My decision to focus on the healthcare IT niche, and give it my best, has completely transformed my business and my life.
When I tell potential healthcare clients that my company only focuses on healthcare, they immediately perk up and pay attention. I’m poised to double my revenue over last year even though I haven’t even been marketing much over the past few months.
Now, approaching the end of my 2nd year fully focused on healthcare I’ve been able to pick up new clients on a regular basis.
How was I able to get to this point?
Finding My Niche
For nine years, up until early 2012, I had been doing business the same old way: break/fix for a small, but loyal, client base.
There were two primary things I felt that I needed to address in order to grow my business to the next level. First, I needed to find a niche or a specialty to focus on. This would help me to be different from my competitors…to stand out from the crowded IT market. Second, I wanted to move into this thing called Managed Services in order to keep my revenue stable and predictable.
In order to find a niche that was right for me and my business, I took out a piece of paper (yes I still use paper and pen… it never crashes) and began writing down a list of businesses that I knew something about.
The list looked something like this:
- Law Enforcement / Local Government
- Law Firms
- Accountants (FINRA)
- Healthcare (HIPAA)
I also considered focusing on a service niche rather than focusing on a business niche. So I made a list of specialty services that I may be able to become an expert on.
That list looked a bit like this:
- Business Continuity
- IT Security
- Small Business IT
- Website Design & Hosting
The next step was to attempt to get a client from each of the businesses on my list or to at least sit down and talk with someone in those niches to get an idea of what opportunities were there.
Within a few weeks I was able to do work for four of the five businesses on my list. While doing work for these business I paid close attention to their setup, their needs, their pain points and the opportunities.
In looking at my list of services, none of them interested me enough to make it the one and only thing I did in my business. The only thing that came close was Small Business IT. So I knew that I would prefer to do something that focused on small businesses.
However, that still left my first list of business niches. It was time to narrow the field.
I took my list and went down one by one through the four businesses (retail, law firms, accountants and healthcare) and made pros and cons columns. There, I listed out the good and bad of each niche. At the end of the list it came down to one overwhelming choice in the “pro” column… healthcare! Some of those “pros” included:
- Specialized client needs
- Increased revenue streams
- Increased margins
- Higher end client
- Very low competition
- Increased opportunities through specialization
Then I looked over at the “cons” column and noticed that healthcare also had more cons than the others. I knew that there was this thing called HIPAA that I had to learn more about. I knew that there was a lot of liability in this niche. I knew that the risks were high. But I also knew the rewards were even higher.
I’ve always been a person that didn’t mind taking a chance if the risk/reward proposition was in my favor. After looking at all the options I figured I’d give healthcare a shot.
Boy, was I unprepared for what was to come next…
The Challenge Ahead
Since one of my longest standing clients (12+ years) was a small physician’s office, I decided to sit down with the office manager one afternoon and tell her about my grand plan to focus on healthcare clients.
She was very excited for me and explained how this was going to be a great move for me and my business. Then she went on to ask me if I knew anything about HIPAA. I told her that I knew OF it, but nothing more than that.
She looked at me with this serious look and said, “then you’re not aware that in 2013 your business has to be HIPAA compliant or we can’t do business with you any longer?”
WHAT?! This was news to me.
All at once I felt panic and inspiration. I was panic-stricken because this client was (at the time) my largest monthly revenue stream. I couldn’t afford to lose this client. However, I was inspired by the sheer fact that I instantly saw an opportunity to differentiate myself in a crowded market.
Being an entrepreneur, for me, means that I can not only recognize opportunity, but I can find ways to capitalize on those opportunities. In looking at the requirements to become HIPAA compliant along with the risks and liabilities, I knew that most MSPs and IT providers would not do the hard work or take the risk. Most people want the easy route, the safe road.
It was time to put my ideas and thoughts into action. After all, ideas are worthless until you put them into motion.
At this point it was late summer of 2012, only a few months away from 2013. I began frantically looking for materials to read on HIPAA compliance. Though I could find plenty of information on HIPAA, I could find little to nothing about what I was supposed to be doing as an IT provider to become compliant. As for what I needed to know to support my healthcare clients… nothing.
As I was on the verge of giving up, I stumbled across a compliance training company that was releasing their first training course aimed at IT professionals. What a relief!
As I started the training, I learned how much I didn’t know about HIPAA. Some of the primary things I learned were:
- My business must become HIPAA compliant to legally do business with healthcare providers.
- There are a lot of policies and procedures that I had to create and follow regarding the protection of Protected Health Information (PHI).
- The liabilities and risks required that I get additional insurance.
- Continual training is a mandatory requirement
- There are very specific things I have to do as an MSP
- HIPAA implementation can be flexible but must be followed
- Penalties for ignoring HIPAA or not following the law are severe
- My business may be directly liable for not protecting PHI
- My business may be audited at any time
The list can go on and on. The point is that it’s not super simple. It’s not some checklist of things to do. HIPAA was something that would permeate my entire business and change the way I did everything in my business. Despite the risks, the hassles and the hard work, I still hoped that the rewards would be worth the risks.
HIPAA? Check. Now What?
After several weeks of HIPAA training I was now ready to tackle the healthcare niche… or so I thought. What I was not prepared for was finding out that I had to learn a new way of doing business.
Now it was time to kick into high gear and dive in. Fortunately, I already had a few clients that were healthcare related. I began to use my new-found skills and knowledge to help these clients better comply with HIPAA.
Then I did something I hadn’t done much of, I asked for referrals from these clients. Seeing that I had the knowledge and skills to tackle their specific needs, they were happy to recommend a few fellow doctors. Now, with referrals and recommendations in hand, I set out to bring in more healthcare clients.
Later, I had a chiropractor suggest that I find local healthcare organizations to join and contribute to. This was a great suggestion. By doing this alone, I’ve been able to gain new clients from the membership and leverage my relationships to gain an audience with clients that otherwise would’ve been difficult to attain.
After only 12 months of committing 110% of my efforts to this new niche, I was able to increase my income by more than the average salary in my area.
Healthcare IT…the next big thing?
Every day I’m learning new ways to grow my business in this niche. Things like offering free informational presentations to healthcare groups, offering (one time) free HIPAA training session on a specific part of the law, and networking with other local vendors who service the healthcare sector are all examples of things I’ve been very successful with.
Through first hand experience, I’ve found the healthcare niche is great for computer business owners who want to take their business to the next level, get into managed services and provide very specialized support.
The beauty of this niche is that this particular opportunity is very new still. So, right now is the perfect time to be the first or one of the few in your area that specialize in this niche.
As a result of focusing on healthcare I’m also gaining popularity in other niches that I don’t target, such as accountants. Even though I don’t market to these other niches, they still hear about my business and decide they like what they hear.
The Success is in the Niche
I feel that trying to be the IT person that does everything for everyone leaves you being the best at nothing… or at least you will be perceived that way.
In this day and time when so many IT people are running around (even your neighbor’s teenage kid can do as much as you can) you must differentiate yourself in the market or you may fizzle out. If there’s nothing that makes your business different and unique, then it’s easy to blend in and be unremarkable, destined to fade to black.
If you want to stand out from the crowd…if you want to work smarter, not harder…if you want to create a strong recurring revenue stream…then you must specialize, find a niche, and master it!
Healthcare IT worked well for me and I highly recommend it.
I want to hear from you! Comment below and let me know how you narrowed down to a service or sector. Maybe you don’t have a niche. If not, why?