Knowing where you want to go provides the foundation for all your other decisions.
Last week we launched a new series about our journey to building a complete business.
In this post, I want to begin a discussion on how narrowing our focus helped us achieve so much in the first year of our business and how it also presented some difficult challenges.
The issues we encountered, good and bad, are universal and tie back to your own practice.
The good news.
The beauty of this approach is that once you nail a particular specialty, you can always expand into other things…
The challenge with this seemingly simple assignment is that, for most, things get a little stressful when trying to stay committed to the path when the going gets tough.
Starting out in a new practice, or shifting gears in an existing practice, are usually the times that require the most commitment and discipline.
Let me illustrate with some examples from our experiences.
Taking the leap.
Let’s face facts, there are a lot of practice management software products out there and some would say that the market was too crowded for us to enter.
So why did I decide to do this? Because I saw what was out there and I knew our team could do better. That doesn’t mean there weren’t good products available; it just means that there wasn’t one that I would want to use. And if I felt that way, I suspected others did too.
Basically, the product I wanted didn’t exist, so I knew I had to build it.
Don’t be afraid of competition.
I mention this because deciding on your particular focus or niche can seem daunting when you look at how many of your colleagues may be doing something similar.
The takeaway here is that even though the market may be crowded with other specialists with a similar focus, that’s ok. There is room for you.
When in doubt, do the math.
If you look at the size of your market and divide it by the number of clinicians specializing in it, you can quickly see by a simple math equation that there is plenty of business out there.
So don’t be deterred by competition. Lot’s of competition usually means there is a need.
What this also means is that you should find ways to differentiate yourself from the competition. What is unique about your approach or about you.
Narrow your focus and expand later.
For SimplePractice, I knew that we had a lot of work to do and we really needed to find our focus if we wanted to be competitive. There were two main things that drove our focus:
First, I wanted to build a product that was truly simple to use. Second, we would initially focus on building SimplePractice for the solo practitioner and put off supporting larger group practices for later.
This approach would allow us to develop a better product more efficiently because we didn’t have to deal with the complexity of a system that was trying to tackle too much at once.
This not only helps with building the product, but also helps with how we communicate about our product – how we market it.
Clarity is key when it comes to communicating what you do!
In business, people ask all the time what it is you do and you have about two seconds to either win them over or lose them. So you need to be able to articulate what you do in a succinct and clear way.
For SimplePractice, our pitch could be
This is a much more focused message than just saying “ We build the best practice management software”. That is way too general and there is nothing to anchor this in someones mind.
What’s your pitch?
If I meet you at an event and ask what you do and you tell me, “I work with teens of divorced parents”, then my brain immediately starts recalling who I know that may benefit from this. It’s specific and clear. If two weeks go by and someone reaches out to me and tells me they have a friend whose teenager is having trouble dealing with the parents divorce, then I immediately know who to refer them to – you.
Where is your pitch?
It’s important to communicate this in places where you market your business as well, like your website.
Many websites have long lists of every possible type of issue that anyone in the general population may need help with. I believe that for most, this is just too general and it doesn’t provide clarity or focus.
You have to speak to your intended audience and send a clear message and the only way to do that effectively is to know what your focus is.
Saying YES to something means saying NO to other things.
One of the biggest challenges to adopting a focus is getting comfortable with the idea that doing one thing means not doing other things. This raises the fear of not knowing if the one thing you think you want to do is the right thing.
We turned away a lot of business.
As a business owner who has invested a lot of time and money in my company, saying “no” has been the hardest thing to do.
There is a tendency to want to say ‘yes’ to everyone and everything and add every feature a customer, or potential customer, requests.
When we first started SimplePractice we got a lot of requests for things – some were already on our roadmap and others we knew we wouldn’t do for while.
A lot of potential customers went elsewhere because they told us they needed these things right now.
This was really hard, really hard. Did I mention that this was really hard.
Stick to the plan.
It’s important to remember that by focusing on fewer things, you can actually get more done. This requires commitment and willpower to stay the course and keep focused on our goals.
Remaining steadfast and resolute has been tough and my business partner needs to remind me often about the importance of staying committed to our focus.
It’s been essential for me to have people to bounce things off and talk with in those times when I have doubts about what I am doing. Or when I just need a reality check.
It’s good to have a partner, or mentor or supervisor who understands your business and YOU and can help you through the tough times when self doubt creeps in.
It does get easier.
Even over a year after launching it’s still hard when we lose a potential customer.
The difference now is that since our business is growing so much, I don’t feel as much stress about losing someone if we’re not the right fit for them. I also know as we expand our offerings that some of them come back to us.
The takeaway here is that by staying committed to our plan, we have a better product and more successful company and this benefits our customers who have made a commitment to us.
It also is exciting because now we have a solid foundation upon which we can expand our business.
Remember, where you start is not where you have to end.
Just because you start with particular focus or niche, does not mean you can’t move into other areas.
I believe that once you nail the first specialty, you build trust. And once you build trust, it becomes much easier to start adding to your existing specialty and/or branching out into new areas.
It’s easier because other’s see how hard you worked to build something – through thick and thin – and now you have a track record.
You also have experience in every part of the process – it’s like each area of focus or specialty is a mini-business and you can apply your experience and learnings to the next area you want to incorporate into your practice.
One of the reasons so many people that used my previous product, TrackYourHours, now use SimplePractice, is because they know they are going to get a great product that is always evolving from a team of people that are passionate about building great software.
So where do you start?
Options are a double-edged sword. So many things you can do and it’s hard to bet on one thing.
Many of you know what you want and what your interests are. And if you don’t or aren’t sure, that’s ok and normal.
Pick something and get started. It’s better to try something than to sit in limbo wondering what to do. Remember, you can always pivot to something else.
I hope that by sharing our experiences, it helps you see ways that you can attend to similar challenges and opportunities in your practice.
I know so many of you have valuable insights into this topic from your own experiences and welcome you to share them in the comments below.
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See you next week!