means you will actually have the ability to serve MORE and BETTER.

And that’s what we’re going for.

Boundaries are a hot topic at the January Replenish Winter Reflection & Strategy Retreat for Women Entrepreneurs. If you’re interested in creating powerful boundaries for a successful and fulfilling 2019, I hope you’ll join us!

Julie Wolk helps coaches, consultants, and healers grow rooted, blossoming, burnout-free businesses by modelling them after the way nature works. She’s a firm believer that if we step off the hamster wheel, and tune into nature’s rhythms, we can grow more sustainable lives, businesses and even—gasp!—a better world. A lifelong nature freak, she has over 15 years of experience turning vision into reality, and would love to help you create a simpler, more enjoyable, nature-led life and business. You can find her at www.juliewolkcoaching.com.

How to Create Online Courses with George Kao – (60 Min Video)

Hey there,
In case you missed it, here’s the recording of George Kao’s Facebook Live he did for my folks on How to Run Online Classes.
The feedback to it was universally positive.

Loved your enthusiasm and simplicity

This was great! Really helped with some ideas, perspective and considerations moving forward. Thank

I love the way you teach. Thank you. I’m very comfortable and learned so much from this.

Your concentric circles changed my perspective of everything! Life changing right there.

thanks for you generous sharing, I am glad for your perspective, and this impetus for just getting going. 

Absolutely fantastic! Feel like you gave us a group therapy session as well as great marketing tips!

You can watch the free, 60-minute video by clicking on the image below.
Here’s the link to buy the full course: georgekao.com/creatingcourses-tad. This is an affiliate offer and so I am paid a small amount for anyone who signs up from this link.
If you feel uncomfortable with that for any reason, you can use this link instead and I won’t get any money from it: georgekao.com/creatingcourses.

On Firing Bad Clients: Seven Questions Worth Asking Yourself

The other day, I got the following email from someone:

“I have been following you for a long time and really enjoy the newsletter. I have your books, I watch your youtube videos, the whole thing. I have a question, though. I am a property manager, I make decent money with just a few homes because my goal is to finish University and finally get my Masters in Ecology. So, I can pay the bills, but I have a client who is not very nice to me and he wants for me to be his on call everything. Honestly, I don’t need it. Is not a lot of money and is a pain. How can I politely tell him that I don’t want his business anymore?”

And it reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a client a few weeks ago.

She is an energy healer and has one client who would consistently pay her lower than the bottom of her sliding scale, and often late and for whom the sessions would always run over time. She hadn’t seen her for a while and then she put out a special offer online for a free service she was testing and this former client signed up. She immediately felt a deep anger and revulsion inside as her body gave her a very clear, “No!” to working with this woman. And she came to me with a similar question, “How do I let her go?”

And that made me think of a woman I knew who owned an independent, organic grocery store. She had a client, an older woman, who would spend hours in her shop looking at the supplements and asking her staff a dozen questions. Her staff spent hours with her. But she never bought anything there. Never spent a time. It became apparent she was using the staff for education and going and buying them somewhere else. What to do?

I’d like to suggest ______ questions you can ask yourself in situations like this to help yourself navigate through.

Question #1: What exactly is it that they are doing that is upsetting to you?

It’s important to get crystal clear on the behaviour (or lack of behaviour) that isn’t working for you. It’s easy to make it personal and imagine it’s just ‘that person’ and ‘who they are’. But it’s never that. It’s always something more particular. If you can’t identify what it is, then you will lack any power to make the particular changes needed to protect yourself from it in the future.

Question #2: How did I contribute to this happening?

I’m not suggesting you ‘manifested’ this or that it’s all your responsibility but responsibility doesn’t seem to be a binary proposition of it’s either their fault or yours. It seems, often, to be a shared thing. And even if you only carry 1% of the responsibility, it is a very empowering feeling to find that and own it. Identifying this gives you the foundation for making any needed changes that could prevent it from happening in the future.

I recall author Marianne Williamson sharing something she’d often say to women who kept attracting bad guys. “The problem,” she say. “Isn’t that you keep meeting bad guys. It’s that you keep giving them your phone number.”

In the case of my energy healing client, there was plenty she had done and not done to contribute to it. The first was that she didn’t ask for payment upfront from her clients (and this client in particular) even though she had a pattern of late payment. The second was that she never checked in with her client to let her know that wasn’t working for her. She let it continue with no consequence to the client. Third was she let the sessions with that client run late. When she told me about it, she phrased it as ‘the sessions always run late’ but this frames her as powerless and, in reality, she is 100%  in control of when sessions begin and end. And, again, she never expressed to her client that this didn’t work or make any changes. This left her boiling over with resentment by the time her client signed up for her special offer.

The first step I had to do was to help her see her role in this situation and how she was contributing to it happening.

Once it began to land, it was sobering for her. But also empowering.

My friend who ran the organic grocery store realized that she was complicit in this by not saying anything to the woman.

This can be a very humbling question to ask because you may realize that it’s mostly on you.

Question #4: What changes, if any, can I make to my marketing and client agreements so that this kind of person would be filtered out in the process?

This isn’t always possible. I don’t know if there’s anything my friend who ran the organic grocery store might have done so that this woman would never have entered the store. But I know that in the future, she trusted her gut more about when clients were using her for information with no intention of spending money there.

In terms of the energy healer client, she realized there was a lot she could do. She realized there were certain kinds of clients that just weren’t her people and she could be more explicit about that in her sessions.

