A colleague walks up to you at a gathering and asks, "So, what do you do?" You reply, "I'm a psychotherapist." Okay. Or, you might reply, "I'm a couples therapist." Better. Or again, you might reply, "I'm a couples therapist specializing in affairs." Even better. Finally, you might say, "I'm a couples therapist and trainer specializing in affairs." Best!
Your first answer might draw the response, "That's interesting." The second, "Oh, I've never done couples work myself." To your third response the person might say, "Hmm, I know a couple that might need your help." And your last answer might draw the reply, "I've been thinking about expanding my practice. When is your next workshop?"
Defining your niche is an essential exercise for everyone, novice or experienced, who intends to market a product or service. Ironically, most of us haven't been encouraged to think through what makes us unique in our profession. Below are three suggestions to keep in mind when considering what's special about you and your services:
1. Reexplore Your Interests and Talents
The key here is to discover what you do best, most easily, and with the greatest satisfaction. Also, what do you do most frequently. Perhaps you're specializing without thinking of yourself as a specialist. Here are some questions and helpful hints to encourage you along the path of self-rediscovery:
- What are your personal interests and experiences? Are you particularly adept in some aspect of your personal life—i.e., raising your children? Are your interests and experiences finding expression in your business life?
- Ask your colleagues, friends, and family for feedback. Often they can see talents, interests, and specialties that you take for granted or underappreciate.
- Remember, finding your niche often means discovering what's already there. Don't think in terms of creating an "image"; rather, discover who you already are and enjoy it! And try not to feel discouraged or embarrassed about asking yourself what you want to do at this stage in your life: it's a generative activity at any age.
2. ‑Know Your Audience and Your Clientele
Your audience isn't necessarily your clientele: it encompasses everyone whom you want to be aware of your services. Your clientele—who form a part of your audience—are those who'll use and pay for your services. To help differentiate the two, it's important to:
- Think expansively about your audience. It consists of colleagues, associates, friends, family, other businesses (even those who seem to be competitors), organizations, social groups, churches, and so forth. Given today's Internet capabilities, your audience is virtually unlimited!
- Think specifically about your clientele. Do research. Find out who needs your services and where those people are likely to be located. Identify and understand their concerns as potential consumers of your services. Empathize and speak to their needs.
3. ‑Create a Mission Statement
A statement that defines your purposes and goals can be personally enlightening and financially rewarding. Take time to savor this process. There are many examples of mission statements on the web. Here are some suggestions to help you develop one of your own:
- Identify your short- and long-term personal and professional goals.
- Describe your ideal clients. Who are they? Where are they? What are their needs? What can you offer them that's unique?
- Focus. Write simply and clearly. Keep refining your mission statement until it's four or five sentences long.
- Seek Feedback. Your mission statement is useful only if it's understood by those who read it.
Dick Anderson, M.A., is the editorial and creative consultant for the Psychotherapy Networker. He's president of AdVentures Graphic and Website Design and StockPhotoVentures.com, and founder of Tell It Like You Are, a marketing workshop for therapists. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.