Welcome back to MyRDJourney! In last month’s blog, I talked about finding your ideal client and I had a lot of questions come up about whether you should identify a “niche.” I wanted to address that today since there seems to be a big debate on whether or not identifying a niche causes you to attract more clients or stifle creativity.
What is a Niche Really?
A niche is basically your business focus; something specific you specialize in. It could still be broad in the sense that you are focusing on one disease (Diabetes) but seeing all age groups (teens to adults) and types (type 1 and type 2). Another example could be focusing on plant-based diets (broad, but still a niche). You could be even more specific saying plant-based athletes, plant-based families, plant-based kids, etc. You can decide on how specific you want your niche to be.
Is it Bad to Have a Niche?
In short, I don’t think it is a bad idea to have a niche. Some websites I researched for this blog said that a niche stifles your business and limits creativity. I found just the opposite. It was easier to create content once I had a specific focus. It also opened my doors to more clientele that I wanted to work with and that needed my specific service.
Think about the comparison between a primary doctor, who has a broad knowledge base for diseases and illnesses and a gastroenterologist, who specializes in the gastrointestinal tract. If you go to your PCP with GI issues, they might run some labs and basic tests. If you continue to have issues, they would send you (hopefully) to the gastroenterologist; someone who has more knowledge and experience in this area to treat you more effectively.
If you are having GI pain and want to see a Dietitian, would you choose the one who specializes in GI and has content online specific to that (i.e. recipes, tips) or would you go to a Dietitian promoting general healthy eating (not a bad thing)? Chances are, you would resonate with the Dietitian who has the specialty because their content would speak to you and your pain points.
What About Multiple Specialties?
It does make me skeptical when I see a Dietitian claim on their website that they specialize in 8 different things. Without identifying the company, here is what Dietitian X says they specialize in on their website: weight loss management, sports nutrition and performance, nutrition during pregnancy, grocery store tours, eating disorder counseling, GI disorders and food allergies, and disease prevention and management. Here’s another list from Dietitian Y: weight management and behavior modification, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer/prevention, kidney disease, food allergies and intolerances, stomach issues, chronic fatigue. That’s a lot of “specialties” for one practitioner to maintain. Some Dietitians might work in a team where each Dietitian provides a certain specialty; however, this was not the case with Dietitians X and Y.
I find it completely acceptable for a Dietitian to assert that their company provides services in each of these practice areas; however, I don’t think it is fair or accurate to proclaim that the company ‘specializes’ in each of these areas. One thing to ask yourself is, “Can I keep up-to-date in all of these specialties and provide my client the best service possible?”
Let me clarify my assertion with an example. Say you specialize in diabetes. Chances are, you are still going to see clients with more than one chronic disease (like diabetes and cardiovascular disease). I am not saying you can’t see these clients because one is not your defined specialty. Also, both diseases can impact one another (and your client) so it would be important for you as a health professional to be competent in both. What I am questioning is if you see a client come in with diabetes and cardiovascular disease who now needs dialysis for renal failure, would you be doing a disservice to them by continuing to meet with them versus sending them to a renal dietitian who does this all day every day , i.e. specializes?
If you want to learn more about the stages of competence, check out this great article.
I for one fell into this trap with a client who had IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). I had worked with clients with mild IBS before; however, I never worked with a client who was following a low FODMAP diet. Honestly, I didn’t even know all that this diet entailed. I thought at first I could just get resources for the client and wing-it, but after conducting a reasonable amount of research, I knew I wouldn’t be able to answer questions and truly help this client (even though I had provided IBS counseling before, and I really wanted to assist). Not going to lie, I did meet with the client for an appointment before I said to them that I needed to refer out. Clearly, I was not the best person to help since they needed an expert, an actual specialist, to work through all of their questions surrounding the low FODMAP diet and the only information I could provide was very basic (something they could have Googled on their own). I just hope that any health professional would understand the limits of their current knowledge and make the decision to refer clients with specialized needs to a specialist when appropriate.
Finding Your Niche
If you are a new Dietitian or just starting in private practice, you might not know the area you want to specialize in just yet, and that is okay! In the beginning years, I found it helpful to see a variety of clients in different settings and then assess whether I enjoyed working with these clients/situations. It took me four years into my practice to discover that my niche, and now my specialty, is in plant-based diets and strength training.
I am still working on transitioning content on my social media and website to align my messaging and marketing to consumers who need or want that specialized consulting. My Facebook is still general content for nutrition, my YouTube is general tips plus new recipe videos (vegan/gluten-free) and my Instagram has been focused on plant-based for a while. Over the next few months, I will be transitioning my Facebook content to more plant-based tips. YouTube will stay the same, just with more recipe content and better video and sound quality (thanks to my BF). Instagram posts on plant-based food will be more consistent and workout videos will be added to my stories and highlights.
Don’t be afraid to create a niche that isn’t quite there yet. I was having a hard time finding information on plant-based (vegan) diets and strength training for myself. A lot of information I found online was specific to endurance athletes. Since I wanted this information for myself, I pursued a Certified Personal Training credential (yes, I passed my exam) and I am learning all I can about combining the two for use in my business.
Remember, you don’t have to be a specialist in everything as this is the fastest way to burn-out! Be really good/unconsciously competent at a few (or just 1) things! Focus your energy on specific skills and building your knowledge base around the niche you want to pursue. Only then, will you really have the competence to provide specialist services to your clients as a Dietitian.