Finding Your Niche

Private Practice Success Newsletter, January 2014

By Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC

Do you have the itch to niche? One way to attract ideal clients is to target your market the right way, using a strategy that includes focus, research and ownership.

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In Maryland, where I live, its been a snowy and cold start to the year. This gives me lots of time to think about new year resolutions and I am listening to what the therapists I coach want for their practices in 2014. No surprise, many therapists hope that 2014 will bring them ideal clients — the clients that allow a therapist to do his or her best work.

Here is a strategy that I suggest to help therapists attract ideal clients in 2014: Be intentional and target your marketing efforts. Let me help you understand the wisdom behind targeting a market, or as one colleague says, “Scratching my itch to niche.”

Targeting a market means narrowing the types and numbers of clients you try to attract. You might think, “I need clients now. I will work with anyone. I have many skills and like to deal with a lot of issues and topics. I can work with all populations. What if by targeting my market I miss out on potential clients?”

While it sounds counter-intuitive to narrow your pool of clients, targeting a market is actually the most effective way to build a viable therapy business over time. This is both a marketing strategy as well as a business model. You are building a practice to last, right? You need to get ready for the long term. I want you to conserve your energy, your costs, and your time.

By targeting your market you will achieve three key marketing objectives:
•    Focus
•    Research 
•    Ownership 

First, get focused. Don’t make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people. This is understandable, because when you are hungry for clients, you fear rejecting any potential business. It makes sense, in your urgency, to believe that anyone and everyone is a possible client.

But take a deep breath and think this through: you need to have a marketing plan that is effective over time. You want to keep your marketing tasks and costs manageable, so you don’t get overwhelmed. By focusing clearly on a niche, a specialty, you can tailor your therapy message so that it has maximum impact.

When a business owner takes a focused approach to marketing, the conversion rate of potential to actual clients goes way up. You increase your return on investment (ROI). When you get focused, you can target people that are also focused—those potential clients who know what they want and need, and are looking for a therapist just like you.

Next, do some quick research. To build a receptive audience for your services, you need to really know your clientele. What do they need? Is there a service that is not being addressed or needs not currently met?

It’s easier to figure out the needs of the market if you narrow your approach. If your market is too broad, the market research (for example, understanding who your therapy clients are or what specific referral sources value) is too vast and daunting.

Finally, take ownership. With focus and research, you are in a position to offer the right people the right services. It’s time to brand yourself and present your expertise. You can be a big fish in a little pond. With a select market, it’s possible to build a reputation much faster than if you stayed with a broad, vast pool of generic clients.

Still trying to identify your specialty? A therapist can identify a niche in many ways, all based on your uniqueness. Maybe you will set yourself apart based on the issues you treat, population seen, services offered, methods, office locations and hours, or even consistent results. Any one of these can help people identify your practice from others.

Let’s look at this further, with an exercise, a case example, and a helpful checklist. First, the exercise:

Exercise: Find Your Niche
Answer the following questions to gain clarity.

  • Who is my specific target market?
  • How can I narrow this market even further?
  • What are the services, methods, benefits and results I offer to this market?
  • Is anything about my practice different from other practices? How can I highlight my uniqueness?
  • Am I passionate about my areas of specialty?
  • Could I build my reputation on this one specialty?

Case Study: Finding Your Niche

Tracey, a social worker, decided after much discussion that her niche or specialty would be based on her training in anxiety. She had completed two years of specialized training in severe anxiety and she loved the work.

To target this market–those with severe anxiety or diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, performance anxiety, social anxiety or other limiting anxiety disorders– I asked her to do some quick research.

I knew that Tracey had limited time for this research. She was busy, so she couldn’t approximate the kind of research done at a university or a marketing division of a company. But there was still information she could find through local channels that would help her in defining this niche.

She searched online and found support groups for OCD in her area and contacted two of them to find out about their groups, how many showed up for meetings, how active the chat groups were online, as a way of understanding the market.

She talked to a counselor at a nearby university counseling center about the prevalence of social anxiety and performance problems with students. Interestingly, this query also became a marketing win! The college counseling center said that this problem was on an increase and told her they needed resources for referrals. She was delighted to give them her card.

Emboldened by this, Tracey contacted every college or prep school counselor in a 5 mile radius around her office. She also queried 3 other therapists in her professional association known for treating severe anxiety. They said that their practices were full. This created concerns for her.

“If there are already therapists in this niche, why does it need one more?” she asked. “Is there room for me?” I told her that finding a number of other practices doing similar work did not need to be discouraging. Sometimes, it is just an indication of a need in the marketplace. Chances were good that her city could include at least one more therapist with this specialty.

Having done her research, Tracey felt confident and had solid reasons to own her choice of a niche. Her marketing plan was easier to create and achieve because it was specific and very focused. Not surprisingly, her practice began to fill within the first several months with what she felt were “the right clients.”

Checklist

My colleague Ben Dean, founder of MentorCoach, suggests the following list of considerations when targeting a market and finding your niche. His criteria are relevant for a psychotherapy practice as well as a coaching practice. While not all criteria are necessary for a successful niche, they are all worth considering. Here are his top 3 criteria, and then see the link below to his article with all 14.

* Passion. Do you feel passion for the niche? Are these the kinds of clients you would enjoy working with? Do you find the work you will be doing meaningful and satisfying? For those of us at midlife, this criterion is essential. It is not sufficient to be able to be highly compensated. The niche must be satisfying and fun.

* A Burning Need. Is there an intense, perceived need for the niche in the minds of your potential clients?  The more intense their pain (or conversely, the more attractive the benefit you help them realize), the more quickly will the niche respond to your efforts.

* Underserved. Is the niche underserved? As with Tracey, when considering a new niche, know how much is already being offered to the niche. How much competition do you face? What can help you differentiate yourself and your practice?

Want to know more? To see Ben’s entire list of 14 criteria, please click on this link below. (Quick note, Ben’s article is geared for coaches in private practice, but very relevant for therapists.) Here is the link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/coaching/niche-criteria.htm

More next time!

Lynn Grodzki