Posted by: Donna Cunningham | December 17, 2010

Q&A Session: Tips for Building an Astrology Practice

©12-17-2010 by Donna Cunningham, MSW

 This is the 2nd in a new series of Question and Answer sessions where professional astrologers and students who hope to turn pro pose questions in the comment section and I answer them.  

The first session, Q&A: What Professional Astrologers Want to Know, was a sort of “ask me anything” ramble through many facets of the field. In this and upcoming sessions, we’ll take up a variety of more focused topics.  I’d welcome suggestions from you, in addition to the ones I already have in mind:

  • Today: Nuts and bolts of building an astrology practice
  • Coming: Transitioning from astrology student to professional
  • Talking about touchy topics
  • Dealing with difficult clients

For many of the years I was a professional astrologer, the holiday season was a scary time. My practice flat-lined on Bleak—I mean Black—Friday and didn’t pick up again until Mid-January. People have to prioritize at this time of the year, and buying gifts and holiday provisions became more important than having their chart done.

Another difficult time was late summer through Labor Day, because people were spending their money on vacation or getting their kids ready for school with new clothes and suppplies.

These hiatuses were crushing even though that era was far more affluent than this one.

I can only imagine that our current economic crisis has made this particular season very tough for astrologers. What better window, then, to look at ways to build a practice?

A complicating factor is the aversion many in the metaphysical fields have to self-promotion. Especially in the beginning, many of us lack confidence in our work and feel guilty about taking money for spiritual work. Issues like these make us shy and awkward about developing advertising materials and about putting ourselves forward to potential clients. 

 (There are a number of life coaches who specialize in spiritual marketing–google them, and you’ll find plenty of helpful advice. ) 

Readers, feel free to ask me questions about building a practice in the comment section. You’d also be doing a service to your fellow astrologers if you shared ideas that have helped you increase your own practice.  Let’s make this a brainstorming session!     

More Help for Professionals on Skywriter:

Tips about Promoting Yourself:

FREE DOWNLOAD: This chapter of my ebook, Counseling Principles for Astrologers explains codependency, how to see it in an astrology chart, and its implications for practicing astrologers in depth. Download it here: 2014 Ch7 CPA. You’ll find a wealth of articles for professional astrologers on Skywriter, starting here: English for Astrologers–No Astrologese Please.

 Counseling Principles for Astrologers is the book I’m proudest of. A text for the consulting astrologer, it takes my background of a Master’s degree in Social Work and translates it to the framework of the astrology session. There are chapters on:

  • how begin, focus, and end a session effectively
  • communicating clearly and initiating a dialogue
  • vocational astrology sessions
  • working with the charts of children and teens
  • ethical issues that arise in the course of a session
  • referring clients to other professionals for further work
  • building a practice

Add this book to your professional library for $15 at Moon Maven Publications.

If you’re enjoying this blog, sign up for a subscription, and get a FREE EBOOKLET for Skywriter Subscribers Only: Mothers, Daughters, and the Moon, a 50-page excerpt from The Moon in your Life. Read more about it here: New: Free Booklet For Skywriter Subscribers! 

 If you’re already a subscriber and want a copy, forward the most recent email post to me at moonmave@spiritone.com . To sign up for a subscription, go to the top right hand corner of the blog and click on “Subscribe.”  Then send me an email with your subscription confirmation or an email post with a request for the booklet in the subject line.

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Responses

  1. Great idea for a new series Donna. At present I am just starting to give free readings to friends – with due warning that I am in the early stages of studying and only to take on board that which resonates for them.

    They are free because I consider these sessions valuable training and my main job is being an artist – which also doesn’t earn much money but luckily my husband in his healing practice does. (With Neptune in the 8th, sextile moon/pluto in the 7th, money to support me has always been there when needed, either from my mother, my husband or one time, bizzarely, from an electricity sell off payout!)

    My friends who’ve had the readings have said, that was great, spot on, but I need to hear it again – you have to get some way of recording these sessions. No-one seems to have tape players these days so it would have to be recorded onto a CD – can anyone recommend a reasonably priced machine to do this?

    My question for you Donna is how long would you give for a session (mine have taken 2 hours so far) and how much time would you spend beforehand gathering information about the clients and their current concerns? Also how long would you estimate to spend working on interpreting their chart before the session?

    All this would relate to how much is charged
    - my feeling is a breakdown of the time spent will help the client understand exactly how many hours has gone into the session and exactly what they are paying for.

    • Hi, Jay, congratulations on beginning to do sessions with clients. I think those earliest sessions are like a tutorial where you get to practice on a live body, so it’s okay for them to be free and to take as long as you both can take it. You’re learning from them as much as they’re learning from you.

