Question for parents from a ed. consultant

(42 Posts)
IvysTowers Fri 11-Jul-14 14:01:09

I am looking to gauge opinions on this..

As part of my work I assess children for SpLDs and also advise parents on specific learning difficulties, choosing the best local schools and things like that.

I have a website which clearly states that I can't give advice by phone etc as an unpaid consultation, but I still get calls from parents- all very nice and polite parents!- who start the conversation with 'I just want to ask you about......' and before I know it they are wanting the very information that they would need to pay for in a consultation.

I've made it very clear on my website what I can and can't do for free, but I still get calls and emails at all times of my working day, asking 'Do you think my child has an SpLD etc... and I'm going to take up 30 minutes of your time just asking you to listen while I explain their symptoms/ behaviour.' or 'can you give me some tips for my child to manage XYZ' then when I say yes, but you need to book an appt, they disappear.

I don't like to be rude- I'm not!- but to me this is the same thing as me phoning a local solicitor and asking' can you give me some ( unpaid) advice about what to do with my neighbour's fence/boundary/ overgrowing trees...' etc.

There seems to be a mis match between what parents think it's ok to ask for free, and what is reasonable, IMO.

As a parent would you find it acceptable to be told early on in such a conversation that I cannot advise without an appt etc. and what words would you find helpful/acceptable?

How hard is it to get them to appreciate this?!

Tambajam Fri 11-Jul-14 15:08:58

I get similar calls in my line of work with parents. I'm a lactation consultant. My situation is slightly different though as I can direct people to free groups for support.

I think the main thing is to be empathic. You reflect back to them that you can hear that are concerned and you do understand how worried they are and obviously this is important to them. And just go on to be honest. It might be OK to say, "Can I just stop you there.." Or "I'd love to help but I wouldn't be able to give a judgement based on symptoms described over the phone. I'm sure you understand..."

I think if you are gentle, empathic and honest - that's about all you can be. I would also direct them to some free resources. Perhaps your website could include some articles you have written which would provide an introduction and answer some initial questions or you could direct them elsewhere.

I'd also mention early on that you have a sliding scale for charging parents with low incomes etc, if that is the case.

Tambajam Fri 11-Jul-14 15:14:39

And just to state the obvious, when parents are very stressed and worried they are less likely to take in information - either when reading on the website or listening to information over the phone. They will feel relief at getting through to you and want to off-load. You'll need to say the same thing a couple of times in many cases and speak very clearly.

Vijac Fri 11-Jul-14 15:21:08

Put on a different voice and pretend you're a receptionist...! Say I like to speak face to face, when can you make an appointment.

Madrigals Fri 11-Jul-14 15:28:15

To be honest, the main reason this is happening to you is that parents worried about dc are feeling very vulnerable and are having to come to you for services that should be provided by the state.

My advice to you would be that unless you are totally inundated with patients your best bet marketing-wise may be just to chat a bit (within the boundaries of your professional guidance of course). Our SALT has made around £1.2k out of her sessions with DS so far and mainly because she was willing to chat a bit about her approach, what would happen in the SALT sessions and my concerns.

ReallyTired Fri 11-Jul-14 21:32:20

If you PM a link I'll give you more detailed feedback about your website.

Cargundian Sat 12-Jul-14 09:47:53

I guess one issue is that, before they commit to paying you, parents want to gauge whether you're any good, and whether they're going to find you easy enough to talk to about some very personal issues. This is reasonable, and if you sound cagey then I expect people will be put off. I can see it's a problem if your typical total time spent with a paying client is not much more than the half hour you're spending on the phone, but then maybe that just says it's an unsustainable business model. Solicitors etc. have ongoing relationships with their clients, so even if a particular matter is one hour's work it's worth cultivating the client. You presumably don't have that.

Madrigals Sat 12-Jul-14 10:07:32

Car, you've put what I meant better! I wanted a SALT I got on with and who I thought was likely to 'get' DS and would be the right person to work with us going forward. All those I spoke to were highly qualified - the person charming and forthcoming on the phone got our custom.

twentyten Sat 12-Jul-14 10:14:37

A lot of life coaches etc offer free chemistry calls of 15-30 mins to see if they can work with clients. Could you do something similar? Also could you use something like time trade to book slots when it suits you?
Separate out work/ home calls?

MrsPixieMoo Sat 12-Jul-14 10:20:59

Two suggestions
1. Get someone to take your calls. There are lots of remote PAs, virtual assistant companies who will do this freeing up your time.
2. Allow people to book a free 20-30 min consultation by phone. If they like you, they're more likely to come back for paid consultations.

