Bertha has been knitting since learning how at age 12. She’s a wonderful knitter! She has been knitting for decades – scarves, sweaters, hats, gloves and mittens, socks, you name it – then giving her creations away to friends, relatives, even grandbabies of friends. Everyone who knows Bertha recognizes her superb knitting skills.
Because of her extensive experience, she considers herself to be a professional. Her passion is knitting! So last year, Bertha decided to open a business as a knitting teacher. After all, as much as she knows about knitting, she knows she’ll be a great teacher!
After doing some research, Bertha joined an online organization that supports knitting teachers. She has found a ton of information there, and loves to connect with other knitting teachers in the discussion forum.
Most importantly, she made sure she was listed in the Knitting Teacher Directory – then sat back and waited for her phone to ring.
And waited. And waited. And waited.
But – Bertha’s phone rarely rang. Now she’s upset. Why don’t more people call her to teach them to knit? Only one person has inquired, and that was a friend’s daughter, who she decided to teach for free.
Bertha hasn’t made a dime.
Now, months later, (tap, tap, tap – the sound of Bertha’s foot, as she waits by her phone to ring…) it’s time for Bertha to decide whether being a knitting teacher is going to be her future.
As it turns out, Bertha’s experience in establishing a professional knitting education practice is very parallel to the experience of many new advocates.
- Knitting, like advocacy, is a skill. Both can be learned in many different ways, through many sorts of experiences, from formal education to personal experience, even reading a book or watching videos online.
- Like learning to knit themselves, many people think they know how to advocate for themselves. Even if they make mistakes, they think they are doing it right. They may not be professional, but they can try. They need to be encouraged to reach out to a professional.
- If you want to learn to knit, you might look for a professional teacher, but you might just as likely ask a friend to teach you. You might, or might not, expect to pay her.
Similarly, the general public has a lack of knowledge of advocacy as a profession, and may not realize they can pay real professionals to help them. They may not think to look online to find a professional, paid, advocate.
- When knitters gift a new sweater, it may, or may not be appreciated and valued. (What if it’s ugly or doesn’t fit?) Similarly, when advocates give away their advocacy, it may or may not be valued or appreciated.
- Just because you are a great knitter doesn’t mean you can make the leap to teaching. Just because you are a top-notch advocate doesn’t mean you can build a successful advocacy practice.
Failure to Launch
Knowing there are so many parallels between building a knitting education practice, and building an advocacy practice, we can better understand the real reasons behind Bertha’s failure to launch.
Bertha’s big misunderstanding was that launching a new BUSINESS is more about BUSINESS and less about what kind of business it is.
Bertha didn’t realize that just because she’s an excellent knitter, and just because her friends and family recognize her excellence, that launching a professional teaching practice would require far more outreach and promotion – far more marketing (a BUSINESS activity). And, don’t forget, her friends and family have already benefited from her knitting. They won’t be her customers!
Word of mouth marketing is good – for a mature practice. But it’s almost non-existent in the early stages.
If a knitting teacher or patient advocate launches a business in the forest, and no one hears her, then did she really launch her practice?
A Successful Launch – Making Sure Clients Hear Those Trees
Marketing, a BUSINESS activity, is the key to launch success.
I know, I know. Many of you in the early stages of starting your practice will simply stop reading this post. You think you hate marketing. You certainly don’t want to be a salesperson. And you’d rather play ostrich than pay attention.
Ignore this advice at your own folly.
The important point to absorb is this: you must diligently, frequently, and consistently market your practice to the people who – someday – will want to know you are available to help them.
Being listed in the directory is not enough. The directory is a “passive” marketing tool; it just hangs out online and waits for someone to search in it, like the Yellow Pages. But no one searches if they don’t need an advocate at this very moment. Nor will they search if they don’t even realize advocates exist in a professional capacity. A directory listing, like a website or a blog, is a constant presence, but isn’t seen at all until someone makes the effort to find it. That’s what defines it as passive.
You must add some “active” marketing tools – marketing and promotion that stands in front of eyeballs even when people don’t expect to see it, and may not (at that very moment in time) need it. Active marketing, also called “push” marketing, means you push your presence in front of people to get their attention hoping that eventually, when they need you, they will know to reach out to you – specifically. Push marketing might include actions like public speaking, an email newsletter, a newspaper ad, or anything that ends up in front of a prospective client even if they haven’t searched for it.
No business – whether it’s a professional knitting teacher, a pizza shop, a lawyer, auto repair, department store – or professional advocacy practice – will succeed without a combination of passive and active marketing tactics.
Not even yours – or Bertha’s.
To reiterate – in the early days of a professional practice, it’s not about knowing how to knit and it’s not about knowing how to be a patient advocate. It’s about making sure people know that you do what you do, and know to hire you to do it. And that won’t happen without that combination of passive and active marketing.
Without both, your practice tree will fall in an empty forest and – that’s right – NO ONE will hear it.
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- It’s Not Marketing. It’s Teaching.