Welcome back to the last article in our five-part series on “How to Market Your Practice to Attract a Steady Stream of New Patients.” Today, we’ll discuss utilizing offline strategies to help you grow your practice.
In case you missed the previous four articles, you will find links to them at the end of this piece.
Now, let’s talk about how to use offline strategies to market your practice.
But perhaps you’re wondering… “Should I even bother with offline marketing? Are offline strategies worth my time and money; do they still work today? Isn’t everything going digital?”
Good question! Let me assure you offline strategies still work today and will work in the future.
Think about it!
It’s one thing to market a product or service on the internet, potentially reaching a worldwide audience; but it’s another thing to advertise a product or service that’s of benefit only to people in your local market.
In all likeliness, if you run a practice, you will look to your local market to find new patients? It just wouldn’t make sense to market to people in another town or in even in another country.
Now don’t get me wrong. You still can use online marketing for your local business, in addition to putting offline methods to work for you.
Earlier articles in this series emphasized the importance of setting goals for your marketing activities and the need to define your audience, the people you want to reach. Unless you’re clear about your goals and target audience, don’t bother with marketing; you’re not ready.
But once you have clear goals and know your audience, you’re ready to place compelling marketing messages in front of them, and it’s time to pick your marketing channels.
Just like online marketing methods, there are lots of different ways to market your practice offline. The million-dollar question is… which should you choose to achieve the best results?
The answer to this question varies, and it’s nearly impossible to give a “one size fits all” type answer.
Every situation is different, starting from practice focus, size, and location to resources available to market the office. Additionally, every provider has different goals for their practice they would like to accomplish.
Since it’s impossible to give a one-size-fits-all answer, I’ll discuss a variety of marketing options. You can pick and choose from the ones that resonate with you, fit your unique situation and pocketbook.
To start, understand everything is marketing! Everything you do or don’t do in your business is marketing. It may work in your favor or work against you.
But before I continue, let me give you a framework for marketing your practice. It will help you approach marketing from a strategic standpoint, instead of treating it as an occasional, isolated activity.
I suggest you approach marketing your practice along four main categories:
- Internal marketing
- External marketing
- Off-line, more traditional marketing methods
- Online marketing methods
Additionally, think of your marketing as taking place in two fundamental ways:
- Advertising: it takes money to pay for ads.
- Public Relations: it takes your time to engage in PR.
Depending on where you are in your business and how busy your life already is, you may want to pursue one avenue over the other or utilize a combination of the different marketing approaches.
While often overlooked and neglected, internal marketing could be a massive opportunity for your practice.
It includes everything you do inside, with, and through your office. In all likeliness you already have processes in place to market your office; they may work for or against you.
Internal marketing includes:
- Your physical office:
- Is your space inviting and warm or is it sterile, cold and unfriendly?
- Is the office clean, uncluttered and in good repair? Or does the space leave patients uneasy, wondering when it was last cleaned?
- Is your office easy to find and is there visible signage? Or do patients have difficulty finding your office?
- Your staff:
- Are they friendly, helpful and courteous or do they act annoyed and bothered by patients?
- Are they dressed professional, appropriate for the setting and well groomed? Or does their appearance leave something to be desired?
- Are you friendly and show presence with your patients? Do you listen, evoke trust and confidence? Or do you routinely rush patients and ignore what they have to say?
- Are phones answered in a timely fashion or long wait times are the norm? Are they answered courteously, and common issues get resolved with one call? Or do phone calls routinely result in follow up calls, leaving callers wondering about the competence of your staff?
- Practice marketing materials:
- Do you have business cards, brochures, and logos conveying your unique advantage to your customers? Do potential customers know what you and your practice are all about by looking at your marketing materials? Or are they wondering what’s so unique about your practice and why should they see you instead of someone else?
- Your website:
- Is your site easy to maneuver, useful and answers common questions? Or does it confuse patients and serves little purpose aside from occupying space on the internet?
