deep black hole

Doing What You Love Right Into a Hole

Each week I’m contacted by a handful of people who have just begun thinking about becoming professional patient or health advocates. Often they share long stories – many paragraphs or several minutes long… describing years of advocacy for a loved one, or a resume full of nursing experience, as if they need to convince me that they would make a good advocate or they run the risk of not hearing back from me.

These long, heartfelt messages are about the intersection of passion for advocacy – and the wish to use that passion to make a living. Advocacy fits them. They love it! They’ve been doing it for a long time. They have enjoyed their journey as advocates so far, have usually been frustrated in some way by a system that wants to thwart good outcomes for patients, they see how it can improve, and now they want to be advocates in this very different, independent way – and be paid for doing it.

But I worry about most of them.

I worry about them because too often they don’t seem to realize that there’s a big difference between doing what you love, and doing what you are good at.

Even more so, I worry that they don’t seem to realize that “what you are good at” needs to be at least as much about running a business, tending to important business tasks and details, as it does about being a good advocate. Further that, at first, the business emphasis is even more important than being a good advocate.

When I write or return the phone call, I acknowledge their experiences and then (often bursting a bubble even though that’s not the intent) – I tell them that unless they tend to the BUSINESS of being an advocate in private practice, then they will not be successful. Put another way, the very best advocate in the world has already failed at advocacy as a profession, because she didn’t tend to business details. And the very worst advocate in the world is succeeding mightily because she knows how to run a business and market herself.

Before I ever hang up the phone, or, based on what I observe next from the email contacts, I can usually tell whether someone will be successful.

business modelIf they are willing to hear the message of “business first” – then they are on the path to success. They usually join the Alliance, they usually begin to participate in the APHA Forum, they register to listen to our expert speakers during Call-ins. They engage in the business aspects of the work, knowing that the business aspects will allow them the freedom to be good advocates, no matter what flavor of advocacy they want to serve.

They begin immediately working on their business skills in order to support their advocacy skills. They are on the path to success.

Into the Deep Black Hole

If I don’t hear back from them because they have dismissed my advice, then I can be pretty sure they will not succeed. Not willing to hear the gospel of “invest in yourself up front” and “market your services based on these patient needs” they quit their jobs, hang out their advocate shingle, print up some business cards, then wait for the phone to ring. A few months later, they have spent time and money into a deep black hole of “now what am I going to do?”? They are frustrated, broke (and broken) and wondering what hit them. After all, they LOVE advocacy! They are GOOD at it! They were SURE they would be successful!

But you can’t take LOVE and GOOD to the bank. It won’t pay the mortgage and it won’t feed the kids. LOVE and GOOD need to be accompanied by GOOD BUSINESS PRACTICES in order for them to be successful.

So – let’s spread some love this Valentines Week. I imagine almost every successful – or on the path to successful advocate who reads this post has an example to share of how tending to the business of advocacy allows them the freedom to have a profession they feel passionate about….

What’s your business of advocacy story? It will help the next reader who’s thinking he or she can ignore this advice.

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Agree? Disagree?

Share your experience or join the conversation!


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2 thoughts on “Doing What You Love Right Into a Hole”

  1. A great story Trisha and a hard one for many to hear. I teach courses in patient advocacy and too often I find students passion for the work so much greater than their interest in running a business. Thanks for helping enthusiasts to do a reality check.

  2. I must admit I see myself in areas of this article. I am still learning about the business part but have some experience in this area just not for myself. Although the skills I do have are invaluable. The few areas I have a problem with is the marketing needed and not having instant gratification. Meaning after 5 months not one client BUT I have had inquiries. This weighs heavy on me. The other area is not realizing how difficult it would actually be! Each month does bring something new in learning but it is costly. My husband is working on a website for me which of course takes more than you would think when you are amateur. Of course the passion of have is taking care of people/patients and helping them. Getting them to want help is another matter or sadly they want it for free. I look forward to having my first patient! I believe that is where it all comes together!

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