Many people believe that technical knowledge alone is enough to guarantee success as a disability advocate. Although helpful, technical knowledge alone is not sufficient to guarantee success as an advocate. Before deciding to embark on a career in SSD advocacy, you should do a self-assessment to see if advocacy is a good fit for you. Coming into advocacy from DAS or as a former SSA employee is great, but you will need to develop a new skill set to cope with the diverse demands that a career in advocacy requires. If you don't have the ability to be an advocate, you could learn to be a brief writer or a contract representative for a bigger company such as Allsup. Everyone starts somewhere!
Successful advocates have:
1. Ability to learn from the past.
If your advertising is not working or your losing cases that you should be winning, its time reassess your strategy and find what works. Don't get complacent and constantly innovate as conditions change. Digital marketing strategies, new competitors, agency approval rates, viruses, and more require you to stay on your toes and to adjust your business strategy as needed. Figure out what each judge likes and dislikes and formulate a strategy to win with each judge. If you are not able to write a strong brief, hire a contractor to write them for you and study them until you are able to write your own. Submitting strong briefs will show the judge that you know what you are talking about. Know your case and be prepared to verbally tell the judge why your client is disabled.
2. Strong communication skills
In addition to having an air of confidence about yourself, you must be able to sell yourself to potential clients. You must be confident and knowledgeable in all things SSD. Nothing sucks away confidence from leads more than when an advocate doesn't seem to know what they are talking about. People are hiring you to win their case. They have an infinite number of options to choose from when hiring an advocate -both locally and at the national level. You better know what your USP or unique selling point is and why prospective clients should choose you. All advocates charge 25% of retro benefits so you can't compete on price. You must present yourself as the most knowledgeable and confident option for the client.
3. Building relationships
To build a successful SSD business, you must have a network of referral partners that refer clients to you on a regular basis. Also, you want your existing customers to be so excited about you that they tell the friends and family about how awesome you are and why they should consult you if the need arises.
4. Realistic optimism
You have to strike a balance in the beginning of client relationships. You want to appear confident and hopeful about a client's case but you need to be realistic with the client about the strength of the case and how long it could potentially take to win the case. If you are not realistic with clients about their case, you can build false hope which could lead to a poor outcome as the client may forego job offers and other opportunities based on their belief that they are "disabled". Create a case plan for the client and walk them through what they will need to do to win their case.
If you make promises to clients, you should keep them. Nothing damages a client relationship more than when a representative makes promises and then falls flat. Your reputation is important and people will soon learn what you are about. In addition, judges will formulate opinions about you. Do you write outstanding briefs, are your cases complete, do you win cases on appeal? Be mindful of how you are perceived by SSA staff and OHO personnel. If the judges have a poor opinion of your preparation and knowledge, you will not be successful as an advocate. Always be honest and never lie to clients or judges. Once your integrity is lost you may need to find a new career.
6. Listening skills
Listen to your clients. You have to strike a balance between letting them control the relationship and working you. You must set boundaries and expectation about when and how often they should contact you and how long it should take to win their case. You must be able to read each client and gauge how often they need contact and reassurance for you. If you fail at listening to your clients, they will go elsewhere.
If at first you don't succeed, don't give up. In some cases it may take awhile for you to understand what documentation particular judges expect in a winning case. If you are able to, it is good to have another source of income while you are learning the advocacy business. If you can find a job or self-employment option that allows you to go to hearings or answer calls for your business... give yourself a runway to make sure that you can learn and get established in your new business.