- Your communication processes:
- Do you have processes in place for efficient and effective communication with patients and other offices? Or are they cumbersome, ineffective, and frustrating?
- Do you create special promotions or put on special events for your patients, for example, educational classes?
- Do you stay in touch with your patients by sending out birthday cards, or other communication?
- Do you welcome new customers to your practice by sending them a “Welcome to our Office” letter or follow up with them after their first visit?
- Do you have processes in place allowing you to stay in touch with patients after they have left your practice?
- Referral based marketing: do you ask your patients for referrals? Asking for referrals is difficult for many providers.
If patients tell you how happy they are with the service they’ve received in your office, let them know you would appreciate their referrals. Most people will be glad to do this for you.
Generally, it’s far less costly to keep an existing customer, over acquiring a new one. Examine what you’re doing today to ensure patients stay with your office, instead of switching to another provider, barring loss of or change in insurance coverage.
- Conduct an internal survey to see how your processes could be improved. Get input from patients and staff to make improvements.
- What are you doing with patients that have left your office? Do you have a process to stay in touch with them? If so, you might be able to “reactivate” them as patients, so they’ll come back to see you. However, if you make no effort to stay in touch with them, it’s virtually impossible to reactivate former patients. Consider starting a practice newsletter to keep in touch with them.
- What impressions do you create with your patients? How can you change your current processes and internal marketing to improve your image with patients?
- Focus on creating a positive practice image, the image you want to convey. Put processes and marketing messages in place that support the image you want to create. Remember, you don’t have a second chance to make a first good impression!
External marketing refers to marketing activities you do outside your office; for our purposes, we’re utilizing offline channels. It may include any of the following:
- Participating in community-based events such as health fairs
- Giving presentations to service-based clubs and organizations
- Share your expertise by speaking to your chamber of commerce, networking organizations, sports clubs, and support groups, to name a few.
- Sending out marketing materials (business cards, letters, brochures) to community organizations and emergency rooms in your area.
- Contacting other providers to let them know the services you provide in the community.
- Send direct mail to your target market; sending out marketing materials to people you have identified as ideal customers. For example, if you work with children, you may create a mailing campaign to the parents of these children, letting them know what you can do for their children (and by default for them).
- If you have noteworthy information about you or your clinic, send out a press release to your local newspaper.
- Place advertisements with newspapers, yellow pages, local radio, and television.
- Local Newspapers: utilize ongoing and event-driven advertisements
- Yellow Pages: utilize business information advertisement
- Community Papers: tap into continuous and event-driven advertisement
- Write health-related articles for the local newspaper or community paper; write and publish your own
- Create events for your office and celebrate them with a gathering:
- your 1st, 2nd … year practice anniversary event
- patient appreciation event
- introducing the new provider in your clinic event
- and whatever reason you can think of… event!
While some off-line marketing methods such as advertising in yellow pages and newspapers have been declining, they are still utilized today. Depending on your target market, some of the more traditional marketing methods may be heavier utilized than the newer, online marketing methods.
If your target market is the geriatric population, you may find that most of them (but not all) still rely on the local newspaper and phone book to search for business information.
Marketing is an ongoing activity. Define your goals and your market. Adjust your marketing methods to your target market, to what they utilize and respond.
Implement marketing strategies that work for you and fit your unique circumstances. If appropriate, utilize both off-line and online strategy to stay in front of your ideal patients.
Create a marketing plan to guide your marketing efforts. Understand success won’t come from marketing your practice once in a while. It will come with consistency and ongoing effort, even though your marketing budget and activities may be small in scale.
Track the effectiveness of your marketing. Repeat what works and ditch what doesn’t.
Lastly, always remember that marketing is about your customers and how you can help them!
How do you market your practice today? Let us know; tell us about your experience in the comment section below.
And in case you missed the previous four articles in this series, here are the links so you may read them. Part1- Overview; Part2 – Three Questions; Part3 – Online Marketing Strategies; Part4 – Social Media Marketing.
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.“