IvysTowers Sat 12-Jul-14 10:38:32

Thanks for all the suggestions everyone.
I'd say I am already doing 80% of what is suggested.
The phone I use is a mobile that is for my business only.

To clarify, I am a qualified parenting coach but I have other training which means I can assess children for SpLDs and similar.

I have no issue with giving parents 20 minutes free on the phone if they want to suss me out as a coach, but what some seem to do is want to take up half an hour or more ( they don't know how to stop!) pouring out their child's educational history- then conclude with 'So do you think he has a SpLD/ ADHD/ Aspergers etc?'

I make it clear on my website that I cannot diagnose by phone, but the main point is that I am not a free helpline. Parents cannot expect just to phone at random times and expect a listening ear- often they are worried and want to offload. In the past I've given huge amounts of time free to parents who called, then come off the phone feeling really 'used' because they have ended up with a lot of expert advice and I've earned diddly squat!

There are free helplines out there for this kind of thing- but the phones are manned by volunteers who are not trained/ experts. (I know because I have used them in the past as a parent.)

The enquiries for advice are few and far between; most of the enquiries are about assessments.

But- I had an email enquiry - to give you an example- of 'How can I help my child with SEN to learn their tables - any tips?' me: 'Yes lots but you need to book an appt.' Heard nothing back.

I'm just going to have to tighten up and go with the suggestions of tambajam

TalkinPeace Sat 12-Jul-14 12:46:44

I'm an accountant.
I set a rule a long time ago that I NEVER give advice for free in my own name.
When I am being TalkinPeace I help people as much and as generally as I can.
When I am me, I charge. Even my good friends pay me to do their tax returns.
My reasoning is that any information I give for free without checking their details is NOT covered by my PII and my qualifications.

In your case, I'd stop publishing a phone number AT ALL
and have an emails enquiry page on your site that you can send bland responses back through.

nlondondad Sat 12-Jul-14 22:59:18

One possibility, if you give a phone number on your site, is to give a premium rate one.

So if people ring you, you get a bit of revenue, and the parent is aware they are paying something...

Laura0806 Fri 18-Jul-14 18:07:04

Ive never heard of a parenting coach diagnosing such conditions before; maybe the parents want to be sure you are qualified. I spend hours giving free advice to people. Parents are sometimes in desperate need to offload and I am willing to listen and give low key advice but it would be impossible to diagnose over the phone anyway and most people accept that

IvysTowers Fri 18-Jul-14 21:49:53

Laura
I am a qualified SpLD teacher with post grad diploma but I also have other training. I was posting mainly about parents who think I can diagnose by phone.

OneDreamOnly Fri 18-Jul-14 21:58:36

When people call me (different area but similar problems) they usually ask me 'Do you think you can help me with xxx' which tbh is a fair question.

I usually explain them that yes I can help with xxx but I can't tell them if yyy (how long it will take, how efficient it will be) until I can see them and do a diagnosis..
So I spend a of of time explaining what I can do, a little on 'this is my experience with similar cases' and any more personal questions is answered with 'I don't know yet. I would need to see you first'.

I'm personally not sure it's an issue with wanting something for nothing. It has more to do with the fact people think their question is straight forward and isn't much different than a stranger asking for directions. Then add some desperation and the feeling that they finally have found someone that might be able to answer and they just don't want to let go!

OneDreamOnly Fri 18-Jul-14 22:02:05

Btw don't assume that people will read your website carefully before ringing. They are likely not to read it from start to finish, have read just a few words, look at the layout and thought 'these people look great'.

I have people asking me all the time what is the address and where I am located when it is clearly on the front page of my site and next to my tel number!

It's all about being assertive about what you can do, put boundaries whilst making them feel cared for.

IvysTowers Sat 19-Jul-14 07:59:02

Thanks One

You make some relevant points.
I'm not new to this- have been doing it for a long time- but have recently moved it up a level and receiving more enquiries.

I think the 'mistake' I make is inviting them to tell me a bit about the problem so I can decide if I am the best source of help. I assume they are going to be succinct whereas it's like opening the floodgates and they start with their child's educational history from YrR and keep going...!

It's finding the balance between saying next to nothing and emailing them my info pack.

I think the flaw in 'my system' is that I don't have a secretary etc. If parents call DA or an ed psych they will usually have no option other than to take a leap of faith and book the appt. You don't get 1:1 time with the person beforehand. (I know as both DCs were assessed.)

I need to work on my responses on the phone.

