SHOULD I BE BRANCHING OUT?

Brooke Thomas

7 minute read

This is the question I have been asked the most this past year from my fellow healing arts providers. Or more specifically, I'm weaving together what is at the core of a few repeating questions: “Do I need a side hustle to my private practice?” Or, “Do I need to be ‘hustling’ in order to have a private practice?”. Or even, “Should I be creating my own system or method and build a business around it?”

The short answer is a very emphatic, it depends.  The long answer is what follows:

First, if you flinched at the yuck terminology, for the most part “side hustle” is not the phrase people are using when they ask me. Instead, they are asking me if they should start a podcast, or really lean into posting on Facebook or Instagram, or start a membership site, or teach a digital class… All of which equate to some kind of additional business or income stream, or additional labor of marketing towards what you already do. 

If you are self-employed in a private practice model and you are either thinking about how to grow and sustain that private practice, or you are thinking about how to diversify that private practice with some version of another offering, you have no doubt come across a lot of opinions about exactly what you should be doing, and exactly how you should be “hustling”. 

I’m usually suspicious when anyone has The Answer. The one cookie-cutter-super-important thing we should be doing.

In the spaces of online business and/or online marketing, it can feel like we’re spinning through constant next-hot-things: Instagram, podcasts, digital classes, digital summits, membership sites. And for each potential idea, there is someone who has a blueprint formula for how to do that thing while guaranteeing you can change the world and amass riches while doing it. (Hmmmm?)

People reach out and ask me about what they “should” be doing, or even could be doing, because I have done a lot of these things: I’ve run 2 podcasts, numerous online courses, and the embodied practice studio is a membership site… In the non-digital world, I run a private practice as a Rolfer and have for the last 20+ years. I also spent years teaching holistic health professionals how to grow their private practices. In short, I have had my hands in these options and questions for a long time now! 

That said, I’m happy to do my best to answer the question by offering some behind the scenes real-talk both about my own experiences and about the experiences of a number of my colleagues. 

TACTICS, NOT BUSINESSES

Let’s start here: whenever you are being taught about The Thing you should be doing, it’s always promoted as a guaranteed route to success, or if not guaranteed, highly promising. That’s because the people selling you their method for doing The Thing have a guaranteed route to success if they convince you of this. It’s a little like a MLM company with the person who has the blueprint to success sitting at the top of the pyramid. For example: the online course that teaches you how to make an online course. The membership site for people who run membership sites. The Facebook ad guru who teaches you how to run Facebook ads… 

The problem is these are all tactics, not businesses. And learning tactics can sometimes be helpful (lord knows I have taken some of those courses), but tactics can’t zoom out enough to figure out who you are, what you actually want to do, how your strengths, knowledge, and yes, even weaknesses are best adapted into a sustainable and nourishing work life. 

Here’s the behind the scenes real-talk. I know people, and have myself, wound up in these situations: 

  • Spending tens of thousands on a “blueprint” program, following all its rules, and winding up with a business that doesn’t pay the bills. 
  • Having a massive social media following but being unable to grow a business from those numbers (massive following does not equal a business or even an income). 
  • Running a successful podcast and earning nothing from it (rather spending money to run it). 
  • Teaching a very profitable signature online course and then having interest in it wane. 
  • Running a 7-figure membership site and having 80% of your members disappear overnight. 

It’s not all terrible news out there. Many people do have success of course. However when we get sold this idea that in order to have a successful career we should all be transitioning to online work, or have big followings online, or create a new income stream on top of our current work; I disagree. Sometimes these things are good ideas, but as blanket statements I just don’t see these things as true. Finding what works for you and your work path is much more individual and nuanced than hopping on bandwagons. 

I’m also not saying that earning money is the only reason to do something. If one wants to spend money running a podcast that doesn’t earn anything because it is a satisfying learning and creative project (ahem, me) - then go for it!

However, for the purposes of this article, I’m speaking to the many people who have reached out to me about how to shift or add to the work they do that pays their bills. It’s understandable as this is a time that has been so wildly fluctuating and groundless for so many of us as we navigate how we can earn a living through a pandemic. 

Having spent my fair share of time in the “online biz” spaces, I’d like to help people avoid wasting time and money when we don’t have much of either right now. 

