There are a lot of things I hadn’t been told when I first considered a career in medical aesthetics, and so many things I wish I knew before embarking on this journey. Having said that, the lessons I have learnt along the way mean I wouldn’t change a thing. In this article I will share what I call ‘the ABC toolkit of aesthetic medicine’. I believe these eight qualities form the basis of a truly successful career as an injector in aesthetics. You don’t need to have mastered them all before you can start building your aesthetic career, but there has to be a plan for how you will achieve them.
A is for ability
It goes without saying that to be a top-level injector, you need ability. Our patients put a lot of trust in us, which should never be taken for granted and we owe it to them to perform to our best ability. Our abilities improve when we seek knowledge and apply it over and over again.
To gain knowledge and ability, you must choose a reputable training provider, read textbooks, medical journals and magazines, follow practical webinars, and listen to lectures from experts at industry events. You should also seek good advice from experienced professionals. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, even ones that seems basic or ‘silly’. You can’t build knowledge without asking questions. You then need to use this knowledge. Of course, early in your career, it is unlikely that you will have a ready supply of willing candidates to practice your new skills on; thus, the conundrum. How to improve skills without patients, and how to gain patients when in the early stages of a career and with only rudimentary skills? I would suggest that there are three options:
• Slowly and patiently build a presence by word of mouth and online marketing. This is the most ethical self-made approach, but can be expensive and take many months to develop a reputation.
• Flood the market with offers of ‘cheap’ treatments and introductory offers. This can help you build a list quickly, but your patients will be bargain-hunters. And when you want to raise your prices to ‘normal’ levels, they will disappear in a flash. Not the most ethical approach.
• Attach yourself to an established clinic. This has the benefit of using someone else’s name and reputation, and they will likely have an established patient base. Of course your profit share will be reduced and you will be an employee. This may not suit everyone.
Attaining ability will require patience, absorbing knowledge, and treating as many patients as you can, as often as you can. There are no short cuts.
B is for belief
Over the years I’ve met a lot of practitioners early on in their medical aesthetics training and noticed that many struggle to really believe in themselves, despite being committed and competent injectors. Make no mistake; aesthetics is no easy-option career. There should be no assumption that having mastered any other branch of medicine, aesthetics will be a straightforward step. At the same time, you have to believe in yourself that this is something that you can grasp. The basis for this should be the desire to help your patients, and the willingness to risk that there may be mistakes made along the way. Once you have scratched the surface of the ‘foundation’ courses, it becomes evident that there are so many things to master. There are numerous types of product. Every lecturer and demonstrator you meet has their own unique way of doing things within the context of the basic principles. People who have taught me, and whom I have taught, have used different approaches to achieve their results. It is quite daunting, not to mention confusing, when you hear on one course to ‘do this’ when you’ve heard others say ‘never do that’. If you look like a rabbit in headlights holding a needle, this will not inspire confidence in your patients. Sooner or later you have to approach with confidence. I could write a great deal on self-confidence and motivation, but for now I will say this: when you learned to walk as a baby, you didn’t just give up on walking because you fell over many times. Neither did your parents berate you for not being able to walk – instead they encouraged you at every step and celebrated your success when you did. If you intend to succeed, you have to:
• Believe you will succeed
• Have a strong reason to want to
• Be prepared to fall many times
• Have people around you cheering you on
C is for collaborative spirit
Something I learnt years ago is that success is a team game. Most aesthetic clinicians set themselves up initially as a ‘one-man band’. This is fine and to be expected early in your career, but the limitations soon become obvious. A few things you will need to do beyond just being an injector are: marketing, bookkeeping, stock taking, attending courses, keeping track of regulations and arranging the calendar. All of this has to be done whether you have 10, 100, or 1,000 patients a month. Can you really see yourself doing all that by yourself? The point should be clear; you need some form of team, whether they are employed in house or outsourced. You therefore need to consider, are you the sort of person willing to share a piece of your pie, in return for a potentially bigger pie?
When I talk about collaborations, I also mean using colleagues to help build your skill base. When I started out, I talked to other clinic owners in my area, as well as through conferences and courses. Sometimes I just rang them up directly – you’d be surprised at how many of your ‘competitors’ are interested in helping. It turns out that the best in the business aren’t worried about the ‘competition’ in that respect. In fact, they know that having more and better practitioners in this industry improves the reputation of medical aesthetics. The more the public recognise that there are reputable and caring injectors, the more they would like to try (and continue trying) treatments, and the more the industry grows. That helps everyone. So don’t be afraid to approach your peers. You may even end up working with them or referring between each other if you have specific, complementary skillsets.
D is for drive
If you’ve got this far, you’re clearly a driven person, and that’s good. In my talks I refer to your BIG VISION. What I mean is, what is the end goal? Is it having a clinic in a particular location? Having a certain number of patients? Winning an award?
