The holistic healer, digital marketer, and nomad: Business Lessons for 2019

I’ve learned a lot in the past 6 years or so, but from 3 different things that seem to have nothing to do with each other. But they do.. they do!

How do I possibly explain what I do to people in a damn elevator speech?

I want to do more than just give people bullet points.. I  want to find the common thread in these 3 things and apply them in a way that makes sense and helps me make the world a better place.  I want to share not just my own experiences, but actual up and coming trends to watch for which will help you navigate your own path.

In this blog I’ll cover lessons learned from:

1. Holistic healing
2. Content marketing and digital marketing/technology
3. Living as a nomad and working remotely, creating “portability.”

There will be a list at the bottom of this blog of possible trends I see emerging for those who want to create freedom in their business or may have discovered that they never did think conventionally. If you are a bit different, and have the courage to let go of stuff you may not need any more, NOW is your time!

I just want to help people be free. That’s my number one value in life. Not safe, secure, or “fed” with bullshit or more crap to consume for no other reason that distraction. This may also be one of my more controversial blogs, but I’m walking the talk by clearly stating what I’m about. Some may love it, others may not resonate with it all.

I hope that by reading this, you may get a flash of insight about your own business and shifts you can make in 2019.

What holistic healing, content marketing, and being location independent have in common

I am not a “healer, marketer, or traveller,” although I do or have done those things.

These things are often very much misunderstood  by people who are not actively immersed in or use these services. And it’s not their fault. It’s OUR fault by perpetuating the myths that ensure we will continue to have to explain and justify what we do.

I’m not here to complain today, though.

I would rather SHOW you then TELL you how one thing led to another, in a logical progression but also via intuitive leap, how I got where I am: a place that I personally define as successful, even when I have crappy days.

NOT by doing ONE thing, but (at least) 3.  You can come to your own conclusions or insights using this blog as a template, of sorts. (What are your 3 things?)

Let’s go!

1. HOLISTIC HEALING

I had a supervisor when I was in acupuncture school who was the typical “proper lab coat guy. Which is fine. He also was very by the book, and expected new practitioners to look and act “professional.” Which I get, because it’s part of the training.

However, his definition of “professional” was starting to bother me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It wasn’t just that he was “old school” either. I get that, too.

It started shortly after I graduated.. when I returned to visit the pharmacy and ran into him in the parking lot. Somehow the topic of service packages came up, (having to do with a purchase I made in the pharmacy, I think)  I said I prefer to do a value added package based on a membership model (VIP services, etc) than do volume discount, commodity based packages. (as in buy 10 treatments for 15% off)

I was starting to think like a business person.. as in what model would work best for me AND my patients. I thought he would get it too, as a business owner.

To my surprise. he actually scolded me, telling me that this was illegal. I told him that this was not true, I did my research. He disagreed, and I said: “I think we can agree to disagree about this.” and then “I don’t really care.” (translation: I didn’t give a single f++k about his opinion)

Honestly, it wasn’t really an argument, but I wasn’t in the mood to take shit from someone when I finally found something that was working well for me and my patients. It was nice to not be stressed out for the first time in months.

He then said: “I think it’s a shame that you don’t care about what you are doing to this medicine” and walked away, with a hint of contempt.

This is the kind of attitude that is keeping the industry from doing as well as it could. He wasn’t interested in doing the work and research that I did, or in asking how my patients felt about it or how it benefitted them.

The truth is, the model some practitioners are using is keeping them poor, and it’s not really helping anyone.. not the profession, not the acupuncturist, and not the patient,

This attitude is pervasive in a lot of groups. The focus is on being taken seriously, but there is no focus on getting compensated in a way that makes sense.. it’s almost considered “unethical” to  treat a practice like a real business.

Let me put it this way: If I’m expected to pay off enormous student loan debt, dress up and put on makeup and drive a car to a networking meeting, pay for office rental and equipment and office decor, continuing education, taxes, etc.. what I have is a business. Period.

Yet many acupuncturists treat the profession as if we should be wearing robes as we walk around barefoot treating the sick and hoping for donations, and that charging money for our services is highly unethical. (However, read on, I DID ditch pretty much ALL of the overhead in phase 3: location independence, but I have not taken to wearing robes) 

Staying poor doesn’t exactly help anyone, and it’s weird that in some circles, you have to bring up the old O2 mask/save your self first analogy.

