A little late on my month of no hiding post today – just forgot to press publish! Oops.
One of the things that my Chinese medicine business students struggle with most is defining a niche for their practice.
This isn’t a problem unique to Chinese medicine students and practitioners, of course. Bookshelves are filled with authors desperately pleading with their audiences to narrow their marketing to a discrete group of people.
What’s a niche?
There are lots of ways to talk about niches. Fundamentally, it’s just a specific subgroup of humans whom you are trying to reach with your products and services. Sometimes, you’ll hear people use different words for this concept, such as “tribe.” Tribe is an interesting variation, as it evokes a togetherness, a certain psychological connection to the group. This is powerful stuff – people like to belong to a community of people like them. If you can provide the space and method for them to do this, they will reward you with rescheduling and – especially – referring their friends and family. All good things!
What kinds of niches are there?
There are many different ways to look at this. You could niche by disease category, for instance. This is particularly helpful when the community in question is living with a problem that is rare, difficult to treat, or has a lot of media and research attention. Cancer is an obvious example, but pretty much any debilitating or life threatening chronic disease would work. Here, depending on the illness, you would be treating a range of different type of people, united by the fact that they are all living with the same condition.
You can also niche by other demographic or psychographic features. For instance, you could reach out to menopausal women, or spiritually minded men, or people in your neighborhood, or parents of young children, and so on. There’s more to say about demographic and psychographic, but that’s enough for now. In this situation, you would most likely be treating a range of problems that the community in question commonly suffers.
But, I’m afraid…
Many people are worried that by establishing and pursuing a niche, other patients won’t come to see them. This is unlikely to be the case. People will come to your acupuncture clinic for all kinds of reasons, not just because of your marketing. You may get patients because you’re located close to a given patient, or because you were in their insurance company’s guide, or because of a word-of-mouth referral.
Choosing, and working, a niche doesn’t mean you only treat that sort of patient!
There are a number of common concerns that come up when I discuss this material with students and coaching clients. Instead of going into detail about those, though, I just want to briefly offer three benefits most people observe when they take the leap and start marketing exclusively to a particular community of patients and potential patients.
There are many ways that just giving this niche thing a try will improve your business and your life, but I’ll talk quickly about three.
- You will have less stress and anxiety about marketing in general
One of the things that increases anxiety faster than anything else is too many options. Sitting there in front of a blank computer screen, realizing you have to “do some marketing” can quickly become overwhelming. Should you start a Facebook page for your acupuncture clinic? Should you do advertising? What about doing talks? Does blogging really work? What’s this new social network? Does direct mail advertising really work? What about those letters people send out when they first establish their practice in a new location?
Answering all of these questions becomes infinitely easier when you’re able to see a picture in your mind of the client you are trying to reach. Once you’ve chosen a niche, you can get very specific, creating “customer avatars” that become a kind of muse you turn to when you engage in marketing efforts. Not every type of patient uses social media. Not every type of patient responds well to promotional advertising. Some patients are best reached by a talk at a local natural foods store, others really prefer learning more about you from afar through a blog or podcast.
But, you won’t know until you know who you’re trying to reach. Having this knowledge constrains your choices, and thus helps you conserve your energy.
- You will start to be contacted by other practitioners who don’t share your focus, and have a relevant referral to make
Becoming known for working with a particular community helps others know when to refer to you. Most people have pretty generic acupuncture practices. They may have great training and be wonderful people, but under what circumstances should I send them a patient that I feel I cannot treat? There is nothing to distinguish most practitioners from one another, particularly from a distance.
On the other hand, if I know that you are a person who specializes in supporting people with cancer diagnoses, or chronic skin conditions, or children under the age of 10, or elderly folks, or members of the LGBT community? Your name will readily come to mind when I run across a patient who would benefit from more specialized attention.
- Your decisions about decor, clinic expansion, staff and similar will become simpler, and more effective
Different patient populations often have different needs and desires when it comes to other features of your clinic. What sort of furniture would make your patients feel most comfortable? What sorts of decor do they respond to? What other types of practitioners would really benefit the people most often in your clinic – could you create partnerships? Would it be nice for you to expand into a space with an area for movement practices? Do you have a child friendly area of your waiting room?
Most often, I find that students and practitioners are making these decisions based on THEIR OWN desires and interests. Or worse still, they make decisions about their acupuncture clinic at random, or based on what they’ve seen elsewhere. It’s my believe that a clinic should be patient-centric. Every aspect of your clinic should communicate your understanding of your patient population, and your desire to give them the best possible experience. Approaching your business in this way not only simplifies your decision making, but creates a space that people WANT to be in, and WANT to send others towards.
One last point – lots of this is magic
Here’s the thing, folks. I can hear your objections. I know you know that Chinese medicine can treat anything. I know you worry that focusing overmuch on one group will make another uncomfortable. I know you don’t really want to put this kind of time and energy into marketing.
We’ll work with some of this over time in future articles, but for now, I want you to consider something. In my experience, sinking into this concept and working with it as you build and grow your
Chinese medicine based business has benefits that defy logic. Somehow, when you work from this simplified, clear space, magic happens. Your confidence and comfort increases, and it shines through everything you do.
I look forward to exploring this more with you. I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments!