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Why Lifelong Advocates Can Fail at Independent Advocacy

Many of you, despite the fact that you have developed outstanding patient advocacy skills, will not succeed as independent private advocates, because you don’t act on one important distinction.

Doesn’t seem right or fair, does it?

So what’s that distinction? Let’s try a metaphor:

Colleen has always loved houses, and has been the admin in a real estate company for almost 30 years. She has handled details upon details for others – from seller contracts to purchaser contracts, from hiring inspectors, to setting and retrieving signs on a property’s front yard. She knows her stuff, she’s done it all, she’s seen it all, and now she’s decided she wants to do real estate work on her own. So Colleen earns her sales and brokers licenses, quits her job, and goes into business for herself.

houseColleen does everything she thinks she’s supposed to do to be successful. She makes up business cards and some flyers. She builds a website. She lets everyone in her neighborhood and her church know that she’s got decades of real estate experience, and now she’s ready to help them list or buy a house. Her phone rings on occasion, but… The business just doesn’t come in to support her well enough. Eventually she is forced to take a part time job so she can pay some of her bills. But, of course, if people call her for help right away and she’s at her job, she misses the opportunity.

Six months later, Colleen is forced to give up her dream of being in business for herself, doing the real estate work she is passionate about. She can’t support herself. Not enough people call her. But she just doesn’t understand it – Colleen can’t figure out why she can’t build a business.

What Colleen missed, the reason she can’t succeed, is the same reason many of you who read this will go out of business, too. Until you recognize it and act on it, you are doomed to fail (unless, of course, you win the lottery and can be a patient advocate for free, with no worry about income….)

What Colleen missed is the distinction between being an expert, and being in business.

What you may be missing is the distinction between being a patient advocate, and being in the patient advocacy business. They are related, but they aren’t the same thing. They require different knowledge bases and different skills – and unless you are versed in, and can execute both, you cannot succeed.

Being a patient advocate means you must know how to shepherd a client through the hurdles the healthcare system throws at them – whether you are a medical/navigational advocate, or doing research for clients, or helping them master their bills. As a patient advocate, you offer, and are hired, to perform one or more of those services.

Being in the patient advocacy business has very little to do with patient advocacy at all. It’s only small nuances different from being in the real estate business or being in the pizza business or owning a gift shop. The emphasis, and the knowledge base needed, is on BUSINESS. The type of business, at first, is only tangential.

As Colleen got started, no matter how skilled at selling real estate she was, she did not know how to start, run, or build a business.

You may be the best patient advocate in the world, highly trained, years of experience, understanding the ins-and-outs of healthcare like no other, living in an area where thousands of people need your skills. But if you don’t understand how to run a business, you will not succeed.

How many restaurants have you ever dined at that served excellent food, but they went out of business? How many cleaning services or auto repair shops or [insert type of business here] have you heard about that went out of business? No matter how excellent their food, products or services – they just couldn’t stay in business. Why?

growHere are some of the specifics – just to give you a better flavor of the distinction:

  • capitalization – it takes 3-5 years to know whether a business will succeed. If you don’t have enough money before you start, you’ll run out before you have a solid footing.
  • cash flow – if your client doesn’t pay you until next month, how will you pay your bills this month? [see capitalization]
  • budgeting – if you don’t understand all your costs (including the cost of your phone, or your internet access, your business cards, or the gas in your car) then how will you know what it costs to be in business?
  • pricing – if you don’t understand the balance between what your costs are and what people will pay you, how do you know what to charge?
  • profitability – what’s the difference between your costs and what you can keep? Instead of making money, is it costing you money to be in business?
  • liability / errors & omissions insurance – how will you cover your own backside if something goes wrong?
  • marketplace – if your potential clients don’t recognize the problems they are having, how will they know to call you?
  • marketing (not the same as marketplace) – if your potential clients don’t know you exist, how will they know to call you?
  • customer service – what do your clients expect from you that has nothing to do with your advocacy skills?

See what I mean? Passion and advocacy skills aren’t enough by themselves.

Which, of course, is why APHA, The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, exists. We are in the business of helping advocates with business. AND why PracticeUP! Online exists: to teach you specific skills.

Is it possible that distinction is what is keeping you from success as a private patient advocate? Want to know how to fix that situation? Join us!


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