So here’s the thing: You’re still not sure about this whole “narrowing down a niche” idea.
Whenever someone asks you about your niche (or your ideal client, or your preferred population, or your target market), a little part of you dies inside.
Lately, you’ve been feeling this pressure to define an exact, specific client population that you will serve for the rest of your life.
Well Fuck. That.
You were trained in models, not people. You learned the importance of taking a client-centered treatment approach so that you could work with a wide variety of clients in many situations. In fact, part of the reason you chose your graduate program was because you knew the training you were going to receive would prepare you to help people in all walks of life, not just one tiny part of the population.
Fast-forward a few years. You’re finally building that private practice you always dreamed of, and you’re daydreaming of being able to live out your life’s purpose by helping so many hurting people.
Then someone asks you the question.
Person: So, what is your niche?
Person: You know, your niche. Like, who’s your ideal client?
You: I don’t know. The one who pays me?
WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL, AND WHY DO I NEED A NICHE?!
I'll tell you why. Actually, I'll give you 5 really badass reasons why.
But first, I’m gonna paint a scenario for you.
Let’s play pretend, shall we?
Ok, so you’re a white man in your late forties, and you’re finally starting to feel like you’re getting your freedom back. Your teenaged children spend more time either with their friends or at your ex-wife’s house, leaving you more time than ever before. Your white-collar, professional job pays you well, and you’re finally getting the respect that you’ve worked so hard for and deserve.
You’ve made it.
A few of your buddies have recently bought expensive sports cars, but you’re wanting something a little more thrilling, something that makes you feel alive. You think back to the “good ole’ days” when you used to ride your dad’s brand-new Honda CBR600F: The Hurricane. You felt so free then, and now it’s time to bring back those memories with something that is the epitome of power and prestige.
A Great American icon.
Where do you turn?
Regardless of how you personally feel about Harley Davidson motorcycles (or the fact that they’re so fucking loud when they ride up next to you that you’ve weighed the pros and cons of serving time for voluntary manslaughter), there’s no denying that this company has done a bang-up job marketing to their people: Those who are about a certain image, experience, and tradition, those who believe Harley Davidson isn’t just a motorcycle brand – it’s a way of life. People who ride Harley’s are loners who ride in packs, demonstrating their solidarity and loyalty to this Made in America brand.
Someone who walks into a Harley Davidson dealer didn’t just end up there accidentally. They came in to buy, and they know exactly what model they want. There’s no haggling, because this person is chomping at the bit to join the club, the HOG (Harley Owners Group). It’s not about the money they’re about to spend; it’s what is about to happen to them when they become proud owners of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Harley Davidson has a niche. And their niche has made them one of the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturers, with a total equity of over $3 billion.
Every successful company has a niche, an ideal client, a target market.
Are you a techie Millenial? You probably own a few Apple products.
Are you an older person (65+) who needs a way to keep in touch with your grandchildren? You probably own a Consumer Cellular or Great Call phone. You also still have a house phone, just for “emergencies.”
If you’re a mother of 3 small children and need a car, odds are you’re at the Honda dealership looking for a deal on a new Odyssey. Or maybe you’re debating between that and a Toyota Sienna.
If you’re a young professional who wants to ride in luxury, you’re most likely at the Mercedes-Benz dealership.
If you’re in your thirties looking to buy a gift for someone, you’re probably browsing Amazon while the latest episode of some series you’re binge-watching is on Netflix in another window.
When it comes to beer companies, they target everyone from women who want to drink without the guilt (Skinnygirl Wine), to hipsters who’ve moved beyond cheap, college beers (craft beers). There’s even a beer for people who don’t actually drink alcohol (O’Doul’s) – genius!
If you’re someone who hasn’t jumped on the “niche” bandwagon, it’s probably because you’re afraid that if you narrow down a niche, you’ll get stuck only working with one type of client forever and ever and (fucking) ever.
Let me be the first person to say that this scenario truly sounds awful. I would hate to see the exact same type of person/presenting problem day in and day out for the rest of my career.