Ok, to the original questions, “Do I need a side hustle to my private practice?” Or, “Do I need to be ‘hustling’ in order to have a private practice?”. Or even, “should I be creating my system or method and build a business around it?”

First, as I’ve already covered, nothing has guaranteed success. If you build a business around your weaknesses or things you hate to do (cough, posting on social media, cough) you’re in for an uphill climb. And uphill climbs are a recipe for burnout. 

THE ASSUMPTION-BUSTING QUESTION TREE

So instead of following what someone told you is guaranteed to work, here’s a way to sort out for yourself what some of your underlying interests, desires, and assumptions are with what I’m loosely calling the Assumption-Busting Question Tree. That’s not a catchy name, but here we go…

Whenever you are considering making something, whether it’s an experiment for a new income stream or a marketing strategy for your private practice, ask yourself, truly, what is it you desire to have out of this thing you are experimenting with and committing to (at least for some amount of time)? 

Because if you don’t clarify that up front, you are likely to expend a ton of energy before you hit the sweet spot of what it is you set out to do. So we need to sift through by asking ourselves why we are pursuing something. 

Here’s how the Assumption-Busting Question Tree works: 

The trunk of this tree is to first figure out what statement(s) you’re making to yourself about this undertaking. 

I’ll give a few common ones we can work through together, and then you can take it from here and work through any statements you have in mind about your particular reasons for pursuing something: 

EXAMPLES:

“I need to diversify my private practice.”

“I should really be posting to Instagram daily.”

“I should start a… [podcast, online course, membership site]”

Let’s start with the first one: “I need to diversify my private practice.”

The way we begin branching off the trunk of the tree is to ask yourself: “Why?”

And from this one-word, toddler-esque question, it can branch in many directions depending on the circumstances of each individual. 

To give a few examples of the breadth of answers, I’ll give some differing responses to show how individual this decision can be: 

One answer might be, “I can make more money that way.”

From here, you can spend some time with the next question, or next branching out: “Are you really sure?”

[As an aside: In my experience, sometimes I have made more money when I diversified. Whereas sometimes I’ve made less because I had to spend so much time (and money) growing something that it took away from my client hours.] 

If you decide that you’re not really sure about the original assumption, then consider some of the other possible resolutions. (This is where, if I’m going to beat the metaphor of the tree to death, things start leafing out into the tree canopy. Aka, the options you have): 

If you love your work in your private practice, perhaps instead of starting a whole new business, you have to raise your rates (and if you hate raising your rates, you can also create a pay-it-forward scholarship for clients who normally couldn’t afford the new rate). 

Or maybe you need to change the way you offer your private practice work, at least partially. Maybe you have some group offering that’s available to you? Or maybe you actually can see more than 3 clients per day? Doing the math becomes so helpful for this kind of quandary- how many clients would you need to see to earn the living you need to make, at what rate, and can you see that many people? Or is that rate workable and viable? 

As you answer more and more of the questions- you head farther out into the tree canopy where you start seeing the workable options that meet your specific circumstance. 

SAME QUESTION, DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCE

To take that a little further, here’s another way the same question might be answered by a different person in a different circumstance. “I need to diversify from my private practice.” 

Why? 

“Because I have recurrent carpal tunnel syndrome and no matter what I do, when I make my living this way, it hurts my body. I need to get real about my exit strategy so I can take better care of myself.” 

In this case, the follow up question, “Are you really sure?” becomes more straightforward. 

If you’ve done the work of rehabilitating yourself and it’s just a bad match between your body’s needs and the kind of client work you do then yep, it’s probably time to take care of yourself by figuring out how you’ll diversify. 

LOOKING BRIEFLY AT THE OTHER EXAMPLE STATEMENTS:

“I should really be posting to Instagram daily.”

Why? 

“Because no one will take my business seriously if I don’t, and it’s an important way for me to get clients. ”

Are you sure? How do you normally get clients, do they actually find you via Instagram or is it more word of mouth? 

Leafing out into the canopy here: If finding clients usually is by way of Instagram but you hate it anyway, you can consider branching off there too. Maybe consider how you could emphasize word of mouth in your community since that’s usually the most effective way for people to have a full practice over time? 

