Did you know there are two main kinds of doing business?
This is one of those basic business concepts we didn’t learn in our music therapy programs, but it’s an important one to understand if you are planning to build your career in private practice, as a music therapy business owner.
Some of us work mostly with private clients, in a business-to-consumer (B2C) model. My colleague Mary Altom, of Music Therapy Kids, has built her business this way, mostly by attracting private clients and selling music therapy services directly to the end customer. Check out some of the lessons she’s learned by building a B2C business.
For the last fourteen years, however, I have centered my music therapy business around a business-to-business (B2B) model. I have built Soundscaping Source by developing relationships with other businesses (mostly senior living communities and hospices) and setting up contractual relationships in which they pay my company to provide services to their clients.
Both B2C and B2B models are legitimate options for you to set up shop as a music therapist. In fact, you don’t even have to restrict yourself to one model – we have a few private clients through Soundscaping Source and plans to focus on this part of our business in the future.
But knowing which model you’re working from will help you find appropriate resources, use your time and marketing dollars most effectively, and – most importantly – build the kind of business you want to have.
So, curious about the B2B side of things? Here are five lessons I’ve learned from focusing on this model of service delivery in my business.
1. Act like the CEO you are.
You are a music therapy business owner. That means at least part of the time, you are in the executive role for your business. Executives talk with other executives. You can’t be scared to talk with the boss at that organization you want to serve.
It may be easier to picture yourself in your clinician role within an organization that you want to work with, but as an independent contractor, if you want to earn the opportunity to do the clinical work, you need to do the executive work first.
Contact the boss. Talk with the boss. Close the deal. Then go do your best work with your clients.
2. There is no such thing as too much follow up.
It’s happened to all of us. You meet with a decision maker, and it seems that you can both picture how wonderfully the music therapy program is going to go in their building. You send a follow up email the next day, and then… nothing.
There will be a little voice in your head that tells you, “maybe they didn’t like me after all.” Don’t listen to that voice. More likely, other pressing issues have come up, or they’ve been sick or gone out of town, and they just haven’t been able to give the time to following through with your proposal.
Your task is to keep following up until you get a firm no.
3. Always have a written agreement.
This would be the literal “contract” in your contractual relationship. These written agreements have important legal protections for both parties, but more importantly, having a written contract helps you both to make sure that you’ve arrived at the same understanding about what services you will provide, under what conditions, and for how much money.
On-time payments, different rates for different services, travel reimbursement, liability protections, limits on group size – all of these issues can (and should) be addressed in your written agreement and save you from misunderstandings and uncomfortable conversations in the future.
4. Know that contracts will still come and go.
Here’s my big confession: When I started my business, I was hoping that I could get two or three big contracts and then be done with the marketing and sales stuff. I would do really great work and never have to sell my services again. This, to me, was the huge advantage of a B2B model – I would get contracts instead of private clients, and I wouldn’t have to worry as much about those clients having shorter-term needs.
As you might imagine, the first time I lost a contract was really, really hard on me. At the time, I took that organization’s business decision very personally, and I just couldn’t imagine what I had done wrong.
Now I understand that business decisions are often just that – business. Priorities change, client needs change, and resources (funding and otherwise) change, too. My job as a business owner is to avoid taking these decisions personally, and to keep up with building new relationships so that I can easily find a new contract to replace the one that is ending.
5. Don’t rely on just a few clients.
Of course, in my early B2B fantasy, when I didn’t think I would lose contracts, I didn’t consider that the loss of one contract could also mean a 30-75% drop in my monthly income. To have a healthy, sustainable business, you need to be able to ride the wave of contracts coming and going without blowing up your business and personal finances.
The solution? Don’t let any one customer, contract, or funding source account for more than 20% of your revenue. This can be a difficult balance to maintain, but since I’ve started working towards this goal, I have felt much better equipped to deal with termination of contracts.
I have learned many more lessons over the last 14 years of business ownership, and I will never stop learning. Lucky for me – and for you – we are part of a growing and maturing community of music therapy business owners, and we’re only going to get better and finding the best ways to make our services available to the people who need them.