February 15, 2021

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Alyssa Petersel

3 Exercises To Define And Hone Your Niche

We’re going to unpack today what your why is behind your practice, the types of clients that are most aligned with your why, and how to communicate that message to yourself and to others. This process is called “niching.” First, it will be helpful for us to get a few myths on the table about niching and to talk through the misconceptions surrounding them.

If you’re running a private therapy or coaching practice and you’re craving more fulfillment in your work and grasping for how to attract more aligned clients, you’re in the right place.

We’re going to unpack today what your why is behind your practice, the types of clients that are most aligned with your why, and how to communicate that message to yourself and to others. This process is called “niching.”

First, it will be helpful for us to get a few myths on the table about niching and to talk through the misconceptions surrounding them.

Common Niching Myths

  1. I am eclectic and I want diversity in my practice. If I niche, every client I see will be the same, and I will become bored and/or will not be helping everyone I can.
  2. I hear you. I have felt this way and worried about this myself in the past.
  3. Perhaps counterintuitively, when you communicate your practice in a very specific way, that does not mean that the only clients who you are working with in your practice are within that niche.
  4. You will likely continue to attract clients from more channels than just your website, for example. So if your website communicates that you are the world’s best addiction specialist, you may still receive a warm referral from a colleague of one of your existing clients who’d like to work through imposter syndrome with you, based on the positive feedback your client has shared with her about how empowering working with you has been. Now, despite your website being primarily about substance use, you will have at least one additional client working through imposter syndrome.
  5. In the clinical world, we know how interrelated many of these issue areas are and can be. That said, I assure you, your website and your “SEO ranking” will “perform” better the more specific you are. As difficult as it is, it benefits you, at least for your website and your web presence, to choose 1-3 areas to focus on.
  6. Clients who land on your site who are NOT in the niche you are communicating will automatically leave, but you may want to work with them.
  7. Another counterintuitive truth: the clients who are most aligned with you and your practice, who you’re likely to have the most rapport with, will often overlook the niche areas on your website if your copy, presence, and branding otherwise resonate with them.
  8. Yes, you read that correctly.
  9. Using the same example as above… even if the new client who wants to work with you did not learn about you from one of your current clients, they may find your website, find you on social media, or read one of your emails and find that your perspective, values, and story leads her to feel more empowered. She’s attracted to that feeling and would like to explore your 1:1 work together.  She may see that you write about specializing in substance use, and she may not resonate with wrestling with substance use, but she is interested in your story and the testimonials that you share about your work with others. She’d like to learn more.
  10. We see this happen all the time. Trust that the clients you are hoping to find are also desperately hoping to find you. If you are empathetic and authentic in your efforts and your communication, the right clients will come.
  11. I will make the wrong choice.
  12. This fear could not be more common and could not be more normal. If you are wrestling to choose which of your many talents and experiences to focus on, you are not alone.
  13. Good news: you are not anchored to this choice forever and ever. You have the power and control to pick something, for now, and to adjust (or add to) it later.
  14. You may also be relieved to learn: there is no “right” or “wrong” here. You cannot make the wrong choice.
  15. Perhaps the best news of all: we are going to go through a series of exercises today that will help you identify which areas you may be most drawn to at this time. Again, this can change with time. Trust that you can lean into and follow what comes up for you now, and you can trust yourself to know when or if you’ll want or need a change later.

Now, one more thing before we launch into our exercises. So we’re all aligned and on the same page, let’s talk briefly about the benefits of niching.

