(Written from the heart, for those that sometimes wonder about if they will ever make a living as a herbalist).

There is an old saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and I believe that if we are to survive and flourish as herbalists in the future, and actually make a modest if not good income on which to support ourselves, then we must look at how we can re-invent ourselves. Is there a need to do this? Well I for one think emphatically yes!

Who are we re-inventing ourselves for? Well, the people, ‘Joe Public’… people who don’t have a clue about herbal medicine. Those thousands of people out there that could be consulting you in this great symbiotic relationship of you helping them to help themselves to a healthy life with Herbal Medicine. Exchanges of time & expertise, money changes hands and everyone is happy.

But, for many of us this ‘money’ thing is just not happening. I speak from experience as a herbalist that very nearly gave up and threw in the towel. I could not have been more broke and in debt that when I left University with my shiny degree in Herbal Medicine (not gained freely without some life threatening health issues and the near collapse of a marriage). For me, Herbal Medicine was a calling, and once I had finished that part of my training I saw that I could never go back to whom I was and the previous dead end jobs I despised.

Necessity has been my friend and ally. That, together with sheer ’bloody mindedness’ has propelled me forward and encouraged me to think of ways to become a busy herbalist generating an income.

In many ways, I feel that certain PA’s have done us no favours, tying our hands in the beginning with rules about what we could and could not do. Placing an advertisement in that well know yellow book and waiting for the telephone to ring, giving the odd talk, was their idea of PR.

I saw that this was not going to work. I watched and spoke with friends who were Homeopaths, Acupuncturists and Naturopaths. They set up websites, promoted their medicines, and raised a profile for themselves. Their PA’s certainly seemed to be active in the PR department. The public certainly knew about them, but sadly, not us. Unless a person just happened to know about the existence of Western Herbal Medicine, we seem to be forever be lumped in and mistaken for ‘Chinese/TCM’ by the media. Most web searches and Googling of ‘herbal medicine’ always seem to produce the word ‘Chinese’ before the word herb. The endless oriental emporiums that have invaded our high streets and shopping centres have not helped us either, they just seem to reinforce to the public that Chinese herbal medicine is the only herbal medicine out there, (nothing wrong with TCM, but they really don’t need the publicity like we do!!).

Over the first few years of practise, it became apparent that something needed to be done. Out of necessity, I needed to take matters into my own hands and work out how I could earn money from my calling. And, after years of reflection and honing my skills, this is what I came up with as a game plan for struggling herbalists.

I also have to thank my two mentors here in Essex, one of which has shown me how she became a great success.

Top tips for getting ahead  or Having your fingers in many pies!

Here then are some ideas that have worked for me, and my mentor before me and perhaps some of you are doing these things already. Perhaps some of you are worried about trying, so as another author once said ‘feel the fear and do it anyway!’

1. Become visible.

My workload doubled overnight when I went from working at home to working within a clinic. This clinic was attached to a health food store, and so there is often (but not always) a ready and waiting clientele there.  If you are not yet established and working from home, you may need to double or triple your efforts in PR to get your community to come to you. Get out and about, do talks, walks, local radio, farmers markets (see later entry). Write yourself a press sheet; learn the art of ‘blagging’, which means even if you don’t feel so confident and brilliant, tell everyone how brilliant you, are and what you can do for them!

Self-belief will bring confidence.

If you are not a great public speaker or get nervous, then try learning to overcome it, or use the written word instead. Local newspaper articles can be good. For example, I have just installed my dispensary in the high street clinic. This means I can do drop in clinics as well as full consults and sell herbs from the premises if required. It is the only high street in Essex where there is a traditional herbalist doing this, and so it may be news worthy. I have contacted the local papers and radio and am likely to get free publicity.

2. Get over the money issue.

The next thing I did was change my price/fee structure. I saw what other practitioners were charging and getting. We must do the same. I have been in several clinics and being the investigative type I have always managed to find out what other types of therapies charge for their services. Needless to say that Herbal Medicine always seemed to come off as the poor relation!  Undercharging in the current climate is not going to help you survive. We live in an expensive country and £40 for example does not go very far at all. We have mortgages and bills to pay like everyone else. DO NOT UNDERVALUE YOURSELVES.

You have to factor in your training costs, travel costs, room rental, herb prices, bottles, labels etc. Sit down and work it out again.

A valuable lesson I learnt from a private psychotherapist working for the NHS, was that all the ‘free’ sessions paid for by the NHS, ended up with her having a lot of free time because it was free or low cost, the patients did not bother to turn up. In comparison to her private paying clients, who always showed up and paid gratefully for treatment received.

Of course there will always be those that cannot afford the ‘going’ rates due to unemployment, low income, but these can be negotiated on an individual basis.

3. Brand yourself!

I know it sounds tiresome, but you need to identify yourself in the market place, and yes we are in a marketplace, particularly when we are looking to expand our practices.

We need to attract more clientele and sometimes the word of mouth referrals take a while to filter through. So, we must be more pro-active in promoting who we are and what we do.

This is what I did. I thought of a catchy name for myself/practice and trademarked it so no one else could use it. Then I had a logo designed by a friend of mine that could draw. I traded her herbal medicine for her services. So far the outlay has just been the cost of the trademark £150).

