In December 2019 I left my well paid corporate job with company car and bonuses to set up my own private counselling practice.
It was a decision made after a lot of thought and hard work
For 2 years I worked full time at my corporate job and on Monday and Wednesday nights I would move into counselling mode at 5.30pm and see 4 clients until 9.30pm. On Saturdays I would work 10am-4pm on my counselling business.
In January 2020 I made the brave move and opened the doors to my counselling business on a full time basis and became a small business owner.
Unfortunatley my timing was not the best, who would have thought that just a couple of months later a deadly virus would strike and we would be in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that would bring the world to a standstill and throw me and my new little business into disarray, with no idea as to when things would return to normal, or if they even would.
My immediate reaction was one of shock and fear and a real worry about what this would mean for me and my family, let alone my newly formed business
At first things were ok it would seem some adaptations to life might be necessary but I pretty much carried on as usual, however then came the news that people would have to self-isolate, businesses would need to close and furlough their staff, schools were to close down, a 2 metre social distancing rule was put in place, there was to be no contact with anyone who lived outside your own home, we were in what we called lockdown.
I had set up my private practice to run from a room in my own home and now it would not be possible for me to allow people into my home and so it looked like my business may have to come to a very early standstill.
Discussions with my supervisor and on counselling forums began to talk about telephone and online video counselling and this seemed to be the only option available to enable me to continue to run my business.
I had had experience of video counselling with a couple of clients, but I was certainly not confident in this way of working, so how would this work transitioning my whole business to an online business?
It became clear that I was not going to be eligible for any financial help, being a new start up business none of the generous government financial schemes were available to me and so my income needed to come entirely from my newly formed business and I had to be pro-active in the way I pivoted my business to enable me to stay afloat.
So how have I weathered this strange time we are living in, thankfully very well, my business has survived, and even thrived, and I would say thanks to the environment we found ourselves in I have been able to approach my business in a new and enlightening way.
Let me share with you how I went from a feeling of dread about the consequences to my business to one of hope and then onto success with a business that is now thriving despite the setbacks.
1. Effective Communication With My Clients
I decided very early on to be as pro-active with my clients as I could. We were both entering an unknown time and it was important that I kept my clients informed about how this might look for their counselling,
Many relied on these weekly sessions and it was important we worked together to find the best solutions for their ongoing counselling sessions.
As soon as news broke of the pandemic and there were rumours of the impact this would have I started sending weekly text messages to my clients informing them of what this might mean for our work together.
Basing my messages on the latest government advice I wanted to convey to my clients I was being vigilant in keeping my service available in as safe a way as possible, preparing them for the changes that might happen and how we would navigate this to enable us to continue to work together.
After 3 weeks of messaging I made the decision to stop all face to face work with my clients and confirmed the alternatives we had been discussing offering them the choice to move to telephone or online video counselling.
Out of 25 clients 14 of them made the decision to move to an online platform whilst the others decided this was not suitable for them.
I have since learnt that compared to some other counsellors this was a high uptake and I feel this was down to the consistent and inclusive communication I had with my clients, it was not just a decision I was making for them but one we had made together.
I have also kept in close contact with all my previous clients through a monthly e-mail newsletter keeping them updated with developments and 2 more clients have since returned to counselling and I have a waiting list of those who wish to return when face to face again becomes an option.
2. Considering My Boundaries and Flexible Working
A 'new normal' was developing and our daily lives were ever changing, my counselling practice needed to fit in with this new environment.
The BACP, my membership body, issued information that it was OK to offer online counselling, despite some counsellors not having formal training in this way of working, CPD was being offered to help people make a smooth transition to this way of working and I ensured I signed up for and participated in these opportunities, ensuring I was working safely with my clients despite the changes.
My working hours changed I became more flexible around my clients needs. People were in lockdown. alongside family members, children were being home schooled and people were working from home, counselling sessions may have to be moved to early morning or evening to accommodate clients changing lifestyles.