      The same goes for preparation time in those early days–it will take you much longer than it will later on, because you have to think through the meanings of each layer of the chart–planets in signs and houses, aspects between the planets and so on. That’s all okay.

      With every year that you do sessions, the preparation time and the session time gets shorter, because you learn exactly what to hone in on:
      You clarify with the client at the time of making the appointment exactly what they need to work on.
      Then you prepare the whole chart, but spend the most time preparing the parts relevant to the issues they want to discuss.
      Then you begin the session with an overview (especially if it’s their first chart session), but spend the bulk of the session on their concerns.
      Eventually,, with practice, and in a very focused interview, it should be possible to prepare in as little as an hour and do the session in an hour to an hour and a half
      Donna

    • Jay,

      You can record the sessions using free software from Audacity (google it) for in-person or from CallBurner if you use Skype for telephone sessions. You can burn them on to CD using a CD burner if your computer doesn’t have a built-in one. This is all free if you have a CD burner. You can record them as mp3s, too, which people can listen to on their computers or their iPod-like devices. mp3s can be emailed using a service like “Yousendit” (google that too). Not sure how much a CD burner costs–maybe $100-$200. But you can basically get started for free or almost free. You might need an external microphone. Hope that’s helpful.

  2. When you started your Practice, what expenses did you plan for? Did you have any unanticipated expenses?

    • For many years, I worked in a regular job part time and in my practice part time, in order to support myself. Then I flipped back and forth between a full-time and a part-time job, with astrology sometimes supporting me and sometimes having to play catchup on the bills. I lived in NYC and was self-supporting, so the cost of living was high.

      I didn’t have a lot of expenses relating to my astrology practice–no office or business phone, only some advertising occasionally. Eventually, I got a computer, astrology software, and a business phone. Then I got involved with the flower essences, and the startup on that can be expensive (the kits). Today, an astrologer might add on the clost of a website and web design. Donna

  3. You can record your session on freeconference call.com and then send them an mp3 or you can record on audio acrobat and send an mp3 to them.

    • Another super easy program to use is audacity, which can be downloaded for free. It works on PCs and Macs.

  4. I have a question- what do you think about “apprenticing” oneself to a local astrologer? Is it worth it in this day and age where people seem to almost immediately look for any answer on the internet?

    • Hi, Dizzy, answers to single questions from a machine can’t provide the depth of a teacher/mentor who listens to the whole situation/chart. So, yes, having someone with experience in interpreting a chart is worthwhile. However, make sure that local astrologer is a good one (good reputation, experienced) and don’t take their word as gospel. Donna

      • This is a really good question! There is instant access online to the answer that many potential clients are looking for. They can find an answer they like whether it applies to them or not. Isn’t this one reason psychic hotlines are so successful, but the astrologer can struggle?

      • I’m sure there must be genuine practitioners on psychic hotlines, but I’d venture that when you’re charging by the minute, you don’t go very deep.

        And if you want them to keep calling back, you’re probably going to give people the answer they want to hear. (“He loves you. He’ll realize that soon.”) Donna

  5. Regarding budgeting for slow times: I know all too well what this is like as a freelance musician. Right now I’m in the best time I have all year (Thanksgiving until Xmas- though I have no gig on xmas proper this year! Hit me up if you know of anything out west). There’s a fair amount of info, here are a few websites I’ve found helpful:

    _http://www.artstaxinfo.com (has some good budget planning and recording forms, though they are music specific, info about deductible expenses, etc)
    _http://www.moneycrashers.com/surviving-thriving-fluctuating-income/ (this has info about budgeting with fluctuating income_http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2009/07/27/how-to-budget-for-an-irregular-income/ (another similar website to the one above)

    • Great input here today, Dizzy, both with questions and resources! Glad you stopped by. Donna

  6. What advice would you give to a new practicing astrologer about finding their niche and, then, how to go about marketing those skills to clients?

    • Good question, CJ. As for a niche, we all bring a different background and set of skills to our work that can add value to our practice. We only need to figure out what branch of astrology it would fit into, what applications of astrology we need to get good at, and how to reach people who need that combination of skills.

      Someone who’s spent the past 20 years raising kids and done a good job of it has something valuable to offer to young moms. She might amp up her skills by reading every book on child development she can get her hands on. Then present herself to the mommy market by advertising in a local parenting magazine or the local shopper or putting up notices in local children’s clothing stores or toy stores.

      Someone with a good business background should study everything they can find about vocational astrology and specialize in advising clients on career difficulties. They might write short pieces about how astrology might help them in their work for local weeklies, give presentations on vocational astrology at networking groups, or put ads in job search papers.

      Suppose you’ve always been a bit of a matchmaker informally and have had pretty good luck at it. Maybe chart comparison is your niche. Take classes in it, read all the books about synastry, and read all the best sellers on finding your mate. Then offer to give a talk at dating clubs and take out ads in the personal sections where SWF and DWM lie to one another.

