Placing this article in the entrepreneur’s column” is a bit of a misnomer and for those of you with full practices, I bid you to move along elsewhere in this issue. The folks who are starving are the ones I’m interested in reaching.
Newly certified Rolfers confront a very challenging paradox in starting up their practices. It’s rather like a Catch-22/chicken-or-the-egg problem and goes something like this: if you’re a great Rolfer, then you’ll automatically have lots of people coming to you; but the only way to become a great Rolfer is to Rolf lots of people. My question is: where are all of these people who will give me their bodies so I can become a great Rolfer so I can Rolf lots of people? It’s really got me stumped.
Another issue I see is the attitude that if people aren’t lined up out side your Rolfing studio door, then there is something inherently wrong with you. You’ve got a psychological problem; you’re not really committed to the work; you’re living out of scarcity rather than abundance; or, worst of all, you’re a terrible Rolfer. I’m sum many of you have heard these or at least had some of these thoughts yourself late at night. I love the people who make these comments. You’re so depressed and desperate that you’re almost ready to walk down to the bus station, grab the first wino you see and offer to Rolf him for free. And your colleagues are telling you that you’re screwed up. This is what this article’s about. Sort of.
I am hardly what you would consider the greatest Rolfing role model. Far from it. Without about, becoming a Rolfer, from all out ward appearances of my present circumstances, was one of the big gest mistakes of my life.
According to some old hands at the Rolf Institute, I am in, what they politely term, the “character building phase” of a young Rolfer. It’s been very tough since I was certified, and I suppose that’s appropriate because life had been pretty much a cake walk for me up until I decided to pursue Rolfing. But, even though I am only Rolfing part time, I am grateful for what I can get. It’s that important to me.
I could probably boost my Rolfing practice by some kind of organized marketing and advertising effort. I’m a real whiz-kid with ten years of business experience. I’ve got all there sources to get the job done, and it probably wouldn’t cost more than $5,000to sustain an adequate effort for a few months. So, why don’t I just run right out and write a marketing plan and dig into it?
First, my energies are very divided. I’ve got some academic and professional goals some immediate, some long term that need time and attention, and when they are done, I’ll settle down to making a stand as a Rolfer. But not until I accomplish them. I’m real clear about that.
Second and most importantly, I don’t believe marketing and promotion are right for Rolfing.
Some fellow called me today because he read about a boxer in Sports Illustrated who said, in essence, that Rolfing put him back in to the ring after a shoulder separation and other injuries. The caller asked if I thought I could help the knee and groin problem he’s had for over forty years. I said I didn’t know, because I’m not a physician; but if he were interested, we could do some work and see what happens. I think this person will eventually do a session with me to check it out because of the article and because I was up-front with him. We’ll see.
Last week I got a call from another man who immediately wanted to hear about what kind of “emotional release” he could expect from the work. I explained to him that I’m not the “psychic” rotorooter man” and that a balanced structure is more important in the long-run than a short-term cathartic experience. He probably won’t call back and that’s fine with me, because I’m a little leery of those people Fritz Perl scalled the “turner oners “. You’re probably familiar with this kind. They’re the thrill seekers who refuse to commit to the hard work required for any meaningful growth experience. Who needs ’em?
And to tell you the truth, I really hate these kinds of phone calls. Can you help my broken this? Can you fix my screwed-up that? Will I have a wild emotional experience? Hey, the hell if I know. I can only do the ten sessions, be who I am, and hope for the best. As you may have guessed by now, taking this position does not make a great sales person.
Rolfing is a tough sell. It’s difficult to describe with any meaning. It’s damn near impossible to classify. Which makes it a hard notion for people to get. And, I personally believe, most people come for Rolfing only when they are already on some deep, almost unconscious level. Unfortunately, the names and addresses of these folks aren’t on any direct mail list.
I’m against advertising and publicity in general media excluding publishing hard research and scholarly articles in professional journals or ad listings in resource directories. I have a variety of reasons for this stance. First, people get Rolfed because they have some kind of need-physical, psychological or spiritual and they’ve heard some positive things about the process. But, according to most state laws in this country, you cannot make the promise explicit or implicit that Rolfing can handle physical or psychological needs…unless prescribed by a licensed health practitioner.
So, what is our “sales feature”? Before-and-After Photos? Even this device is questionable in my mind, because not all of my clients have turned out picture perfect at the end of the basic series. If a dissatisfied client really pushed the issue, he or she could claim false or misleading advertising. Granted, this hasn’t happened yet (at least to my knowledge), but it’s possible.
Another point to consider is that American society has been so saturated with advertising that the audience is really quite sophisticated, and any advertisement is suspect. According to a study by the National Educational Association, advertising professionals were ranked by the general public as contributing the least to the good society and had the lowest perceived prestige/status. It put ad people below realtors, bankers, politicians and lawyers. Some good news however: in terms of prestige, ad people are considered on a par with funeral directors.