But that’s actually not the point of a niche.
Today I want to share the top 5 reasons why you need to make a niche your bitch. I’m gonna cut through the bullshit and get right to the meat of this whole “niche” argument. Shall we begin?
Let’s go back to the overused medical model example. Say you have the flu and need a primary care physician. What you’ll probably do is find a doctor who is closest to your home/work and takes your insurance. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I mean, except for the whole feeling-like-death situation you’re in.
You haven’t invested much in this search, and honestly you don’t really give a flying rat turd about the provider, so long as their office is close by and that he or she takes your insurance. The first few offices you called didn’t take your insurance, but you just kept calling around until you found one that did. Done and done.
Now let’s imagine that you just had surgery on your knee and need to have physical therapy. Since this is big deal, you’re probably gonna do a lot more research to find the best physical therapist for you. You hop online and see that there are like, 20 physical therapy offices in your area.
However, one of them specializes in knee surgery rehabilitation. You visit their website, and it’s like they’re reading your mind. Every thought, fear, concern, and pain you’re going through is right there in the copy of the website. These people get it. They get you. They understand exactly what’s going on with you and are confident in their ability to get you back to your old self as soon as possible.
There’s only one problem: They don’t take your insurance and they cost $200/session.
Now, you have two options. You can either a) go back to the drawing board and just pick a random generalist PT, or b) bite the bullet and commit to spending the money on receiving specialized care.
The truth is, a lot of people go with the first option.
But what about the people who say, “Fuck it. This place is exactly what I need. I’m committed to getting back up and running, and I’m willing to pay this top-notch PT so that I can get my freedom back.”
Do you think those people try to haggle down the price of PT? Do you think they no-show their appointments or take a half-assed approach to their treatment?
See, to some people, therapy is something they know they need, but they’re really just not that invested in the process. These people are going to shop around, haggle, and end up going with someone whose office is closest to their home/work, who has the lowest price, or who takes their insurance. Are these the people you want to fill your practice with?
I want the client who is ready to finally get their shit together, who has problems I know I can help them with, and who wants to work with me. Maybe their friend or doctor referred them to me or maybe they found me online. Either way, they did their research and, because of my branding and the way I’ve positioned myself, they are bound and determined to work with me. They may or may not be strapped financially, but money to them is secondary because they value my specialized expertise in their problem area. They are happy to pay my full fee because they see me as an expert in their very problem.
Don’t get me wrong: There are generalists everywhere, and there is actually a need for them (just like there is a need for primary care physicians).
But without a niche, you’re just another therapist trying to stand out in a sea of generalists by being a generalist.
If you work with children, teens, young adults, couples, families, and geriatrics, your marketing strategy might look like a clusterfuck of nonsense. Yeah, I said it. You’re trying to market to every pediatrician, school, doctor, psychiatrist, nurse practitioner, dietician, funeral home, yoga instructor, church, and hairdresser within a 20-mile radius. You’re leaving rack cards at Starbucks, your blog posts are all over the place, and you have 14 different kinds of brochures based on every single presenting problem you think you can treat.
Let’s say your niche (the population you really love working with) is working with pregnant/postpartum women. All of a sudden, your marketing efforts become laser-focused:
• Birthing Centers
• Lactation Consultants
• Physicial Therapists (who specialize in pre/post natal)
Because you were able to narrow down your niche, you were also able to narrow down the list of possible referral sources you can market to. Also, you’ll notice that you’re also able to be more creative in coming up with other professionals who also have a niche – yours! Without a niche, you’re left marketing to everyone, and in turn, no one will remember you.
Nothing is more annoying than meeting another therapist for coffee and asking them, “So, what kinds of clients do you work best with?” only for them to puff up their chest and go, “Well, I work with everyone, really. Kids, individuals, couples…I do it all.”
Whenever I hear this, my first thought is, “So…you really aren’t good at anything, then.”
Obviously this isn’t true. I know that.
But it’s still the first thought I have when someone tells me they work with “a lot of different issues.”