She realized that she could ask that all of her clients pay upfront for the sessions. This would mean there was no chance of late or accruing payments. She realized that she could be clear about the timing of sessions with clients and set an alarm to go off 5-10 minutes before the end of the session and let clients know they were needing to wrap up soon and that, if clients kept talking, she could tell them, “I have to get going now,” and hang up. I also affirmed that she could bring all of these issues to her client as healing work to delve into, “I have noticed you consistently pay me late and less than the minimum I ask for and this seems to be okay with you and I’d like to explore why. I also notice that you speak in such a way that it’s impossible to interrupt you. You breath in the middle of your sentences and never slow down. I think this might be a defence mechanism. I’d like to explore why you do that.”

Situations where you need to fire clients are gold. They are immensely valuable because they help you learn how to improve your systems so that you are filtering better for clients who you can actually help and filtering out the clients who won’t be as good a fit.

Keith Johnstone, the founder of Theatresports and author of Impro had an approach to working with beginning improvisors. He’d tell them that there was no way for them to fail. That, “if this scene doesn’t work it’s because of me. It’s my fault. Give me a chance and I’ll fix it.” He took responsibility for their scenes and thus took away the fear of experimenting.

Question #5: Might there be somewhere where I owe them an apology? (e.g. for letting it continue for so long)

This is a humbling one.

Could it be that, as much as you feel used by your client, that you used your client?

Could it be that you knew they weren’t really a fit but that you ignored that because you needed the money?

Ouch.

It’s good to let this one sting for a while and use that pain to drive you to create the clarity and systems you need to attract more of the kinds of clients you really want to work with and who you are best suited to help.

In the case of my energy healing client, I suggested that an apology might be in order. “I’m sorry,” she might say. “That I went so long without telling you the truth or making adjustments on my end. I let things that didn’t feel good keep going because I was too scared to speak up and now I feel this resentment and it’s not your fault. That was me having poor boundaries. I am so sorry for the distance this has created between us and my need to take space. I will be reflecting on my part in this.”

This doesn’t mean she can’t also give feedback to her client. It doesn’t mean she ever needs to work with them again.

But it’s worth asking yourself if, as much as you want them to apologize to you, you might owe them an apology too.

Question #6: How can I communicate my realizations, where I’m at and the new arrangement I’m needing without making them wrong?

This is the nub of it: as long as you are seeing them as wrong, as bullies, perpetrators or predators who took advantage of you, you won’t be able say anything, to go back to the question that started this blog post, politely (not that I think politeness is necessarily always an admirable goal).

If you see them as wrong, no matter what you say, no matter how ‘nicely’ you try to say it, it will land as an attack of sorts; as a shaming. And that’s not always needed.

Question #7: After thinking all of this through, am I willing to give it another go with the new boundaries or do I need to let them go as a client?

Sometimes you can keep them on as a client.

Sometimes the damage is too much.

But it’s good to sit with this instead of having the knee-jerk reflex to want to punt them. That knee-jerk reaction is what keeps us from learning anything and improving our systems.

My friend who ran the organic grocery store ended up speaking to the woman and asking her to leave and not come back. She explained that she had seen how much time the woman was taking and that she’d never spent any money there and suspected she was buying somewhere else and told her, “We’re not your store.”

For my energy healer client, she might say something like, “I’ve been reflecting on it and realizing that I’m not the best person to help you right now. I’d be happy to refer you to someone else.” Or she might say something like, “I’ve been realizing that certain dynamics in our relationship aren’t working for me. If we are to move forward I will need you to pay, in full, before each session and I’ll be ending them all on time. And I would need to explore your end of the dynamics with you as a part of the healing process. If you’re okay with all of that, I’d be happy to continue working with you.”

Additional Resources:

The Secret Purpose of Your Sales Funnel – To Help Clients Become Ideal Clients

On Healthy Boundaries (a collection of memes, articles and videos)

Introducing the Are You Sure? Page

Dealing with Bad Reviews Online

Last year sometime, I was on a call with a client, Jamie Wallace, who told me about a terrible review someone had left him on Google. He’d made some mistakes in a past business and now they were coming back to haunt him. I gave him some suggestions during an hour of online, google doc coaching with him on what he might write in response. I knew where I wanted to take it and, within an hour of my time, we’d gotten there. He ended up running with the ideas and turned his lemon into lemonade.

Recently, I followed up with a few questions.

How did it feel when you saw the review?

I had an instant pit in my stomach…anxiety rose up and a bit of disbelief, how could this rear it’s head a decade after the fact? I found it very hard to suppress the bad feelings, shame, guilt, feeling of failing.

When I gave you the idea of responding to it, how did that feel?

I realized that I had to take some action in the form of a reply but I was a bit hesitant at the time, I tend to avoid conflict and had no idea of how to pull this off.

How did it feel as we worked through the crafting of it?

Once we started working on the reply I started to see that this bad review was actually creating a platform for me/my company to tell our story, a feeling of relief was present and I could see this whole series of events being beneficial.

How did it feel to read the final version and see what we came up with?

I was quite amazed at how you crafted this reply gradually with some small touches along the way. It was really in my words but with some light touches on your end, a much better approach than having someone just write the reply in my name. The final product was brilliant and also yielded a small bonus document that I now offer visitors to our website as a free gift, Eight Questions To Ask Your Next Landscaping Company To Protect Yourself From An Unpleasant Experience (And Make Sure You Don’t Need To Leave a Bad Google Review Of Your Own) + The Only Answers You Should Accept

We ended up with something much different than your initial draft – did you see it coming?

No, I had no idea that the process would unfold as it did.

How did it feel to publish this?

