Finding your niche is a KEY private practice marketing strategy.
How do you find your niche in private practice? What is a niche exactly and why do you need to have one? In this post I walk you through everything you need to know about finding your niche as a therapist in private practice.
Read through to the end for an exercise to help you find your niche. I walk you through each step so you are armed and ready with niche in hand by the end of the exercise. You got this!
What is a therapy niche?
Niche is a tricky word. I still don’t even know how to properly pronounce it. Is it pronounced like “neesh” or more like “nitch?” I have no idea. The good news is, you don’t have to know how to pronounce it in order to wield its magical powers in your favor.
“Niche” could be interchangeable with “specialty,” but I like how “niche” reflects something even more specific within a specialty – a specialty within a specialty, if you will.
Let’s take coffee shops as an example to illustrate. This is a bit long-winded, but hang with me. This is completely worth wrapping your head around first before we talk about how it applies to your private practice.
Coffee shops are a place to buy a cup of coffee or espresso beverage (uh, no duh Marie). In my area, some of the most popular coffee shops are Starbucks, Philz, and B2. At their core, they all do the same thing: sell coffee.
But they are by no means the same! If you talk to someone who cares about their coffee, they’ll likely have strong opinions about the differences between these places, and they may even love one shop while professing hatred towards another. People can get intense about their coffee!
Example: Coffee Shop Specialties
So what’s my point? Each of these coffee shops has a different specialty:
- Starbucks: You can expect the exact same menu at Starbucks all over the world. Every time you order a specific beverage at Starbucks it should taste the same across all their stores. Starbucks specializes in uniformity.
- Philz: Want a regular coffee? That’ll be four dollars please! There is no mediocre coffee at Philz, and it comes at a higher price tag than a Starbucks drip coffee. Philz specializes in making a smooth-tasting pour over coffee, assembly-line style.
- B2: In the heart of downtown San Jose, B2 is the second location of Bellano coffee – a local shop with a small handful of locations. B2 specializes in a rotating menu of artisan coffee. You’ll pay a pretty penny even above and beyond a Philz coffee, but you can sample single origin pour overs from around the world.
All these places sell coffee, but they have very different specialties. It’s the same for us in our therapy practices. There are more differences between therapists than there are similarities.
Example: Coffee Shop Niches
But let’s go a little deeper and take a closer look at these coffee shops’ niches:
- Starbucks: Take a look around the inside of any Starbucks and you’ll get an idea of their niches based on who’s there: a mom grabbing coffee for herself and a snack for her kids, teenagers stopping for frappuccinos after school, retired folks reading the newspaper, college students frantically typing into their computers. Beyond specializing in uniformity, Starbucks has a few key niches it targets for it’s winning business model.
- Philz: There’s a different crowd hanging out at Philz. Young professionals grabbing coffee on the way to work, friends meeting up to chat, and individuals in suits holding business meetings. Philz caters to a different crowd and serves a different purpose.
- B2: At B2, you’ve found the hipster jackpot! People are not gathering at B2 for a snack or to catch up with a friend. They’re interested in finding the best tasting cup of coffee in town, to be savored and cherished like a fine glass of wine. People at B2 are there to celebrate the coffee itself.
If you don’t live in my area you likely have some variation of these coffee shops in your town, unless you live in a pretty small town. Imagine for a moment if Starbucks, Philz, and B2 didn’t have a niche in mind when they started out.
When businesses cast a wide net like this, they end up having no customers. The only visitors at such a coffee shop might be the occasional opportunist who is desperate for some caffeine and will take it wherever they can get it from.
However, when a business has a niche that reflects a very specific group of people whom it serves, theoretically there could be three different coffee shops at the same intersection and they would all be busy! These coffee shops have a very clear marketing strategy that begins with their niches.
Why you need to find your niche as a therapist
I hear from many therapists just starting out in private practice that they are afraid to limit their niche because they don’t have very many clients yet. Here’s the thought process: “I don’t have the option to specialize right now because I’m still trying to fill my caseload.” The fear is that having a very specific target market will push out potential clients and hurt business.
