Hustle or Bust: What It Took to Triple My Practice

Margaret Floyd Barry

February 16, 2021

I was nine months pregnant with my second daughter, Sasha. It had been a really intense pregnancy: I’d been diagnosed with Hashimotos. While I’d made it to nine months without needing to lean on any medication, I was well aware that autoimmune disease goes into remission during pregnancy and I knew that on the other side of having this baby, a potential postpartum storm awaited me: the hormonal flip of childbirth, the immune system coming back online, the stress and lack of sleep of having a newborn in the house… I was terrified I’d go into a full-blown autoimmune flare. 

My game plan was to take maternity leave for a few months and take exceptional care of myself and my new baby girl. I’d watched my mom struggle with several autoimmune diseases for over 20 years before losing her life to complications resulting from them, so I knew the stakes were high and I needed that time to recover.

My husband James and I had just moved to Portland from LA months earlier, and we were going to lean on the income from the sale of his business while I wasn’t working and he focused on starting something new. We envisioned the most idyllic family time together where we could relax and evolve into our new dynamic as a family of four. 

About two weeks before the baby was due, James was in LA on business and called me saying, “Hey babe, I have some news. The deal went south. The money’s gone and there’s no more coming in…” 

And just like that my world turned upside down. 

Maternity leave went out the window. Like the flip of a switch, I was suddenly thrust into the position of sole financial provider for the family, with a newborn baby, a recently diagnosed autoimmune disease, a huge mortgage to pay, and more financial obligations than I’d ever had in my life. All I could think was, “How can I do this and not cause a complete autoimmune flare?!” 

I didn’t have any online programs ready to scale and I didn’t have a job I could go back to. I was already working with Anne here at Restorative Wellness, but we put all the money we made from it right back into the company. In fact, my commitment to RWS meant I had even less time in which to focus on my private practice and generate income for the family. 

When I reflect on this moment, I can see that there were three decisions I made that were pivotal to both my mental health and business success: 

1) I believed that it was possible.

This feels so basic – and you may be tempted to dismiss it as too obvious – but I see lack of belief disrupt people’s dreams all the time. If you don’t believe it’s possible to earn a great living in private practice, you’ve lost before you’ve even tried. You simply must believe that it’s possible in order for it to happen. This is step one. 

Quite honestly, I didn’t have the luxury of not believing it, so I did not even entertain the possibility that I couldn’t support my family based on the income from my practice. 

2) I worked exclusively in packages.

In the first Level of the RWS curriculum, Mastering the Art and Science of Gastrointestinal Healing, we teach a business module that shares what we have learned after many years of practice and much experimentation with pretty much every business model out there: from session-by-session to subscriptions, to group programs, to packages.

I’ll confess, I’d gotten a little lazy with the structure of my business, and had moved away from what I knew to be both the most profitable and the best way to meet my clients’ needs: a package structure. Seeing clients session-by-session can feel easier in the moment, but it’s actually setting both the client and the practitioner up for failure. This work is hard, and if a client can bail as soon as it gets uncomfortable (which is usually when you’re on the threshold of a breakthrough), they won’t get results, which doesn’t serve them and it is very bad for you and your business.

I realize I had gotten a little lax with my business model, so I immediately tightened things up and only worked with clients in packages. This meant my clients got better support, better results, and were, as a direct outcome of this, far happier with our work together. Happy clients translate quickly into excellent referral sources, and this strategy significantly boosted my bottom line both in terms of developing deeper, longer-lasting relationships with my existing clients as well as expanding my reach to new clientele from their referrals.

3) I delivered exceptional value.

This should go without saying, but as practitioners, we’ve got to be excellent at our craft. The more exceptional the value you offer, the happier your clients are, the happier they are to pay you well, and the more referrals they’ll send your way.

I focused on three key things that had clients singing my praises and referring people to me in some cases before they’d even finished their own process.

First: I listened. 

We can’t underestimate the power of an attentive, compassionate ear. Most of our clients have been through the wringer and we all know the conventional medical system isn’t set up to allow doctors to take the time to really hear their full story. Just listening to them, asking good questions, and showing compassion go a long way. 

Next, I took the time to connect the dots. 

Our clients typically come to us with various different diagnoses, often with what feels to them like a random collection of symptoms. One of the most powerful things we can do is to weave together the picture of their health journey so that they understand WHY they are feeling this way, how the different pieces are connected, and the path forward to full health and resolution. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the end of an initial session with a client – we’ve only gone through their health history and food journal, I’ve asked good questions and then taken the time to connect the dots, explaining what has gone awry and what we need to do to get their health back. Before we’re even finished that session, they’re thinking of other people who could benefit from this work and it hasn’t even begun yet! 

The last piece is objective lab testing. 

If there’s one change I made to my practice that has made the single biggest impact on my business, it’s adding objective testing to my practice. I went from educated guesses about what was going on with my clients, to identifying and understanding the underlying mechanisms, which then allowed me to get extremely specific and targeted with my recommendations for diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes. No more guesswork, no more trial-and-error. Only clear direction and great results. 

Now, I’ll often start working with one client who loves the process so much that she’s referred me to her sisters, her girlfriend, her mother, and we’ve still only just begun the process. Why would she do that? It doesn’t make sense if she hasn’t even experienced the full process or results from working with me. 

Well, it’s because I listened, I helped her make sense of what was going on (often as the first person who’s ever done that), and I can show her with real objective data exactly how we’re going to move forward – she’s got a concrete plan informed by lab tests. With all of that, I’ve given her hope, something many of our clients have lost and something that is absolutely essential to their healing, regardless of approach or protocol. 

Now, before we end here, I want to point out what I did not do: 

I did not launch a big marketing campaign. 

I did not ramp up my social media. 

I did not start a new online program. 

I didn’t do most of the things most business-building and practice-growing courses will tell you to do. 

I simply believed it was possible to get great results from the work I was already doing, I tightened up my business model to ensure my clients were getting the best results, and I dug in to hone the art and science of functional nutrition in a one-on-one setting. 

The results? I quickly – within a few months – tripled the size of my business, supporting my family entirely off this income (and managing to avoid a full-fledged autoimmune flare all the way – but that’s the story for another day). To this day (five years later!) I am the primary provider for our family and couldn’t be prouder of what I have accomplished. 

If you’re struggling to meet your financial goals in your practice, check yourself against these elements: 

  1. Do you believe it’s possible to achieve your financial goals? 
  2. Does your business model align with your practice goals? 
  3. Are you truly exceptional at what you do? Are you a great listener? Do you help your clients understand their situation? Do you show them a clear path forward informed by objective lab results rather than guesswork based on symptoms? 

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then that’s where you need to focus. Social media and fancy marketing campaigns are great, but these are the foundations you need to lay first and this is where your bottom line will see the biggest results.

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