Total relief. When our previous company went bankrupt 10+ years ago I felt a lot of shame. I continued to work the landscape industry and this history seemed to pop up on occasion and cause me some pain. I dealt with it my putting it away, pushing this aside in my mind (head in the sand). To have this part of my working life documented and posted for all to see is very liberating and to this day that blog post is very well read.

What’s the response been?

The biggest concern for me was checking in on how I felt. This whole process resonated. The response was mixed from people I know, two clients who are lawyers thought this was not a good direction to take. As I gave it some more thought I realized that their work is quite secretive and to be so open and transparent is probably totally counter to their approach. I had other clients who thought this was great and really liked the vulnerable part of the post. The most important part of this process for me is the transparency it has created.

To read what Jamie and I came up with click here.

How To Get Great Testimonials (Without Pressuring or Badgering)

I’m often asked, “How do you get good testimonials?”

Of course, the truest answer is, “Do good work.”

Without that, nothing I am about to say holds much water.

But, if we don’t acknowledge that it’s possible to do wonderful work and not be furnished with written testimonials from the very people you served, well… then my advice wouldn’t hold much water either.

There is a fear that underwrites this question: a deep concern about not wanting to burden, pressure or bother people with the request.

It’s a noble, if misguided sentiment.

The assumption that underwrites these concerns is that ‘we have to ask everyone’.

And so, having said all of that, I’d like to offer an approach to getting testimonials that I have used over the years, that feels good to me and that seems to result in the appearance of fine words of endorsement on my site.

Step 1) Deliver your product or service. There are four levels at which this can happen.

Step 2) Ask for feedback. This is the main secret. After most programs or after offering any new service for which testimonials would be useful, I ask people these two questions:

Question 1: How would you rate this from 1-10? (1 being low and 10 being high).

Question 2: If this wasn’t a 10, what would it have needed to be a 10?

Those two questions tell you a great deal.

Question 1 will give you a realistic sense of the value people are receiving from your product or service.

Question 2 will give you incredibly useful feedback on what was missing that should have been there or what was absent that should have been.

But… Question 1 also does something very important you might not have considered: it tells you from whom you should asking for testimonials.

My rule: If I get an 8/10 or above I ask for a testimonial. A 7/10 or below and I don’t.

If I get a seven or below, I will focus on getting more feedback if it seems there’s feedback to be had and use that feedback to make my products or services better.

If it’s an eight or above I’ll ask for a testimonial. If they gave it an eight or above they’re almost universally happy to be asked. If you ask someone to write you some kind words for your website and they rated your offerings a four out of ten, they may resent your asking.

Five Questions That Can Get You Good Testimonials?

So often people, even though they love your work, will report feeling stymied on exactly what words to write. Someone can love your work and feel too daunted to write you a testimonial or write a well-intentioned but piss poor testimonial.

The key is to ask good questions.

What follows are my favourite questions to ask (of course these can and should be modified from ‘buying’ to ‘signing up’, ‘attending’ or whatever word fits for your scenario).

1) What did I honestly think of this before buying?

I love this question because it makes whatever testimonial they write more credible and relatable. There’s a heavy chance that whoever might read their words in the future will have the same prejudices about your product or service before signing up.

When I used to run workshops for high schools I’d ask them this question and they’d tell me, “Before I came to this workshop I thought it was going to be lame with some old white guy standing at the front of the room giving motivational speeches all day…” I must have read basically those same words a dozen times.

So, when I put those testimonials in the sales letter for the program and teachers and students would read it, they’d think, “Wow. Those people had the same fears about it as me but it turned out okay. Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea.”

But also, when you see the same patterns of perception over and over, the same fears and concerns, this can actually become incredible content for your sales copy.

It can be turned into headlines, subheadlines, taglines etc.

You can speak to the risks, fears and doubts you know that folks are likely to have about your work immediately and directly. That builds an immense amount of trust and credibility. It tells people that you ‘get it’. It meets them with empathy.

2) What was holding me back from buying?

This might give the same answer as above but it also might yield new information. Their answer to this will both help you see your offers through the eyes of the client but also make the testimonials read as more grounded and realistic. Someone newer to your work will read them and think, “Ah! I’m not the only one who had the same concern about buying.”

And, of course, the feedback might help you actually structurally change your offer. For example, if they say, “I was scared to sign up because I wasn’t sure it would make me money” you might offer an iron clad money-back guarantee or a ‘double your money back’ guarantee. You might offer more free content up front to assuage their fear.

You might offer it on a pay what you want basis. You might gather more case studies of clients you’ve helped and the money you made them. You might double down on making your process better so that people are more likely to make money (or get whatever the relevant result or benefit is).

3) What turned your decision around?

Their answer to this question can help walk a potential client through the logic they need to sign up. It might highlight a part of your offer or sales letter that they hadn’t noticed before. But it also tells you what’s working in your sales copy that you can expand on, develop further and make more prominent.

4) What was the most important positive outcome you experienced as a result of buying?

This is huge. This is what I call Island B. Their answer to this question tells you what you are actually selling. I recall a financial advisor who mostly worked with couples being shocked to realize that his work was, for many of his clients, actually marriage counselling. Couples were waiting to have their financial conversations until he was in the room.

It took me a while to realize that the core of my Marketing for Hippies 101 daylong workshop was that it helped people find a way to market themselves that felt good. It seemed too simple but I heard it over and over and it helped me actually structure my day around this central theme that ‘marketing can feel good’.

Again, the answer to this makes the testimonial more compelling because it tells people that they might be able to get that result they’re craving by working with you but it also gives you great information for your headlines and subheadlines in your sales copy.

5) What do you think of this product/service now?

