Finding a Road Map
When seeing therapists who are struggling with their relationship to their own practices, it's crucial to have a broader developmental framework to help break up the logjam keeping them stuck. Certain similar themes consistently emerge in the early, mid-life, and mature stages of a small business. As a business goes through the early stages, its owner is consumed by survival, competition, and stabilization. During the mid-life stages of a business, issues such as organization, expansion, and achievement take center stage. Later, during more mature stages, the "successful" businessperson focuses on renewing personal values, finding more affiliation with others, and incorporating a greater sense of integrity.
The developmental model I use in my business coaching with practitioners like John is adapted from Spiral Dynamics, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan's work on social and organizational evolution. I focus on the specific objectives and tasks suggested by their model, actions that small proprietors need to take at each of the eight, color-coded developmental stages of business development. Working in this way, I recognize the stage a business is in by the themes my clients reveal as they talk to me about their private practices.
Any beginning entrepreneur, including a therapist, in the first (beige) developmental stage, is primarily concerned with survival. Clients in thisÂ stage typically complain of feeling insecure, panicky, and clueless about what to do next to keep the business viable. Inexperienced and driven by anxiety, they operate mostly on instinct, and the best way to help them is by teaching them to replace instinct with intention and planning. I usually begin by helping them devise a business plan that leaves as little as possible to chance. This might mean writing down their short-term goals and long-term vision for the practice, deciding on specific networking steps to take and how many hours each week to network, scheduling time to consult a financial advisor or a computer expert, if needed, and creating a circle of professional support, such as meeting regularly with other therapists, who can be a source of guidance and encouragement. These suggestions are often met with surprise and resistance--"It'll cost too much money!"; "I don't want to get all these other people involved!"; "I should be able to do this stuff myself." It always amazes me that clinicians invest freely and generously in their own clinical growth--paying for clinical supervision, taking advanced training courses, attending workshops, buying textbooks--but consider investing in their businesses a kind of unnecessary extravagance.
The second (purple) stage often reflects a superstitious, even magical, way of thinking, and parallels cultural eras when people feel dependent on rituals and traditions, often without practical or rational basis. At this point, a business may be surviving, but the entrepreneur has no idea why--no idea what he or she's actually doing that makes the thing "go." Not knowing how to keep on being successful, they tend to cling to comfortable rituals and habits, almost from a sense of dread that if they change anything, the success will go away. For example, one therapist told me he had four different bank accounts in three different banks and randomly deposited his clients' checks each week into all of them. "Why?" I asked him, suggesting that consolidating them would make better financial sense. He shook his head and repeated doggedly that this system had just "worked" for him up until then, and things might not "work" if he changed it. Several therapists have told me that when they lose clients, they believe that if they don't allow themselves to worry and just visualize abundance, new clients will show up. They insist that if they think about their situation too carefully, it stops the flow of clients. Many clinicians have no idea how clients discover them, where the referrals come from; the appearance of new clients remains a vast mystery to them--a gift from heaven. Not knowing what they've done to get clients in the first place, they don't know how to keep doing it.