When I ask a therapist about their niche, what I’m really asking is, “What clients can I send your way and know you’re gonna do a badass job?” If you answer my question by saying, “Well, I really love working with children under 5 and their caregivers,” I immediately add you to my mental Rolodex under “Therapists who work with kids.” Not only that, but the fact that you are so confident in telling me who you work with also gives me the impression that you know what the hell you’re doing.
And I like referring to other therapists who know what the hell they’re doing, because it makes me look good.
If you’re one of the dozens of therapists I hear from who lament the fact that they don’t get enough calls from their Psychology Today (PT) profiles, I can almost guarantee you it’s one of two things: Either your PT profile reads like a boring resume, or it’s too vague and generalized.
Most of the time, it’s the latter.
When a potential client is browsing through PT, they’re looking for someone who can help them with their specific situation. If I’m a 40-something man whose going through a divorce, I’m going to skip over any profile that says, “…I work with children, teens, individuals, couples, and families.”
Because I didn’t see that you worked with people like me.
A lot of therapists email me to say that they struggle with writing copy for their website because they have difficulty connecting with their readers in a way that is both professional and authentic. While this sounds like a valid argument, I find that the real reason is usually because they haven’t actually identified who their reader is.
Without a niche, you have no clear direction when you write copy. You feel scattered, unorganized, and frustrated.
So do your website visitors.
BUT, if you’re able to nail down a select group of people – call it your niche, call it your ideal client, call it your target market, I don’t give a shit what you call it – that opens up an entire world of possibilities when it comes to your writing.
Let’s say your niche is substance abuse and trauma. Do you know what it’s like for someone who’s in the throes of addiction to feel like a complete slave to their addiction, yet they’re so afraid to give up the one thing that has kept them going for years? How can you speak to them directly by addressing their sense of hopelessness due to the fact that everyone closest to them has given up on them? What about acknowledging their feelings of failure and worthlessness because they’ve already been to rehab three times and now aren’t even sure if life is worth living?
All of a sudden, your copy is more compelling and actually speaks to someone.
Let’s not forget the most important reason for narrowing down a niche: It allows you to the opportunity to work with clients you LOVE! A niche isn’t just a set of symptoms for which you feel qualified to treat; it’s a calling to use your special skillset to help change someone else’s life. It’s a decision to finally admit to yourself, “Hey, I’m a fucking badass with this particular type of client, so I’m gonna let it be known that I can help them.”
There is a select group of people out there who have unique challenges that YOU are able to help them face; not Suzy Smith a few blocks over – you. So, I could argue that you actually have a duty and a responsibility to let this group of people know that you are here and that you can help them. Otherwise, they’re gonna end up seeing someone who doesn’t do as good of a job as you would have done.
No one ever won a Nobel Prize because they focused on being “pretty good” at every field of science. No team ever won a Super Bowl by trying to be adequate at a few different sports. Jimi Hendrix didn’t become the best guitar player by splitting his time between the guitar, the cowbell, and the tambourine.
And when you decide to narrow your niche, you're NOT -- I repeat -- NOT excluding anyone who doesn't fit that description. I know, you don't believe me. It sounds counterintuitive. But it's true. When you narrow down your niche, you are telling those specific people, "I'm here for YOU. You are my person. I can help you." To all the others, you are letting them know, "Hey, I really know my shit when it comes to these people. I'm an expert, so if I can help them, I can most likely help you too." I primarily work with couples, but I can't tell you how many inquiries I get from desperate parents of unruly teenagers, adult women of the perpetually-single variety, and middle aged men on the brink of divorce. And if I feel competent to work with their presenting problem, I'm happy to work with them - EVEN when they're outside my niche.
Because I need some flexibility too. And so do you.
I hope I’ve been able to make a strong case for why it’s so important to make a niche your bitch. Not only does it help your most favorite type of clients find you, but it helps you focus your time and energy so that you can truly build your badass therapy practice.
So go on, niche yo'self. And don't make me come over there and niche slap you.