Defining your ideal client will bring you more clients.
You can define your ideal client precisely, and you don’t need a lot of words to do it. Therapists who define their clients--who set or create their own niche--will find their practices grow. And the work will be easier.
This Authentic Practice post focuses on precisely defining your client--on establishing your niche--and the challenges and advantages of being precise in that definition.
This is the hard part.
I think there are two general paths to your definition of the ideal client. First, you can focus on the types of therapy you do. For example, you could say, “I help individuals with anxiety and depression.”
That definition makes it clear what you do--and don’t do.
It also may suggest you’re open to a less-regular schedule of therapy, as people’s anxiety or depression changes from overwhelming to manageable to overwhelming again. That’s part of therapy--and it’s ok.
Another way to define your client is to focus on the audience--on the types of people you find to be your ideal clients. While there may be some therapeutic language in the description, this approach deals mainly with the audience.
One therapist I’ve worked with, as I mention in the video, focuses on therapy for stepmothers. This focus allows for a wide range of therapies, including family, children, and relationship. It opens her practice to group therapy sessions for stepmoms, as well as opportunities to present in a variety of settings. It’s become her specialty.
Both of those definitions are precise--anxiety/depression on the one hand, stepmothers on the other. The degree of precision is up to you, but being precise is a valuable exercise for your practice on several levels.
First, it can be an act of self-care for you. If you define your practice, you will not feel the need to be all things to all people. Once free of that burden, you will help manage your expectations and your energy. It will help you prevent burnout.
Maybe we can put it more positively--you will continue to love your work. You will remain fresh, and eager to find new ways to help your clients. You will know where to look for those ways, and you will be more engaged in the therapy. And that engagement will mean that your clients will also do the work--for themselves.
The focus your ideal client also benefits your practice. You will find it a better route to marketing--you can tailor your message to have maximum impact. You will spend less energy and effort on the business side of the practice.
Precisely defining your client also builds your credibility. It boosts your confidence in your own expertise, and you bring that expertise into each session. In addition, it can lead you to greater public exposure--the media may come to you for comments on your niche.
Finally, the focus will bring clients to you. People will find in you the therapy they need, because you will make them feel like you’re speaking directly to them--on your website, in your presentations, during your interviews.
The key to finding your niche is following your passion.
Too often, we all do what others expect of them. You may have been advised in school to be open to everyone. Your supervisor may have suggested not bringing yourselves into the practice. We all know of “the rules” which we “should follow”.
But you need to be true to yourself, even as you learn to become a therapist. If you want to have a practice which is both successful and a reflection of your best self--if you’re ambitious like that--you should follow the passion you find along the way.
Keeping two questions in mind as you develop your practice is key to defining your practice:
Your passion will emerge from those questions.
One obstacle many have in following their therapy passion--in precisely defining their ideal client--is fear. Part of the fear, of course, is that narrowing the client base will cost money--you won’t have as many clients, and therefore your income will go down.
Part of the fear, though, comes from stepping outside the boundaries you’ve set for yourself and were set for you. How useful, though, are those boundaries for you? How much do they hinder you from getting to where you want to be with your life and your therapy practice?
Defining your client is bringing yourself into your practice--your practice of helping people becomes part of you. Your interests, your creative talents, your understanding of the world all come with you into each session.
Through therapy, you ask clients to step beyond where they are, and what limits them. Defining your ideal client is simply you, as a therapist, asking yourself to do the same thing. You should be able to do what your clients, through your therapy, will be doing. Without fear.
One thing to remember is, in therapy you are the expert, and your clients come to you because of that expertise. I know there’s sometimes a hesitation to boast, but--therapists are experts. Even if you have touches of “imposter syndrome”--you’re not.
And precisely defining your ideal client through your expertise will help get rid of those feelings.
You are the expert to your clients, and they come to you for that expertise. You have the special knowledge and training which will help them make the breakthroughs that make the rewarding moments in therapy.
p>Your expertise--which includes your experience--can also help you define that client. Ask yourself informed questions, which will lead you to the precision you’re looking for.
The answers to these questions, and others, will lead you to the precisely defined client--not just “middle-aged men” but “middle-aged men who have lost jobs and/or who are underemployed”. Unemployment and underemployment can lead to a range of issues. Another therapist might find the questions lead them to “adolescents and young adults with sexuality concerns causing depression”.
Your expertise will help bring you clients (and will probably allow you to charge more, too).
Even though precisely defining your ideal client seems advisable, it does present some challenges.
One of the challenges might be simple geography. You may discover that your definitions comes down to children and families. If you’re not in an area where a lot of children live, you may have a geographic problem seeing many of them. If you’re in a rural area, there simply might not be the population base for many potential therapy niches.
Another challenge to defining the ideal client is the fact that your ideal client might change at some point. That’s true. But it shouldn’t stop you from having an ideal client right now. Ideal clients won’t change on a seasonal basis, but most likely after years of practice. That evolution is OK--and you should always be thinking about your practice and your interests.
The best advantage of precisely defining your ideal client--your niche--is it will help you create your authentic message.
Your authentic message is
In many ways it’s like the elevator speech in the business world--the short, 30 second version of what you do best.
Defining your ideal client goes directly to the second part of the authentic message. Your ideal client is the person who needs you the most. By defining them, you will find them, and that will make your practice both more satisfying and lucrative.