Discussing with clients how best to work online, and privacy considerations for the available space to work in, we became creative, with bathrooms and cars becoming private places for people to attend their counselling sessions, we adapted our boundaries to ensure my clients were still safe.
Together we mastered the skills needed to ensure video and audio were working properly and teething problems were ironed out together.
There were no assumptions that my clients knew how to work online with me and I became as flexible as I could to accommodate their needs, within my own boundaries, helping those clients who had decided to make the move to online counselling stay with online counselling and not be put off by the strangeness/newness of it
I have not lost any clients who subsequently decided online counselling did not suit them
3. Updating My Marketing To Reflect The New Environment
Gaining new business is obviously an important part of any successful business and my new business comes from a variety of sources, Various counselling directories, my website and my Facebook Business Page.
With all that was happening around us, many businesses closing and people being furloughed, I needed to ensure any potential clients were fully aware I was still open, still able to offer a service and inform them that despite social distancing and lockdown SeeClear Counselling was still open for business.
I immediately updated all my counselling directory entries and my website to reflect my new way of working.
Helping potential clients to be fully aware that I was still open for business and could offer them an alternative to face to face counselling at a time when this was not an option.
I suspect that many people looking for counselling may not have been aware that online services could be an option for them, to be honest it was not something that had been immediately apparent to me, and so it was essential I got this important message out to anyone who looked at my directory entries or visited my website.
To enable clients to want to work with us we need to make it as easy as possible for them to understand what we offer and how they can access it, If I didn't update my information they may pass me by thinking I was not able to work with them, especially if my marketing only mentioned I worked face to face.
My posts on my Facebook page also focused on this new environment and how I was changing my business model to offering online counselling.
I also specialise in working with Anxiety and with all the change and fear that was about then anxiety was certainly going to be rising for people, I therefore focused all my marketing on how I worked with anxiety and how counselling could help them at this time. Directly speaking to people with anxiety and targeting my marketing message at the client base I could help most.
I have gained new clients through all these channels over the last few months
4.Enhancing my Use of Social Media
Although my client numbers had dropped by about half at the start of the pandemic, I did feel that people would be struggling to understand what was going on and that all the changes would be impacting on peoples mental health.
I figured with the skill set I had there must be a way to be able to reach out to people and help them through this period.
With more people at home furloughed, people working from home, children being home schooled online was becoming a way of being. Families were interacting through face time and zoom, a Facebook quiz night went viral, and social media usage was increasing
Having an online and social media presence seemed to be an increasingly important aspect for any business.
With this in mind I did my first live video on Facebook '3 tips on managing anxiety through Covid-19'.
I got such good feedback that I decided to make it a weekly feature on my Facebook business page, and now every Tuesday at 4.30pm I go live with hints and tips on how people can manage their mental health through this period.
I regularly get around 300 views of the videos, one even reached the dizzy heights of 1.7k views.
Through these videos I feel I have been able to reach out to a whole new audience, have raised the awareness of how counselling can help people and have gained great pride in knowing I am able to help people get through this difficult time in their life.
Now that my business was being run online my net for potential clients had widened, I was not restricted to seeing clients within travelling distance of my counselling room, I could reach out nationwide and still be able to offer them effective counselling.
Through this new way of engaging with the public I gained 9 new clients, who approached me after seeing my live videos.
Taking things a step further I also set up a Facebook support group for those struggling with their anxiety, There are now 100 members supporting each other, and another opportunity to use my skills and knowledge to help people through this difficult time.
This group has also bought 2 new clients to me.
Through this period I have moved from a place of worry and fear about how my business would survive to place of excitement and hope.
My business has thrived through this time, many of my original clients have remained with me and are more than happy with the new way of working online and I have gained many new clients through adapting my marketing of my business.
I have learnt so much about myself, my business, opportunities available for my business and my own business acumen and am excited about how this period has been a catalyst of change for my business and it has encouraged me to start to explore other new ways to market and expand my business and the services I can offer.