When building a sustainable business as a holistic practitioner--be it through life coaching, massage therapy, or any other modality--what others think of us IS our business, especially when what they say is ABOUT our business. Word of mouth, or viva voce, can make or break a business or a practitioner’s private practice. Viva voce is a Latin phrase that means “the living voice.” With today’s digital media platforms—such as Yelp, Facebook, and Google+—there is sudden room for the world to publish exactly what they think about your business… quickly and often without recourse! Once a “bad” review is registered, it is nearly impossible to reverse the rating that shows up on your business' page.
Naturally, we want to do all we can to create positive word-of-mouth to help grow our private practices and holistic businesses. For guidance on this matter, we can turn to the wisdom in Don Miguel Ruiz’s most famous book, The Four Agreements, which has sold around 5.2 million copies in the U.S and has been translated into 38 languages.
While Ruiz may not have been specifically envisioning the principles he espouses as a way of creating viva voce for budding entrepreneurs, when respectfully edified, his practical guidelines become standards of conduct for creating word-of-mouth referrals.
1. Do not take things personally; you never know the battles people are fighting in their minds.
Jimmy Gialelis, a longtime massage therapist and teacher, tells of a time he was working on a female client who appeared agitated during a massage session. She made a rude comment about his massage technique mid-session. Jimmy recalls thoughtfully, “I stopped, took a deep breath, and asked Spirit to guide me. Even after yet another rude comment, I kept my composure, reminding myself that this is simply a human being having a bad day, not a bad human being!”
At session end, Jimmy reported, the client was appreciative and confided that she had been violated in the past, and he was the first male she had allowed to touch her. Although she explained she had gotten uncomfortable about halfway through the session, she confirmed that a calm came over her at about the same time Jimmy had sent up his plea for guidance. The woman shared that past memories had resurfaced, yet due to Jimmy accommodating her requests mid-session, she had been able to calm down. This is a perfect example of the importance of not taking things personally and honoring the person’s experience. While we will never know for sure if this woman referred future clients to Jimmy, we can be sure her inner viva voce, or “living voice,” was served and soothed.
2. Always do your best and what’s best for the client.
Just the other day, there was a lively discussion on Facebook between a group of entrepreneurial massage therapists as to whether they should charge more for a deep tissue massage due to the extra strength, effort, and training required on the holistic practitioner’s part. Kyle Van Ostapuk, one of the Licensed Massage Therapists who serves in the SWIHA Healing Arts Clinic, shared his perspective: “I charge the same amount no matter which technique I use. I think effective deep relief comes mostly from an experienced therapist that knows how to use a variety of tools to get to the root of the problem and who is connected to the client in the moment.”
Kyle went on to explain, “As a client, in general, I like a nice firm and connected touch from my therapist that provides deep relief, yet that doesn't have to be from deep physical work from the therapist. I'd say it usually comes from a therapist that is present in the moment, who is listening to my body, and who is using the right tool to get the release. Most of my personal physical pain originates from trigger points and bound fascia; there are more effective ways to release pain than forced deep pressure during a massage. I have discovered that there are ways to deliver deep pressure that don't require a lot of physical force.”
Continuing, Kyle says, “As a therapist, it took a long time to figure that out. Starting out, I used a lot of muscle and force to try and do ‘deep tissue’ to provide the client the ‘deep relief’ they were really after. Unfortunately, it caused me lots of pain and strain, and I had to quit for a year to rehab myself. Ironically my injuries gave me insight into the roots of pain. After years of study and practice and asking clients what they were really after (and I'm still learning I have to learn to use an array of techniques which are friendly to my body because I don't want to suffer that pain again), I can still provide deep relief from pain and muscle fatigue for those clients that seek it.”
Kyle has learned to do his best, as well as what’s best for him and his clients. You can bet he gets good viva voce; what his clients think of his therapies becomes his calling card.
3. Don’t make assumptions or assume you know what’s best for a client.
Hope Corkran, captain of the massage therapy team, served the Arizona Ironman Triathlon participants and humbly shares this story. She had been working with one of the world-class long-distance triathlon members the day before an important race. The elite athlete asked Hope for some deeper trigger work on her legs and back, which was not the protocol Hope had learned as a massage therapist; generally, the day before a big race or event, a lighter, full body flush massage is what she performs for the athletes. As you can imagine, Hope was torn. Did she assume what she had been taught was right for her client? Or should she do what the client requested?
Hope chose to not assume she knew best and to keep her mind open to the fact that there are exceptions to the rule. In doing so, she honored that this top competitor knew her body and knew what it needed. The client did, in fact, set a new personal best the day of the race. As Hope related the story, you could tell she was still processing the realization that by not assuming she knew what was best for the client, she had been part of the woman having one of her best races. This athlete came in to see her the next day for a post race massage and stated, "We did it! You were part of my team that got me across that finish line!" (Special Note: Hope Corkran just recently joined SWIHA as the Healing Arts Clinic Manager)
4. Be impeccable with your word and impeccably truthful with what you offer your clients.
Being impeccable is a tall order. To be impeccable is to be blameless, flawless, faultless, guiltless, perfect, pristine, and pretty darn squeaky clean. It means telling the truth even when you might not think it’s any of your business. For me, the biggest viva voca factor in growing my own private life coaching practice has been an impeccable commitment to conveying Spirit-directed messages to those I serve—even when I have to look up to the heavens and say, "Really, you want me to say THAT?"
Ultimately, one of the greatest affirmations a holistic practitioner, massage therapist, or life coaching practioner can get is having clients refer you to others because you aren't afraid to guide them to find their own impeccable truth within.
May the Four Agreements serve as guideposts for increasing your word of mouth marketing!