Have you ever whittled a stick before? When I was 8, my grandfather taught me how to carve wood in his workshop. For weeks, my favorite pastime was finding a nice block of wood, chopping off the bark, smoothing it down, and cutting off all the excess pieces until a final image appeared.
If you’ve ever watched a master woodcarver or ice sculptor, you know how it feels to see an ordinary object transform into a work of art.
Every natural health practitioner has the opportunity to serve a very specific, clearly defined group. Instead of meeting all needs and conditions for a vast number of people, niching your practice allows you to be selective. When you “whittle down” to just a handful of options (thus avoiding the Paradox of Choice), people actually start to pay more attention.
Selecting a niche means focusing on one specific area of service, condition, demographic, or a combination all three.
While not everyone agrees with me, I believe you cannot be “everything to everyone.” It’s very difficult to set yourself apart in the marketplace if your practice tries to serve all needs. The 15th century monk John Lydgate famously said, “You can satisfy some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time; but you cannot satisfy all of the people all the time.”
“But Grace,” you might be thinking, “That’s never going to work. My patients will stop coming to my practice. I’ll lose money. I won’t be able to help as many people.”
A beautiful thing happens when you “niche down”: Your value proposition actually becomes more clear. You get more referrals. And ultimately, your ideal patients (the ones you enjoy serving and who benefit the most from your services) are magnetically attracted to your message.
Here is what can happen when you focus on a single niche:
1. People remember you.
Your practice becomes “top of mind” when they hear about a specific need or problem someone is experiencing.
2. You get to choose who you serve.
Let’s be honest. You don’t really want to serve everyone, do you? Certain patients are just more pleasant to be around. They respond better to treatment. And they’re thrilled with your service. Those are your ideal patients.
Not every patient is a perfect match for what you do. And as a practitioner, it is your responsibility to guide everyone through the process of deciding whether YOUR service is a good fit for THEIR needs.
By selecting a niche, you have the ability to hand-pick the patients who best match your philosophy and treatment methods. For everyone else, you can refer them to another qualified provider. (This also eliminates the dreaded “80/20 Patients,” who take most of your time but only contribute a fraction toward the bottom line).
3. You attract the best clients.
Ideal patients aren’t just the ones who are fun to be around. They’re also upfront about their symptoms, show up to appointments on time, respect your policies and procedures, and pay without complaint.
It’s worth your while to retain these types of patients, and to gently say auf wiedersehen to everyone else.
Rather than serving “everyone,” your goal should be to determine who is out there looking for you. For them, your service is irresistible. It’s just a matter of making sure they know you exist.
Once you’ve identified the target patients, capture their attention using every means possible: writing, videos, public speaking, research papers, seminars, webinars, mailers… whatever can best attract (and keep) their attention.
4. You stand out in the marketplace.
Too. Much. Information!
We are hit with with thousands of messages every single day. And if you’re an introvert (like me), you feel even more overwhelmed by data overload.
The natural health marketplace is still far from mainstream, but it is getting more crowded. Consumers are bombarded with flashy websites featuring quack doctors and sham products (placebos are now shown to cause more harm than good). And when they can’t find what they’re looking for, desperate patients may give up the search for an effective natural healing method and either continue suffering, or resort to invasive treatment options.
To counteract this, your message needs to be very clear.
- What benefit do you provide?
- How can your patient’s life improve?
- Why are people deciding to use your service, and not another provider’s?
Consider asking your current (ideal) patients these questions, and be open to hearing their honest response. We often have hidden “blind spots” that keep us from seeing our business the way others see it.
You can also use a PESTEL analysis, which allows you to evaluate the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal opportunities and vulnerabilities of your target market.
5. You are seen as an expert.
Specializing in a single niche area can be scary. “What if people won’t find me?” you might wonder.
Obviously, there’s a balance between generic and overly specific. “I only serve retired schoolteacher marathon runners who have a collapsed arch on the left foot” might be a little too niched-down.
But when done correctly, a niche can provide an international platform. Your laser-focused topic allows you to deep-dive into that one specific condition or treatment method.
As a result, your website, marketing material, and community outreach will reflect your knowledge as the expert in that one area. Instead of limiting your patient reach, niche practitioners are actually more sought-after. I have seen patients drive hundreds of miles, give up a week’s vacation, book a hotel room, and spend their hard-earned savings to see a practitioner who specializes in a condition that no other provider has been able to solve.
6. “What you do” becomes magnetic.
Saying “I’m an doctor and I serve everybody” is as boring as a slice of white bread. But saying, “I’m a Naturopathic Doctor and specialize in [condition] turn into/feel/become [outcome],” then we’re talkin’ avocados & heirloom tomatoes with Sriracha mayo on a slice of sprouted-grain bread!
Specializing makes it much easier for people to decide which “box” to put you in. We all use the box method to simplify our complex world: we subconsciously organize incoming information into mental categories for later retrieval. By defining what you do succinctly, people know exactly which “box” to put you in.
You become “The [Condition] Doctor.” The next time they hear about that condition, guess who they will think of first? Well you, of course.
