There’s a guy who has developed the formula for determining winning lotto numbers correctly 92.6% of the time. He’s so good at determining those winning numbers that all 50 states, plus the Irish Sweepstakes and the Nigerian Lottery, have banned him from playing their games. He’s been escorted away from more scratch-off ticket vending machines than anyone can count. And he lives around the corner from you. Now – hold that thought.
Dorothy spent 28 years as a pediatric nurse, first in a busy peds practice where she had a marvelous reputation as a knowledgeable and caring professional. Then she spent many years in the neonatal unit of a busy hospital where she was part of a team that worked with some of the most at-risk babies to help them develop strong enough bodies to go home with their parents. In short, Dorothy was the consummate professional.
Now, for a number of reasons, Dorothy has decided to become a patient advocate, focusing specifically on helping families with at-risk newborns who need continued care after they leave the hospital. Her credentials are impeccable. Her business cards and website are professional. But so far, she hasn’t had a single client. The phone hasn’t even rung.
Kurt spent a number of years as a hospital accountant. He knows his way around a hospital bill, including understanding where hospitals can pad bills, and where the most mistakes are made. But then he got laid off, and as a result, decided he would become a medical and hospital billing advocate. So he made up his new business cards, got the local press to write about him and his advocacy work, and waited for the phone to ring. And it did! But the people who called were looking for someone to help them sort out their treatment options, or get a second opinion, or help with their newborn who was just being discharged from the NICU. And Kurt couldn’t help them with any of that.
Both Dorothy and Kurt, despite their excellent skills and experience, will go out of business before they even get started. Why? Not because they don’t have the skills and experience they need, but because the people who need them don’t know they are available to help. Remember that guy who can determine the winning lottery numbers for you, who lives right in your neighborhood? Think what you could do if you won the lottery! You need him to help you choose the right numbers! But you won’t ever hire him to choose your numbers – NOT because he can’t do it – but because you don’t know he’s there.
Previously we talked about who is qualified to be a patient advocate and concluded that advocates with all sorts of skills can be successful. Many people need advocacy services and are willing to pay for those services, but if no one knows you offer those services, or if they are looking for a variation on the services that you make available, then they won’t become your clients. Neither you, as the budding advocate, nor they, as potential clients with needs, will get what you need.
Whether you, as an advocate, CAN BE successful and WILL BE successful are two different things.
The difference is not in your skills or education or experience. The difference is in what others, your potential clients, know and perceive. If they don’t know about you, and perceive that you can help them, then they will never pick up the phone and ask you about your services, much less hire you and write you a check. On the other hand, if they DO know about your services, and perceive that you can be helpful to them, then they will hire you! In other words, your success isn’t about you. It’s about them. And it’s about your ability to be in a place they can find you, when they need you, clearly identified, and capable of doing the work.
It’s about using the right name for your business – in terms THEY understand. It’s about being online and able to be found in search engines or directories – when THEY go looking for you. It’s about tapping into word of mouth with current clients who are pleased with your work, because POTENTIAL CLIENTS will ask their friends. It’s about speaking to groups of seniors, or people with elderly parents, or pregnant moms who know they may be carrying babies who are at risk so that when THEY need you, then they will know how to get in touch with you.
Note: This does not discount skills and experience. Both are vitally important for growing a successful business. But you won’t ever get the opportunity to show off your skills and experience if your target audiences never know you exist, and therefore never hire you to begin with.
And that is why marketing is so important. Marketing is what creates those opportunities that will help you establish your track record and reputation, building on your skills and experience.
If you want to be successful in the business of private patient advocacy, then understand that you must have two capabilities: patient advocacy AND business. Just like Dorothy and Kurt, if you don’t understand what’s required on the business sides of your work, then you won’t be successful, no matter what your skills and experience levels.
Which takes us back to last week’s post about who can be a patient advocate. The answer is not about those advocacy skills. The answer is a combination. Next week we’ll look closer at Dorothy and Kurt to see how they need to better understand the business of patient advocacy. Which, of course, demands a shameless plug! If you are hoping to be a successful private patient advocate, you own it to yourself to better understand business, too. So take a look at:
- The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates
- APHA Workshops
- The Health Advocate’s Basic Marketing Handbook
This post is Part II of a three part series.
Part I: Forum Fireworks Tackle the Question: Who Is Qualified to Be a Patient Advocate?
Part III: Tooting Your Own Horn, and Playing a Tune People Want (and Need) to Hear