Stop the Insanity! Instead Try These Baby Steps: Learning to Ask for Money

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Long-time readers of this blog know my frustration over newly-minted private, independent advocates volunteering their time as a way to prepare to be professional advocates.

Newbie advocates cite two major reasons for doing their advocacy work for free:

  1. They are afraid / reluctant / don’t have enough confidence to talk about money and ask for payment.
  2. They feel sorry for the prospective client, and figure it won’t take too much time to help them.
  3. … both of the above.

The problem is, doing volunteer advocacy as a way to start an independent practice is the very best way to put yourself out of business. Growing a business is all about making sure your income is more than your outgo. You can start your business – no problem!  But if you can’t ask for money, and you don’t learn how to, then it won’t be long before you lose your business.

(Can you imagine a lawyer not expecting to be paid?  Or your tax guy?  Or even your hairdresser?)

The consequences are dire for both you and others:  if you only ever do the work for free, then not only have you lost all that time, effort, and money you invested in getting your practice started, but you also fail all those (hundreds? thousands of?) people you might have helped in the future if you had been successful.

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You Can’t Do Life, or Business, Without Plan B

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You know Plan B. Plan B is your go-to option when what you thought would work, didn’t.

It’s the answer to the question, “What will you do when life gets in the way?”

I was reminded of Plan B last week when, after days of internet problems due to some new construction in the area, the internet was finally stable, and I had taken a very relieved deep breath and settled into a nice big project online….

…When BAM! Down went the internet again! Only this time the outage was caused by some workers next door digging up the edge of the neighbor’s garden, and slicing our underground internet wiring in two. Poof! And it wasn’t like they could fix it! Of course not! (Not to mention how rude they were about the whole thing – another story for another day…. )

You can imagine what came next. Since the outage was caused by a crew that was digging, who had not gotten permission to dig (which I’ve since learned is against the law!), there was absolutely no hurry on the part of our internet service provider to fix it. It wasn’t their fault, and we were only one customer. They had other bigger outages affecting many more customers to attend to. When I phoned, they said they would put us on the schedule for next Wednesday…. WHAT? OMG!

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The Most Expensive Business to Start

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It’s entirely possible to start a new business on a shoestring. We know this, because every publication worth the paper or website it’s published on tells us so:  Forbes, USA Today, Entrepreneur, all of them.

It requires time, grit, determination, attention to detail, great word-of-mouth – oh – and money! More about this in a minute.

The truth is – the concept of starting a business on a shoestring depends on the size of your shoes and therefore, the length and strength of their laces. It certainly doesn’t hurt if they are made of solid-gold, and you can sell them for your seed money.

If you hear a sarcastic edge in this post, it’s for good reason. It’s born of frustration, the feeling that I’m shouting into an empty cave.  I’ve just heard from one more person who has closed up her advocacy practice because she can’t afford it anymore; this on the heels of a conversation last week with one of our APHA Mentors who asked me, “Why do people think they can start an advocacy practice with no investment? Why do they think they can do it for free?”

Good questions. GREAT questions. And sadly, representative of too much reality and too much failure. And, for today, it means I’m going to try to provide this reality check one more time.

Let’s look at that shoestring for a minute. 

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Part II: The Dirty Dozen Skills, Abilities, and Attributes of Successful Health and Patient Advocates and Care Managers

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Yes, Part II, as promised in our first installment last week when we began with the first four attributes of successful advocates.

Find Part I of the Dirty Dozen.

Which of these describe you and your abilities?  Which of them don’t?  Where do you go from here? Do your own assessment! 

 

Part II:  Abilities of Success Health/Patient Advocates and Care Managers

5. Health and patient advocates and care managers have an intimate understanding of the healthcare system. 

Important – I do not mean you must understand medicine. In fact, you really don’t need to understand medicine – as in diagnosis or treatment – to be successful. That’s why you don’t need to be a doctor or nurse or have another clinical background to build a successful advocacy practice. Successful advocacy is about understanding THE SYSTEM, not medicine.

You must understand how to work the system to get your client what she needs. That may mean you know the least expensive MRI locations, or it may mean you know how to get an appointment with Dr. Specialist.  It may mean you know how to work with insurance reps to get a claim approved, or it may mean you know how to find better pricing for Mrs. Smith’s prescription drugs. Maybe you need how to access a hospital’s chargemaster, or line up DRGs, CPTs, and RVUs.

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When Passion and Reality Collide

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Over the years, I have connected with thousands of people who intend to become independent health advocates and care managers, and 99.9% of them have one thing in common:  their choice of health advocacy as a career is a result of their passion for helping others.

They are caring individuals with skills for navigating some aspect of the healthcare system. They are empathetic, and those they will help recognize their empathy right away.They aren’t looking to make a fortune in business. Instead, their rewards will come from knowing they have helped to improve the quality of other people’s lives.

They probably don’t even realize that their passion can make a huge contribution to their success!  Research results released by Ernst and Young show that companies that operated with a clear and driving sense of purpose, beyond the goal of just making money, outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of 10 between 1996 and 2011.

That’s the good news. That for those who establish health advocacy / care management practices, their focused passion may increase their chances of success and increased income.

But let’s dwell for a moment on that word “may.”

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