3 More Myths About Building a Successful Independent Advocacy Practice

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We began last week with this series of myths about starting, building, and growing an independent patient advocacy or care management practice.

As a reminder, these myths are based on the comments I’ve heard from advocates who just couldn’t get a practice going – who (sad to say) failed – not because they don’t know how to be good advocates (they do!) but because they tried to get started despite their misconceptions about what it would be like to do so.

This week we have three more of those myths for you to consider, in hopes these misconceptions aren’t yours. Or, if they are, helping you to get past them.

Myth #4:  As soon as I tell people I’m going to be an advocate, my phone will begin to ring.

So many new advocates decide to go into business, get excited feedback from family and friends at the prospect, then expect the phone will begin to ring.

Honestly, of all the myths in our list, this is the one that surprises – and appalls me – the most. If any new advocates have started out with phones ringing that quickly, I don’t know about it. What I’ve heard instead is that the new advocate can’t believe phones haven’t begun to ring. They are surprised and, of course, upset.

There are several reasons why phones don’t begin to ring, each of which stands on its own, but all of which, if combined with others, may mean the advocate’s phone will never ring.

For one thing, who do they think is going to call?  The only people who know are family and friends; do they expect those family and friends are going to pay? I can’t imagine they do. What an awkward conversation that would be.

It’s more likely they expect their friends and family to tell others – to refer them. But they don’t ask for that. They just assume it will happen.

While word of mouth is the most powerful of marketing tactics, it has to be intentional. A mention to family and friends is just a start. To make referrals happen, you must intentionally ask them to share the information with their friends and extended family, even supply them with business cards and brochures to hand out as appropriate. You need to remind them periodically, and you need to ask them to remind their friends about your work, too. You need to ask them for names of people they have referred. You need to collect the email addresses of their referrals. You get the picture… it’s not about a few mentions and you’re done. It’s about consistent and regular discussions about your work, and specifically asking them about making referrals and following up.

Further, fostering word-of-mouth needs to be supplemented. If you heard from a friend that his aunt or brother was doing taxes, you would look that person up before you ever called to inquire about getting your taxes done. Where would you look? Online, of course… So at the very least your marketing must include a website with easy contact information.

Bottom line – telling a few folks you’ve hung out your shingle is not nearly enough to get you started with building your client list – and getting paid.

Learn more about supplementing word-of-mouth
to support your successful marketing
in The Health Advocate’s Basic Marketing Handbook.

Myth #5:  When I go into business as an advocate, everyone who is sick or injured is a possible client.

This is where there is an enormous difference between who wants and needs an advocate – vs – who will actually hire an advocate.

We can agree that anyone who must navigate the sometimes cruel, and often dangerous healthcare system waters NEEDs an advocate.

We can probably further agree that everyone who needs one, deserves an advocate, someone to manage their care.

What you may not have thought about is that not everyone is willing to PAY an advocate. And that is why not all sick or injured people are possible clients. If they can’t pay you, or aren’t willing to pay you, then you must walk away. If you advocate for them in the early years of your practice, you will volunteer your time out of business – because – (see Myth #1) – time is money. The same is true for reducing your prices or even offering “scaled” pricing. (Read: Why Being Too Helpful Will destroy Your Advocacy Practice.)

After you’ve been in practice for several years, are established, and have a steady stream of clients coming to you so you know your income will be solid, then you can volunteer your time to help those who can’t or won’t pay.

But you won’t succeed if you start out by donating your time, any more than Tony can succeed with his new pizza shop by giving away all his pizza. (Samples, maybe. But then you need to be sure you’ll be paid – by everyone.)

Learn why volunteering in the early years can destroy
your dreams of owning a
private advocacy practice
in The Start and Grow Your Own Practice Handbook.

Myth #6:  I have great advocacy skills because, as a nurse (or doctor, or social worker, or __fill in the blank__ healthcare professional) I have been an advocate all my life.

This is one of those beliefs that gets the most potential independent advocates in the biggest trouble – the idea that having worked inside the healthcare system is the key to success as a private advocate.

Not that a working knowledge of the healthcare system isn’t important – it most certainly is. Understanding what resources exist, who’s who in diagnosis and treatment, what facilities or procedures or specialties are appropriate, etc – those are important knowledge for an advocate to rely on.

However, there are a number of reasons that believing one’s lifetime of healthcare experience is the reason one will be successful is a fallacy, and can ruin one’s chances of succeeding in private advocacy practice.

For one thing: having worked inside the forest for a very long time may mean it’s difficult to see the trees.  Yet it’s often the trees that are required to get a client what they need. Just because one has been a doctor or nurse for decades doesn’t mean they know anything about the other hospital in town, or how to negotiate an insurance claim, or where to look to help a client find a second opinion, or how to arrange for a client’s transportation to get her blood work done.  THOSE are the skills required of an advocate; skills never used inside the system.

Further, as mentioned several times already in this list of myths – in the first several years, success is about developing business skills (marketing, finances, pricing, contracting) – and how many doctors or nurses have that experience?

If you are a nurse or doctor or social worker, I ask you:

  • How often have you set up a contract with a client and asked for signatures?
  • How often have you directly asked a client to pay you in advance for your work?
  • How often have you reconciled and invoiced at the end of a client relationship?
  • Etc.  You get my point.

Learn how to supplement your knowledge of the
healthcare system in order to build a successful practice
in The Start and Grow Your Own Practice Handbook.

That solid combination of healthcare system knowledge and business acumen is what is required for success. Both can be learned as long as the new advocate understands that both are vitally necessary.

So far we have looked at six myths for new private advocates to review.

Stay tuned – next week we’ll add some more.

 

This series:

 

LEARN ABOUT APHA MEMBERSHIP | MORE REASONS PATIENTS NEED ADVOCATES | MASTER LIST OF PRACTICE RESOURCES

 

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