      In short, figure out what you’re good at or have a passion for, master the related branch of astrology, read up on that subject in mainstream (nonastrology) books as well, and then sell, sell, sell. Donna

  7. In a world where astrology has such a bad rep, any tips onto how to differentiate yourself from the lady with the crystal ball?

    And any suggestions onto how to make your work a positive contribution to the field in general?
    Do you think starting out with a clear vision of what astrology as a discpline should be like makes for clarifying one’s standpoint on astrology or unnecessarily perplexes it?

    • Such a good question, VR. I think astrology’s association with fortune telling troubles/shames most of us in this field.

      The perspective that helps me is this: in every new situation, not just astrology, we have to prove ourselves. It’s all in how we present ourselves. If we carry ourselves with dignity and integrity, they believe we are worthy of respect. If we doubt ourselves and our worth, they pick up on that and think we’re right about our doubts.

      For the first few years, I felt like I had to prove astrology to everyone I met, so I was always butting heads with scornful skeptics who made scathing remarks. When I no longer cared about proving myself, I stopped and didn’t get so much flack.

      Now I pick who to reveal what I do for a living carefully, and even people with no real knowledge of astrology or metaphysics come away thinking that since I seem pretty sane and intelligent and grounded, maybe there’s something to it. (I call myself a sane weirdo.) Donna

    • You also asked, “any suggestions onto how to make your work a positive contribution to the field in general?” Hmm.

      As for the field in general, find out what makes your own work special–in short, identify that niche we talked about above and dig, dig, dig until you reach real gold.

      Avoid ego. Don’t get grandiose and arrogant like some of the divas in our field–have respect for other people’s expertise. (If you’ve taken the time to get really good at one branch of astrology, it’s likely that you don’t know squat about some of the other branches.)

      Recognize that we’re not competing–we’re all making contributions for the evolution of our endlessly complex field.

      Don’t let fame freeze you into hyping the same old stuff that got you your 15 minutes of fame–keep developing and adding new information.

      Keep an eye out for new talent–encourage and nurture the newest generations of astrologers so they make their contribution too.

      Kind of a Desidirata for astrologers, isn’t it? Thanks for thinking of the question, VR. Donna

  8. Donna, since we live in an increasingly litigious, ‘get-rich-quick’ society do you and other astrologers you know ever worry about being sued?

    • LOL! This is one place where we’re lucky NOT to be a recognized profession. Since we aren’t taken seriously and are labeled as “entertainment”, it would be hard to prove that our predictions harmed anyone.

      There was only one lawsuit I ever heard of. A man tried to sue an astrologer in New York years ago for estrangement of the affections of his wife. He said that what the astrologer told his wife in the session resulted in his wife divorcing him. The astrologer’s picture was on the front page of the New York Post, and she had to testify in court, so it was very nerve-racking for her, but it all came to nothing.

      There are some instances in which we could be prosecuted, however. That would be for practicing medicine without a license (diagnosing medical or psychiatric conditions and prescribing treatments) or for giving legal advice. I would avoid doing either of those.

      You’d have to word what you’re saying very gingerly (“I’m not a lawyer/doctor, so I’m just saying what I see in the chart.”) and then strongly recommend that they consult a doctor/lawyer.

      There are also still cities and towns that have laws against fortune tellers (used against scam artists, mainly) and astrologers occasionally run into difficulty with that.

      AFAN (The Association for Astrological Networking) has printed material used in defense and a legal committee that has stepped in and helped. See the link on the blogroll under Astrology Groups and Organizations for more info. Donna

  9. Thanks for this series, I am enjoying it. When you started out, did you observe the tendency to sometimes attract people who mirror and bring up parts of your own shadow issues that need working through? Perhaps I just have too many planets in the 7th house but therpists often talk about this mysterious tendency.

    • Hi, Jen. I had to laugh because if that mirroring effect is just for strologers starting out, then I’m still starting out after 40some years! Hopefully, after that many years, we quickly recognize the fun-house mirror when it’s shown to us.

      It’s both a good and bad thing–the more opportunities we have to see ourselves reflected, then hopefully the more we work on those qualities in ourselves. And the more we work on ourselves, the more helpful perspectives we have to offer clients who continue to show up with these issues.

