This is the third in a three-part series about working with mentors.
Or return to Step 2: How to Choose the Right Mentor.
The Top 10 Questions Patient Advocacy Mentors Are Asked
- 1. How much will you charge to be my mentor?
There is no set amount mentors charge for their mentoring services. Further, even if a mentor could give you an hourly rate, you would not know how many hours your work together will take.
Better to have a good idea of what you hope to learn, then discuss possibilities with your mentor. At that point he or she should be able to give you a price.
- 2. Do I have what it takes?Related: Do I have the right background for advocacy? Do I need to be a nurse or a social worker?
The question has more to do with determining what you want to do and then aligning your skill set to reflect that. So one of the most important aspects of our work together will be helping you define the special skills that you bring to the table and turning those into a plan for a profitable business. A creative approach to business that focuses on what you do that is unique is essential for a new company to thrive.
Any person who cares about people, understands healthcare (as well as the business and politics behind it,) and is willing to work hard can be successful working as a patient advocate. (Lisa Berry Blackstock)
The profession of patient advocacy was born out of the navigational needs that all patients face. The issue is not so much what one’s specific professional background is, but being able to clearly assess your strengths and potential system knowledge gaps to assure you can generate credibility with clients. There are several tools I have found very helpful in assessing both personal strengths and system knowledge with prospective advocates. (Cindi Gatton)
You don’t need to be a nurse or social worker to call yourself an advocate, however you should collaborate with other professionals so that you do not work outside of your scope of knowledge. (Caryn Isaacs)
- 3. Do I need to earn a credential or be certified?
As of 2018, patient advocate certification became available for those who wish to pursue such a credential. You can take a (free) course to decide whether it’s a credential you would like to earn. And you can learn more about the credential, as offered by the Patient Advocate Certification Board, here.
Other credentials, such as certificate programs or college degrees are available. You can find a master list of them here.
- 4. Can I make a living as a private advocate? Related: How do I price my services? Which services will help me make the most money?
Yes, you can. Determining what services to offer and how to price them are a critical part of business planning. Executing and regularly fine tuning that plan is a critical key to success. (Cindi Gatton)
Well, that all depends on how much you need to make and how well you target your potential audience. There are numerous ways to turn advocacy into a profitable venture: the key is to determine which ways you will be most successful. Turning an idea into a profitable company means creating a vibrant business plan that can be faithfully executed, all the while understanding that pivots are inevitable along the way.
Yes, one can definitely make a living as a patient advocate, but building a thriving practice does take time. Consider pricing your services by contract (“Scope of Services Agreement”) rather than by the hour. Describe what services you intend to render, estimate your time involved, and quote a non-negotiable fee. (Lisa Berry Blackstock)
Most private advocates who “make a living” as a health advocate are working full time. You need to assume that the first 1-3 years will be tough, and it is helpful to have another source of income. Pricing depends on which services you offer, where you live, and your credentials. You need to have a sense of your local competition as well as what the market will bear.
- 5. How can I make money in my niche? (Niche = the services you have a passion for and want to provide and be paid to do.)
Be the best in the world in your niche. Stick to your knitting. Have a clear message to referral sources – don’t confuse them by saying you can do anything for anyone. Develop “personas” for your ideal client and market with them in mind.
The process of positioning your product niche to make money is pretty straightforward. Right message. Right audience. Right price. Defining and refining your message is the opening, delivering it to the right audience (have a need and are willing to pay for it), and articulating value as it relates to price are key advising roles a mentor can play. (Cindi Gatton)
Speak with other patient advocates who share a similar niche, work hard at the services you provide, and try to deliver more than you promise in your contract. Your clients will appreciate it and be happy to recommend you to others. (Lisa Berry Blackstock)
- 6. How much does it cost to get started in this business?
In order to properly launch your business, you should cover these areas: Website, business cards, social media, marketing materials (brochures, flyers,) networking, insurance/legal/peer advice. You can move forward on a shoestring budget if necessary. I did, and my practice grew over time. (Lisa Berry Blackstock)
It depends. At a minimum, you need business cards, a basic website, insurance and to pay for any business licenses required by your city/state. If you plan to market by networking, you need to allocate resources for breakfast, lunch, coffee etc. If you plan to attend professional development conferences/webinars, you need to budget for this as well.
