Reader J. writes:

“…how do I revive my practice after leaving it for a 6-month maternity leave? I took on a locum and I went from seeing 30+patients a week to her seeing a mere 10 patients per week at best.

I know many of my patients wanted to wait until I got back, but I also know that many will have dropped off the planet unless I am proactive about generating new business and reviving my relationship with past clients.”

Whether it’s a maternity leave, a sabbatical, some down time, a return to school, or any other reason, a long absence has the potential to wreak havoc on your practice. We’ve been there. Here’s what we did, starting with the year leading up to our sabbatical.

I: Before You Go

Absences are a bit like prevention – you get the best results from starting early. You might not always have the luxury of planning in advance, but if you can, it’ll pay off.

a) Reframe Success:
A big turning point for us in the sabbatical planning process was to reframe what we were expecting from the practice. We started out this way:

How do we lose as little money as possible while we’re gone?

And one day we reframed the question this way:

How can the practice make a profit while we’re gone?

That may seem like just semantics, but it changed the way we looked at things. And that, it turn, changed what we did before we left. That simple shift led to adding new people and services that enable the practice to be profitable during a 5-month hiatus.

b) Diversify
Those new services were really about diversifying – about ensuring that less of the practice revenue was coming from one person’s efforts. If you have some lead time before your absence, now’s the time to start planning. What can you add to your practice? New people? New products? New services? Focus on things that can deliver revenue beyond what a locum can generate by working with your clients.

c) Get More Help
If you’ve been running a one-person show, it may seem counter-intuitive to hire office support when know you’re leaving. But it’s worth considering. If you feel like you don’t have time to expand your practice before you leave, perhaps you need more admin help – paying a receptionist part-time, for example, might free up the time and head space you need to diversify, or spend more time marketing your practice. Plus when it comes time to leave, you’ll have someone ready to fill your shoes on the administrative side.

II: While You’re Gone

a) Stay in Touch
It’s just not that hard to stay in touch with your client base any more. If you haven’t already, now is the time to get that free MailChimp account and get your email newsletter started.

If you’re already using email, a blog, social media, or print to keep in touch, keep it going while you’re away. You’d be surprised at how interested your clients may be in what you’re doing. You don’t need to do a lot – just share, encourage, and educate people like always.

b) Don’t Completely Bail Out
You may well be in a place where you want to completely abdicate all responsibility for the practice. That’s fine – sometimes that’s what you need. But understand completely disengaging will come at a cost without some amazing people and processes to fill your shoes. If you do decide to fully leave, just give yourself permission to change your mind. It’s hard to predict how a long absence feels until it’s happening.

III: When You Get Back

When you return, energized and ready to tackle practice again, here are some things to consider.

a) Go One-to-One
Now’s the time to pull patient files, and pay attention when clients pop into your mind. People love being personally contacted for legitimate reasons – our experience is that they particularly like email. Keep up the email newsletter and other mass marketing, sure, but it’s time to start reconnecting personally.

It may help to break it down into small actions. Everyone has time to email one client every morning. If that’s easy, step it up to three or more. Just start building the habit. Do it every single day.

b) Leverage Your Experience
Is there something about your time off that you can bring back to your practice? Your newfound experience with infants? Your expanded education in a new modality? Can you share your experience in another country in the form of a public presentation, or other speaking gigs? It may not apply to every absence, but almost every change in life brings new wisdom – why not share?It’s a great way to create marketing opportunities without really feeling like you’re marketing.

c) Reconnect with referrers
Despite your best efforts to stay in touch, your biggest fans still may not even know you’re back! Get in touch with them – one-by-one, in whatever way seems best. Again – turn it into something small you can do every day.

One Day, This Will Be a Small Deal

Leaving your “baby” seems like a big deal – and it is. But one day you’ll look back at it as less of a big scary deal, and more of an amazing experience that you’ll remember forever. And perhaps one that changes your practice for the better.

While it may be easier said than done, try not panic. Figure out the worst-case financial scenario for your absence. Decide if you can accept it, then get on with building your practice, and enjoying some amazing time away.

Join the Journey!

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