This is the bookend. The testimonial began with their likely not entirely flattering set of fears and assumptions about your work and now it ends with this new appraisal. This is immensely comforting to those who are on the fence. And it lets you know how your business is seen by those you have helped.

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Testimonials are a powerful way to build trust. If you’re interested in a deeper dive into my thoughts on building trust, you might want to check out my “Deep Trust” package.

Guest Post: Ten Basic Pieces of Tech Worth Tackling by Molly Mandelberg

Coming from a long line of teachers, preachers, artists and writers, the tech world never sang to me. At least not until I started my own business and realized what was available, if I were to master a few key ingredients.

This is where my nerdy researching took flight. I dove head first into studying all the tools I could find to make running my business (hypnotherapy at the time) easier in any way I could. I started launching online courses, building out elaborate sales funnels and futzing around with email sequences until I finally found my calling. Turns out my writer background and engineering brain LOVES to build and connect these valuable strategic business systems laced with boatloads of content.

I’m talking about automation: for some it’s passive income, for others it’s a lighter load in their email inbox. Whatever it looks like, the point is that technology can make life a heck of a lot easier, if we just take the time to set it up.

“We are the Jetson’s!” We are living in a time where it couldn’t be easier to share your message on a large scale.

But Where the F do we start?

NOTE: These are useful tools to implement, but by NO means necessary to the growth of your business. You can always go without, it just gets easier when you have some systems to support you.

# 1 Online Scheduler – (and a digital personal Calendar to sync with)

This one can be the biggest immediate game-changer. Imagine how things are to begin with: Someone makes it to your website, they realize they want to learn more, and you have them ‘contact’ you in a simple form which leads to an email correspondence. That leads to three or four more emails to find a mutually good time to meet and after a good 30-45 minutes of your life has been spent organizing, you eventually have the appointment.

What if instead, a person made it to your website, and decided they wanted to talk to you and (with or without the filtration step of an application or survey of some kind) they book themselves directly onto your calendar for a consultation. !!!! Time saved. Potential client relationship starting off with a bang.

My favorite tool for this is Acuity Scheduling as it does custom appointments, allows for automated email reminders, syncs with your personal calendar, takes payment, and even allows you to host classes and sell packages. Here’s my affiliate link: bit.ly/wildheartsacuity or a direct link: https://acuityscheduling.com/

Online scheduler’s can be a hassle so I made a quick checklist to help people set Acuity up, if you’d like a copy of that you can find it here: https://wildheartsriseup.mykajabi.com/p/acuity-checklist

The added step of syncing this calendar with your personal appointments depends on your use of a digital calendar such as Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook or the like. Not necessary, but really nice for avoiding the dreaded ’double-booking’.

Look for: Payment processing, calendar syncing, email reminders and a nice user interface. Free is not always better in this case.

#2 Autoresponder –

I LOOOOOVE this tool. This might be my nerdiest love affair of them all. This is what people refer to when they ask about your ‘list’. Basically, an autoresponder allows you to automatically, or manually, email your entire following of subscribers (I hate that term too) anytime you like.

I’ll set the scene again: (Although this has likely happened to you on the receiving end, many times.)

Imagine you invite someone to a workshop, or to partake in your free gift, or someone makes it to your website and wants to receive updates from your blog or something… They plug their email into a little box, click submit, and KAPOW! They get a message right away! That immediate delivery happens from an autoresponder. Again, lots of amazing tools out there, but in my nerdy poking around on the inter-webs, and after trying out at least 3 for myself, my hands-down favorite is Active Campaign.

I get a little heart flutter excited every time I share about it.

Affiliate link: bit.ly/wildactive or direct link: https://www.activecampaign.com

Here’s what you want to look for: (and what Active Campaign of course excels at)

  • Does it include automation for the introductory price?” Mailchimp is a great introductory tool, but won’t take you as far as other programs that allow for tagging and better organization of your list.
  • Is it easy to segment the list? This may not come into play for you at first, but at some point you are going to want to send a message to your whole following except for your current clients and your moon circle friends (maybe that’s just me?) and that is NOT simple, segmentation I mean, on some of the platforms out there. Active Campaign uses tags and it may sound fancy but you get the hang of it pretty quick. i.e. Send to everyone except ‘x’ tag, and… done.
  • Can the user experience be catered to their interactions with your emails? In AC, you can actually tag someone when they click a link, or become a client and they will immediately stop receiving a series of emails encouraging them to schedule with you or ‘check out this thing’. I find that when we only send messages to people based on their interests, we not only hit the nail on the head for them offering-wise, but we can feel a whole lot better about what we’re sending because we know it actually applies to who it’s going out to.

PRO TIP: Always, always, ALWAYS write emails in a document first and copy them into your autoresponder later. This is to minimize loss and frustration in the writing and sending phase as well as the migration to a new system phase. Keep that stuff organized for extra brownie points. You will thank you later.

#3 A Business Building Website –

WTF is that? There are two kinds of small biz sites out there:

1. A Brochure Website: Gives information, talks a lot about your services, links to a bunch of things, maybe has a contact form.

2. A Business Building Website: Builds a relationship with your people, speaks directly to their heart, offers value up front and allows the visitor many ways to get in touch or receive more from you. Free gifts, opt in forms, scheduling links etc. Brings them down the path from viewer to friend.

My favorite tool for this: WordPress.org

PRO TIP: This process begins with purchasing a ‘hosting’ package through one of the many Hosting companies out there. SKIP GoDaddy, they suck for more than one reason. I use Bluehost, and also recommend HostGator as a trusted source with good customer service. Once you purchase hosting, they will help you ‘install’ WordPress onto your fancy new domain name.