Or you consider that you could stick with Instagram, and find a way to see that task through the lens of your strengths (for example, thinking of it as a great place to teach about your work if teaching is a strength, rather than an annoying show-offy marketing task if being in the spotlight isn’t your natural home.)

NEXT STATEMENT:

“I should start a… [podcast, online course, membership site]”

Why? 

There are so many reasons why you might want to do this, and also so many reasons why you’ve been taught that you should want to do this (but really don’t, or have an assumption about what it will do for you which may be incorrect). So just make sure your why has actual desire in it, instead of a should. 

Desire sounds like, “I really want to…” For example, “I am a little bored after so many years in practice, I would love to have this creative outlet where I can get super nerdy about some aspect of my work.” or "I really want to stretch and try out some bigger business models."

Should sounds like, “I need to…” For example, “I need to create a signature online course if I ever hope to earn enough money to save for retirement.” In this case, you would go to the next question branching out: “Are you sure?” 

In response to “Are you sure?” first, you can tease apart things that got bound together. If you are coming up with a business because you want to earn more so you can save for your retirement, great! But that doesn't necessarily mean the way you need to do that is through an online course.

Knowing then that income towards retirement is the goal, you can dive into the intricacies of the model you originally thought might get you there: the signature online course. Meaning, a one-to-many class: one teacher with one class which is delivered the same way to many students. These are usually all about scale over time, because unlike a client-based business where you see a number of people each week, you can only run your digital course a few times per year. So each run needs to equal or surpass what you would make with clients. 

Some math: If you see 15 clients per week at $150 you make about $103,500 with a 2-week vacation built in and another 4 weeks built in to not be earning for potential illnesses or other things that come up. (That’s calculating for 6 weeks off folks).

If you run an online course that costs $300, and about 100 people sign up each time (a hearty estimate), and you can run it 3 times per year without burning out interest in the class, that’s $90,000. You earn less. Unless you can do it at the same time as seeing clients. But if you don’t already have a large number of people who follow your work, expect to also spend 30-80% of your work week on marketing activities to attract new students. Do you realistically have energy for that on top of your client week? If not, it’s a recipe for burnout and, paradoxically, for under-earning. 

Of course, knowing variables in advance isn’t a perfect science. In the example of the class, what if you got 200 to sign up each time!? What if you ran it 5 times per year!? Yep, maybe that is how it will play out. 

EXPERIMENT!

Which brings me to the final part of this process: experimentation. The Assumption-Busting Question Tree is just a way to see and to inquire about, well, our assumptions. 

Once we have observed those more closely (while taking into account that we cannot know the future perfectly) we have to decide what we want to experiment with. Nothing has to be a giant decision like you’re committing your life to someone before a first date. Instead, hold it loosely. Try things out, play around, see what works for you and what doesn’t with low-risk experiments.

In many ways, we can’t actually know how things will go until we try. We can hold your experiments loosely and play around in the canopy a bit. 

If you want to get a sense of some of the options available in the leafy canopy, on September 22nd I am hosting a free webinar that looks at the many options available to those of us who work in the healing arts. In the webinar we will take a topographical view of how to clarify your offering, and what business model options might work best for you (with plenty of assumption-busting). You can register to attend for free below. 

For the deep dive with a lot of support, check out the Healing Arts Business Incubator. This has 20 spots open and begins on October 4th.

FREE WEBINAR

SHOULD I BE BRANCHING OUT?

We will go over some of the common myths and pressures that are circulating for healing arts providers these days, and a good thorough look at the variety of business models that are actually available for you to deliver your work and thrive in your career. Without having to ditch your values, strengths, or differences.

Sign up below to get the link. If you can't make it live, sign up to receive the recording. Only those who register will be emailed the recording.

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 22nd 11-noon EDT

Please complete the reCAPTCHA challenge

A REFRESHER OF THE ASSUMPTION-BUSTING QUESTION TREE PROCESS:

  • Identify the statements you are making to yourself about your idea. 
  • Ask of these statements, “Why?”
  • Take the response to that question and ask, “Are you sure?” to see if there are some assumptions bound up in there. 
  • As you bust up assumptions, leaf out into the canopy by exploring possibilities that might better solve the problem you had intended to solve with your original idea. What are some creative ways around the same block?