Every single week I work with therapists who need help identifying their ideal clients. I lead them through conversations and exercises that help them narrow down and focus on who it is that brings them the most joy.
I first noticed today’s guest blogger when she joined a Facebook thread stating that her practice really mushroomed in growth once she made the decision to identify and target her ideal client.
On the one hand, that’s a no-brainer.
I’ve never heard from a mental health professional who did niche her practice and tightly focus on her ideal client who didn’t find it helpful.
On the other hand, every single therapist that I’ve worked with who did make that choice reports that their practice has grown exponentially.
Still, every week I encounter therapists who continue to struggle to fill their appointments in large part because they are too fearful to trade in their identities as generalists.
Licensed Social Worker Michelle Lewis has tightly niched her private practice Salt Lake Weight Counseling by focusing on those struggling with weight management.
I’m pleased she chose to join us today to share with you her process for getting clearer about her own ideal client and how you can,too!
A Guest Post by Michelle Lewis, LCSW
Who is your ideal client? Anyone who pays you, right? When I started my practice 4 years ago. I was desperate to get out of my full-time job in Corporate Hell, so I applied to be on every insurance panel that would take me. I took every client who called and actually wanted to make an appointment because I was desperate.
I also put up with a lot of bad client behavior – late cancellations, no shows, or people just showing up and doing very little work. I was working with a lot of clients that I didn’t particularly enjoy working with, too. I know that sounds harsh, but you know what I am talking about.
Consequences of Desperate Choices
I got bored of working with the array of problems that came through my office. It started to make me resentful. I noticed myself just going through the motions with certain clients and watching the clock until the end of the session. I did not look forward to most of my appointments.
My heart simply was not in my work and I started to question whether private practice was for me. I didn’t know how I could do this work day in and day out. I knew that I wasn’t being very effective with these clients. I lacked the passion that comes with being a good clinician.
And Then I Got It!
Thankfully, this changed for me about two and a half years ago when I realized that I have an ideal client. I LOVED working with a particular group of clients. They energized me. I looked forward to their sessions. I felt very connected to their process.
I loved working with weight management. I started to notice that the clients I am most passionate about working with are women 25-55 years of age who struggle with weight management due to binge eating. Inevitably, their binge eating is tied to trauma. These are my ideal clients! I couldn’t and can’t get enough information on how to treat this client effectively. I continue to read every resource I can find just to have one more skill in my toolbox.
Identifying My Ideal Client Builds My Credibility
What I notice is that this single-focused passion helps me become an even better therapist. I am increasingly confident in my skills as a therapist and am beginning to feel like an expert in this area. Now I give presentations and write blog posts specifically about emotional. As a result, I continue to gain the attention of local media.
Over the last year and a half, I have appeared on local television stations 10 times. I am quickly gaining notoriety in my local community as an expert on emotional eating and other patterns of self-sabotage in weight management. All of this has come simply from targeting my ideal client.
My Ideal Clients Choose Me
I often have people tell me that they knew once they saw my website and read my blog that they had to make an appointment with me. They felt like I was talking directly to them.
I have had clients tell me that they have looked for a therapist for years to find someone with my level of expertise in dealing with emotional eating. The truth is that I am still a student. While I have a large base of knowledge on these therapeutic issues, it is really my enthusiasm that drives this work and my clients feel it.
I have also gotten feedback that people appreciate that I don’t say that I am skilled at working with every mental health issue. That is a turn-off for potential clients. It doesn’t feel authentic and seems desperate. Again, this is all due to my identifying and targeting my ideal client.
I Love My Job
I look forward to going to work these days because it doesn’t feel like work to me anymore. I have the ability to see some of my favorite people every day and thankfully, I also get paid to do it. I have the unique opportunity to provide a gift to these people.
Due to the excitement I feel, I am always finding new and better ways to help them heal. The result is seeing people grow and change in ways they never thought possible. I never feel stuck or overwhelmed and I never feel burned out.
Due to my level of engagement, my clients are more engaged as well. I rarely have a client who doesn’t do the work. When that is the case, I confront the lack of engagement and we discuss whether this is really the right time for them to be in therapy. I only work with clients who are invested in this process and I ask clients to discontinue services until they are ready.
We Deserve to Thrive
Our work can be very difficult, so it is important for each one of us to thrive in our practices. For me, that means specializing in something that is meaningful to me.
Over the last two and a half years since I began identifying my ideal client, my practice has grown from 6-8 client per week to full-time for myself and three part-time clinicians who work for me. We just opened a second office and will open a third office next year.
How To Identify Your Ideal Client
If you are ready to start targeting the clinical work that you find most meaningful and stop the shotgun approach by “specializing” in every mental health issue out there, here’s my advice to you.
Find some time in a peaceful place and ask yourself the following questions:
- Which clients in my practice do I look forward to seeing? What do they have in common?
- What mental health issue gets me so fired up that I love to teach people more about it?
- If I could only treat one or two issues for the rest of my career, what would I choose?
- What clients make me my best therapist self?
- What clients bring me energy and help me to feel passionate about my work?
By answering these questions you will have a pretty good idea of your ideal client. Start noticing how you engage in your therapy sessions when you are working with your ideal client. Notice the energy you experience. Notice which clients make your sessions enjoyable. Your clients will thank you for it!
And, if you have already identified your ideal client for your practice, take a moment to introduce yourself below and let us know where you practice, who your ideal client is, and how you figured that out!
About the Author: Michelle Lewis, LCSW helps those struggling with weight and stress management achieve wellness. Her practice focuses on emotional eating, binge eating, food addiction and patterns of self-sabotage in Salt Lake Weight Counseling in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.