(Note: .com is highly recommended over .org or .biz if possible when choosing your domain)

I hate seeing people get stuck on this step. The truth is you DO NOT need a website to get your business up and running.

But, I know for some there is a feeling of legitimacy that comes with a website, so if you want to go the WordPress route and want some help setting it up, reach out. Someone in your network, or Tad or I can recommend someone. I even built a mini course to walk people through building sites on WordPress because I was tired of seeing my friends spend $5k on a website they didn’t like.

#4 Surveys, Questionnaires, Quizzes –

One of the greatest ways to know what your people want is to….. ASK THEM! Yep, to actually get their input on how they think about their issues, what they desire most and what kinds of solutions they are looking for. (There’s a great book on how to do this called “Ask” by Ryan Levesque.)

You can use a free system like Google Forms or Typeform and create a quick survey that asks them a couple key things.

  • What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing right now?
  • What have you already tried?
  • What do you want instead?
  • What kind of support are you looking for?

….and so on.

PRO TIPS on this: Keep the number of questions low and make most of them multiple choice. The one you really want their exact words on is how they’d describe their biggest challenge when it comes to (the problem you solve). Surveys work better when you make their personal info optional, or don’t ask for it at all. This is an info-gathering phase, not a list-building phase.

Quizzes are awesome ways to both get to know your people and add some value. It’s human nature to want to know about ourselves, if we can provide insights like that, while also learning about the needs of our audience, awesome! I use Thrive Quiz Builder on WordPress, but have heard good things about Qzzr as well.

#5 Content Delivery Platform –

Do you have a Blog? Podcast? Youtube Channel? Meetup Group?

Are you sending out emails, pdf’s, checklists and blueprints? There are countless platforms to assist you in delivering your message to your people. My recommendation matches Tad’s, start where you feel like starting. Play to your strengths.

Whatever you do, start doing it and sharing it with your people. Your unique point of view is what sets you apart from every other practitioner.

Yes, the world needs your message.

There are people out there literally waiting for your refreshing take on this wild ride called life.

Share it.

Ring the bell.

Shake the dust.

#6 Social Media Biz Presence –

This could be a Business Page on Facebook, a Professional Profile on LinkedIn or even an Instagram account, the point is to figure out where your people are hanging out and show up there. Many kinds of people hang out on Facebook, but sometimes it’s easier for a jeweller or photographer to get found on Instagram, as it’s more imagery based. Likewise, corporate or traditional business folks might be more inclined to seek resources on LinkedIn.

I encourage people to begin with a media presences that feels light to you. If you are a writer, write. If you are a speaker, live stream some videos. If you are better in some other format, start there. I have personally gained a lot by pushing myself to expand to new frontiers of visibility, but I started with words on a page. That’s what I knew how to do.

#7 Social Media Scheduler –

One of the biggest game changers in my business growth was when I started batching my creative output. Rather than worry about how I was going to be ‘visible’ on social media, or to my list, or in the world on a daily basis, I started tackling that stuff in big batches.

So I’d sit down and write 20 inspiring posts, or a months worth of Blog entries, or pull a bunch of quotes from past talks and videos. I started mining past articles I’d written for what I like to call ‘nuggets of glory’ and then using those quotes on an amazing website called Canva.com where you can easily put images and text together in a fancy way. (Without having to learn the ins and outs of photoshop.)

Then, I would, and still do, take this chunk of juicy content bits and use Hootsuite.com to schedule them out into the future on my various social media pages. Don’t put it off forever, it goes quicker than you expect.

#8 CRM or Follow Up System –

I don’t personally use a CRM (Client Relationship Management Software) but the idea is that with a good tracking system, following up is easier to do. When you meet someone and they express interest in your work, or you do a consult and someone says “Yes, but let’s start next month.” You want to have a solid way to track that information so you don’t forget to follow up because when you follow up, you generally end up with more clients.

I use a project management tool called Trello.com which syncs to my phone and allows me to set due dates and make notes about people I’ve spoken to. (More on this below.) You can also set a reminder in your actual calendar to call them back. Whatever you use, make sure you’ll keep up with it. The best plan of action is one you will actually take action on.

#9 Content/Project Management –

Tad talks (“TadTalks”) about tracking things like the ‘Hubs’ for your niche, and organizing your brilliant ideas as they come to you. I found after a few years of great ideas and personal connections, I was overwhelmed with pieces of paper and ‘important notes’. So this tech tool tip is to find a project management, or idea organization system that works for you and USE it!

Here are my favorites:

Trello.com: I use this to create new projects, to organize what I delegate to my VA’s, to track my work with my clients, what they’re working on, how many sessions they have left etc. I even use it to keep all my To Do lists organized in one place. FREE I have like 30 separate project boards and still haven’t paid a dime.

Evernote.com: This is where my brilliant strikes of inspiration go first, into special organized note folders until I know what they’re for or what project they associate with in Trello. Lists like Books to read, Links to remember, Groceries to buy, and Gift Ideas for Mom and Dad usually end up in Evernote. FREE

Scrivener: This one is really more for writers, but I’m mentioning it here because I love it. I’m actually writing this in Scrivener right now. Easily create folders and subfolders for different parts of a project. Great for keeping good track of ALL your content without going hunting for it, or for managing the development of a book. $40 software.

#10 Shopping Cart –

This is a key element when it comes time to sell a product, course, program or service. If it’s a class or appointment, you can use Acuity, or whatever scheduler you chose that hopefully takes payment. If it’s something larger, you can get started on PayPal, Stripe or Square. All charge roughly 3% to process payments. When you move into an online learning platform, they will often include secure checkout pages also linked to you via PayPal, Stripe or Square. Don’t feel like you need to go out and get a “Shopping Cart,” you’ll know there’s a need when the time comes.

