Tooting Your Own Horn, and Playing a Tune People Want (and Need) to Hear

My last two posts have focused on why it’s important for those who want to succeed as private patient advocates realize that their success won’t rely on just their advocacy skills. The bottom line is that success is NOT about an advocate’s skills. Success is dependent on the balance of perception, needs and knowledge on the part of potential clients and the capabilities of advocates to fulfill them. And that means that success is dependent on the advocate’s understanding of how to run and promote a business.

In other words: Succeeding in the business of private patient advocacy requires two things: good advocacy and good business. Neither can stand by itself. Good advocacy without business won’t succeed. Good business without good advocacy won’t succeed.

Last week, we took a look at two representative advocates to illustrate the concept; Dorothy Anderson is a former NICU nurse who hopes to help families with at-risk newborns make their transition home as safe and healthy as possible. Kurt Schaefer is a former hospital billing specialist who hopes to help people reduce their hospital and other medical bills. Both have impeccable skill sets and capabilities. But neither is succeeding – because they are not business-minded.

For balance sake, let’s try a third example. Katherine Lee is an entrepreneur who has decided patient advocacy is an up-and-coming field. Her business sense tells her that she can hire people with minimal skill sets, teach them how to be advocates, begin working on insurance plans to try to corral reimbursements, and pretty soon she’ll be chunking off her own pieces of the health insurance money pie.

It will probably upset you to learn that Katherine has a much better chance of initial success than either Dorothy or Kurt does.

Why? Marketing and business savvy.

You’ve probably heard the question, “If a tree falls in the forest, but no one is there to hear it, does it really make any noise?”

Let’s put our own spin on that question. “If a patient advocate has skills and starts a private advocacy business, but no one knows she has done so, does it really matter?”


Yes, that explains why we must focus so much initially on marketing skills. Your advocacy business is not a field of dreams. Just because you build it, does not mean clients will come. No matter how uncomfortable you are tooting your own horn, you must, must, must market your services so people know you are available to be hired. Dorothy, despite her impeccable skills with at-risk newborns hasn’t figured that out yet.

But there’s more. Again – about business, not advocacy.

We learned that Kurt has an outstanding skill set for his hospital billing review business. But the calls he keeps getting are for more nursing-oriented skills. He keeps turning away potential clients.

Kurt is missing two boats that would help him develop and grow his business. The first thing he’s missing is that potential clients – people who could hire him – are telling him what they want. Instead of trying to fulfill their needs, he is simply sending them away. Kurt should listen. LISTENING is one of the most necessary marketing and business skills any can have. If Kurt was listening and then acting on what people have asked him about, then he would begin figuring out ways he can help them. Two quick solutions come to mind: partnering with a nurse-advocate to provide a broader list of services, or hiring a nurse-advocate as an independent contractor for his business. Both approaches help him serve his clients and build his business.

The second boat he is missing is that he’s not keeping track of who these folks are, even if he can’t help them today. If they need medical advocacy, then there’s a good chance they will be hospitalized. At that point, they may need the bill review services he offers. He might ask them for an email address (where he can send his monthly marketing email), or ask them if it’s OK to follow up by phone in a few weeks. Just because he can’t help them today, doesn’t mean they won’t need his help in the future.

As for Katherine – don’t think she has no challenges just because she starts with the business orientation. As I mentioned – she is planning to hire people with minimal skill sets, then assign them to people who may have very complex needs. Unless she does a great job of hiring, then assigning the right people with the right skill sets to the right patients, then her business will fail, too. Poorly served clients will destroy her business using word-of-mouth. If she is truly savvy, she’ll realize that cutting costs by hiring “down” won’t work. She needs to find the right balance between the skill sets of her employees, and the pricing for clients in order to succeed. Again – it’s not about the advocacy. It’s about the business.

The original question addressed in his series of posts was “Who is qualified to be a patient advocate?” I hope the series has opened your eyes to possibilities – and to understanding better about what qualifies someone to succeed as a private patient advocate. The bottom line is that you need to assess your skills, then fill in the gaps for both the advocacy and business aspects. That’s the only way you will succeed.

If you missed any of the posts, here’s the list, in order:

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