7. You get more high-value referrals.
Once people know what you do, they can refer ideal patients to you. This can happen through word-of-mouth referrals, introductions, social media sharing, and referrals from other providers and services.
8. Patients immediately realize they need your services.
Let’s say a new potential patient comes in for a consult, but you quickly discover she is not an ideal fit for your practice.
- Can’t afford your services
- Isn’t a good candidate for your specialty
- Is unlikely to respond well to treatments
- Isn’t very respectful of your policies and procedures
- Doesn’t agree with your core values and philosophy
- Is hiding details about her symptoms and health concerns
- Arrived late and doesn’t have good boundaries
- Is obviously unable to pay for your services, or seems resistant to paying on time
- Complains a lot
You can certainly still accept this patient into your care. However, it might be good to consider other options. You could:
- Recommend the patient see a different specialist. Don’t feel guilty for saying, “I’ll refer you to a great doctor who can better serve your needs.”
- Offer limited services for a specific timeframe. Invite the patient to attend a workshop, community event, or only offer one type of service.
- Require payment upfront. If you have reason to believe the patient will not be paying you on time, ask for payment before you schedule the appointment.
- Create a detailed “Practice Agreement” that clearly spell out your policies and procedures. This is great thing to include in your standard onboarding process.
- Provide pro bono (free) care. In my experience, arbitrarily offering a deeply discounted rate can be perceived as favoritism. Pro bono services should only account for about 5% of your scheduled visits, with 95% of visits billed and paid at the full amount.
9. You can eliminate “80/20 Patients.”
Even in the most efficient practice, a few patients take up the majority of your time. In economic terms, the “80/20 Rule” helps to determine which few actions produce the highest-value result. Most of the headaches in a healthcare practice are due to a handful of patients. Maybe it’s patients with a particular condition. It might be people who expect a different outcome than what your practice can provide. You might find that most of your rejected claims are coming from one insurance type.
The most effective way to streamline your practice by making a clean break from patients who are not providing value. This could be due to a bad personality fit or a lack of boundaries (which is a type of strategic vulnerability). Patients could be taking advantage of your generosity, are chronically late, don’t pay on time, etc.
I know a lot of natural health practitioners who have trouble saying goodbye to 80/20 patients.
- They build strong relationships and feel guilty letting them go.
- They don’t want to let the person down.
- They are afraid of hurting the patient’s feelings.
- They worry “If too many patients leave, I’ll have to close my practice.”
And yet, these practitioners face a tremendous loss of revenue by letting “bad-fit patients” stay. Consider these soul-searching questions:
- How many hours are you spending with patients who demand more attention that average?
- What effect does this have on your remaining 80% of patients who aren’t getting access to you?
- What is your time worth?
- Which few tasks directly impact your revenue? Only 3 or 4 activities move the needle closer to your strategic goals. What are they?
- How many hours are you spending on those essential tasks? (It should be around 90%)
Imagine how much more effective your practice could be if every patient respected your practice’s policies, paid without complaining, and is an outspoken advocate for your services.
Once you niche your practice and usher out the 80/20 Patients, you’ll start providing each patient with even more value. Every service you provide will be profitable, satisfying, and specific to every patient’s needs.
10. Your website is SEO friendly.
People are looking for specialists. Their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) results are directly related to the content you are adding to your site.
You’ll get higher SEO ratings if your content is:
- relevant (fits your ideal patient’s most urgent pain points),
- consistent (you are posting or adding new items on your website at least twice a week),
- searchable (post titles and content include popular keywords; try using Google Trends), and
- evergreen (the content won’t feel outdated if it’s viewed in a year or two).
Recently, I was looking for a pediatric physician in my area who treats a particular condition. It was surprisingly difficult to find info online; I learned that many of my local providers don’t even have a website.
When you use the right keywords, your ideal patients will have an easier time finding your website. Which means you can serve their needs.
11. Long-term planning is easier.
Once you know exactly who you serve and which specific problems you solve, strategic planning becomes much less time consuming. You’ll suddenly be able to eliminate all the extra “fluff”:
- If a new service line or product doesn’t fit your future goals, you can eliminate it without guilt.
- When you’re approached with an opportunity, you can easily decide whether it fits with your long-term goals or not.
- Because you are concentrating on services with the highest ROI (Return on Investment) and patients who are most ideal, you will find it easier to analyze risks using these tools:
Best of all, you can have complete clarity about where you’re going and why (which I call the “VMVOM”).
There you have it: eleven reasons you should consider niching your practice. Which are the most compelling for you?
If you need help making your practice more balanced, schedule a free call so we can talk in more detail.
Grace LaConte is a Strategic Risk Expert who helps Complementary and Integrative Health practitioners to find and fix organizational vulnerabilities. Using her experience as a Risk Officer and Director in healthcare and technology companies, Grace shares a refreshingly honest approach to uncovering hidden risks and opportunities. Learn more at http://laconteconsulting.com, or connect with her on Twitter @lacontestrategy.