Here’s another example: When I sold my practice, I was attacked in a Facebook group for asking about how to sell my patient files. (I had to go a la carte since I had to sell it so quickly.. I had a one way flight to Europe in a month) I was pretty low key about the question and kept it short and objective, but at least a dozen hopped on a thread to crucify me for even asking. It was just plain weird, but also a little fascinating. Train wreck fascinating.

I was told that “patients don’t belong to me.. it’s our “job” to heal people, it’s not about the money. I was shamed for recognizing that I worked my ass off to build my practice and that it was worth something, just like any other business

Without replying to or feeding into this frenzy, I left the group.

Needless to say, I learned a valuable lesson.. to stay FAR away from this mentality.  Personally, I think that the poverty mindset that is so pervasive, along with legislation that binds us and prevents us from making a decent living, is what is truly unethical.

There are many business models that can work, legally, in the holistic healing industry. Some do community acupuncture or sliding scales, and this CAN work, if you know what you are doing.

I was more interested in prevention and performance than “healing” exotic conditions, so my business model (memberships, hormone balancing programs, etc) made sense.

It put at least half of the responsibility on the patient. It’s interesting that some of my colleagues also think that THIS is unethical, and I completely disagree.

If someone thinks it’s their job to “heal” but not educate or teach people how to stay healthy, that ALL the power and responsibility lies with the practitioner, this isn’t about being ethical at all.. it’s about having a big EGO.

The bottom line is about setting patients up for success, in my opinion. I just want to help people be free, and this is how to do it.

The people that were attracted to my services LOVED this. They didn’t just get a treatment. It was an educational, enlightening and LIBERATING experience, and I also learned a lot from them. It was voluntary continuing education for me as I was constantly doing research, applying what I learned, documenting results, actively listening to patients, and learning to skillfully give them both what they wanted and needed.  It was a win/win.

My services were not a commodity, and as my business grew, I was no longer interested in charging by the hour, and especially NOT charging less for my time, the more time I spent. (buy 10 and get a 15 percent discount.. just.. NO. This doesn’t  help the patient either, but rather the opposite!)

What DID work? Really investing in coaching, digital courses, learning how to read blood labs, short books, presentations that could become local talks or remote webinars,  a library of blogs, and giving people “Homework” to do. All this is is an extension of the idea of carrying supplements as a way to make more “passive” income instead of JUST trading time for dollars.

I never, ever, discounted my time, and I never will. I have plenty of other things I can give away freely, but my time is not one of them.

Another aspect of business is standing out from the rest, or establishing a niche. If EVERY acupuncturist was a clone of that teacher I mentioned above, (although I have no doubt he is the perfect choice for some) many, many people would not be served.

I’m a huge believer in niches and highly personalized service, even when one is considered a “general practitioner.”  Trying to do everything for everyone is simply doesn’t work, but it’s a hard concept for non-business owners to grasp, or even new business owners.

This is another great reason to build a library of content. It establishes you as an expert. It’s really kind of like writing a book. It not only helps you serve clients and patients on a deeper level, but helps promote what you do. I will be clear: Self promotion is NOT an inherently dishonest or manipulative undertaking. It’s not more noble somehow, to stay small so that nobody knows you exist. This doesn’t serve anyone.

This is how I accidentally discovered what marketers refer to as “content marketing” or “inbound marketing.”

2. DIGITAL MARKETING

When I first heard this term, around 2009, it sounded like it should be categorized with infomercials, pyramid schemes, MLM’s, and all those networking meetings I hated where I felt like I was being “sold” to. I had no idea what SEO was.. I thought is was a “techy” thing that web developers did with my website, imbuing it with magical powers to attract new patients.

I was a typical acupuncturist: Pretty ignorant about marketing. But slowly I started to learn more, by necessity. And slowly, much to my surprise, I discovered that I like business and technology. (I never was a fan of networking groups, so content and online marketing was definitely for me!)

First, let me explain the concept of content marketing. This means using the content you created to SERVE your patients as a way to also ATTRACT NEW patients.

The simplest example I can think of is a book.

The book not only provides information, but is a wonderful promotional tool. You put in the time on the “front end” and from there, can make earnings on the back end. When you do this online, however, you can greatly increase the shelf life of all the great material you wrote, even if some of is is just sitting on your hard drive waiting to be used.

Content can also be PART OF your overall treatment plan. For example, I had a hormone balancing program in which I combined acupuncture treatments with a digital course, homework, and coaching.