Benefits of niching

  1. Stand out as uniquely as you are.
  2. You are the only you out there.
  3. I am screaming this from the mountaintops, for you and for me to hear. I regularly remind myself of this and I work with so many others who feel similarly.
  4. Write this down. Put it on your fridge, on your mirror, on a post-it on your laptop. Anywhere and everywhere you can so that you don’t forget it. So that in the moments when doubt or imposter syndrome creep in (they have a nasty habit of sneaking up on us when we least expect it), you have this reminder right there, ready to go.
  5. You are the only you out there.
  6. The Internet is a noisy place, now more than ever. Do not get lost in the mix of generic bios. The exact right clients for you are out there and they want to hear from you. Specifically and uniquely you.
  7. By choosing, refining, and communicating your niche with specificity, you will stand out among the masses. When someone is looking for something specific, they will type that specific need into search, and they will come across you and your work experience. Your offering will resonate with them more than the general, neutral offering next door. Which leads us to choice fatigue.
  8. Break through a prospective client’s choice fatigue by being human and specific.
  9. Choice fatigue is real.
  10. Picture a prospective client. They’re at the end of their workday. They only slept 5 hours the night before, they ate poorly throughout the day: mostly fueled by stale coffee. They just talked to their colleagues for 8 hours back to back in Zoom meetings. They’ve been feeling more and more anxiety over the past few weeks but they haven’t had time to sit down to find a provider. Their thoughts are racing; they’re not sure exactly what they’re looking for. They just want to feel better. They want to be taken care of for a change, in contrast to so often needing to care for others.
  11. They sit down at 8 pm to finally prioritize their mental health and look for a provider. Hundreds of profiles pop up in their search.
  12. How will they choose?
  13. One profile says, “Dr. S trained at Columbia and has over 20 years of experience.”
  14. The next profile says, “Dr. M trained at Harvard and integrates CBT, psychoanalysis, and EMDR into their work.”
  15. The third profile says. “Hi, I’m so glad you’re here. I imagine you are exhausted. You’ve just worked a 12 hour day. You are taking care of everything and everyone else. You have worked so hard just to find a minute to find care for yourself. Let’s gauge together how I can best support you so that you can finally have a moment to rest.”
  16. Which would you choose?
  17. As clients are searching and scrolling, everything starts to look and sound the same. Difference helps. Humanity and authenticity help.
  18. The more specific, the better.
  19. As we saw in the last example, it goes a long way when the person seeking your care can see and feel themselves in the scenarios you cast on your website, in your web presence, and in your directory bios.
  20. We experience this test after test at MyWellbeing. The more specific you are, the more someone who is looking for that exact thing builds trust with you and comes aboard. The more broad, the less you attract anyone at all.

    The person we attracted:
    - Works 12 hour days
    - Is caring often for others
    - Is exhausted
    - Wants to be cared for

    This person is different from someone who:
    - Feels claustrophobic by their care providers who are constantly invading their time and space
    - Is struggling to find work
    - Is feeling like they have a lot of pent up energy that they’d eager to invest in a new venture or passion project

    Do you see the difference?
  21. Both are significantly more specific than “I am here to help you” and “I have a degree.”
  22. Through the following exercises, we are going to learn and refine who you are hoping to attract and why you want to attract them, which are the foundational building blocks to niching in a way that will fuel a successful and fulfilling practice for uniquely you.

As we get started, here is one more foundational tip that I encourage you to push yourself around: Shift your mindset away from who is not going to call and toward who is.

We can get lost in worries of what won’t happen, who won’t come, who won’t call, who our copy won’t resonate with.

Trust that the volume of people who will resonate with your why and your who is large enough to fuel your practice. IT IS OKAY if there are people who are no longer interested.

Take this hypothetical example. If there were 100 people who might be interested in your work… if you were to market in the hope of attracting all 100, those people will be so unique and diverse in their lived experiences and needs that you will lose all 100, as they will identify someone who is speaking more specifically to them.

Instead, you want to market in a way that you are speaking so specifically to a unique human experience that you are radically attracting 20 of them. Those 20 will see themselves in the work you offer. Together, you will create a rich and fulfilling practice. It is not only okay if the other 80 are not interested, you don’t need them. Not attracting those 80 is what propels you to attract the 20 you want and need.

Purpose

First things first: let’s talk purpose. You are in private practice for a reason.

Take a moment to think about what your purpose is in your practice.

  • Who are you and why do you do this work?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Who do you hope to support?

Write these things down.

You can use a Google Doc, a physical notebook, Notion, Roam, or any other note-taking app, or really, any note-taking place, system, or device where you can visit and revisit your answers.

Throughout the following three-part exercise, we’re going to be adding to our thoughts and processing until we refine down to an authentic niche that speaks to our values and our desired practice moving forward.

Reflect and Envision, Part I: You

Before we get too much into who THEY [your clients] are, we will first talk about you.

We bring so much of ourselves into the room, consciously or not. Before we unpack what’s going on in ourselves, it’s very difficult to make sense of what we want and need, and how to communicate that externally.

Let’s reflect and unpack on some of the things that make you uniquely you.

From your past and present:

  • What makes you uniquely you?
  • Which values are front and center for you?
  • What experiences have informed your headspace?
  • Who do you relate most to?
  • Who do you most want to empower?

Write it down:

  • If you described yourself in three words, what would they be?
  • Describe three formative moments or milestones in your life.
  • What element of your past and present are you most proud of?

Please note: the answers to these questions can and will change over time as you grow. We are positioning you and your practice for steep growth; of course, in the next few weeks, months, and years, you will have additional milestones and proud moments to document!

Share some of these reflections with others. This can be a trusted partner or loved one, a friend, a colleague, a small group of colleagues or accountability buddies, your business coach, your therapist, or anything and everything in between. The more you share, chat, and unpack, the more clarity you will gain.

Reflect and Envision, Part II: Your Clients

Now that we’ve familiarized at least a little bit more with our why, let’s start to learn about our desired prospective clients.