      The real danger is in the astrologer who lacks self-awareness (and humility) and thus projects and reacts off those shadow sides of ourselves that clients bring in. That can be really destructive for the client. (Especially watch for that with Pluto/Scorpio contacts between the client’s chart and yourself.) Donna

  10. Desiderata, huh? Here’s another unfortunately rarely applied desideratum: tolerance. I know we all like to think of ourselves as such, but I’ve come to think that at the end of the day we’re all pretty much set in our ways and that what separates the intolerant from the tolerant is that at least the latter is ashamed of himself for being that way.
    I consider myself a very tolerant person, I’d never insult someone to his face, however, I’ve been told that when I don’t like something, my eyes freeze. Which makes me think that at least when you insult someone to his face, you give him the space/ground to fight back and defend himself.
    So, now that I’ve likely taken “tolerance” out of the equation of a possible answer, here’s the question:

    Where do you draw the line between being pleasant to the client and staying true to your beliefs? And since today we’re discussing marketing, allow me to put it in a more pedestrian way: To your experience, what could cost you more clients, being frank or being condescending?

    • That’s twice today I’ve gotten a good laugh from these questions. Okay, I take your point about staying true to your beliefs. But in the midst of a consultation that’s supposed to be focused on the client’s expressed needs, when is it being true to your beliefs and when is it imposing your values on a client?

      Suppose a client makes a politically incorrect remark that is off point for the session. Rather than a futile attempt to edify them and potentially getting into a hassle, I just bring the session back into focus by returning to our list of questions to be answered.

      Suppose, however, a client asks about something that is morally or ethically repugnant. AND has potentially destructive consequences.
      e.g. Can you tell from my chart when my old man is going to kick off and how much I’ll be getting in the will?
      e.g. Look at my husband’s chart and tell me if he’s having an affair.
      e.g. I want to get pregnant but my husband doesn’t want kids. Do you see a time when I might concieve?

      Any one of those questions makes me want to upchuck, but my social work training has instilled in me that I’m not to be judgemental of my freaking clients.

      However, the self-same training did teach me how to talk to clients about the possible consequences of their acts. Add to that the fact that I most likely can show them on their chart the transits that indicate their actions might backfire, and there’s maybe a way to handle things.

      Still it’s rough. Scumbags are scumbags, even when they’re paying you to listen to them. Donna

    • God, I’m naive! People actually ask stuff like that? Yikes!!
      On a more mainstream level, I was wavering between stating my own convictions (not in order to impose them on the client but as a means of getting them off the table or desempowering any possible implications they might have) or just sucking it up (at the risk that the client might intuitively pick up that huge “what the heck am I doing here” written all over my face).
      Which tactic would be less offputting to the client, and, most important, less undermining for the session?
      e.g. Someone asks for a reading in order to explore his past life incarnations. Do I mention that I’m a spiritually challenged atheist? If I do, he might feel that I’m being judgmental, If I don’t I’d feel like a fraud.
      And is there any way to say “though it happens that I don’t believe in the afterlife, I’d be happy to entertain your question” without getting myself in trouble?
      But I think I already got my answer :)

      • The person isn’t asking for a long explanation of your belief systems, they’re asking for a service you don’t provide. I’d just say, “That’s not something I do–you’d be looking for a past life reader or an evolutionary astrologer,” and if you were so inclined, you could give them a name or two. (Or, if you didn’t want to to lose the client, you could explain some of the other things a session could do for him.)

        A question like that shouldn’t be something that comes up unexpectedly in the course of a session. When you spoke to him about an appointment (on the phone or whatever), that would be the time to clarify what the session would cover, so he doesn’t come expecting past life information. And so you know what to prepare for the session. It’s kind of a negotiation so both parties know what the session will be about.

        My ebook, Counseling Principles for Astrologers, has a whole chapter devoted to setting the stage for the appointment. Donna

      • I’d be happy to devour it :)
        But I’m not thinking of going pro. I love astrology, but practicing it scares the hell out of me, not my thing, really. Plus, I’d suck at it!
        Uh, sometimes I daydream about going into astro-research, designing huge validation projects (you know how it is with virgos, they either have a vision or a colonoscopy appointment), but I’ll contain myself. (Through my Saturn return I made a promise to myself to become conventional and just go with the flow-and I intend to keep it. So, Caps, beware!! )
        Best

  11. Donna:
    I am in the midst of building my professional Astrology practice and I just want to thank you and the others for your enlightening comments. In a day and age where people have become the hoarders of knowledge as opposed to the sharers and distributers, all of the comments are truly encouraging to read. I wish yourself and all who commented a sense of meaning, success and prosperity in the coming new year !!

    • Hi, Jason, congratulations on starting your astrology practice! I’m glad you’re finding those Q&A sessions helpful. Stick around, I’ll be doing more of them in the course of 2011.

      I’m not just saying this to sell ebooks, but I wrote Counseling Principles for Astrologers: Becoming an Effective Change Agent precisely for those like yourself who are making the tough transition from astrology student to professional. It draws on my social work background, and I think you’d find lots of good tips there. (AND, if you bought it in the next couple of days, you could still get in on the Buy One Get One Free offer on ebooks. (http://www.moonmavenpublications.com) Donna


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