“Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation.”

Milan Kundera

I meet many people during the course of my work who go into business for themselves, simply because they are good at what they do. Take Susan, a physiotherapist who loves what she does. She worked in a multi-disciplinary clinic for some years before branching out on her own. Because she was good and she was in demand at the clinic, she believed the same would be true if she went out on her own.

Once Susan went out on her own, she found it to be quite different. She brought in a modest amount of business, but could never quite reach the level she wanted. She felt she couldn’t really afford qualified staff, so she spent her days dealing with patients and her evenings doing administration. To put it bluntly, she was working like a dog, but was flat broke.

She began to realize that being good at physiotherapy was a table stake. If she didn’t learn to market she would never break out of the “busy and broke” mould so many business owners find themselves in. She felt uncomfortable with marketing because she comes from a world where marketing is frowned upon. It’s almost a dirty word. Most of her colleagues believe that if you are good you don’t have to hype what you do.

I spent time with her showing that this idealistic view is somewhat naive. There are simply so many people her patients could go to to get the same service, she wasn’t even on the radar. She had to understand that her job was to get her message to her patients, because they certainly weren’t going to go looking for her.

Here’s what she did:

Her first step was to figure out why she is different. She discovered that most of her patients were young, athletic executives. They came to her because she understood sports injuries and the competitive nature of these people. Her business was different because she specialised in getting these go-go people back in action quickly.

Her next step was to build her reputation as a specialist in this field. She started speaking to groups of executives, she wrote articles, she held special events and she built a content rich web-site to serve them.

Then came the hard part for her; generating leads. She started a referral program with her existing patients, she ran a successful direct mail campaign and developed alliances with two gyms that have a high number of young executive members. (Before she started with the direct mail program, she told me she didn’t think it would work. She had tried it previously without success.)

The combination of these simple strategies created a steady stream of 5-8 new leads per week.

She hired a receptionist/assistant to take some of the administrative load and Susan had her make calls to follow up all the leads that were coming in. She resisted this because she didn’t think she could afford it. But when her assistant began to bring in about 30-50% of the people she followed up with, she realised this wasn’t a cost, but an investment in growing her business. Today she is thinking of bringing in another physiotherapist into the business and is also looking at hiring a masseur.

If you are in business for yourself, you must develop a lead machine. Simply relying on passive referrals from happy clients will bring in a certain amount of business but you’ll never make much that way. You will most likely join the ranks of the busy and broke. Don’t let this happen to you.