This post was contributed by
Cindi Gatton, Pathfinder Patient Advocacy Group
This really is the $64,000 question. Patient advocacy as a professional discipline is certainly better understood now than it was even 5 years ago. But it’s still not a household word. Even in professions where a license conveys a skill set and “hanging out a shingle” means potential customers might come looking for the service, newly minted lawyers and therapists will tell you that they have to make an investment in marketing their practices to be successful.
This requires creating a marketing plan that clearly articulates your unique value message and lists all the resources you’ll utilize to share information about your services with audiences that can generate qualified clients. A qualified client is someone whose needs align with the scope of your practice, and they have the means and desire to pay you for your work.
Theoretically, everyone in our society is a prospective client for us – Americans will average 9 encounters with the health care system in a lifetime, and each one of those is a potential opportunity for us to add value to their experience. Still, if a prospective client doesn’t know about or forgets that a private advocate is an option to improve their situation, the opportunity is lost.
I’ve observed two mistakes that are often made in building any kind of professional business. The first is to develop a great value message and deliver it to the wrong audience, that is prospective clients that aren’t qualified. The second mistake is believing that because there was interest in your message your audience is going to make referrals to you.
Adult learning principles are clear: A message has to be received 5 times for the average adult to recall it. This means even if you have the greatest value message ever, if a prospective client or referral source doesn’t know or forgets that a private advocate (you!) is an option to improve their situation, it’s an opportunity lost. Unfortunately “one and done” rarely produces results. You have to find ways to keep your message in front of your target audience several times before they’re likely to remember and refer to you when the need arises.
There are many options for a marketing plan that prospective advocates can evaluate based on personal skills and preferences, practice scope, and budget (time and money!). Initially this may just be business cards and a website, but ultimately has to also include other mediums that generate referrals of qualified clients.
Some advocates prepare and deliver group presentations; some prefer joining business networking groups; some identify target groups (EX. elder law attorneys) and meet with members individually. Presenting general health advocacy information is a great way to get in front on an audience, but if those presentations don’t close with the value message of private advocacy and specifically your practice you’ve not marketed your practice at all.
This is where a mentor can be enormously helpful. Refining your message (what will my clients realize in working with me), building a marketing plan (how do I reach my prospective clients), evaluating the results (what generated referrals and what didn’t) and tweaking the plan can be infinitely more effective and efficient with an experienced mentor and coach.
Taking your business public feel like you’re “tooting your own horn.” But if you trust your ability to help prospective clients, you are really educating prospective clients who will most certainly need you at some point about a high value service that can save them time and money. That isn’t self-promotion; that’s good business.