Having spent the past ten years working with therapists, coaches, and other mindset professionals, I have had the opportunity to discover one very important thing when it comes to how we choose our niche in order to build a thriving practice.
Mostly, we are doing it wrong. Or more accurately, most often we are coming at it from the wrong angle. And there’s another way to do it that’s a lot more fun, and ultimately, a lot more profitable.
As an early career therapist or coach, what’s the first thing you learn about building a successful practice? Well, you gotta have clients, right? And in order to have clients, you have to market yourself. And in order to market yourself, you have to figure out your X factor. You have to identify why you’re remarkable, irresistible, the go-to solution. As most of the wise people around you will say, “you have to find out and share why you are special.”
So. Why Are You Special?
Here’s the thing I’ve noticed. There’s two problems with asking this question, in this particular way. The first is that it can create an internal obstacle, in terms of our confidence as professionals in a service-oriented industry. The second is external, in that it can set us up to get a slower start in business.
In terms of the internal obstacle: An overwhelming amount of people who go into the healing/teaching professions are just not quite as interested in themselves as they are other people. Sure, we’re just selfish as the next person in terms of wanting personal satisfaction, but our personal satisfaction tends to come more from focus on others rather than focus on ourselves (which is great news, once I teach you the better way to ask this question, so stay tuned).
I’ve come up against this “why am I special?” barrier time and time again in my career, first as an academic, then as an entrepreneur, then as a coach and consultant. The answers that come just don’t seem extraordinary enough to clarify my focus or to classify as my special sauce: “Ummm, let’s see. I’m fairly smart, kind, empathic. I have a good if dark sense of humor. I’m a good listener and good with words. So, yeah, you should totally pay me $200 an hour for that. Yup!”
And there we see my inner uncertainty getting in the way of my outer ability to connect with clients and get paid well for good work. Are people going to pay that hourly rate just to be coached by someone smart, kind, and funny? Probably not, so long as I am still trying to answer the question “Why am I special?’
But here comes the magic shift, the miraculous hack. Take this in for a moment. Instead of worrying so much about why “I” am special, focus instead on why the client is special. And then, start building your entire business around that. You don’t have to do it all at once. Just get moving in that direction.
Remember that many of you tend to be more interested, more motivated to try new or hard things, when it comes to other people’s welfare? Start there. Start with them. You won’t believe how much easier it is to identify the special qualities of the kind of people who really light you up than it is to figure out why you are suddenly the only one-of-a-kind answer to their problems.
In an over-saturated mental health and mindset market such as we have here in Denver, Colorado, our economy no longer rewards the generalist – the undifferentiated therapist, personal coach, or career/business consultant. Instead, almost all the momentum – the opportunities, the money, the magic of worthwhile collaboration – flows toward the specialist.
Think about it – if you own a rare automobile , are you going to take it to the random garage down the street, or to an expert who specializes in that make of car? And guess what? Most people are even more nervous when it comes to handing their psyche over to an unknown professional. They want to know you’re an expert in their particular type of internal combustion engine before they let you pop the hood and start digging around.
Honestly? The only thing that matters to them, the only thing that makes you special, is the results you produce for them. They don’t care that much about how or where you learned. They care about having a car that works.
Having helped hundreds of therapists to find their specialized niche over the past several years, I’ve got a pretty good sense of your next dilemma. As one early career therapist said to me shyly last month, “Everyone is telling us to niche but no one is showing us how, or what happens if we pick the wrong group of people or the wrong kind of problem. Also, as much as I’m fascinated by young adults, I’m worried I’ll get bored and burnt out real fast with a practice crammed full of teenage cutters.”
I love this brilliant summary! This counselor just voiced the 3 major fears that keep therapists from niching:
1) Getting it “wrong.”
2) Losing potential clients, money, or opportunity.
3) Losing your mind from boredom, losing passion through monotony.
Here’s three good things to know to help you address those fears.
A) Just because you build your practice to specialize in a certain type of client with a specific kind of challenge does NOT mean that these are the only people you’ll ever see. Think of this specialization as the center circle on a bullseye target. There will be other rings of people coming in who will vary in interesting ways from that original profile.
B) You don’t have to choose a niche and instantly rebrand every aspect of your practice to fit that niche. You could get started today by writing a blog post for a certain kind of client with a certain kind of problem, just exactly as I am doing here. Therapists make up the single biggest percentage of all my clients, but I also work with other kinds of experts in personal and professional transformation.
C) And nobody’s saying, by the way, that you aren’t special. You are special, and you can use that individuality to connect with a target clientele that is very much like you, because you share a similar experience. One client of mine began focusing on treating Fortune 500 men with sex and porn addictions. Guess where he learned about that? Same is true for the client focusing on helping women who’ve been bullied in high-performance careers, or the client who’s now become a world expert on the unique challenges of being an adult twin.
Hopefully, this information is helping to ease “the b*tch that is the itch of the niche.” But if you are still feeling nervous about choosing a niche, if declaring a specialization makes you sweat, please know that you are not alone. This is a really tricky thing to figure out, especially for people who are devoted to helping and healing others. Especially for humanitarian therapists who have been trained to treat “everybody.”
As to the “how” problem of niching, I have two recommendations: First, start by creating your own list of people (real, fictional, friends, famous people, family, etc.) that light you up, and look to discover what unexpected things they might have in common. What challenges or fears do they face? Why do their choices or their character inspire you? Look beyond demographics (adults, children, couples, teens, etc.) into the psychology, or what the business folk call “the psychographics.”
Second, register for one of our Supertight Couch “Holy Trinity of Therapist Niche” workshops, such as they
one we’re presenting this Saturday, September 22, for the Colorado Counseling Association.
Whether you choose to get in the hot seat or just to observe, you’ll start to get great ideas for your own perfect, unique, and utterly authentic therapy niche.