The fact that you’re reading this means you are on to big things. I love that about you!

I’ll leave you with two last reminders:

1. You do not need all of this, especially not all at once.

2. You do not have to do it alone. If you need support, get it. If not me or Tad, someone else you have access to. It can be daunting to take new systems on but I promise you it is worth it in the long run.

To infinity and beyond!

Xo Molly Mandelberg

About Molly:

Having studied with masters, traveled the world and applied the great teachings to her own life, Molly Mandelberg is uniquely qualified to help launch you from where you are now, to the next level of your business. Molly has an unusual combination of spiritual/visionary and high tech/practical/business savvy. She is an artist, a globe trotter, a writer, a speaker, a facilitator and a leader.

Whether you are stuck in procrastination, confusion or things just aren’t moving fast enough for you toward your goals, having empowering, kickass support may be just what you need. From content and design through streamlined global delivery systems, Molly Mandelberg may be the answer you’ve been looking for. You can learn more about her at: www.WildHeartsRiseUp.com 

When To Ask For Help

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“I think I’ll try to handle this and figure it out on my own.”

Well, hey . . . Amen.

This is how I’ve done most of my business. I’ve bootstrapped it and, for the most part, not spent money I couldn’t afford to spend. Sure. If you can figure your business out on your own and not spend the money, I would urge you to do that.

But, what if you can’t?

For years, I had a website I was embarrassed by. I kept meaning to fix it but I didn’t know how. Finally, one day, my friend Jaime Almond made me get on the phone with her and, together, over the phone, we built a wordpress website together. And it’s basically the website you see today.

I kept meaning to do it on my own.

But I never did.

I needed help.

Should we be able to do it all ourselves?

I have no idea.

Are we able to do it all ourselves?

It doesn’t seem so.

Modern culture is all about this Lone Ranger, self-sufficiency thing where everyone is an island. It’s the American Dream of everyone pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. And I see that approach keeping so many entrepreneurs stuck at whatever level they are currently at – even if what they offer is really compelling and excellent.

One of the simplest ways to get unstuck is to ask for help by doing a five minute support asking blitz. It sounds too simple but I’ve seen it utterly change the fate of people’s businesses. 

However, asking for help and ideas on marketing from friends doesn’t always cut it because your friends likely aren’t marketing experts or anything close. 

Worse, they might give you terrible advice that can hurt your business.

The following truisms are so burned out these days that I even hesitate to state them, but they’re still accurate:

if you are a singer, you’d hire a vocal coach.

If you were an athlete you’d hire a coach.

If you were serious about learning any craft, you’d apprentice.

If you were serious about just about anything you would find a mentor or a coach; and yet in marketing our businesses, we often get the impression that this model no longer applies.

You may have heard the theory that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master something. And for many entrepreneurs, they’ve invested many hours in master their craft but very few, if any, hours on learning about marketing. In other words, they’re an expert in what they do. They’re not an expert in how to market what they do.

These are two distinct skill sets.

And, in business, unless you’re extraordinary at what you do and good fortune introduces you to the right people who talk you up in the right circles in the right moment so that everything grows from word-of-mouth alone . . . Marketing is something you likely need to learn.

If your business is more of a hobby? No need to even think about marketing.

But if it’s a business? Well . . . Of course you need to think, and perhaps even more important, learn about marketing.

It’s not indulgent to get help. It’s not indulgent to get a coach or a mentor in business. It’s important.

I can’t tell you how many people I meet who struggle in marketing their business because they try to figure it out on their own. It’s most of the people I see. I see the difference even a one day workshop with myself or others makes in their marketing approach. Huge blunders are avoided. Thousands of dollars are saved that would have been spent on the wrong thing (or even the right thing at the wrong time).

If you want to grow, you need help.

A good mentor or coach can shave years off your learning curve. 

But, how do you know when it’s the right moment?

First of all, it’s important to know which of the four stages of business you’re at. If you’re at Stage One then it’s natural and important to be experimental in your approach. Sometimes you need some time to just noodle around and figure some things out on your own (such as, “Do I even want to be in business?”). Unless you’ve got a very deep clarity inside that this business is the one you want to grow, it’s a fine thing to give yourself time to test out your ideas in small, low risk ways. Before you start a business, you might just host a workshop in your living room. You don’t need a marketing coach for this.

Second of all, some of your issues can be handled by doing a five minute support asking blitz. Truly. Just doing a Facebook shout out can handle more issues than not. 

But, if you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve asked for as much help as you can think to ask for an you’re still stuck? If you’ve been plateauing for months if not years? It might be time to spend the money to hire someone you trust or invest in your marketing education in other ways.

But, even so, it’s vital to get the right kind of support. In my experience, there are a series of steps that need to be achieved and it’s important to know where you are so that you get a support that meets you there. I’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars on workshops that were three steps ahead of where they were and so they weren’t able to apply it.

Here’s what I see.

What Kind of Help To Get When: The Three Phases of Growing Your Business

Phase One: Marketing feels gross. This seems to be the primary place people feel stuck. Even the idea of marketing is abhorrent. As long as this is true, I don’t care what they try to learn, they likely won’t do it. They’ll avoid it. This is what I cover in my Marketing for Hippies 101 workshop.

Phase Two: Niche. Once you’re okay with the idea of marketing yourself, then the next question becomes, “What am I marketing? And to whom?” or, “What is the role I want to be known for in the marketplace?” I see so many people skip this step to try to learn how to ‘get clients’ but, ironically, this makes everything ten times harder. 99% of the problems I see in marketing have to do with a fuzzy niche. True story. It’s so central to growing a sustainable and resilient business that I created a whole website about it, wrote a book on it and launched a home study course about it. 