My new passion became using the concepts of online marketing to promote BADLY needed health services. Sure enough.. the things I thought about were starting to become trends. Concierge services, doctors who actually have time to listen to you, memberships, wellness programs, and personalization. Certainly outside of what I was taught was “professional” in acupuncture school.

The world desperately needs professionals to help them get and stay healthy, because obviously the current system needs some work. Patients I have worked with in the past were frustrated by doctors who:

• Tell patients to “lose weight” without giving actual constructive guidance,

• Provide the absolute minimum when it comes to low cost testing that could help prevent a lot of diseases (a proper blood panel)

• Don’t listen to their patients at all

• Prescribe more drugs that compound rather than solve a problem 

• Treat every patient the same

• Shame patients 

• Are blinded by their own egos and don’t believe that patients have the capability or power to be a partner

• Think that anything they didn’t learn in medical school isn’t worth consideration or is outright bullshit (don’t understand the limits of their training) 

What if someone did the OPPOSITE? Since doctors still don’t have much time… hell,  even an hour a week isn’t enough of a time investment to make lasting changes.. educational CONTENT is going to be a major tool in the healing toolboxes of the future.

Of course, this doesn’t mean hand someone a book and leave them hanging. Anyone can buy the latest diet book from someone with the title of “Dr.” and has the obligatory labcoat, but this isn’t what creates success.

People need more than that, and holistic healers can help, perhaps even much more than they realize, via educational content and coaching, along with treatments.

An example of the “old” way: A 60 year old woman comes in complaining of fatigue and swollen ankles. The doctor tells her, within 30 seconds,  that she is just “getting old” and takes the lazy way out by prescribing whatever drug will pacify her in the short term.  He or she may flippantly tell her to “just lose weight” even though she is already eating less than 1200 calories per day and “doing all the things.” This can do a LOT of damage to a woman’s psyche. (The kind that you don’t treat by handing her another anti-depressant)

Treating this woman with respect and providing actual solutions is a much SMARTER FOR BUSINESS.

Think Dr. Christiane Northrup and her business model, like her or not. The good news is that there is room more more doctors who are doing what she is, because not everyone “resonates” with her. Not everyone “resonates” with me, or anyone else in business, for that matter. This is GOOD! Think of it this way.. What if every restaurant on earth served the same dish, and had the same atmosphere?

There is  plenty of room for holistic healers on this planet.

Furthermore, the people we help no longer need to live in the same city we are based in. The lines are starting to blur. There is no way that this would be possible without online marketing.

Do you think Dr. Northrup (or your favorite source for health information) thinks that online marketing is manipulative and sleazy? Probably not. How about Chris Kresser? He’s able to serve more people because he isn’t limited to helping people only in his clinic.

This concept is known as Scalability.

Now you are beginning to get an idea. MD’s already understand the power of writing books. Books are just the beginning. And acupuncturists can tap into this as well..even when they are just starting out. As a matter of fact, you don’t need much money to invest in content marketing at first.

You DO need to invest TIME, but the ROI good, because once you write or produce content, you are DONE! That blog you wrote 5 years ago can be tweaked and used as a chapter in a book or a module in a course.

The truth is, there’s nothing weird about the concept of online marketing.

ALL it is is making yourself available and visible online.

If your market is worldwide, of COURSE you are already  doing this. There is nothing gross or slimy about it, whether your business is local or global.

I started to really enjoy creating these services with the intent of sharing them GLOBALLY. Around this time, I made the decision to move to Europe more or less permanently. I wanted to take everything I learned so far, and make it “portable.”

my digital marketing HQ

The next natural progression for me was:

 3. LOCATION INDEPENDENCE AND DE-CENTRALIZATION

Just for fun, let me add one more thing into the mix. I seem to be drawn to concepts that are not well understood, so I sold everything, (or gave it away) and became a “digital nomad.”  I’m also investigating ways to practice acupuncture in the area known as what some call “Ex Yugoslavia.”

To be honest, I’m not crazy about this term “digital nomad,”  but it describes what I’m doing much more accurately than the term “traveller.”  Most people can’t really wrap their head around the idea of working while on the road.. not as a business trip, but permanently.

It could be a matter of geography. The US is so big that travelling really is a big deal. Travel automatically is classified as “vacation” or “a business trip” which you always return “home” from. But in Europe, you can get on a bus and in a few hours, cross a border. People don’t always end up living or working in the same country, and when the EU formed, this became even more so the case.