Your business plan will determine how much it will cost to get started and should also plan for how and when you will expand. Starting a business is not free, but you can stretch your budget by starting slow and growing into your big dream. (Caryn Isaacs)
- 7. Should I work alone or should I consider a partnership or building a team?
Every patient has so many needs that no one person can possibly know or do everything alone. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to go into business with others right off the bat. I suggest building a team of experts that you can discuss your concerns with and refer clients to them. Later, you may want to form a more formal partnership or even employ those who have demonstrated that you have the same goals and vision. (Caryn Isaacs)
We developed a team and were successful in delivering services that worked well using that model. That said, it depends on what you’re trying to do and who you’re trying to serve. So the question really requires figuring out the kind of business you want to create and then determining how to best deliver it. If you do decide to work in a team, there are important factors to identify, each of which would need to be carefully considered before moving forward.
Effective patient advocates come from many different backgrounds. It is certainly helpful to have some familiarity with the health care system, and it depends on what niche you plan to fill.
- 8. How big does my geographic area need to be, or what other factors should I consider?
This is a personal decision that depends on the needs of the client and your ability to fulfill your contract with them. Even though there is a temptation to want to take all the business that comes your way, it is sometimes better to refer the client to a colleague than to promise something you cannot deliver. You should consider the cost to you for travel, tolls, and down time getting there and back. I recently had to take several hotel rooms to reach a client, which used up all the money I made on the case. (Caryn Isaacs)
Your area can be local, regional, or national. It’s usually a better idea to begin locally. Once you become established, you can consider whether you’d like to travel and how much time you prefer to invest professionally. A life without balance will not help you become a better advocate. Be deliberate about how you spend your time. (Lisa Berry Blackstock)
Sometimes you’ll have expertise that you want to share more widely: in that case you can work outside of your geographic area, even nationally. Consider doing video and telephone consultations, and don’t forget that you can do projects like chart reviews, data analysis and billing overviews irrespective of distance between you and your client. While seeing clients in person has obvious value, there are numerous tasks that can be completed from afar.
- 9. How do I get clients? I hate doing sales, so how do I market my services? Related: How do I make medical professionals aware of what I’m doing so they will refer me?
Generally private advocacy has been a business to consumer sales model. If you hate doing sales, you may want to investigate other business models where a third party (physician, employer, insurance broker) pays you for your services with individuals. These are business to business sales models, though and require different approaches to marketing, pricing, and contracting than more tradition direct to consumer approaches. (Cindi Gatton)
This is a very personal question. It depends upon your personality, your niche, and the level of competition in your market. My advocacy practice is mostly focused on medical billing, so most of my referrals come from people who find me on the internet and personal referrals from trusted advisors or clients I’ve helped in the past. I’ve NEVER had a referral from a medical professional. My best referral sources for this aspect of my business has been professionals with whom I regularly network (e.g. accountants, wealth managers, attorneys) who are trusted advisors. When they make a referral, the client is already nearly sold. However, to develop this, people need to know you, like you and trust you before they will refer to you. There is no substitute for consistent and targeted networking.
A mentor can help you to develop your market analysis. You will then create a plan that is unique to your target market. Networking is one way to let other professionals know about your services, but picking the right networking opportunities is just as important. There is so much need out there, you should start your business in an area both professionally and geographically that has the least competition. (Caryn Isaacs)
- 10. What else should I ask you to teach me?
A mentor is your sounding board for ideas. Only you can know what you are comfortable and capable of doing. The role of the health advocate mentor is to help you look at all the angles and to make sure you aren’t overlooking or underestimating the work load and the costs. (Caryn Isaacs)
Ask to shadow me while I’m working so you can see what life is truly like as a patient advocate. Ask me to tell the story of the most difficult professional scenario I’ve ever encountered. Ask me what I do when something unexpected presents itself as a complication in business. Ask me what I do when I become overworked and/or disillusioned. Ask me to tell you my success stories. (Lisa Berry Blackstock)
There are numerous areas of running a small business that new advocates are not well prepared for, ranging from deciding on the form for your business (e.g. sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.) to making decisions on how much to spend on marketing and business development. There are also concerns related to IT, storage of personal health information and the like. A mentor can often help with some of these issues, depending upon her background.
This is the last in the series of Mentor articles required for your APHA Mentor Application.