By Felicia Tomasko, RN, C-IAYT, AP
If you’ve embarked on a course of study of Ayurveda, you’ve likely done so out of passion. You may have found some purpose in the teachings or even some measure of healing in your own life. Then, perhaps you decide to put the teachings into practice in a practical way and build a profession from your passion. When it comes to building a successful Ayurvedic business, there are a number of factors to address, from understanding the scope of practice in relation to your education, to knowing the laws you are practicing within, to fully understanding yourself. In addition, even if you didn’t set out with this goal in mind, it’s time to embrace the art of being an entrepreneur. Here are some suggestions for transitioning from Ayurveda as passion to Ayurveda as practice.
While this may seem like a bit of a cliche, taking some time for an inventory of self-awareness is a key component to building any successful career. This is distinct from understanding the scope of your education. Knowing yourself includes understanding something about the ways in which you want to engage with your practice and your business. Where and how do you want to work? For example, do you thrive as part of a team and want to join an integrative medical clinic or group? Do you prefer to set up a solo practice? If so, is there a space at home where you can create a professional office space? Are you looking to make or sell products? Are there specialties within Ayurveda that you feel you want to focus on? Do you visualize a full-time practice or part-time work to accommodate family or other commitments? Try journaling or finding a friend, mentor, or colleague who is willing to brainstorm or heartstorm (as one of my friends says) with you. Know that some of your ideas might change, but it’s helpful to start the process of self-inquiry at the beginning, as it may inform some of your direction and subsequent decisions. As with any business, you’ll be starting where you are in the moment yet making plans to grow a practice and hold an expanded vision.
Embrace Your Education and Scope of Practice
Ayurveda is a vast science and practice. In order to promote clarity in the different educational paths, the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) offers separate categories of practitioner types, each with their own course of study, requirements and scope of practice. Of course, Ayurveda is a life-long pursuit, and no matter where you begin there are options available to earn new certifications. In the meantime, understand where you are now and organize your business so that you are operating within the scope of practice appropriate to your educational competencies and certification. Continuing your education is important from the perspective of adhering to ethical guidelines as well as setting yourself up for success.
Commit to Continuing Your Education
Wherever you land in terms of a certification and title, completing continuing education on an annual basis is an important part of staying fresh and current. Even if you are seeing clients daily, nothing substitutes for an ongoing infusion of knowledge and insight from master teachers, clinicians with different experience than your own, and the ongoing wisdom that comes from being a perpetual student. This will continue to expand your skill as a practitioner, clinician, and businessperson, promoting your personal success. Through conferences, classes, and even conference calls and webinars, NAMA offers and refers numerous opportunities for continuing education. Personally, every event or class I attend provides at least one (if not many) a-ha moments that fine-tune or expand my ability to practice successfully.
Know the Laws and Choose a Business Structure
Once you understand the scope of your Ayurvedic specialty, relate that to the laws where you are. This includes understanding the state or regional regulations that apply to the practice of complementary and alternative medicine or therapies. If you have an active medical license, make sure that you are operating within the scope of practice of your Ayurvedic certification as well as your medical license.
Follow the legalities of operating a business in your local area including maintaining a business license and sales tax reporting (if applicable). Look into liability and other insurance policies that relate to both your place of business as well as your practice. Also, create a business structure and accounting system to provide the greatest ease and set yourself up for a long-term successful practice. You may decide to operate as a sole proprietor or to create an LLC or other business corporate structure for liability reasons, for greater clarity, or to facilitate long-term growth if you plan to hire employees or sell products.
Even though you may start small, keep in mind your extended vision. Set up the structures that support your growth. This projected growth may be from one client to five clients or one client to five thousand. The size of the expansion doesn’t matter but having systems in place that create a container for your practice allows you to be the best practitioner you can be. Along the way, utilize the support available for small business owners and budding entrepreneurs. In the US, resources like the Small Business Administration offer free- and low-cost classes as well as opportunities to access mentors.
Ethics Including Confidentiality
Taking an online ethics course is part of maintaining your ongoing professional status with NAMA. Implementing appropriate ethics is essential to maintaining a long-term successful practice. Make sure to implement the appropriate levels of confidentiality surrounding record-keeping and working with clients. Apply this to the systems you set up as well as how you conduct yourself in public. Your clients will notice the care with which you handle sensitive information; it helps to build trust and empowers them to confide in you more freely. This allows you to make appropriate recommendations that set your client up for greater success.
Build Your Networks
When it comes to building your networks, think about this from a variety of perspectives. On one level, it relates to building out-bound as well as in-bound referral networks in your community. Who will you call upon when faced with something that is outside your scope of practice? Who will you turn to for advice? Continue to maintain referral relationships with the teachers and mentors from your Ayurvedic programs when you need to discuss (confidentially, of course) a specific case. In addition, develop relationships with people in your community, including providers from other disciplines, for when you are looking for advice or when one of your clients needs services from another system. Get to know acupuncturists, chiropractors, OB/GYNs, massage therapists, energy workers, primary care providers, and more. Find people that you feel sympatico with and would feel comfortable making referrals to. At the same time, develop relationships with people who would be willing to refer clients to you. There may be other providers in your community who are looking for an Ayurvedic specialist whom they can trust. Considering providing some of them a free introductory session so they can get to know you, or offer to give a talk at their office. You may want to host an Ayurvedic tea and chat and invite them for a meet and greet. Developing these relationships in your community is an important aspect of solidifying the success of your own practice.
The other part of building your network is related to growing your group of clients. Start out by connecting to your spheres of influence and being open and communicative about your practice and what you do. You could volunteer at health fairs, donate gift certificates when the opportunity presents itself, encourage (and reward?) referrals from your regular clients. Come back to knowing yourself and your areas of specialty and/or competency. Connect to relevant communities through your areas of expertise. This may include working with kids, women, men, special populations or conditions, areas of interest, and more. As you know yourself, share yourself. As you grow, expand and nurture your networks. Take every opportunity daily to connect your passion to your practice.
About the Author
Felicia Tomasko, RN, E-RYT-500
Felicia combines decades of Ayurvedic study with her background as a registered nurse. Her experience includes working in hospice care, in drug and alcohol recovery, and in biochemical and cognitive neuropsychology research and is the editor in chief of LA YOGA Ayurveda and Health Magazine.