Obviously, I’m arguing here on the premise of “guilt by association”, but I think it’s still a valid consideration.
Lastly, you can’t communicate what Rolfing is about in an advertisement. At least not without making it less than what it is. So why demean it? Sure, you’ll probably get a bunch of inquiries with the intention of “just get them on the table and it will be all right”; and I think that’s a valid attitude especially if you’re short on the rent money. But I don’t think the quality of the relation-ship will be there. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong.
Rolfing is not a piece of soap (nor is it a piece of cake). It’s not the latest kitchen utensil. It’s not an electrical widget. It’s not a fad or novelty.
Its essence is love. And how can you sell that…without becoming a whore?
These are just some of the many questions which have been bouncing around in my head since I was certified. Do the means justify the ends or don’t they? Are we therapists or educators or both? Should we promote Rolfing and, if so, how? What kind of awareness do we want to create? How does one concisely position Rolfing in ten words or less? Why should people want to come to us? Ireally don’t know the answers…yet.
Rolfing is a mystery to me. And I suppose when the mystery is gone, I’ll stop Rolfing because it remains the one thing I cannot figure out.
Here’s an interesting one to think about. A fellow moved here from another part of the country and wanted to meet me because his Rolfer and I trained together. So, we stopped for coffee one evening and talked. You could hear in his voice what an incredible Rolfing experience this guy had and how deeply he felt about his Rolfer. At first, I thought, “Oh boy, another transference case,” but not so. It was good Rolfing linked to a key insight the Rolfer had about him…and it just opened up this man’s spirit. Now, this fellow was introduced to Rolfing by a second Rolfer who’s into presentations and est style enrollment. “I hear that Rolfer’s into enrollment,” I said. “Man is he ever! I really didn’t want to work with him because of that,” was the reply. So he went to the other Rolfer instead. Now, maybe this second Rolfer gets oodles of clients, just like Werner Erhard, but I sometimes wonder…is the underlying quality of the work there?
The thing that is going to carry us as individuals and as a group is the quality of our work and the quality of our humanity. And that can’t be packaged and sold. It can only be lived.
Around the corner from my Rolfing studio, in the same office complex, is a chiropractor. I’ve heard that he sees sixty people a day. I’ve seen him on local cable TV. I’ve seen his ads in the neighborhood paper. His ads and commercials are terrible, but a Porsche is parked in front of his door.
And, let me tell you, there have been days, I must confess, to having driven by and thought, “Maybe, I should have gone to chiropractic school instead….”
The issue of Heller work is related to this. A few years before I got into Rolfing, I saw an ad for Heller’s training which said in effect, “Become a Heller-worker! Make $30,000 minimum in the first year of practice.” There’s a Heller-worker in my town. She has a large ad in the Yellow Pages. I’ve heard her on a late-night radio talk show. She does a lot of demos and lectures. Recently, she gave a demo at a health center, and in the description of the program she wrote, “Learn how to do a neck release and take home a useful skill.” Unbelievable. To me, the spirit of Heller work seems reminiscent of Amway or Mary Kay Cosmetics. Is this the avenue that I as a Rolfer must take as well? No way, my friends.
A good friend of mine is a Gestalt therapist and a Rubenfeld practitioner, and often we discuss the subject of establishing a practice. Once I complained about not having enough clients, and he just laughed and said, “It takes at least five years for a good therapist to build up a successful practice. What makes you as a Rolfer any different?”
As for building a practice, the only thing I see which works–outside of doing impeccable work with flawless integrity is to connect into the local health care network. And that takes time. I know a couple of body-oriented psycho-therapists and have only gotten two referrals in the last year. Nothing to write home about.
This column is really not about the entrepreneurial spirit, but the spirit of Rolfing. And I’m uncertain if the two, are necessarily antithetical as I haven’t been around long enough to decide. True, I may feel more strongly about the issue in the future if I ever commit matrimony or land a mortgage. My apologies for not having any deep insights or sage advice about building a practice.
Last night I had dinner with a friend, an advanced Rolfer in another city who has an unbelievably huge practice. People are lined up months in advance. (It really drives me up thewall.) And I said to him, “I really want more training so I can become a better Rolfer,” inwardly thinking if I were a better Rolfer then I’d have more clients. He replied, “Oh man, all you need is to keep passing those bodies through your hands. That’s where you’re going to learn all you need to know.” That’s a clever idea. Now, why didn’t I think of that?
The bottom line for me here is that while I am becoming more clear on what I should not be doing to build a practice, I still don’t know what exactly I should be doing. Except to keep hanging in there. And to keep Rolfing.
Rolfer Paul Shane who practices in Solon, Ohio, is preparing for graduate school and was, until the writing of this article, a member of the Institute’s Public Awareness Committee.On Hanging Tough Under Your Bushel Basket