Phase Three: Getting found. Once you’ve got a clear niche, then you’re ready for what most people think of as marketing coaching. This is when you’re ready to learn about social media marketing, networking, public speaking, writing guest posts, blogging etc. But, if you try to skip the first two phases it’s not unlike flushing your money down the toilet. The best approach I know to getting found I’ve written up in my eBook Hub Marketing.

Don’t try to do it all on your own. Get the help you need. 

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If you’re interested in getting my help, I encourage you to check out my Mentorship Program but, whether or not you get it from me, if you’re serious about growing your business in the next year, I urge you to invest in some help (at whatever level makes sense to you). 

Good Hands

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Your clients want to know they’re in good hands with you.

I’m thinking about this because I just came back from a mediocre massage.

The style wasn’t one I liked. A bit too abrupt. Not as flowing and as intuitive as I like.

But that wasn’t the big issue.

In fact, there were no big issues.

There was her walking in on me while I was undressing. The bolster being positioned wrong when I lay down and her not noticing. Her cold hands at the start of the massage. When I flipped over she didn’t readjust the bolster. In other massages, it’s been something different: finger nails not trimmed, going way too hard, not checking in on how it’s going, the room being too hot or too cold. There are lot of tiny things that can add up to a massage not being great.

At the end of this massage, I lay there, face up, with an eye pillow over my eyes, relaxing. Rather than saying, “Ok. It’s over. Take your time getting up. I’ll bring you some water.” and leaving, she abruptly pulled the eye pillow off and me out of what little reverie and relaxation had been achieved. “How was it?”

“It was alright.” I said feeling a bit jarred. This was a question I was wishing she would have saved until after I was up and dressed.

“Oh no!” she said. “I’m sorry. What could I have done better?”

And so I shared my experience with her. She seemed to take it in. It’s how we all learn.

She asked me if I wanted a glass of water. I nodded and said, “yes.” And then lay there waiting for five minutes until I realized she wasn’t coming back. I got up and got dressed. She was waiting outside the door for me having misheard me to say that, “No,” I didn’t want a glass of water. Her English was not very good. She was sweet. It happens.

That she asked me so sincerely for feedback saved the whole thing for me. Without that, it would have been a write-off. That’s good to remember. People are so incredibly forgiving when they feel valued and that their issues have really been heard.

None of those things are big. And yet, put together, they add up to the person on the table not being able to relax, always feeling like they need to manage the experience or be on guard a little, not being able to trust the hands they’re in.

Perhaps you’ve had this with a life coach, business coach, contractor, consultant or therapist. You can’t seem to relax because you don’t trust them.

This all matters so profoundly for marketing.

Remember: word of mouth is based on their experience of working with us (or what they hear about the experience from others) so, if the experience is off (due to big things or a dozen smaller things) the word of mouth will wither up and dry or, worse, become a downward spiral instead.

It’s like that.

Remember: people can be petty. People have a hard time saying, ‘No’. People rarely ever give feedback unless asked. They just volunteer. Your clients are not enlightened sages with impeccable communication and boundaries.

This dynamic of people craving to be able to relax and trust in your guidance is true for any business you can think of. People come in full of stress and pain. They want our help. They want to know they are in good hands and that they can relax those muscles that have been clenched too long.

This doesn’t mean you don’t ask things of them. It means they trust what you’re asking of them.

It doesn’t mean you don’t get them to do some work too. It means they trust this work has a chance of paying off.

It means that, when they’re around you, they can just relax and open to your help.

We all crave to find some good hands into which we can collapse sometimes.

Imagine yourself as your own client: are you relaxed or slightly vigilant?

Imagine yourself as your own client: what kinds of hands are you in?

Additional Reading: 

I Don’t Care How Good You Are At What You Do

Getting Off The Fence: Hobby vs. Business

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Is what you do a hobby or is it a business?

This is an important question to answer because most entrepreneurs I know are on the fence about it.

There’s no right or wrong answer to it. But I know a lot of people who say it’s one and do it like the other.

My friend Theo drives for UPS. He loves his job. It’s his meditation. He offers massage for free on the side as his gift to the community. It’s a hobby for him.

But I know a lot of people who are baffled by why their business isn’t growing and, when I look at it, it’s clear. They aren’t treating it like a business. They don’t invest in it. They don’t work on it as well as in it. They don’t make systems. They do everything on their own. They haven’t sorted out their niche. None of which would matter if it were a hobby.

If you treat it like a hobby, it will never grow like a business might (and, to be frank, even if you treat it like a business, there are no guarantees it will grow at all).

But it can be a huge relief to jump off of the fence in one direction or the other.

If it’s a hobby, get a full time job and just enjoy doing it when you have the space and feel the urge to share it or work on it.

If it’s a business, then focus, hustle, work on it every day.

Which way do you want to jump?

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Note: If you’re clear that you’re wanting to really jump off the fence on the side of building your business, I invite you to get on the email list for my more in-depth, mentorship program. You can sign up here to be the first to hear when spaces open up.

Intake Forms & Earning Trust

Trust

I went to see a therapist the other day.

It was my first time making an appointment with her.

I arrived early to the old house, renovated to be a clinic where my naturopath is also housed, and was offered some tea while I filled out the intake form.

Some of the questions were straight forward but some of them were incredibly personal, asking about addictions and relationship status. Neither of which, to my knowledge, have anything to do with what I was there for. I left them both blank for the most part and gave only partial answers to other questions. They felt immensely assumptive.

