How Wearing the Right Shoes Can Define Your Success

In the midst of this spring’s APHA Academy, we are working on marketing lessons.

Marketing – that very necessary planning step in client acquisition that forces us to figure out WHO needs our services, WHY they need our services, and HOW best we can communicate the information they need to hire us.

We do that by defining our target audiences, figuring out what motivates them to hire us, then making sure we provide messages supportive of that goal.

Now, granted, that sounds like a lot of marketing-speak! So instead, let me phrase it more simply:

We learn to walk a mile in our potential clients’ shoes.

This scenario will help you better understand:

For the past several years, Genevieve has advocated for cancer patients, specifically those with unusual cancer diagnoses. She helps them find their best treatment options, even those located hundreds of miles away. Now she wants to morph from being a volunteer to offering paid advocacy services.

The enormous difference between what Genevieve has been doing as a volunteer, and what she wants to do now, is that she will need to find a steady stream of paying clients – a business task, not an advocacy task. Genevieve needs to plan how to make that leap from “a friend told me to call you” – to – “I found one of your flyers and would like to talk to you about your paid services.”

Genevieve may be a fine advocate, but learning to plan and do marketing well will be all new to her.

So where do those shoes come in?


They help us better understand our approach to crafting the right messages. Consider this conversation:

Me: So, Genevieve – who will hire you and pay you advocate for them?

G: Anyone who is sick and needs help getting what they want.

Me: That’s waaayyy too general. Let’s see if we can narrow it down. What kinds of services do you want to offer, and who would hire you to do the work you want to do? Who is your potential client?

G: Anyone with cancer! I like to work with cancer patients who are early into the process of trying to figure out what their path forward is.

Me: Anyone with cancer? Any kind of cancer? Or any stage of cancer? or?

G: I do best helping with more unusual cancers. The ones that are harder to figure out treatment for. 

Me: So – anyone with a more unusual form of cancer. Why do you think they would hire you and pay you instead of expecting you to work for free?

G: Because they think they aren’t getting all the information they need, or because they are having trouble making a decision about treatment. Paying a professional makes sense to them.

Me: Let’s see if we can make this even simpler. Let’s walk a mile in their shoes. Describe to me the perfect client – the person who, if they called you, would realize you can help them exactly the way they need help, and would therefore be willing to pay you to do so.

G: OK. The perfect person would be newly diagnosed with an unusual cancer and they feel like they are in over their heads and want help.

Me: Good start! So – let’s say that person is Leona. Leona has just been diagnosed with, say, adrenal cancer. Put on Leona’s shoes… let’s take a walk. As Leona, where is your head? Why have you called Genevieve?

G: (slowly…. ) I’ve just been diagnosed. I’m thinking about all the information my doctor gave me. I’m thinking about the decisions I have to make. I’m worried that I will need surgery, or chemo, or radiation, or…. (a little faster….) I’m thinking about what will happen to my family if something happens to me! I’m thinking about how much work I might miss. (running!…) I’m wondering if I will survive! I’m wondering how sick I’ll get from treatment. I’m wondering if I can afford treatment! All those things.

Me: yes – of course you are! And THAT is what wearing Leona’s shoes can do… When you walk a mile in them, you learn that for most callers, it’s actually less about the facts of the cancer or the diagnosis, and more about all the fears and feelings that surround those details. Wearing your clients’ shoes helps you better understand their mindset. So – now you have a better understanding of where Leona’s head is. What will you do with that information?

G: (ponders for a few minutes… ) I guess I want to reassure her that I can help her sort out those feelings, and help her move forward taking them all into account.

Me: Bingo! yes! that’s right!

G: I need to be an advocate for Leona. But I need to spend a lot of time reassuring her. Bringing her PEACE OF MIND.

When you think about marketing, do you do so by walking a mile in your perfect potential clients’ shoes? Do you see the world from their points of view? How well do you understand their frame of mind? Are you defining their challenges for them? Or are you, instead, listening to how THEY define the problem, attempting to walk in their shoes, then responding? (A much smarter approach.)

Most un-marketing-sophisticated independent advocates, instead, insist on walking in their OWN shoes. Their websites, brochures, public speaking, and other marketing are full of “I” statements – all about them. “I can do this.” “I have done that.” “I have experience with this.” Such statements are less useful to a potential client who is leading with emotion, whose thought process just isn’t as clear as it might be without all that emotion.

Is your marketing full of “I” statements? Or is your marketing about them and what THEY need?

So many advocates find they lose sight of what their clients really want and need in the face of tasks and practice management. Your advocacy success is NOT about what you do or the services you provide! It’s about trying on a client’s shoes, then helping them walk that mile – together.

If you can do that – figure out, then communicate exactly what they want (usually, in total, peace-of-mind) then your marketing will be far more successful, and your practice will be, too.


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