Today I am dismantling the number one myth that I see being fed and told to Functional Medicine providers when they're trying to start and grow their practice.
As you may know, my wife and I help mentor doctors from all around the country and guide them as they build up membership practices. Within our conversations with our mentees and with those I counsel through my Functional Lawyer membership, we hear a common myth that comes up over and over again. The myth is that you need to "niche down" your practice and focus on one particular group or another. This isn't strictly a Functional Medicine issue; most marketers try to help business owners narrow their focus. Generally speaking, this can be good advice, but when you go to apply it to your Functional Medicine business, it's can actually create difficulty.
How can you pick a niche if you're either brand new to practicing functionally or if you're not entirely sure what you like? You may simply be happy to help serve anybody who comes in the door as you get growing, and that's totally fine. Picking a niche right away is like going to college for the first time and trying to pick a major without having a whole lot of direction or experience in any of the specific major categories. You don't want to immediately pigeonhole yourself if you aren't sure of what to choose. You may have gone to college with the clear intention that you're going to be a doctor or provider someday, and so it was easy to choose Pre-Med. However, the majority of kids at college don't know, at 17 years old, what they want to do with the rest of their life. The same concept applies to you as a Functional Medicine provider-- how can you know exactly who and what you like to work with? Unless you have had experience helping particular groups of patients and are particularly passionate about a particular niche, why would you limit yourself in this way?
Perhaps you found Functional Medicine because you cured yourself of a certain condition and want to help other people just like you. Your personal story is going to help you to convey the message that you understand what your patients are going through, and you will be able to have empathy, not just sympathy. If you know that narrowing down and specializing in a particular condition is going to be totally fulfilling for you, then go ahead and niche down from day one. But, for the majority of you who aren't quite sure, don't niche down until you know exactly what you like to deal with. Also know that you can have a very successful practice, even if you never decide on a specific sphere of Functional Medicine.
For us personally, my wife's practice has not niched down at all, and we're doing just fine on a three-month waitlist. Other people may not like that generalist attitude. Maybe they want to be particularly good at the Bredesen Protocol, for example, because they have a family history of Alzheimer's Disease and really want to prevent people from having to go through that traumatic of an illness. But unless you really know exactly what you want to do, don't stress out about niching down; you can figure it out later or not at all.
You also may go into a specialization only to realize that it's not for you. You may think, "My mom had Alzheimer's and I want to help in this area," but then when you get into it and you start working with Bredesen’s Protocol every day, you find that it's not what you ultimately want to do. You actually may prefer helping women who are perimenopausal because perhaps you've started to go through that yourself. If you have already niched down, it may be difficult to then branch back out in other areas of interest as your practice grows and your desires change.
The point of this week's content is not to say, "Don't niche down." The point is that if you don't yet know what you like, or who you'd like to serve, or what conditions you would like to treat most, then don't feel pressure to niche down. You have plenty of time to figure it out if you even want to. While you are considering a narrower specialization, in the meantime you can help serve the people who you know how to serve. At the very least, you can begin with what all Functional Medicine providers do so well-- start with a general gut clean up, diet evaluation, environmental detox, stress and sleep management, etc. Then you can work on the actual underlying autoimmune condition(s) that your patients have and finding the root causes of their symptoms and chief complaints. You will soon figure out who and what you like to treat. And soon, you get to a place like where we are-- you will have a waitlist and the ability to turn away people who you don't want to work with. This is just as important as finding the people you would like to work with.
It's just as important to rule out what you don't like, as much as it is important to figure out what you do like. For example, if you absolutely don't like mold patients because they're especially complex and tough to deal with, then there's one thing you can rule out. Thankfully, once you've built up a following, you don't need to take everybody. But it is important to understand that you cannot get to this point without branching out to begin with.
To recap, if you already know, with conviction, what you want to do and you're happy to niche down, go for it. Many people would be jealous if you already know what you like; so good for you! And if you don't know, don't stress out or let it hold you back from starting your practice! As you gain experience with each type of patient, you'll learn to eliminate what you don't prefer to deal with. And, most excitingly, you'll discover what is most rewarding and what brings you the most joy. You can do all this while staying general and be fine. Or, you can eventually narrow down to the people or conditions that you like. There's always time to pivot and change the decision you make today. Your practice focus now does not have to characterize your practice for the next 30 years. You can always pivot or start a new marketing campaign a year from now, three years from now, or five years from now.
So, again, if you know what you want to do, great! If you don't, also great! Just get started and figure out what you like and don't like, and then from there you can grow your practice, one patient at a time and narrow it down later if you so choose. I do hope that this has been helpful for you. Send me a note if you have any questions or comments. For more education, inspiration, and guidance, follow us on all our platforms. In addition to our blog and website, you can find Functional Lawyer on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. See you soon!