Never assume that your clients should trust you. Trust is earned. 

I realized that, aside from the basics, I only wanted one question on the intake form, “What brings you to see me today?”

“Can you pay before the session? I’ll be on my lunch break when you get out.”

“Sure,” I said and then caught my breath at the $180 price tag for the hour. Shit. I had not realized it was going to be that much. Rule #1 of Pricing: never surprise people unless it’s with a discount. Sighing, I paid and followed the receptionist upstairs.

The therapist came out a few minutes later and invited me into her office. She had a good vibe and I liked her right away.

“So, this first session is mostly to go over the intake form, the policies and to answer any questions you have and then to maybe do a bit of work.”

I hate this.

This happened to me a few months ago when, on a friend’s suggestion, I went to see a therapist who spent the entire session talking about the theory of the treatment and the ethics of the whole thing.

In both cases, I sat there thinking, “What the fuck? Why am I paying $180 to have her go over things she could have emailed me in advance?”

“Did you read up the technique we’ll be using?” she asked.

I shook my head. It would have been a good idea. “I wasn’t given anything on it to read.”

“You didn’t take any of the flyers at the front desk?”

I shook my head.

From a marketing and business standpoint, this is such a gap.

When I booked the appointment, the therapist sent me the following email:

I am sending you an email to welcome you and also to pass along some information prior to our first session. If you have had counseling before, this may be familiar. In general, the first appointment is primarily a paperwork, history-taking and get-to-know-you session.
 
However, if there is something that you want to make sure we address specifically in that first session, please let me know either ahead of time via email or at the start of the session so that we can budget enough time.The first session is also an opportunity to clarify your goals for coming for counseling. Sometimes a good way to frame this is to ask yourself how you will know you’re done with counseling? How will you feel? What will your life be like?
 
It is best to approach counseling as a process and to allow sufficient time for you to work through what you need to work through. This time-frame varies from person to person, depending on issue(s), personality, and history. In general, however, you should notice some positive change in the first 3 sessions and more substantive change in 8-10 sessions.
 
My job is to support you in your process, offering expertise and feedback. If you are finding that my approach is not working for you, I welcome your feedback, as a means to learn and grow myself, and to see if I can better address your needs.
 
I look forward to meeting you.
Warm regards,

 

It was a fine email to get and set the context well and, I would have loved it if she had added a link to a 10-15 minute video about the modality and asked that I make sure I watch it before the session. It would have been wonderful if it was a video of herself explaining it. I might have watched the video and decided that due to her vibe or her description of the modality that it wasn’t a fit. I might also have gotten even more excited to see her. And there could have been another video that would go over all of the ethics and other typical things discussed in a first session.

And then, two days before, if she’d sent me a reminder email with those two links asking me to make sure I set aside thirty minutes to go over these before the session but that, if I didn’t have him, it was alright, we’d just go over the content together in the session – then I would have had the choice.

As a client, I deeply resent paying money to sit through something I could do better at home.

She began to go through my intake form which had me wonder why I bothered writing it down in the first place. Couldn’t she have just had it and written it down as we talked?

Stop being cranky I told myself.

“So it says here your last relationship…” and she begins to ask me about whether I’m dating or if that’s something I’m looking for.

I narrow my eyes.

“I am confused by this line of questioning.” I say. I’m not particularly trying to be nice about this.

I’m paying her $180 for this time and she hasn’t even asked me why I’m there. It’s reminding me of the pulse reader from last week. But it’s also different. These are issues that seem to, in no way, relate to why I’m there. They are immensely personal issues to be divulging to someone I’ve just met. Perhaps most therapists assume that they are trustworthy. Maybe they’ve lost touch with how vulnerable these issues are for people and it’s become rote for them.

I don’t know why.

But I sat there resenting her questions wondering, “Who do you think you are to ask me such questions with no context of why you’re asking them or how they relate to why I’m here? And why haven’t you asked me why I’m here?”

Never assume that your clients should trust you. Trust is earned. 

She is thrown off for a second but seems to collect herself quickly, “Oh, it’s just taking your history for what we’re going to be working on.”

“Why don’t we skip to that?” I say.

“Sure.” And, to her credit, we do.

The good Bill Baren suggests starting off your first session with a client with two questions: “Why me? Why now?”

I wish all sessions would start this way.

If she’d asked, “Why me?” I would have said, “Well, I’ve heard good things about the modality you use and my naturopath recommended you as someone who could help me with some things I’ve been struggling with.”

If she’d said, “Why now?” it would have been a doorway into my symptoms and struggles.

She didn’t ask those questions but I took the opening in her conversation to lay it all out for her. She listened well and I immediately relax to not be sitting there and waiting or regretting having shared something so personal.

If there are other issues related to this that come up, I think to myself, I’ll be happy to share them. But I didn’t walk into this room with an agreement to share every secret I have.

Trust is such a precious thing. And it’s earned. Our unwillingness to go slowly, in the beginning, is so much of what kills trust in both a therapist-client relationship or a customer-business relationship. You are rarely done much harm by going slowly.

By the end of the session, I really liked her and she had earned some portion of my trust.

But it lifts up questions for all of us: where in our business or helping processes are we assuming trust? Where are we asking questions we have not yet earned the right to ask? Where could we give more context into the reasons for our asking the questions we ask. Can we trust the process in that the right information will come up at the right time?

Never assume that your clients should trust you. Trust is earned. 

Additional Reading:

Marketing for Psychotherapists

Slow Marketing

Case Study: Hidden Gems (good thoughts on personalizing intake forms here)