Starting Over: Rebuilding One's Practice after a Cross Country Move
In Touch: How did you first learn about the Feldenkrais Method®?
Buffy Owens: I was around seventeen years old. I found a copy of one of Moshe’s books (I don’t remember which one) at this little alternative bookstore in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I devoured it and quickly purchased more. Unfortunately, there were no practitioners in the area at the time.
IT: You were young!
BO: I was at that place of having just enough teenage dysfunction to want something better.
I went on to massage school and then academia. I was intending on applying to graduate school when I finally met a Feldenkrais® practitioner who was also a chiropractor and an Iyengar yoga teacher. He was teaching something called Awareness through Yoga. In the class, students did a yoga pose, followed by an ATM® lesson, and then came back to the yoga pose. Attending the class got me hooked on the idea of actually doing the work.
IT: So, did you end up forgoing graduate school for your Feldenkrais training?
BO: I did. My BA was in Kinesiology. When I was applying to the Feldenkrais training, I thought, They are only accepting twenty people; if I get in, I will do this first and then go back to graduate school. Around my second year I realized, Oh, this is actually what I want to do with my life. So, things changed, as they do.
Why give free classes
IT: Do you now have a full time practice?
BO: I do. As soon as I graduated, I transitioned into a full time practice. Since I’d been teaching movement during my training, I already had an office, studio space, and a clientele, so it was a relatively easy transition for me.
IT: Wow! When you say you were already teaching movement, what were you teaching?
BO: Yoga, Pilates. I was also a personal trainer specializing in postural therapy, corrective exercise, and prenatal work. As soon as I could, I began teaching Awareness Through Movement classes for free; I figured that the only way to get better was to teach. That first class was booked out months at a time.
During the last year of my training, I took on ten clients who were willing to commit to ten free sessions so that I could start getting my hands on people and figure out who I was really interested in working with. After graduation, many of those clients were happy to pay me and refer me, so it helped ease the transition.
IT: So, you had already had your own private business when you went into the training?
BO: Yes, I worked out of a studio as contract labor, but I already had my own website. I already had my clientele. At the time, I was also volunteering as a doula, so I was teaching prenatal classes. So, I was more or less self-employed and by the time I graduated, I had my own private office space.
IT: Were you just naturally a business savvy person? How did you get those skills?
BO: No, lots of trial and error and studying about how to grow a business. I also had two things in my corner. First, my mother was a business owner. Oddly enough, when I was younger, I said I’d never own my own business because my mother worked way too much. Now, in some ways, I feel really blessed to at least have had exposure that it could be done. I got to watch my mother figure out how to market her services and her products. Second, the studio that I first taught at had wonderful owners and they wanted all their trainers to be successful so we had a regular mastermind meeting and talked about how to best market ourselves-- of course when we were marketing growing our own practice we were supporting them as well. So I think those two things were very helpful.
IT: How long has it been since you graduated from your training?
BO: Five years as of May 2015.
IT: Where is your practice?
BO: I initially built my practice in San Diego, California, but after a couple of years, I moved to Troy, New York. When I moved to Troy in 2012, there were no certified practitioners here, so it’s been kind of a lonely haul.
[I]f you try to speak to everyone, no one will really hear you, because a person with chronic pain is listening for something different than a woman who is pregnant.
IT: Did you find that when you moved Troy, you had to educate the community a lot more than you did in San Diego?
BO: Oh, heavens yes. When I first moved here and people heard I was the only practitioner, they’d say, “Oh great, no competition.” But I will gladly take the competition for a number of reasons. Realistically, we can all only see so many people. And, as you mentioned, there is a greater need for education, because if people haven’t heard of the Feldenkrais Method, and there’s been no reason for them to hear about it, then they have to hear about it many more times before they will do anything with the information.
IT: What has that process looked like?
