Last time, we talked about the fact that your modality can’t help everyone in the world.
Now we’ll focus on you specifically, and consider that you don’t have to help everyone who looks like a potential client, because people who are not your clients—for whatever reason—are not good for your practice.
There are people you are not designed to serve
I’ve already talked about clients whose difficulty is beyond your level of skill. It’s obvious that they are not your clients, but what happens when you do have the skill and confidence to help someone? Do you take all those people as clients?
My answer is “No,” and to sort out why, let’s look at some underlying questions.
Are you SUPPOSED to want to help everyone?
In his Amherst training, Moshe Feldenkrais raised the issue of working with everyone who came when he asked his students: How will you prepare yourself to work with people you don’t like? People whose body type may be repugnant to you? People whose skin is the kind you don’t like to touch?
What I took away from that was that once I acquired the skills to help people, I was obligated to help every person who came to my door. For years, I had clients I didn’t really want to work with, but I couldn’t admit that to myself because I thought it meant I was a failure as a practitioner. The worst part was that I couldn’t fix that failure with advanced training because it wasn’t about skill, it was about a character flaw.
It took me many decades to realize that working with people who consistently made me wish I could call in sick was not good for me, not good for my family, not good for my other clients. Eventually I figured out that I can help some people more than others, and it’s better for everyone if I do the work to understand who those people are and actively look for them as clients.
Because most hands-on modalities are able to help so many different kinds of people, this sort of thinking is endemic to our industry. It’s likely that you absorbed the same message not matter what training you have. At that meta-level of your modality, there’s nothing wrong with it. The problem occurs when you believe that it should factor into your practice decisions.
What to do: If you believe you are supposed to work every everyone who comes, take a few minutes to ask yourself some questions.
- Where does this belief come from?
- What benefit do you get from holding it?
- Does it serve you and your other clients as well as you would like?
- What would happen if it were not true?
How do you recognize a person who is not your client?
“Fit” is extremely important in hands-on work because a great deal of the benefit clients get comes from the relationship they have their with practitioner. That’s one reason it’s important to figure out who your best clients are, even if you think you want to help everyone.
You’ve probably already had the experience that you’re able to help some people more than others and sometimes it’s easier to figure out who your best clients are are by identify who they are not.
Here are some signs that you don’t have a good fit with a client:
- You’ve never heard your client say that you are helping her.
- She consistently disrespects your time–she comes late, or won’t leave when the session is over, or changes every appointment, or gives you short notice of a cancellation or entirely forgets to show up for her session–and doesn’t expect to pay for it.
- Every time she pays you, she complains about your fee or tells you how expensive you are or how she can barely afford to see you.
- She argues with you about your area of expertise or questions your judgment.
- She wants something from you that you don’t want to give.
- After working with her, you feel drained rather than energized.
What to do: Acknowledge that you don’t have great chemistry with every person on the planet.
- Find the the clients you have now who may not be a fit. If you think you don’t have any, check your calendar and see what your reaction is to each person you have scheduled. If you find one that makes your heart sink, or gives you a heavy feeling in your stomach, check that out more fully.
- Figure out how working with those people affects you, your family, your other clients. You may think it has no effect outside of the time you spend with them, and after all, you “can handle it.” In truth, it’s almost never the case that a bad fit doesn’t overflow into the rest of your life.
- Work backward through your relationship, and look for the signs you saw and ignored… if possible, go back to the first time your met those clients and note what you experienced then that you want to be on the lookout for in the future so that you will know which clients probably are not going to be a great fit.
- If none of this isn’t enough, think of a a person who really isn’t your cup of tea and imagine that person as a client, then work through the steps using that person as a guide. 😉
What about friends?
Some practices have prohibitions against having any kind of personal relationship with your clients, but for most hands-on practitioners, this is not the case. That can lead to complicated discussions inside your head, where you try to work out gnarly questions like, “What’s wrong with me, that my friends don’t value my work?” or “What’s wrong with my friends, that they don’t value my work?”
These questions don’t help you move forward, either in your professional life or in your personal life. What can help is focusing on the issue from a different perspective. The reality is that friends can be clients, and clients can become friends… the problem is sorting out which is which, so that you stop treating everyone as if they were going to be both a friend and client.
One of the most heart-wrenching moments I have with practitioners is when they tell me about the friends they have who are suffering… they want to help, and the friend just isn’t interested in getting that help from them. It’s particularly difficult when people like that are perfect candidates for what you offer, and you really care about those folks… and no matter how hard you work at it, you can’t get them interested enough to try it.
Believe it or not, some of the people you know—people you know you could help—are not looking for that in their relationship with you. No matter how much you want to help someone you know, and may care about or love, you cannot make them want your work.
In reality, over time, some of your friends will ask you to work with them and some of the people you work with will become friends.
It will probably also happen that some of your friends will want you to help them in ways you don’t want to help!
All of this is completely normal, because “some” is the operative word.
What to do: Differentiate between friends and business connections.
- Make 2 lists: what you want from your friends and what you want from your clients. Circle the 3 things that are most important to you in each list. How do they compare?
- Think about friends who provide a service you don’t feel you need—(ie, hypnotherapist, homeopath, energy healer, etc.) or you get it from someone else (ie, hair stylist, auto mechanic). Ask yourself what each of those people might think to themselves about why you do need them—and why that doesn’t push you to sign up with them.
- Think about the friends you rely on most. What do you like about each person? Why would you be sad to lose your relationship if it were dependent on paying them to do their work with or for you?
What work do you need to do on yourself?
One of the most important things you can do to get a practice filled with clients you really love, is to recognize that you may have to do some work on yourself. Admitting that you don’t want to work with everyone is a major step forward, and it’s not an easy one to take if you feel that your job is to serve everyone.
What to do: Begin by having a serious talk with yourself.
- What are your expectations–the ones you have of yourself–that underlie your efforts to get clients?
- What do you want to get out of your practice for yourself?
- Would it be okay if you got that?
- What support do you need to make it possible?
Listen carefully to the answers you hear, and work on shifting your attitude about clients one bit at a time.
In order to get the practice you want, you have to become the practitioner who has that practice.
It doesn’t work in the other direction… you have to be that person before you will attract that practice. It takes time, but the reward is that you get to have the practice that makes the best use of your skills and your life experience… and you will help far more people!
Next time: How trying to help everyone can decrease the number of people who want your help.
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