No practice—particularly a small one—can be all things to all patients. The more narrowly you can define your target patient, the better. This process is known as creating a niche and is key to success for even the best practice around.

“Many people talk about ‘finding’ a niche as if it were something under a rock or at the end of the rainbow, ready-made.” A niche for your practice must be carefully crafted.

Rather than creating a niche, many healthcare practice owners make the mistake of falling into the “all over the map” trap, claiming they can do many things and be good at all of them. These practice owners quickly learn a tough lesson, warning: “Smaller is bigger in practice, and smaller is not all over the map; it’s highly focused.”

Creating a good niche involves following a seven-step process:

  1. Make a wish list.

Who are your ideal new patients? Be as specific as you can. Identify the geographic range and the types of new patients you want your practice to target. If you don’t know whom you want to see as new patients, you can’t make contact. “You must recognize that you can’t help everybody,” Otherwise, you risk exhausting yourself and confusing your patients.

  1. Focus.

Clarify what you want to actually treat, remembering that a) you can’t be all things to all patients and b) smaller is bigger. Your niche isn’t the same as the field in which you work.

To begin this focusing process, I suggest using these techniques to help you:

  • Make a list of things you do best and the skills implicit in each of them.
  • List your achievements.
  • Identify the most important lessons you’ve learned while in practice.
  • Look for patterns that reveal your style or approach to resolving patient problems.
  1. Describe the patients’ worldview.

A successful practice uses the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would do unto themselves.” When you look at the world from your prospective patients’ perspective, you can identify their needs or wants.

  1. Synthesize.

At this stage, your niche should begin to take shape as your ideas and the patient’s needs and wants to coalesce to create something new.

A good niche has five qualities:

  • It takes you where you want to go—in other words, it conforms to your long-term vision.
  • Somebody else wants it—namely, patient’s.
  • It’s carefully planned.
  • It’s one-of-a-kind, the “only game in town.”
  • It evolves, allowing you to develop different profit centres and still retain the core practice, thus ensuring long-term success.
  1. Evaluate.

Now it’s time to evaluate your proposed service against the five criteria in Step 4.

  1. Test.

Once you have a match between niche and service, test-market it. “Give patients an opportunity to use this service—not just theoretically but actually putting it out there,”

  1. Go for it!

It’s time to implement your idea. For many healthcare practice entrepreneurs, this is the most difficult stage. But fear not: If you did your homework, entering the market will be a calculated risk, not just a gamble.