BO: I moved here because I met someone. I’d never been to Troy and the one person I knew had recently moved here from New York City. So being a self employed person, starting a practice where you know no one is an interesting puzzle to figure out. And throw in something that’s hard to pronounce, that few have heard of, and it adds a whole other dimension.
I changed my website before I moved so that it was optimized for the region, which helped because I discovered that there were a handful of people out there who lived in the area and really wanted to experience the Feldenkrais Method and were checking on a regular basis to see if there was anyone in the area, so that helped ensure they could find me.
Most importantly, I connected with as many people interested in the same things that I was interested in, and who, from a business standpoint, had access to the business clientele that I was interested in. Then I introduced myself to the local midwives, doulas, and pretty much anybody who was in the birth world before and after I moved. It took a lot. I sent everybody a postcard, I called, I emailed, I “stalked” them on Facebook. I attended any event I could find until finally people started responding.
The importance of connection
IT: When you finally got into contact with local professionals, did they know about the Feldenkrais Method? Did you give them free FI® lessons to introduce them to the Method? How did that work out?
BO: A few midwives knew about the Method; years ago there was an article in a midwifery journal about the Feldenkrais Method, so there was a vague awareness, but they didn’t really know what it was. For them, we usually went out for tea or coffee and talked. Then I would offer them a discounted session. I also provided them with postcards that they could hand out to their clients that said, “As a loving birthing mother of ________ midwife, you get twenty percent off your first Feldenkrais session for you or your infant.” Many of the midwives were happy to put that into the introductory packet that they gave to their mothers. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for the midwives and doulas to share my without having to think too much about it.
The postcards were “sort of” productive: I didn’t get hardcore results from it, but the postcards got my name out into the community. Many mothers have come in a year or two years later saying, “I got this postcard from my midwife and then I saw you here…” So, at the very least, it was a relatively inexpensive way to start to get the word out.
IT: Do you advertise in newspapers, magazines, local rags?
BO: I run an ad in a free publication called Natural Awakenings. I have found it most useful to do an ad for an event. People tend to respond to that because even if they aren’t interested in the workshop, for some reason, when there is a deadline associated with the ad, it prompts them to take action.
IT: People are so deadline driven!
BO: Even if it's unconscious. And the other thing I did when I first moved here is I ran a Living Social ad, kind of like Groupon.
IT: How was that?
BO: It more than paid for itself. You’re not going to get rich off of running them and I wouldn’t run too many just because I think that people start waiting for the next deal, but I look at it as marketing that I am guaranteed a ROI (return on investment) on: I don’t have to pay anything upfront, I get a little bit when the client comes in, and they’ve paid something so they already have a little investment into it. From there it’s up to me to see if I can show them enough of a benefit to get them to return. It also gets the word out to thousands of people at a time. I believe I had forty people come in from the ad. There were also people who bought it who never came in. Of the forty, I ended up with at least a dozen who ended up becoming regular clients or at least students in classes.
IT: That seems like a pretty good percentage.
BO: I thought it was pretty good. I was pleased with it.
IT: When you run those ads, can you limit how many you’ll sell?
BO: Yes, I also found it helpful to use an online booking system that let me limit how many people could book a certain type of discounted service within a week.
IT: How else have you built up your practice?
BO: Well, everything else just takes time. For example, I’m just now, starting to get referrals from physical therapists whose clients have come to me and had great results, but it’s taken a few years and probably a couple of clients before they started referring. I remember one marketing person saying years ago, “it takes three years of seriously marketing yourself before you start to flip into that point where things begin to be more purely a referral basis.” Maybe it’s true or maybe it’s just my own belief manifesting itself in that way.
IT: It makes sense that it takes a while for people to see the results and then see more results so that they don’t think the first results were a fluke.
BO: And I think that for people like physical therapists, seeing their clients benefit from the Feldenkrais Method is more impactful than just hearing from me that the Method can help them.
Volunteering leads to community
IT: You’re part of something in Troy called the Pregnancy Project. Did you start that or was it already in place when you moved there?
