Business Planning

How to Choose a Practice Specialty

I know I’m always nagging at you to choose a practice specialty. Now I should probably give you a few tips on HOW to do that. Wouldn’t that be helpful?

Let’s start here: Who is your ideal client?

But, before I start discussing your ideal clients, I need to remind you I’m big on building innovative practices. Innovative as in “new,” “creative,” “not already done.”

What is done now are generalist, pseudo-specialty practices. These are businesses that serve everyone, or say they specialize in working with adults, children, or couples. In my mind, these are not specialties, they are categories and do nothing innovative or exciting.

So, let’s talk about your ideal clients, shall we?

From the outset, I must tell you a hard fact: You are not good at treating everyone. In fact, there are some people you have no business treating at all. For me, this is anyone over the age of 50. Never in all my training did I ever work with someone over the age of 50. Who should you never work with?

The good news is, there are lots of people out there who you are very qualified to help and I want you to focus on them.

And I want you to focus so hard, in fact, that you are going to determine a specific group of people you are fabulous at helping. This will be your specialty. It will grow your practice beyond measure. Without a specialty you cannot market (well, you can, but it will be a complete waste of time and money) or grow your business. This is not a scare tactic, it is how small business works in 2010. I don’t have time to go into the reasons for this in detail. If you want to hear more about it, listen to my “Way of the Biz Savvy Therapist” audio (also free on the blog!).

So, let’s do a little exercise on your ideal clients.

  • Write down the qualities of the people you have worked with in the past: men, women, children, ages, diagnoses, etc.
  • Which of these clients do you feel you were most effective at helping? Who do you help best?
  • Which clients did you enjoy working with the most? Which cases allowed you to use your best skills and feel fulfilled?

Now look at your lists. Is there any overlap (I sure hope so)? Do you see a pattern? Can you discern a specialty?
But, what exactly is a specialty?

A specialty typically has 2 main elements:

  • a specific demographic of people (children, adolescents, women, men, singles, couples, gay men, lesbian women, etc.)
  • with a specific concern/diagnosis (grief, PTSD, anxiety, chronic pain, obesity, depression, ADHD, autism, high blood pressure, etc.)

Some examples:

Children with ADHD

Women/men with chronic pain

Men of retirement age

Divorcing couples who disagree on parenting arrangements

Singles who are looking for a life partner

Women with fibromylasia

Depressed/anxious teens

Post-partum women

Cancer survivors

Men/Women in recovery from alcohol/drug abuse

Parents of children with special needs

Executives with health concerns related to stress

Parents who have lost a child

Athletes trying to improve performance

Unemployed people looking for work

Artists blocked in the creative process

Make sense? The possibilities are endless.
For those of you afraid of a specialty

I know for many of you, those specialties look too narrow. You want to open your doors to more people because you worry that there will not be enough clients in one specialty area to fill your practice.

But the truth is, there are MORE than enough clients for each specialty. In fact, by specializing you make it easier for people to send you referrals or to choose to call you up and make an appointment. For example, if you just completed treatment for breast cancer, but feel overwhelmed, anxious and scared that it will reoccur, or that your daughter might eventually get diagnosed, would you rather talk to a therapist who seems nice, but is not a specialist in this type of thing, or would you rather talk to someone who works exclusively with cancer survivors? Given the choice, who would you choose? Would you travel 10, 20, 40 miles to meet with this person if they really understood you? Would you be willing to pay out of pocket for such a specialist?

Imagine this scenario for parents of children with special needs, or someone who struggles with chronic pain. When you specialize, and offer high quality care, people will seek you out. Your practice will be full.

In my own experience, I specialize in working with children with executive dysfunction (most diagnosed with ADHD, autism or learning disabilities) and their families. I have clients drive up to 75 miles to come to my office. And I have coaching clients all over the US. Many pay me out of pocket. Does my specialty seem narrow? Absolutely! And it is that narrow specialty that I attribute to my success.
Action step:

Do the ideal client exercise above. Do some serious thinking about your specialty area. Try to come to terms with your internal process and emotions about identifying a treatment specialty. If it feels uncomfortable, that is fine, but don’t allow yourself to get scared back to a generalist model because it is comfy and safe. If this exercise really freaks you out, send me an email or talk this out with a colleague or friend (ideally one who understands business). The truth is, there is no risk in establishing a specialty. If you try it for a few months and it doesn’t pan out you can always go back to the generalist way of things. But I know you won’t have to go back there. Try it for awhile and see how it feels. The truth is you will need to know who your ideal client is before building any more pieces of your business. So take some time with this and let me know if you need help.

And comment below about your specialty area, or what your considering, or where you are stuck. We need some more activity here on the blog! Let’s work together, rather than sit with all this newness alone!

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