I imagine that you have experienced that some sessions feel like a divine gift that flows and flies by, while others feel like a challenge, like you’re hitting a wall, or you’re constantly experiencing doubt and imposter syndrome.

This oscillation is completely normal. Guess what: there are clients with whom you are going to have more rapport than others. Through this reflection exercise together, we can start to identify who the clients are who you have the most success with, however you define success, and we will begin to craft marketing messaging to attract more of those clients into your practice.

Think and reflect. Which three clients in your past and present have you felt:

  • The most connected to
  • Like the work came most naturally
  • Like they made the most progress
  • Like they were the most satisfied
  • Like you were the most fulfilled

Write it down.

  • What do these clients have in common, if anything?
  • Why do you think the work played out the way it did?
  • Are you interested in working with more clients like these?

As always: there is no “right” and “wrong” here. You may find that your thoughts race, or a lot of options come to mind all at once. Write down anything and everything that you wish you; you can always refine later. If you’re at a loss or struggling to choose, just write what comes to mind first. It may not make sense rationally right away, but if it’s popping up there’s likely a reason and it’s helpful to allow that space.

Reflect and Envision, Part III: Saying No

Part of what helps to refine who we do want to attract is gaining awareness of who we don’t want to attract, and how those two groups differ from each other.

Think and reflect. Which three clients have you felt:

  • The least connected to
  • Like the work was pulling teeth
  • Like they were stuck
  • Like you were constantly drained, challenged, feeling doubt or imposter syndrome

First of all: it’s absolutely okay to feel this way, and it does not mean that you should never work with these clients. Challenge is ripe territory for growth.

That said, we cannot be everything to everyone. These feelings are natural and, often, they are messengers. Receive and listen to them when you can.

One more friendly reminder here: there is no perfect response, there is no right or wrong. Pay attention to what comes up first and allow that some space on the page.

Write it down:

  • What do these clients have in common, if anything?
  • Why do you think the work played out the way it did?
  • Are you interested in working with more clients like these?

Regardless of the business opportunity of these prompts and exercises, these prompts are a great opportunity to learn more about ourselves.

And now, what we’ve all been waiting for… an assignment for you to integrate these learnings into practice and to define and refine your niche and marketing language.

Assignment

  1. Brain dump.
  2. Write anything and everything that comes to your mind about who your ideal client is. This can be a couple of sentences, a couple of paragraphs, a couple of pages, or a whole freakin’ book. Get it all out of your head and onto the page.
  3. Distill, distill, distill.
  4. Slim your brain dump into one coherent paragraph. Now, depending on how large your brain dump was, this may call for a few additional steps. Perhaps you want to slim from 10 pages, to 5 pages, to 2 pages, to 1 page, to 1 paragraph, and so on.
  5. Do not be afraid to cut. You can always revisit the braindump. You can edit later, you can try different things.
  6. Set yourself reasonable, approachable enough goals so that this task does not overwhelm you. We are also vulnerable to getting stuck here. I assure you: you can do this and it is so worth it.
  7. Distill even more.
  8. Refine your paragraph into 1-2 sentences that you can memorize, are comfortable and confident in, and can say and reference at a networking event or during a brief into.
  9. Picture you’re waiting in line for a to-go coffee and someone asks you what you do. What do you say?
  10. Picture you’re riding up an elevator (yes, there will be a time when we’re doing that again). Someone asks where you’re headed; what do you say?
  11. Remember: the shorter, more human, and more specific, the better.
  12. Practice!
  13. The more you recite your couple sentences, out loud, the more comfortable you will be. You can make edits and changes as often as you like.
  14. Talk to yourself in the mirror, talk to your partner or a friend, ask for a digital coffee with a colleague, and practice, together.
  15. Try to avoid locking yourself into perfection prison. Be yourself and the right clients will come.

Throughout each step of these exercises, keep in mind our foundational truth: you are the only you out there. Market and practice with empathy and with authenticity.

Imagine what your clients may be thinking and feeling. How might you talk to that client if they were sitting right in front of you? Can you take out any of the jargon? How can you be more real and more human? How can you offer support in real time, validation, affirmation?

Thank you for participating in my TEDtalk on niching. I appreciate your time, attention, perspective, and patience.

We at MyWellbeing support providers all day in growing their practice and professional community. If you are interested in joining the MyWellbeing community, email [email protected] and we’ll connect you with a member of our team to learn more and gauge fit.

If you’re ready to dig into your notebook, refine your niche, and get out there to meet your people, I hope this guide has proven helpful for you. I am truly so excited for you and your practice.

Thank you for the work you do each day. Your clients and the world around them are so lucky to work and grow with you.


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About the author

Alyssa Petersel, Co-Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.