BO: A little bit of both; it was already in place, but in a different form. When I took one of the local midwives for tea, I told her how hard it had been for me to find people in the birth community. I couldn’t find any of the prenatal yoga classes; I couldn’t find out about any of the events. Then I mentioned that I’d seen the online Pregnancy Project, but that it didn’t look like anything, there are just seven people and their websites listed. She ended up being one of the founding members of the site, so we talked about making it a directory for people in the capital region who support women and their families from preconception through the primal year in an evidenced-based, holistic way. From there, it really transformed. We set up a meeting to see if others were interested in this and people unanimously were. So, I volunteered to work on the website and now we have sixty or seventy members.
IT: Wow. Is the Pregnancy Project something people pay to be a part of?
BO: No, it’s on an all-volunteer basis, so it’s free to join. People can donate to help pay for the hosting, but the only criterion is that the person listed has an evidence based practice. There are some agreements that listees to come to at least one meeting a year; the meetings are more like gatherings for people to meet others in the birth world. It has been a lot of fun to see how the project has organically grown.
IT: What affect has the growth of the Pregnancy Project had on your practice?
BO: A lot of people in the birth world know about me, so that helps. It definitely has helped my business grow. A year ago this March I opened up a studio called “A Space to Grow.” The studio also has other practitioners: a natural fertility and pre-conception coach, a chiropractor who specializes in pregnancy and post-partum, and a holistic counselor who specializes in working with parents and also a professional advocate for children with special needs. Being a part of the Pregnancy Project helped me put out the word when I was opening up my studio out that there I was looking to start a collaborative space and that helped me fill the studio space quite easily. Now, we offer everything from birthing classes to infant sign language to the Feldenkrais Method and more.
IT: For practitioners beginning to build their practices, what would you tell them to keep in mind?
BO: I would say that if they can afford a coach, get a coach. Having somebody who knows the ins and outs of business really helps.
If possible, start working with people before you graduate. I think that the best thing I did for myself was teach free classes and offer free sessions as part of my learning. It helped me get clearer about whom I wanted to work with and how to talk about what I do.
A lot of new practitioners I’ve spoken became interested in working with people who came to the Method for the same reasons that they came to the Method. That didn’t really work for me; I came to the Method because I thought it was cool (laughs). I mean, I thought it was a really interesting philosophy and approach. I didn’t have a great story about what brought me to the work, so to speak.
We’re told in trainings that we can work with anyone and while it’s true, if you try to speak to everyone, no one will really hear you, because a person with chronic pain is listening for something different than a woman who is pregnant. So knowing that allows you to speak about the Method differently.
I am passionate about working with pregnant women and children but right now, three quarters of my practice is working with people with chronic pain. I recently updated my website because people were calling and saying, “You are the only practitioner in the area, but I’m not pregnant.” So even then, a lot of people will contact you, even if you are clear in your language. As I say that, there’s a voice in the back of my head going, “I don’t know that all practitioners would agree with that statement.” But personally, I think being clearer on language and what people are listening for is how we begin to connect with them.
IT: That makes sense. It reminds me of the one-size fits all t-shirt. No one really wants to wear that shirt. It’s not for them, personally, if it’s for everybody.
BO: And they just might not hear it if you aren’t speaking to their needs. From my own personal perspective on marketing and marketing materials, I try to treat all of it like it’s an ATM lesson. When I write or create something, my intention is to make it, and to make sure that the people it speaks to know what the next step is. I want people to feel like they can explore themselves in a safe and confident place before they even walk through the door.
IT: It has been wonderful talking with you, Buffy. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Buffy Owens, the founder of Conscious Movements, is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm with over fifteen years experience in the mind-body fields. She is admittedly addicted to the art of learning and the wonders of meditation and mindfulness practices. She also takes particular joy in supporting people along their path to less pain, greater self-discovery, and in enhancing the lives of children with special needs and extraordinary gifts.