Running a business is incredibly rewarding but incredibly challenging, and there are lots of small, humdrum tasks that have to be carried out day to day. Taking out the bins, phoning the plumber, writing copy for a new advert to run on social media – these are tasks that by themselves are often boring, repetitive and uninspiring. But, of course, they still have to be done! Do you have that big vision in mind all the time? There has to be an inspiring goal, something that makes you get up in the morning and face the challenges, because there will be many. In my opinion, if you have a significant goal in mind, the setbacks are just obstacles in the road. Obstacles can be overcome with persistence and help. So, building your vision and making it clear in your mind is a critical component in building a successful business. That’s how you find the motivation to tick off the little steps in your to-do list that take you to the top of the mountain.
E is for continued education
To take a career in aesthetics seriously and to maintain a high standard of practice, you need to arm yourself with as much information and knowledge as possible and continue to do this over your career. A one-day course alone will not be sufficient.
An education plan for the long term needs to be created, developed, re-written as necessary and adhered to if any kind of success is to be achieved. It is worth considering whether you have such a plan in place and, if not, what the likely long term success of your business is likely to be. You should regularly attend conferences and webinars, as well as reading journals where the latest techniques and equipment are discussed. Aesthetics is a rapidly moving field, and those that don’t keep up will not last long. The ‘experts’ are the ones who understand that we never stop learning.
F is for financial sense
You may already be a business owner, or have experience in the private sector. However, most who venture into aesthetics will come from the NHS and, therefore, will have had little training in setting up a business and entirely new skills are needed to succeed.
There are many business skills you will need to develop, but, in my opinion, one of the most important and easily forgotten concepts in business is if there is more money going out than coming in, your business will fail. Most medical students leave university under a cloud of debt right from the start of their working life, so it becomes normal for your finances to be out of control. In my opinion, instead of just managing your debt, you need to master elimination and prevention of debt. To keep things very simple, I suggest to go through all your monthly outgoings on your bank statement. Use a chart to categorise your spending. Be honest about where your money is going. This column has to total less than your income.
If that exercise was time consuming and stressful, it’s nothing compared to squaring the accounts of your business. Doing so may be the defining moment in your deciding whether you’re cut out to run a business. If need be, get some expert advice on financial planning.
G is for guidance
It is common knowledge that when receiving support, a person makes much more rapid progress than alone. One of the biggest factors that took me to the next level was the decision to have both clinical and business mentors during my career.
When you choose a mentor, you’re putting your trust into someone of greater experience, wisdom and success than yourself. For experienced medical professionals, it can be hard to accept that someone is better than you and even harder to hear someone tell you that you need to improve. But this is exactly what you need if you want to make your business a success and outlast your competitors.
By taking on board the wisdom and guidance of someone with many more years of experience, you can see your practice leap forward, whereas before you could only take small steps. A mentor can also help you see the long-term view, whereas you may be only trying to get through the month. Mentors can also open up opportunities for development and qualifications that may never have occurred to you.
Finding a good mentor takes time. Not everyone will ‘gel’ with your personality and some will have quite different career goals than you. Be willing to pay someone for their time and expertise if that is what is needed to accelerate your career. The most successful value their time, as you should also do. Ask locally who offers the opportunity to ‘shadow’, and even treat their patients. Ask if they are able to discuss cases with you either in person or remotely and if they will be willing to help if you’re stuck. You may seek out different guidance for different skillset, for example for financial education, business skills, and even communication skills. Every learning moment is valuable, even if you only learned how not to do something. Being a member of an industry association can also help, as they often provide mentorship opportunities.
H is for humility
One of my mentors told me that one of the best skills I could develop and perfect is the skill of knowing that I will never know everything.
Having a modest opinion of yourself means that you have the self-awareness to understand that you don’t know everything and you cannot be right all the time. That means you will get things wrong and you may have complaints levelled against you. You need to be able to deal with such events in a way that allows you to conduct business ethically and empathically. Over-confidence has no place in this industry. You need to know your limitations and work within them until you have gained the extra competence required.
Of course, you need a level of confidence to operate, however you have to also be able to take constructive criticism. If you are unable or unwilling to cultivate a sense of humility, you should not be working in aesthetics.
This article has covered the ABCs (or the A-H, if you will) of the skills required to be a successful practitioner in the field of aesthetics. It represents a ‘wish-list’ of what I wish I had known at the start of my career. Hopefully it gives a taste of what is needed to not only be competent, but to thrive in an industry where there remains a lot of mediocrity. Most businesses fail within 12 months. Be one of the few who will outlast their competitors.
Disclosure: Dr Sadequr Rahman offers paid-for mentorship opportunities.