Let me tell you something: this is the opposite of how it works!
Extrapolating from what we learned about coffee shops, finding your niche is the exact private practice marketing strategy you need to fill your caseload.
Imagine a business that tried to cater to everyone. Several years ago my husband and I had a hankering for some boba. There was a shop that sold boba down the street from our apartment so we walked over. We discovered that not only did they sell boba, they also sold cold dim sum, sandwiches, curry dishes, desserts, salads, and featured a small grocery store that included cigarettes, alcohol, and plants for sale.
After walking in, we looked at each other, and walked out. We figured any place that sold that many different things must not have very good boba.
If a potential client shows up to your website and they can’t tell within a few seconds what you’re about, they are going to click out of your page just as fast as my husband and I walked out of that store.
It’s best to have a few overlapping specialties so that you can be one of the only therapists in your area with your unique cluster of specialties. This is called double-niching or combo-niching.
For example, I work in San Jose, California. It’s a sprawling town completely over-saturated with therapists. My primary specialties include faith, identity, and anxiety. Getting deeper into my niche, I’m all about working with individuals with overlapping identities: a conservative church leader navigating a queer identity who is also a third culture kid? That’s my jam. Though there are only a handful of people in San Jose in my target market, they’d be hard-pressed to find another therapist with the same niches. In fact, over half of my caseload checks all of these boxes, and everyone on my caseload checks at least one or two of my broader specialties.
Step-by-step guide: How to find your niche as a therapist
Once people wrap their heads around the importance of finding a niche in private practice, the next question is, “How the heck do I find my niche?”
Don’t worry, I got you covered with an exercise to help you narrow your niche. We’re going to create a specialty map together (yay!). You need a couple of supplies for this exercise. Grab post-it notes of different colors and a pen, or you could just use a giant piece of paper if that suits your fancy.
Go head, run along and gather your supplies. I’ll wait.
Ready for some fun with post-its? I’m always game for an excuse to stick post-it notes all over my wall!
1. Brainstorm your interests
Brainstorm your interests and write them on your post-it notes. List one interest per post-it. Here are some prompts to get you started:
- Who have been your favorite clients to work with before?
- What was interesting about their presenting issues?
- What topics do you gravitate towards in your reading, media-consumption, and extra-curriculars?
- Are there certain people groups, age ranges, or careers that you’re drawn towards?
Remember, this is a brainstorm so write out as many interests as you can. You can always edit them down later.
Place your post-its on a wall, large table, or on the floor. They don’t have to be organized in any particular way, just make sure they’re all visible.
2. Draw Connections
Once you’ve written out all of your areas of interest, start to draw connections between them. Cluster post-its together based on some of their similarities. In a phenomenological qualitative research approach this process is called culling the data (nerd alert!).
3. Label Themes
Using a different color of post-it note, start to create names for themes of these different clusters. Place the theme name with its affiliated cluster of post-its.
4. Lather, rinse, repeat!
Repeat this process of naming your interests, drawing connections, and labeling the themes as many times as you need. This part of the process can take a bit of time. You might think of new interests to add or realize that two or three themes might merge together as one theme.
Feel free to sleep on it for a couple days and come back to it. You also might be helped by having a colleague in the field check out your mess of post-its to help you draw further connections.
You will likely find that your long list of interests can boil down to about two to five major themes. These themes can be your starting point from where you advertise your niches.
Next steps: Keyword research
Keywords are an entire category of their own. Once you know your niche, you need to know how to find the right terms to describe that niche. Otherwise potential clients in your target audience won’t be able to find you in a Google search. Want to learn more? Check out my video about Keyword research.
Your niche will always be dynamic as you glean more experience in the field. You may find it helpful to revisit this exercise every couple of years or so just to make sure you’re keeping your niche up to date. Whatever you do, don’t skip this step! Finding your niche is a key component of a successful private practice marketing strategy.
Hopefully these tips help the process of developing your niche feel a bit more manageable for you as you develop your private practice marketing strategy.
Until next time, from one therapist to another: I wish you well.