The mindset that any American who lives outside the US is merely a “traveller” is pretty deeply ingrained, not just in the minds of everyday people,, but in the way everything is set up.. taxes, insurance, work, banking, etc

It also has “frivolous” connotations and is assumed even by educated people to be a choice that only “privileged” people can make. As in having LOTS of disposable income to play with.  This is complete bullshit, and I’m living proof.

Here’s one example (of many) of how the U.S. just isn’t set up for citizens without a permanent address:

I want to have my laptop and devices insured, I can only get coverage via “homeowners” or “travelers” insurance. Neither of which makes sense because both offer services I don’t need, are expensive, and really don’t offer much at all when it comes to my basic need: Insuring the tools I need to stay in business. So my stuff isn’t about “travel,” it’s about work.

To drive this home even more, you CAN get “gadget” insurance.. but this is only available to EU and UK citizens. In Europe, of course, moving about freely is a bit more “normal.”  I get it.

What DOES  irritate me is that digital nomads and especially travel bloggers keep certain myths perpetuated in order to make money. As in “selling a lifestyle.”  To this day, bloggers still use pictures of people working from laptops on the beach.

Nobody actually  does that. You would get sand in your laptop (did I mention how hard it is to insure those things?)  and the sun glare and heat would make it difficult to work. Besides, why the hell would anyone want to work while on the beach? That’s not what beaches are FOR.

Sure, the cool part is that you can live in some very interesting places. But the truth is that many of us spend hours in an apartment, hustling and working,

During the rainy season, when you don’t own a car, it can get a little depressing if you don’t have the tools to keep you going.. contacts, audio books, foreign TV shows, a yoga mat, making connections with the neighbors (I don’t call them locals anymore.. they are my neighbors)

Bear with me.. if you have a business, you may be nodding your head right now.. saying “yep, freedom doesn’t always feel.. well, exactly free… but how does this all tie together? 

The rollercoaster ride 

During slow periods, especially when you first start out, your income may be limited. This means you are on a budget just like everyone else, not blowing money like you would be if you were on a vacation. You may even find yourself “broke in paradise” but hesitate to talk about it because well, most people tend to assume that if you live in a place that looks anything like what people typically associate with “vacations or living outside the US, you must be “privileged.”  (rich) This is one thing that many have a hard time wrapping their head around, including myself, till I was fully immersed as an “expat.”

It does help to remember this: Slowly but surely, you begin to eliminate dependence on Centralization or a high cost of living.

Another thing that can happen at first is being slammed with work all at once, which again means.. that beach or old city may be practically in your front yard, but you can’t go, because of work.

All of this is normal, and although it may not always look like “freedom” on some days, the days when it feels worth it tend to be more and more frequent.

I do wish that travel bloggers would stop pushing the “vacation myth” to Americans. It’s a way to make a quick buck, but it’s also getting old.  Wouldn’t it be far better to teach people IF it’s the right thing for them, WHAT it really looks like, and HOW it can actually work?

Does this remind you of the “old school” paradigms I mentioned about the healing industry?

When classic retirement isn’t an option.

Another myth is that living abroad is for extroverted backpackers on the party circuit, or something you only do when you are young, till you “get a “real” job.” This approach requires saving up enough money (usually by working for someone else) so that you can do the” jet-set party thing” and post it on social media.

But moving to another country actually can be a practical move for those facing a different kind of retirement than our parents are experiencing.

Most of us know by now that many middle aged people are choosing to start their own businesses, and for good reason. It may be wiser to learn how to depend on yourself to earn income, instead of leaving it to someone else. (what people call a “real” job)

Factor in that when kids are grown, there may actually be no real compelling reason to stay where you are, whether it’s out of the country or not.

Since more companies are becoming de-centralized and offering remote work (less overhead!) why wouldn’t it make sense to set up shop in a place with a lower cost of living? Isn’t this what businesses often do? Why is is considered “smart” for them, but frivolous for a 55 year old to move abroad and work remotely? (caveat: setting up a business, such as holistic practice in another country, can be daunting. You have to really, really want it.)

If fear of technology is holding you back, I have spoken to this, too. (it’s good news, I promise!)