4. Websites and updated literature.

With my branded name and logo, I had a website done. Some people spend thousands on this, and good luck to you if you have thousands. If not, you may want to try…

http://www.healthhosts.com

… a one off fee of about £100 and a monthly fee of £9.99 to host it. Give them the specs and they put together a basic site that you can edit yourself, thus saving money.

With more of our prospective clientele searching online, a great easy to use website is a must. Try where possible to avoid drippy music, research shows it really puts people off. It needs to look sharp, professional and get across to a complete stranger the nature of medical herbalism. This is a great place to show everyone how brilliant you are and why he or she should come to you.

Always think about what you like to see in terms of how you decide which therapy you yourself might wish to use. Are you put off by the leaflet/brochure or the website, does it not look professional enough. More importantly, imagine how these things are perceived by the average consumer.  Then, perhaps update your literature. I have used Vistaprint. For under £100, I had my glossy brochures and business cards, all colour co-ordinated with my logo and brand name, and these have proved very popular at the clinic. I know this because my shiny brochures always run out. Cheap and cheerful home produced ones are ok but they need to look good. People/the public like eye-catching stuff to sell things. It might be suggested that the public are consumers of herbal products rather than herbal medicine from herbalists and we must encourage and persuade them that using the services of a herbalist is a much nicer and more efficacious route to follow.

5. Herbs From The Herbalist /Selling Herbs.

This is my catch phrase on my website and everywhere really, on literature etc. Keep reinforcing it so it gets into peoples mindsets. What does it mean?

If you want herbs then get them from a herbalist, the experts in herbs! We really need to drill this into people. We are the experts in all things herbal because we are Herbalists!

In our culture that is becoming increasingly dumbed down, you do need to keep repeating yourself.

We have access to the best herbs, and so should the public. I always emphasize that anything bought in a shop is a product and therefore not technically herbal medicine, and that the only true herbal medicine comes from what they can grow or make for themselves or what they can obtain from a herbalist. Start a web shop maybe. Then take it a stage further if you wish. Farmers markets are a great place to meet people face to face, so they get to know and trust you. They are also a great place to sell herbs. I make up my special tea blends, creams, ointments etc, organic wildcrafted and no petro chemicals are so ‘in’ right now, and we should have a piece of this market too.

If you do not have time to do any markets, then you may wish to get someone else to sell them for you. Work out your mark ups so everyone makes a fair profit and an honest living. County shows and local fayres can also be good places to connect with your community. I have tried pamper evenings, but found them not to work for me personally.

If you feel a little in awe about venturing forth, then get a friend or partner to help, or pair up with another herbalist!

6. The levels of Herbal Medicine.

This is a favourite strategy of mine, when I do talks and other promotional things. I explain that there are: –

  1. Herbs you can grow and use yourself
  2. Herbs you can buy from a herbalist without a prescription (and why not, everyone who is not a herbalist is selling them, so get them from us!).
  3. If self-treatment fails, then it’s not the herbs, you really need to see a herbalist, because we can diagnose and prescribe for them.
  4. Drop in clinics for mild problems, where a fuller and more costly consultation may not be necessary. Bear in mind that you do need to spell out the sort of conditions that a drop in treats. I have had a cancer patient thinking that I can sort them out from a drop in. EDUCATE THEM!
  5. The full consult. The virtues of this are many. Apart from the obvious big cases, I then call it registering with your local herbalist, because then they can have access to herbs, a full consult is of benefit because we can really understand their health problems, get their drug history on file and so on. Then suggest that they may order creams and cough syrups and tonics etc if they ever need us in the future and we have all the important stuff on file. People who are not really sick do come and see me and register, they like this option, so try it if you think it may work for you.

7. Add another string to your bow

Having a good hands-on therapy is useful and can sometimes generate an extra income if the herbal side is quiet. Indeed any other therapy can be useful and generate extra income.

8. Education.

Try running a workshop and maybe piggy-back off the success of TV programmes such as ‘Grow you own drugs’ and Countryfile/Naturewatch type programmes.

Teaching people to make a cough syrup, or a cream is great fun for all parties involved! Try approaching you local council about teaching an evening class or short course if you feel that is for you. It does seem to depend where you live as to the interest. For example, my local town is just not interested, but just up the road is completely different and so I run my workshops there instead.

9. Growing Herbs.

I think this may have been what one of the PA’s had in mind when they suggested obtaining some land and planting it with herbs and getting people to come and look at it. They just did not put it very well.

If you have access to some land, such as an allotment or you are blessed with a large garden, you can grow herbs and have open days on the national gardening schemes or hold your herbal workshops there. My colleague has a large garden and this is something I tried myself and we had a great day.

My biggest business venture to date now is growing organically on an acre and I hope to write a blog on this as we finalise the business details.

I hope this article inspires any herbalists who doubt themselves or wonder why they just don’t make a living from herbal medicine. It’s not foolproof, I have weeks when it is a struggle financially and I use that time to update literature, websites, prepare for lectures, talks and workshops. We must be aware that apart from a calling it is our means of income. As we journey along the 21st century, wondering how we are to survive amongst the political and economical climates. It is important that we always re-evaluate how we do business and I think it is very important to reclaim what we do with some good PR and the only one who can do that really well is someone who is so very knowledgeable about herbs and health, and that someone, believe it or not is…YOU!!

Jacqui Apostolides or Fordham…trading as The Urban Herbalist (trademarking in progress!)

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