Missunreasonable Sat 19-Jul-14 08:04:50

Comparing the situation to solicitors isn't really accurate though because most solicitors will offer 30 mins free advice.
As a parent I would want to kid that you can actually offer some useful advice before I book an appointment otherwise it would be wasted money. What you need to do is say that you are unable to discuss matters on the phone but you will send them some info by email and they can book an appointment if they like what they see.

Madrigals Sat 19-Jul-14 09:13:26

A lot of consultants have medical secretaries who will give you loads of info free on the phone. When I booked ds's ENT I looked the ENT up on the internet to check his credentials and his exact nhs post, checked other patients' views on him online and then chatted to his secretary. She was confident he would have capacity to book DS in for grommets within the fortnight, which was what I needed to know.

By contrast, when I needed to see an ENDO for me I didn't go with the consultant who answered the phone herself and was a bit shirty when I asked her a few initial questions on the phone. The job went to a colleague of hers and as it needed an op in the end it was a nice little earner for them. Had she been more forthcoming on the phone I would have gone with her - but it was v useful for me as it showed me she wasn't the kind of dr I want to see.

In this internet age I think patients expect quite a bit of info before they see people, to be able to check them out.

IvysTowers Sat 19-Jul-14 09:17:18

Yes sols will often give 30 mins free BUT when you do see them the fees per hour are so high that they more than compensate for the 'free' time they have given. If I charged £150- £500 an hour then I could give a free chat too!
The other point about sols is that they usually need to create a legal doc, or write letters to further their verbal advice, so a 30 min chat is just exploratory and doesn't actually change anything.

I think I've already pointed out that I send info by email and that the website is very comprehensive.

If I give you an example you can see my point.

Parent ( via email)
'Can you advise on how my special needs/ dyslexic child can learn their tables....etc'
Me 'yes of course but not by email. You need to book an appt where I can bring along various games, learning aids, teach you how to use these at home.'
No more contact!

callamia Sat 19-Jul-14 10:25:49

I'm not sure what your problem is. I also do we psychic assessments and don't have this problem. I state very clearly by telephone or email what I can and can't do, and then leave to up to the parents to decide whether I am what they want, or whether they'd rather use someone else. I don't think anyone is trying to get something for nothing, it's just that there's no script for anxious parents, many of whom feel uncomfortable about calling a professional. Be calm, empathic and clear. If you feel like you're getting an unabridged history, then steer it with questions that let you know what you need.

If you don't have someone answering your calls for you, then you are just going to need to be a bit firmer and structured.

Appletini Sat 19-Jul-14 10:51:26

Instead of inviting them to give you a bit of info, why don't you use a standard questionnaire - on the phone and by email - to find out the basics.

Right now they probably are only giving you a little bit of all the info they could.

Ultimately you need to be more assertive. Look up the broken record technique. Be polite and kind but firm.

Missunreasonable Sat 19-Jul-14 14:14:32

^Parent ( via email)
'Can you advise on how my special needs/ dyslexic chi
Me 'yes of course but not by email. You need to book an appt where I can bring along various games, learning aids, teach you how to use these at home.'^
No more contact!

Therein lies the problem; you have given what you feel is comprehensive info on a website and feel that parents should be able to use that information to gauge whether they feel that you can help. Actually what some parents want is reassurance that you actually know what you are doing before they spend their hard earned money. Anybody can produce a website that looks great and has info on it but by having a conversation with the professional you can get a feel for whether they might actually be capable of helping or not.
To be honest if I phoned up and you just told me that I needed to book an appointment before you can tell me anything that I can't figure out for myself using the website /an email I would probably go elsewhere and find somebody that sounds like they actually want to help - hence no more contact.
I have spent very large sums of money on professional advice about ways to help my son who has LD and complex needs but I wouldn't be prepared to book (and pay for) an appointment based on information on a website. It could turn out to be a waste of both my time and money. If this person is going to meet my child then it is even more reason for me to speak to that person beforehand and gauge whether I think it would help my son and whether I want that person in his presence.
I feel that you will get defensive about these suggestions though as you seem to think that parents just want something for nothing.

OneDreamOnly Sat 19-Jul-14 15:01:38

Yes completely agree with the reassurance. Tbh I wouldn't even bother to explain how you are going to help (games etc). But I would explain maybe that you will check with them what has and hasn't worked yet and that you will adapt to the child and what us working for them.
I would just explain again what us in the website (rember people DoN'T read websites, nor do they really read any documentation that you send them!). But they need to feel that you are going to be listening to them. Esp in your case where they probably have seen so many people not listening to them.

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