The age of the introvert

One of the side benefits of working remotely is that it’s challenging the current perception that extroversion is the only desired trait in business. Most people are not even aware what introversion is, for starters. It has nothing to do with “shyness” or being maladjusted. Introverts do like being around people, but need plenty of time alone, often to work on projects dear to them. Many of us really would rather work than hang out with other people, at least some of the time, so remote work can suit us very well.

Living abroad isn’t necessarily all about extroverted adventure. If you work remotely, this usually means working on a laptop, sometimes for long hours. Instead of attending meeting or driving around, you schedule Zoom calls and sometimes forget to shower or eat. Sometimes its’ very easy to stay in your flat and only come out to buy food.  (yikes!)

This could be tough for extroverts, and I can see why they may perceive that they may need a lot of cash reserves to make it work, as opposed to someone like me who is cool with almost never going out to eat or spending a lot of money on entertainment.

I’m an introvert who likes my work. I enjoy being alone most of the time. I don’t tend to get lonely, as long as a have a few friends I can call or chat with on Viber. I don’t mind going into “hibernation/work mode.”   So although this lifestyle isnt’ for everyone.. on the other hand.. it COULD be perfect for many, but they are not aware that it could be a possibility.

I’m getting closer to how this all connects.. the key word is indeed:

De-Centralization

More and more people are working remotely, which makes sense. Traffic is getting pretty bad in most North American cities. De Centralization is another concept that is only going to gather momentum in the future. It’s a win win because it fosters more freedom and flexibility, with less overhead. It does have its own inherent issues, which I’ve been studying, but it’s here to stay.

Even for professions that require our physical presence.. there is often a way to make our services at least partially global, or even portable, whether it’s across town or across the globe.

Going back to the holistic healing profession: As the market becomes more and more saturated in more and more cites in the US, more new trends are emerging that may help you decide how to “steer” your business:

• DeCentralization/portability
• Specific Niches
• Fusion of multiple talents or passions
• Personalization
• More choice when it comes to business models

The old school ways are dying out. The lab coat guy with the ugly, non functional website from 2005, who is “too good” for social media, who sees himself as a healer first but has no clue about the specific needs of the population he serves, who doesn’t listen, who thinks that NOTHING online can be “real,” or that any kind of self-promotion is slimy or not to be trusted.. may survive, if he’s been around for a while. And there is nothing wrong with what he does if it’s working for him and his patients.

But if he’s teaching this to newbies.. this is unexcusable in 2019. He’s actually SABOTAGING new grads.  

What does “new” school look like? I don’t think there is one paragraph that could really describe it. It’s about crafting your own experience and passing it on, rather than passing on the same manufactured stuff you learned.

By now you may have guessed that you will benefit, to say the least, from establishing an online presence starting NOW, or you will be left in the dust.

THIS is what digital marketing is. It’s NOT JUST about having a website, but making sure people can find you via Google, having an email list that is keeping you in touch with your patients or clients in the most nurturing and respectful way.. (and is working for you automatically) and using social media, for a START.

It’s not about what the ultimate fate of Facebook is. Marketers beat this topic to death too, but freaking out isn’t helpful.  It’s about keeping a finger on the pulse of how humans communicate with each other now that we have those satellites floating around up there.

We don’t have to rely on traditional networking meetings or mail campaigns or print advertising  if we don’t want to anymore. Bitching about technology or big brother or what Mr  Z or Mr T  is doing  isn’t going to help. There will be other platforms emerging and we can be ready to receive them when the old ones eventually fall of the radar.

We have to be active creators of the future.

We have choices.

There you have it. Although this blog was about what I’m experiencing personally, and could be a bit controversial, (I don’t care, and I encourage you to write your OWN “stir up the pot” blogs too!) I’m hoping that there will be some themes that emerge for you in the coming year:

• Globalization
• Personalization
• Scalability
• Value added services instead of discount pricing
• Giving more power and responsibility to a client or patient
• Active listening
• Content marketing
• Introvert-friendly businesses and Introvert awareness
• Online visibility/video
• Cross-Pollinization of ideas
• Minimalism (at least in some areas of life)
• What “Retirement” may look like in the near future
• Being pro-active about social media instead of reactive
• De-Centralizaton
• Portability
• Agility and adapting to change quickly
• Defining our own version of freedom, and knowing that it’s not free (in the personal, not military sense)

Feel free to do this same thought exercise and apply it to whatever your goals and projects are for the coming year. I would love to hear from you!

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